A presumption of a weak sexuality for women also leads to the po­tential for lack of full sexual functioning in women. Sexual functioning, including a full experience of arousal and orgasm, seems to involve im­mersing oneself, self-centeredly, in a sexual experience (Mosher, 1980). As I have previously discussed (Morokoff, 1990, 1993), the gatekeeping role may prevent unwanted sexual activity, but it makes full sexual expression difficult because a woman who must constantly evaluate the appropriate­ness of a sexual interchange (because her partner may at any moment direct the action into an unacceptable area) cannot immerse herself in the ex­perience. Being the gatekeeper suggests a willingness and an ability to turn off sexual feelings. “Not fully letting go involves the experience of partial arousal but the maintenance of a watchful eye on the proceedings and retention of a feeling of control over the sexual events occurring. This attitude is extremely functional for women in that one can turn off sexual arousal very quickly if needed and one can track whether the experience is in one’s larger self interest, as it frequently is not. . .. This state of partial arousal, far from representing a dysfunction (as it is seen in diagnostic terms), may thus in actuality be quite functional” (Morokoff, 1993, p. 175). However, it is unlikely that a sufficient level of arousal for orgasm would occur under such circumstances. Thus the cost of the gatekeeping role for sexual self-expression in women is extremely high.

As noted by Margaret Mead (1949), societies differ greatly in their expectations of sexual responsivity for women. In contrasting the Mun – dugumor and the Arapesh, two South Sea societies, she reported that the Mundugumor expected both men and women to derive equivalent amounts of satisfaction from sex, whereas for the Arapesh, female orgasm was un­recognized, not reported, and had no name. She remarked, “The human female’s capacity for orgasm is to be viewed, much more as a potentiality that may or may not be developed by a given culture, or in a specific life history of an individual, than as an inherent part of her full humanity.”

It is clearly true that there has been a major shift in the past hundred years in expectations for sexuality of women in the United States and Western Europe. For example, it is now expected that women will expe­rience sexual orgasm. However, this expectation clashes with a cultural reluctance to give up the assumption of a biologically based stronger sex drive in men. If sex is bound by the gender expectations discussed here it will be difficult for women to step out of the caretaking role and assume the self-centered state necessary for full sexual experience.

The inconsistency in expectations for women (to, on the one hand, have a weak sexual drive, yet on the other hand be sexually aroused and have orgasm when their partners initiate) can lead to further problems, as women may perceive they are expected to perform sexually but find they cannot. The widespread dissatisfaction of women with their sexual rela­tionships has been documented. Morokoff (1998) reviewed literature on the prevalence of arousal disorders in women. Estimates ranged from 12% of women diagnosed with an arousal phase disorder (Levine & Yost, 1976) to 48% of a sample of normal women who indicated “difficulty getting excited” (Frank, Anderson, & Rubinstein, 1978). A study conducted by Rosen, Taylor, Leiblum, and Bachmann (1993) revealed that about a quar­ter of women indicated overall dissatisfaction with their sexual relation­ships. Lack of pleasure was the most frequently cited problem, with 61% of women indicating this was a problem at least some of the time.