The Women of Ellensburg: Issues of Women in Washington State
The Status of Female Sexuality
During the 1960's, Masters and Johnson proved that the prevailing notion - that women were by nature less sexually responsive than men - was false. They demonstrated, for instance, that the so-called missionary position in sexual intercourse was unlikely to stimulate a large proportion of women to orgasm; that for women all orgasmic response is centered in the clitoris; and that women are capable of experiencing multiple orgasms.
Yet, women's sexual attitudes and behavior today indicate that they are either not aware of these facts or that knowing the facts is now sufficient to overcome sexual problems. Master's and Johnson's figures indicated that only one-third of women enjoyed sex and that the other two-thirds tolerated or avoided it. This was attributed to the fact that women have been conditioned to regulate and block their sexual feelings through adolescence when, because of the double standard, teenage girls who participated in sexual foreplay or intercourse could have their good reputations ruined or become pregnant. Freeing those sexual feelings in adulthood has not always been automatic, as is evidenced by the long waiting lists for sex counseling at clinics such as the Seattle Institute for Sex Therapy, Education, and Research (SISTER), a ferninist organization which works with women and their partners to help them "unlearn" such conditioning.
The "Herstory" of Female Sexuality
The recent enlightment about female sexuality is not unique in herstory. Archeological evidence indicates that patriarchal cultures and religions now predominating were preceded in ancient times (before 4,000 B.C.) by societies that worshipped goddesses. In these matriarchal societies, female sexuality was a sacred and joyous gift from the goddesses to be celebrated. Because inheritance was through females to their children, knowledge of fatherhood was irrelevant, and women enjoyed guiltless polyandry. Creation myths dictated that the world started with a woman who parthenogenically gave birth to a male. When these societies were invaded by patriarchal, warlike nomads, a battle of religions ensued in which female sexuality was the victim. For inheritance from father to son to take place, the father's identity had to be known and the violation of monogramy by females was punished with increasing severity. Creation myths were rewritten until a woman and her carnal desires became responsible for the evils of the world.
Female sexuality and mysticism were linked until the Inquisition of the 1600's, which set out to eliminate witchcraft. Witchcraft supposedly came from woman's insatiable carnal lust and was reputedly responsible for causing male impotence, impeding marriage, and interfering with reproduction.
Eighteenth and nineteenth century literature is filled with great male lovers and properly disinterested females. In the Victorian era, Freud supplied further theories about female sexuality, and male gynecologists, psychologists, authors, husbands, and lovers continued to define female sexuality while women were raised to "endure the burden" of pleasing their husbands and raising children. Even today, fear and suspicion greet the wornan who enjoys sex in our society.