Months have passed since Rush Limbaugh apologized for the scathing insults he spewed about a female student who spoke out before congress on the importance of birth control to young women. Yet, echoes of the terms Limbaugh used, “slut,” “prostitute” and “feminazi,” should still be ringing in our ears. Moreover, they should force us to look beyond extremist political personalities and examine how society itself views a woman’s sexuality and what effect this is having on women.
In 1960, the birth control pill put women in charge of their bodies and their sexuality. In the following years, The Feminist Movement demanded women get equal opportunity, pay, responsibility and choice. The degree to which society has shifted since then is considerable. However, we somehow still find ourselves living in a world where our culture persists in sending women mixed messages about their sexuality. We want women to be objects of sexual desire, yet we expect them to be pure. We ask them to own their sexuality but deny them easy access to birth control. Women who’ve taken an equal position to men in acknowledging their sexual nature are often accused of being “easy” or “manipulative.”
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One of the most shameful insults to a man is the accusation that he is not masculine. For a woman, it is that she is sexually loose or a slut. For a man, sleeping with a lot of women can be a point of pride. For a woman, it’s a point of shame. These contradictions and double standards should have us asking why it’s considered shameful for a woman to be sexual.
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Despite our social advances, our culture is still guilty of casting women as what author Estela Welldon described as “Mother, Madonna, [or] Whore.” To put a woman into any of these categories is to deny essential aspects of who she is. Common opinions about female sexuality range from accusing women of being prudish or withholding of sex to being seductive and using their sexuality as a source of power or manipulation. These skewed views steer us away from seeing the reality that, just like men, women have a natural and healthy desire to be sexual.
Pushing the idea that men are from Mars and women are from Venus only helps make the sexes feel more alien from each other. In fact, when it comes to an untainted expression of sexuality, women and men are much more similar to each other than you may think. In explaining “The Gender Similarities Hypothesis,” researcher Janet Hyde emphasized that although gender difference is “large for incidences of masturbation and for attitudes about sex in an uncommitted relationship, the gender difference in reported sexual satisfaction is close to zero.”