Most of us are probably aware that women face negative messages in our culture. But you may not realize that negative messages received throughout women’s formative years can have a profound impact on how they see themselves sexually and how they feel about having sex. By rejecting and transcending these messages, women can develop a strong erotic core, allowing them to get in touch with their desire, ask for what they want, refuse what they don’t want, and feel joy in their body.
Here are some common harmful messages that women hear, even sub-consciously, about their sexuality;
A woman’s body is an object. Throughout their life and particularly in the formative teenage years, women may get unwanted sexual attention. Whether it is cat-calls from construction workers, or too-long stares from men, this unwanted sexual attention takes women out of their body. They can feel like just an object to be lusted after – and having weaker physical capability increases their vulnerability. Rather than enjoying their maturing sexual body, their development can feel dangerous.
A woman who wants sex is a slut. This message is pervasive from pre-teen years throughout adulthood. One man I worked with, whose wife had low libido, completely denied his teenage daughter’s claim that she had been the sexual initiator with her boyfriend. He refused to see his daughter as having desire because somehow that sullied his vision of her purity or her femininity. The modern incarnation of this message is the prevalence of ‘slut shaming.’ This background message is in sharp contrast to the message about men who are interested in sex: sexual interest is almost synonymous with being male.
For women, giving themselves permission to feel sexual and to want sex is the first step in developing a healthy erotic core. Exploring their own body to know which touches feel good and arouse them means their body is an instrument of pleasure, which they can then share as they please.
A woman’s body doesn’t belong to them. The media’s superficial focus on women’s appearance and dress can leave them feeling like their body doesn’t belong to them. Media messages, from the “you won’t believe what she looks like now” headlines about actresses from the past to news segments discussing a female politician’s clothes, suggest that women’s value is in their appearance and that they are a commodity for public consumption. The focus is rarely on women’s character, wisdom, intellect, contribution, or any other internal quality. All too easily women can join in this objectification of their body by critical observation. Suddenly, they are outside their body observing it instead of being an embodied person.
If these types of cultural messages have influenced the way you see yourself, here are a few ways to lessen the effects:
- To recover the sense that your body is integrated and whole, acknowledge to yourself that your actions and experiences matter more than just your physical appearance. When you feel your agency in the world, you’ll feel freer to express your sexual desire.
- If you find yourself on the outside looking in, gently return to the physical sensations of taste, touch, and sensation.
- Speak kindly about your body. Research proves that self-acceptance is the fastest route to change.
And, if you have daughters, reinforce to them that it’s good and natural to be interested in sexuality.
Note: If you have low libido, see a doctor to rule out possible physical causes. If you have trauma that still hasn’t been processed or still hurts to think about, seek care from a therapist.