We’ve Come a Long Way, Baby! Reflections On Female Sexuality Strike a Chord
One of the best rewards for writing—since it’s rarely the money—are the letters and emails I receive, like the following. Each one always contains some nugget of wisdom, and this one—from a Southern belle of just 76—contains many. It reminds us that for most women, life today is much better than it was decades ago. And we’re more honest in how we live it. Of course, there are still women out there who struggle with these problems, which is why I’m sharing this letter with my readers. I’ve reprinted it in its original form, after making sure the writer had no objection to me doing so. —Daleen
I just finished your book, which moved me profoundly and stirred up some long-repressed memories of my own. I am 76 years old and have been a lifelong observer of the plights of women as they try to reconcile their personal religious training and hormonal urges with what they are ‘told’ they OUGHT to be feeling by standards set in romantic or erotic literature and what is depicted in films with the reality of their marital lives.
I daresay that, at least for the majority of women of my generation, our lives were more sacrificed than lived. Females wanted love, so they bartered the promise of sex; and males wanted sex, so they bartered the promise of love. Having food, shelter, and protection from all the threats society proclaimed women were helpless to address themselves was a major component of accepting the proposal of marriage.
I remember a conversation I once had with my paternal grandmother when she was in her early 80’s and I had come to visit her, and to tell her that I had just learned that I was pregnant with my 3rd child. I thought she would be overjoyed at the news; but instead, she seemed dismayed. Since she was a staid and dignified person, I was startled when she suddenly wrapped her arms around me and hugged me close. I’ll never forget her words, as she crushed me to her starched bosom:
“Never mind, Dear ….. when men get in their 40’s, we don’t have to put up with it much anymore.”
Too stunned to reply, I watched her prepare tea, and as she concentrated on pouring it into two china cups, she casually commented, “Have you ever had a climax, Dear?” I had never discussed sex with even my closest lady friends, since in my religion any reference to a subject related to “impure thought” was a mortal sin; much less with my elegant, proper grandmother. But since she had asked, I felt honor-bound to respond; so I hesitantly admitted that, yes, on occasion, I actually had experienced a “climax.”
Her face took on a sad, wistful look. “so then, they ARE real…” she stated, as if to herself. I learned over tea with her that afternoon that neither she, nor any women friends or relatives of her acquaintance, had ever had an orgasm. During their entire married unions, they had always “pretended,” for the sake of their husbands’ egos; lest he think his wife considered him an inadequate lover. Because they had read romantic literature and they had seen movies where the heroines spontaneously thrilled and throbbed at a man’s first thrust; yet had not themselves experienced anything remotely like that (and, in fact, found intercourse to be uncomfortable, often painful and embarrassingly messy — albeit mandatory), they kept to themselves a terrible guilt; assuming themselves to be “frigid.”
Sex, for generations of women, was something they did in order to make someone else happy. Far from giving them(selves) physical or emotional pleasure, sex was the price they paid in order not to be abandoned to a society where unmarried women were objects of pity and ridicule, and where their options were limited to becoming teachers, nurses, or librarians….. inevitably destined to become the live-in caretakers of aging parents or siblings.
It was the only time my grandmother and I ever spoke of such things. But I’ve remembered that afternoon conversation very often through my life; especially her concluding comment, which was: “Sometimes I think there is no such thing as a ‘frigid woman;’ there are only clumsy men.”