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Women's Internalized Oppression: Undermining Your Own Sexuality

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"Slut!"

Like children telling stories about a scary old man, women criticize each other's sexuality - from a safe distance.

"Slut!"

It's hit and run.

"Slut" is what women call a woman who is "too" sexual. It's someone who can enjoy sex without being in love. Someone who admits she enjoys sex more than a woman "should." In other words, it's a woman who can enjoy sex the way only men are supposed to be able to.

"Look at her, all over him. Is she even wearing a bra? God, anyone can tell what's on her mind...what is she, a nympho?"

But there are costs to this sisterly vigilance. Aware that others will be judging them, it makes women wonder if they're withholding their sexuality "enough." Or it makes them proud that they do. Either way, it says that repressing yourself is an important part of sexuality and relationships. And that's a destructive idea.

Women are caught in a historical collision between the sexual values of the past and future. Religion, the media and our families are sending out contradictory messages about sexuality that are driving women crazy.

Consider: Today's woman is supposed to be sexy, but not too sexy. She's supposed to be responsive enough to validate her partner, but not too aggressive or hard to please. Sexual, but not lusty. Not frigid, but not quite red hot. Her sexuality should express love, not lust.

In short, she has to be sexual in just the right way, regardless of her actual feelings or needs. To conform, to be an acceptable female, women have to carefully modulate, and therefore undermine, their own sexuality.

Monitoring, labeling and criticizing other women are only a few of the many ways that women sabotage their own sexuality. Let's look at several others; do you have a voice in your head saying these or similar self-destructive things?

* "Distrust lust; keep your privates private."

"My mother taught me not to dress too sexy," says one dynamic woman I know, "because I shouldn't attract too much attention." For years she followed this code, even as an adult.

Add a Comment113 Comments

(reply to Anonymous)

I agree. Thank you for posting this. Makes sense to me.

September 12, 2009 - 6:20pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Exactly.

July 20, 2009 - 6:07am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

Wow, after having read your article and then reading some of the comments left in response to it, I'm blown away. Did everyone read the same article? I don't recall it promoting sex with just anyone and everyone. You helped me to feel better about that fact that I do enjoy sex with my mate. I have no problem letting him know what I like or when I would like it. I am "swept away" every single time we make love. He makes me feel like I am the sexiest woman on earth. We have no set time limit on sex or foreplay. Sex is not just for making babies, it is not dirty, and it is not just for men to enjoy.

July 17, 2009 - 6:12am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

A "slut" is not someone who "can enjoy sex the way only men are supposed to be able to". It is not an accusation made by a woman who is sexually repressed.
When I see a woman I would call a "slut", I am looking at a woman who seems to lack self-respect, meaning that she is the type to act like a porn star (as in: fake), and degrade herself to please her partner while neglecting her own needs.
Calling someone a "slut" is destructive, but not in the sense you are saying it is, Dr. Klein. This criticism does not sabotage one's own sexuality!
Women should please their mates. But they should actively pursue their own sexual pleasure as well. This seems to be the message you are sending, which I agree with. If I think a woman is a slut, I am feeling bad for her! You seem to think the slut is doing it right, but she is not an example of "healthy adult sexuality".
Women should be comfortable with their bodies! This does not mean women should dress "sexy". Dressing sexy may make a woman feel empowered, but think about it. When a woman dresses like that, she gets a lot of looks from men, many of which are unwanted looks - the women get offended or feel uncomfortable, particularly if the male in question is 'unattractive' etc. And when the looks are appreciated, that is still a woman, being judged by a male, and judging herself by that male's approval or disapproval. If you don't need a man to feel sexy, you should't need lingerie to feel sexy either.
The part about women turning themselves on is a good point though, I do believe. :]

July 14, 2009 - 11:22am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Anonymous)

Whatever you mean by 'slut', it still has negative connotations almost purely associated with women and although you may believe that women should not suppress their own sexual desires, it still implies such an ideology. By putting women down by calling them 'sluts', you are only encouraging other women and men to do the same, thus making it harder to break these gender roles. So by calling a pornstar a slut, although she is (i feel, as you do) disrespecting and degrading herself, does this attacking actually help progress towards a view where women can be comfortable with their sexuality as men are, or encourage women to suppress their sexuality in order to comply to social 'norms', or destructively flaunt it in search of approval from men? Notice how you do not mention or criticise male pornstars, are they not equally degrading or disrespecting to themselves, or is this because our culture deems a high libido in males part of their nature and therefore allowed?

August 28, 2009 - 5:53am
(reply to Anonymous)

Dear Anon, if I choose to dress sexy, and share my physical charms with people around me, why would I then be offended by admiring glances? How is highlighting my physical body disrespectful of my person? Or make me "slutty" as your comments imply? I have a body (not a great one, but not a bad one either), if someone wants to admire it, have at it. IMO, you should enjoy the view around you, whether it's the landscape, cars, houses, flowers or an attractive person.

Having been athletic and muscular when I was younger, and then ballooning up to nearly 300 lbs while married, and now on the way to fitness and health again (at 40), I find myself in an interesting position. Being married for nearly 20 years, and then widowed, has granted me the strength to pull off the blinders I wore for so long. I have a much healthier view of my body and my sexuality than I have for years.

I have always been as sexually aggressive as most men. Growing up, I frequently restrained myself from enjoying the ultimate act of sharing and pleasure you can have with someone else, for fear of offending societal mores. After I married my husband, things were better, but not all that much. This is not to suggest that I wanted to have sex with anyone other than my husband. I didn’t. I just wanted to have sex more often and be more open about trying different things than he did.

As a result, I have been sexually frustrated most of my life - and turned to food to compensate. Ugh! I was a mess. Now, though, it’s like an epiphany. I don’t know if I’ll remarry (I hope I find someone again), but regardless, I know that I intend to enjoy sex without guilt. Sleeping around doesn’t appeal, but I am not going to pretend that I am sexually neuter either!

July 15, 2009 - 1:09pm
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous (reply to Grendels04)

Grendels04,
I'm sorry for your loss and frustration.
It is possible to dress in a sexually appealing manner without being distasteful.
I'm not saying it's right, but when a woman dresses a certain way, she attracts men whether or not that was her intention.
You seem to be open to the looks you are attracting, which is great.

Speaking only from my own observations in many cases a man will think a woman is looking for a partner when she dresses a certain way, and when he goes up and speaks with her, she turns him down without considering him. If you are actually looking for a partner, then by all means, dress like it. I'm just warning that dressing that way WILL attract men to you.
A woman is disrespecting herself if she needs that attraction to feel that she is sexy. I'm not saying that every person who dresses that way is disrespecting themselves, only that they should feel sexy even if they don't get those looks.*
I do not mean that dressing "slutty" makes a person a slut.
My definition of slut- a person who will sleep with almost anyone, with few standards.
Therefore, the only thing that makes a person a slut is sleeping with many random people and not caring who they are sleeping with.

I do not believe that it's wrong for a person to sleep around, if they are doing it (safely) for their own pleasure with consenting partners who are doing it for the same reasons whom they will also try to please. (Not because they are drunk, not because they are being pressured into it, not to make up for a void in another area of their life etc. But BECAUSE THEY WANT TO).
I am not suggesting that you "pretend" anything, I am suggesting quite the contrary!

You should NOT feel guilty about doing anything that makes you comfortable, especially when it makes those you are with feel comfortable.

You seem to be a wonderful, confident woman and you will find someone who wants the same things you want, definitely.
Have fun!!
:]

*I have a very sexy friend who dresses modestly, is brilliant, funny, and diplomatic. She knows she is sexy, yet men don't try to pick her up. She is very friendly, but guys just assume she is not looking for anyone since she dresses the way she does. Meaning that men WILL think a woman is looking for something when she dresses to show off her body.

July 16, 2009 - 7:29am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

I was raised by a single mother who was abused as a young woman, so sex was a weapon used against yourself, it was a means to an end, it was destructive and powerful and poisonous- but never wholesome, never loving. It was on one hand thrilling and on the other hand horrific. I was raised to see my body as a sexual object, and any male attention that was romantic was deemed predatory. He only wants me for sex (not even for my body because I was overweight and men don't like fat women.)

Here I am now, a grown woman with a beautiful husband who loves me for me, we have wonderful sex and yet...I still struggle with thinking that my husband sees my body for real. I secretly think he must be delusional, or blinded by his love for me (how weird! how sick it sounds when I say that!) I engaged in all sorts of clandestine sexual affairs before I met him, and always believed that these men just wanted a hole (pardon my bluntness, but it is there for a point.) and not me. That any woman or toy would do, I just happened to be the more handy option.

From a wounded woman seeking healing, I am so grateful you took the time to listen to woman and report back on common themes in our lives. I was a daughter raised by a woman whose critiques (she should not be wearing that- does she know how cheap that looks?- Loser!- Slut!) painted my entire view of body image and sexuality. Please be good to your daughters. they listen to everything you say, and they hear every word you don't. I know.

July 14, 2009 - 7:16am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

P.S. correction, not to compare themselves with the beautiful airbrushed cadavers they see on TV, magazines, etc.

July 11, 2009 - 10:00am
EmpowHER Guest
Anonymous

I've never been comfortable with my sexuality, but I don't want my daughters to feel that way so I tell them all the time they are smart, beautiful, and to compare themselves with the beautiful airbrush cadavers they see on magazines. I have told them that sex is a beautiful thing if you wait until the right person comes along, and if you think things over and decide that even if things don't work out you will have no regrets to have shared such an intimate experience. At the same time I have told them to wait until they can make a conscientious decision about when to start being sexually active. I also have a son and have given him the same advice. I don't believe in double standards in my house the rules are the same for my boy and my girls.

July 11, 2009 - 9:59am
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We value and respect our HERWriters' experiences, but everyone is different. Many of our writers are speaking from personal experience, and what's worked for them may not work for you. Their articles are not a substitute for medical advice, although we hope you can gain knowledge from their insight.

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