Problems Understanding Women’s Sexuality
A second consequence of these assumed gender differences is that it is difficult for a woman to determine what constitutes her own sexuality. Since man’s autonomous sexuality is culturally defined and woman’s is not, women (and men) may be expected to have difficulty understanding and conceptualizing women’s sexuality. Women’s autonomous sexuality is culturally silent and invisible. It does not exist in the culturally sanctioned biological explanation. It does not exist in cultural depictions except as it takes the masculine form of the bad girl. Further complicating women’s attempts to understand their sexuality is that their sexuality (i. e., patterns of sexual arousal) may be subverted through pornography. The dominant – submissive structure to male and female sexuality frequently becomes internalized with respect to sexual arousal. Pornography graphically depicts the traditional gender roles for sexuality with men in dominant positions and women in degraded or submissive positions. Men enact their sexual will on women. This has the potential to lead to sexual arousal for women. In the biological model, arousal is a powerful force that demands its gratification, that will lead the individual to stop at nothing to satisfy. This means that the individual is sexually aroused beyond control. In the male role gratification this is accomplished through aggressiveness. In the female role, it is accomplished through self-degradation. If dominant-submissive roles are internalized, women may see their own sexuality as degraded.
What can lead women to internalize a gender role of self-degradation when sexually aroused? This may occur as a result of exposure and arousal to pornographic depictions. How would children and young women become exposed to such imagery? Such imagery is very common in the media at present, especially on MTV and advertising, especially fashion advertising. For example, in fashion advertising, women may be portrayed looking bruised or battered (e. g., “heroin chic”) as a means of looking attractive. Furthermore, if women have been sexually abused or exposed to pornography as children, they will have been exposed to sexual domination and violence leading to the equation of sex and self-degradation. A consequence of this may be to internalize self-degradation in their own arousal patterns, and to find themes of dominance and submission sexually arousing. It is typical in our culture to teach adolescent boys to be aroused to these themes through masturbation to pornography. It is considered natural for young adolescent boys to get hold of pornographic pictures depicting themes of dominance and submission and masturbate to them. This is the traditional sexual initiation for boys in our culture.
This internalized fantasy structure dove tails with global cultural expectations for men but not women. Thus, although a sexuality based on arousal to dominance-submission themes may be no more natural for men than for women, it seems natural because it is consistent with the cultural belief structure of male sexuality (i. e., men are easily sexually aroused, men are the sexually dominant gender, men are aroused by seeing themselves in this role) as well as men’s autonomous, agentic role as breadwinner for the family. These sexual fantasies are inconsistent with the cultural belief structure of female sexuality (nonexistence of an autonomous sexuality, passivity, lack of a strong sex drive) and with women’s larger obligations of responsibility for general caretaking. These fantasies are thus confusing and discordant for women.
The woman with sexual feelings has been coopted as an image for men’s sexual pleasure in pornography. There is little explicit sexual material that does not act out dominance relationships (pornography; Cowan, Lee, Levy, & Synder, 1988). As discussed, through exposure, women may internalize these images in their own fantasy. Furthermore, as demonstrated in much of women’s fashion women may act out these images to please men and themselves to the extent that they have internalized these themes.