Human female sexuality
Human female sexuality encompasses a broad range of behaviors and processes, including female sexual identity and sexual behavior, the physiological, psychological, social, cultural, political, and spiritual or religious aspects of sexual activity. Various aspects and dimensions of female sexuality, as a part of human sexuality, have also been addressed by principles of ethics, morality, and theology. In almost any historical era and culture, the arts, including literary and visual arts, as well as popular culture, present a substantial portion of a given society's views on human sexuality, which also include implicitly or explicitly female sexuality.
In most societies and legal jurisdictions, there are legal bounds on what sexual behavior is permitted. Sexuality varies across the cultures and regions of the world, and has continually changed throughout history, and this applies equally to female sexuality. Aspects of female sexuality include issues pertaining to biological sex, body image, self-esteem, personality, sexual orientation, values and attitudes, gender roles, relationships, activity options, and communication.
Orgasm, or sexual climax, is the sudden discharge of accumulated sexual tension during the sexual response cycle, resulting in rhythmic muscular contractions in the pelvic region characterized by an intense sensation of pleasure. Women commonly find it difficult to experience orgasms; Mayo Clinic states: "Orgasms vary in intensity, and women vary in the frequency of their orgasms and the amount of stimulation necessary to trigger an orgasm." Additionally, some women may require more than one type of sexual stimulation in order to achieve orgasm.
Orgasm in women has typically been divided into two categories: clitoral and vaginal (or G-spot) orgasms. 70-80% of women require direct clitoral stimulation to achieve orgasm, though indirect clitoral stimulation may also be sufficient. Clitoral orgasms are easier to achieve because the glans of the clitoris, or clitoris as a whole, has more than 8,000 sensory nerve endings, as many (or more in some cases) nerve endings present in the human penis or glans penis. As the clitoris is homologous to the penis, it is the equivalent in its capacity to receive sexual stimulation.
Although vaginal orgasms are more difficult to achieve, the G-spot area may produce an orgasm if properly stimulated. The G-spot's existence, and existence as a distinct structure, is still under dispute, as its location may vary from woman to woman and appears to be nonexistent in some women and it is hypothesized to be an extension of the clitoris.
Women are able to experience multiple orgasms. 'Multiple' means more than one orgasm, experienced one immediately after another, while 'sequential' means orgasms occur one after another but are separated by a few minutes. Even though multiple orgasms are very rarely experienced, they are not impossible. Author Mark Levinson considers them to be the ultimate climax women can achieve. Sometimes, female multiple orgasms are accompanied by female ejaculation.
Women are able to achieve multiple orgasms due to the fact that they generally do not require a refractory period like men do after the first orgasm; though generally reported that women do not experience a refractory period and thus can experience an additional orgasm, or multiple orgasms, soon after the first orgasm, some sources state that both men and women experience a refractory period because women may also experience a period after orgasm in which further sexual stimulation does not produce excitement. However, achieving multiple orgasms is not as easy as sometimes perceived, given that women generally reach orgasms with greater difficulty than men, and people have a variety of erogenous zones that can be stimulated. During heterosexual sexual activity, it is common that men stop stimulating a woman after experiencing orgasm themselves and losing their erections, and this may be one of the reasons why many women do not achieve more than one orgasm. However, some women do not want to be pressured into another orgasm, as the stimulation can be overwhelming or painful, while other women are eager for another orgasm.
Biological and evolutionary function
The biological function of a woman's orgasm is not completely understood, as some researchers suggest that it does not appear to serve an essential purpose to human survival. Dr. Helen O'Connell said, "It boils down to rivalry between the sexes: the idea that one sex is sexual and the other reproductive. The truth is that both are sexual and both are reproductive." O'Connell used MRI technology to define the true size and shape of the clitoris, showing that it extends considerably inside the vagina. She describes typical textbook descriptions of the clitoris as lacking detail and including inaccuracies, saying that the work of Georg Ludwig Kobelt in the early 19th century provides a most comprehensive and accurate description of clitoral anatomy. O'Connell asserts that the bulbs appear to be part of the clitoris and that the distal urethra and vagina are intimately related structures, although they are not erectile in character, forming a tissue cluster with the clitoris. This cluster appears to be the locus of female sexual function and orgasm.
At the 2002 conference for Canadian Society of Women in Philosophy, Dr. Nancy Tuana asserted that the clitoris is unnecessary in reproduction and therefore it has been "historically ignored," mainly because of "a fear of pleasure. It is pleasure separated from reproduction. That's the fear". She reasoned that this fear is the cause of the ignorance that veils female sexuality. Other theories suggest that muscular contractions associated with orgasms pull sperm from the vagina to the cervix, where it is in a better position to reach the egg.
The female erogenous zones are areas with nerve endings that increase the sensitivity and their stimulation results in sexual response. The aim of exploring the female erogenous areas is to increase her level of arousal in order to enjoy the act and potentially reach an orgasm. The erogenous zones are different from woman to woman and it is also likely that the stimulation of the erogenous areas that some women find pleasant and exciting may be impossible to bear for others.
Historical conceptions and control
In the ancient civilizations of India, Japan, and China, the subject of female sexuality was expressed in several writings and commentaries. For example, much of the Kama Sutra, an ancient Indian treatise on sex and sexuality, deals with female sexuality.
Historically, many cultures have viewed female sexuality as being subordinate to male sexuality, and as something to be controlled through restrictions on female behavior. Traditional cultural practices, such as enforced modesty and chastity, have historically tended to place restrictions principally on women, without imposing similar restrictions on men.
Some controversial traditional cultural practices, such as female genital mutilation (FGM), have been described as attempts at nullifying women's sexuality altogether. FGM continues to be practised in some parts of Africa and the Middle East, as well as in some immigrant communities in Western countries, though it is widely outlawed. The procedure is typically carried out on young girls, before the age of 15.
Methods employed to control female sexuality and behavior include the threat of death, such as honor killings. The reason for such a killing may include refusing to enter an arranged marriage, being in a relationship that is disapproved by their relatives, having sex outside marriage, becoming the victim of rape, or dressing in ways which are deemed inappropriate.
Another historical device used to control female sexual behavior was the chastity belt, which is a locking item of clothing designed to prevent sexual intercourse. The belts were worn by women to protect their chastity, which included preventing masturbation or sexual access by unauthorized males.
In the modern age, psychologists and physiologists engaged in the task of exploring female sexuality. Sigmund Freud propounded the theory of two kinds of female orgasms, "the vaginal kind, and the clitoral orgasm." However, research, such as that done by Masters and Johnson (1966) and Dr. Helen O'Connell (2005), reject this distinction.
Ernst Gräfenberg was famous for his studies of female genitalia and human female sexual physiology; he published, among other studies, the seminal The Role of Urethra in Female Orgasm (1950), which describes female ejaculation, as well as an erogenous zone where the urethra is closest to the vaginal wall. In 1981, sexologists John D. Perry and Beverly Whipple named that area the Gräfenberg spot, or G-spot, in his honor. While the medical community generally has not embraced the complete concept of the G-spot, Sanger, Kinsey, and Masters and Johnson credit his extensive physiological work.
Some researchers challenge the notion that women only want sex for the physical closeness or cuddling, by identifying the characteristics of highly sexual women. These women characterized as "highly sexual" held more favorable attitudes toward casual sex, fantasized about sex often and enjoyed sex outside of a committed relationship. These findings support the view that the importance of sex or cuddling is not solely based on gender.
|Part of a series on|
The feminist movement, and the increasing social status of women in modern society, have led to women's sexuality being reassessed as a subject in its own right. During the 1970s and 1980s, in the wake of the sexual revolution, numerous feminist writers started to address the question of female sexuality from their own female perspective, rather than allowing female sexuality to be defined in terms of largely male studies. One of the first such popular non-fiction books was Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden. Other writers, such as Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir and Camille Paglia, were particularly influential in this, although their views were not universally or placidly accepted. Toward the end of the twentieth century the most significant European contributions to understanding female sexuality came from psychoanalytical French feminism, with the work of Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva.
Lesbianism and female bisexuality also emerged as topics of interest within feminism. A short-lived concept of political lesbianism within the feminist movement led to temporary schisms between heterosexual and lesbian women, then rapidly floundered in the face of the acceptance that most women's sexuality was not defined by politics, but by their own sexual preferences.
Feminist attitudes to female sexuality have varied in scope throughout the movement's history. Generally, modern feminists advocate for all women to have access to sexual healthcare and education, and agree on the importance of reproductive health freedoms, particularly regarding issues such as birth control and family planning. Bodily autonomy and consent are also concepts of high importance in modern feminist views of female sexuality.
Matters such as the sex industry, sexual representation in the media, and issues regarding consent to sex under conditions of male dominance have been more controversial topics among feminists. These debates culminated in the late 1970s and the 1980s, in what came to be known as the Feminist Sex Wars, which pitted anti-pornography feminism against sex-positive feminism. Parts of the feminist movement were deeply divided on these issues.
Women as responsible for sexual safety
With regard to the responsibility for safe sexual activity in heterosexual relationships, the commonly held definition of safe sex may be examined; it has been argued that there are three facets to the common perception of safe sex: emotional safety (trusting one's partner), psychological safety (feeling safe), and biomedical safety (the barrier of fluids which may cause pregnancy or transmit disease). The phrase "safe sex" is commonly known to refer to biomedical safety.
Since the emergence of sexual independence (in the West), health officials have launched campaigns to bring awareness to the risks of unprotected sexual intercourse. While the dangers of unprotected sex include unintended pregnancy, sexually transmitted infections (STIs/STDs), with HIV/AIDS being the deadliest, the use of contraceptive devices (the most reliable being condoms) remain inconsistent. Campaigns that advocate consistent condom use are frequently targeted toward women. They often place the greatest responsibility for safe sex on women and there are several social constructions and assumptions that are to be taken into account to understand the reasoning why.
The social construction of masculinity and femininity play a lead role in understanding why women are commonly held responsible for the outcome of sexual encounters. Often, societies create different sexual norms and assumptions for women and men, with female and male sexuality often seen as being the opposite of one another: for example, females are commonly taught that they "should not want sexual activity or find it pleasurable, or have sexual relations outside of marriage," while males are commonly taught to "feel entitled to have sexual relations and pleasure and that their self-worth is demonstrated through their sexual prowess and notions of authority and power". Sexual interactions often take place in unequal structural circumstances in the context of imbalance of power between men and women. Feminists, such as Catharine Mackinnon, have stated that the inequality in which heterosexual intercourse takes place should not be ignored and should play a crucial role in policies; Mackinnon has argued: "The assumption is that women can be unequal to men economically, socially, culturally, politically, and in religion, but the moment they have sexual interactions, they are free and equal. That's the assumption - and I think it ought to be thought about, and in particular what consent then means."
Socially constructed masculinity might suggest that men have a higher sex drive than women, that men are constantly interested in sex, and that once men are sexually aroused, they must be satisfied through orgasm. This drive is intertwined with the male identity and consequently creates a momentum that, once started, is difficult to stop. Socially constructed femininity might suggest the connotation of passivity, which has impacted the cultural importance of female desire. This is a factor that contributes to women's sexual desires being largely ignored; because men are seen as unable to control their sexuality, this can make women responsible for enforcing condom use instead of the "uncontrollable" male. Some scholars argue that a contributing factor in this division of responsibility for safe sex factors is the privileged status of male desire in Western culture, as indicated by the commonly held belief that the female sexual experience is not adversely impacted by condom use but that the male sexual experience is diminished with the addition of this barrier. They believe that this is problematic, as the use of condoms is symbolically linked to casual sex and promiscuity, which goes against the social norms of femininity. This link is considered something that cannot be underestimated as "discontinuation of condom use becomes a test or a marker which signifies the existence of a committed and exclusive relationship," and demonstrates trust.
Others speculate that the responsibility for condom use falling on women is not so much imposed by society, but is instead resultant of the possible consequences of unprotected sex being generally more serious for women than men (pregnancy, greater likelihood of STI transmission, etc.). Bacterial STIs, such as chlamydia and gonorrhea, show that rates among women can be three times higher than men in high prevalence areas of the United States, and one-fourth of pregnancies in developing countries and one-half of pregnancies in the United States are unintended.
Another social idea of sexuality is the coital imperative. The coital imperative is the idea that for sex to be real, there must be penile-vaginal intercourse. For many women, this imposes limitations to the sexual possibilities and a condom is seen as a symbol of the end of the sexual experience. Public acceptance of penis-vagina penetration as central to a sexual relationship is reinforced by the focus on condom use. These ideas, male sex drive and coital imperative, paired with the social construction of femininity, may lead to an imbalance of the power in making the decision to use a condom.
- Birth control
- Erotic plasticity
- Female promiscuity
- Feminist theory
- French feminism
- Human female reproductive system
- Human male sexuality
- Women's erotica
- Masters, W.H., & Johnson, V.E. (1970). Human Sexual Response. Boston: Little, Brown and Company.
- "Orgasm". Health.discovery.com. Retrieved 21 April 2010.
- "Mayo Clinic; Womans Health". Mayo Clinic. Retrieved 2010-11-23.
- Mah K, Binik YM (May 2002). "Do all orgasms feel alike? Evaluating a two-dimensional model of the orgasm experience across gender and sexual context". Journal of Sex Research 39 (2): 104–13. doi:10.1080/00224490209552129. PMID 12476242.
- Marshall Cavendish Corporation (2009). Sex and Society, Volume 2. Marshall Cavendish Corporation. p. 590. ISBN 0761479074. Retrieved August 17, 2012.
- "'I Want a Better Orgasm!'". WebMD. Retrieved August 18, 2011.
- Joseph A. Flaherty, John Marcell Davis, Philip G. Janicak (1993, Digitized Oct 29, 2010). Psychiatry: Diagnosis & therapy. A Lange clinical manual. Appleton & Lange (Original from Northwestern University). p. 217. ISBN 0-8385-1267-4. "The amount of time of sexual arousal needed to reach orgasm is variable — and usually much longer — in women than in men; thus, only 20-30% of women attain a coital climax. b. Many women (70-80%) require manual clitoral stimulation..."
- Mah, Kenneth; Binik, Yitzchak M (7 January 2001). "The nature of human orgasm: a critical review of major trends". Clinical Psychology Review 21 (6): 823–856. doi:10.1016/S0272-7358(00)00069-6. PMID 11497209. "Women rated clitoral stimulation as at least somewhat more important than vaginal stimulation in achieving orgasm; only about 20% indicated that they did not require additional clitoral stimulation during intercourse."
- Kammerer-Doak, Dorothy; Rogers, Rebecca G. (June 2008). "Female Sexual Function and Dysfunction". Obstetrics and Gynecology Clinics of North America 35 (2): 169–183. doi:10.1016/j.ogc.2008.03.006. PMID 18486835. "Most women report the inability to achieve orgasm with vaginal intercourse and require direct clitoral stimulation ... About 20% have coital climaxes..."
- Federation of Feminist Women’s Health Centers (1991). A New View of a Woman’s Body. Feminist Heath Press. p. 46. ISBN 0-9629945-0-2.
- O'Connell HE, Sanjeevan KV, Hutson JM (October 2005). "Anatomy of the clitoris". The Journal of Urology 174 (4 Pt 1): 1189–95. doi:10.1097/01.ju.0000173639.38898.cd. PMID 16145367. Time for rethink on the clitoris - Lay summary – BBC News (11 June 2006).
- Elisabeth Anne Lloyd (2005). The case of the female orgasm: bias in the science of evolution. Harvard University Press. pp. 311 pages. ISBN 0-674-01706-4. Retrieved January 5, 2012.
- "I'm a woman who cannot feel pleasurable sensations during intercourse". Go Ask Alice!. 8 October 2004 (Last Updated/Reviewed on 17 October 2008). Archived from the original on January 7, 2011. Retrieved September 13, 2012.
- Harvey, Elizabeth D. (Winter 2002). "Anatomies of Rapture: Clitoral Politics/Medical Blazons". Signs 27 (2): 315–346. doi:10.1086/495689. JSTOR 3175784.
- Carroll, Janell L. (2009). Sexuality Now: Embracing Diversity. Cengage Learning. p. 118. ISBN 978-0-495-60274-3. Retrieved 23 June 2012.
- Francoeur, Robert T. (2000). The Complete Dictionary of Sexology. The Continuum Publishing Company. p. 180. ISBN 0-8264-0672-6.
- Kilchevsky A, Vardi Y, Lowenstein L, Gruenwald I. (January 2012). "Is the Female G-Spot Truly a Distinct Anatomic Entity?". The Journal of Sexual Medicine 2011. doi:10.1111/j.1743-6109.2011.02623.x. PMID 22240236. G-Spot Does Not Exist, 'Without A Doubt,' Say Researchers Lay summary – Huffington Post (January 19, 2012).
- "The G-spot". health.discovery.com. Retrieved December 21, 2011.
- Hines T (August 2001). "The G-Spot: A modern gynecologic myth". Am J Obstet Gynecol 185 (2): 359–62. doi:10.1067/mob.2001.115995. PMID 11518892.
- Rosenthal, Martha (2012). Human Sexuality: From Cells to Society. Cengage Learning. pp. 134–135. ISBN 0618755713. Retrieved September 17, 2012.
- The Sexual Response Cycle, University of California, Santa Barbara, archived from the original on 25 July 2011, retrieved 6 August 2012
- Levinson, Mark (2003). Satisfaction: The Art of the Female Orgasm. ISBN 0-446-69090-2.
- Daniel L. Schacter, Daniel T. Gilbert, Daniel M. Wegner (2010). Psychology. Macmillan. p. 336. ISBN 1429237198. Retrieved November 10, 2012.
- Irving B. Weiner, W. Edward Craighead (2010). The Corsini Encyclopedia of Psychology, Volume 2. John Wiley & Sons. p. 761. ISBN 0470170263. Retrieved November 10, 2012.
- Crooks, Robert (2002). Our Sexuality. Wadsworth-Thomson Learning. ISBN 978-0-534-57978-4.
- Dunn ME, Trost JE (October 1989). "Male multiple orgasms: a descriptive study". Archives of Sexual Behavior 18 (5): 377–87. doi:10.1007/BF01541970. PMID 2818169.
- Rathus, Spencer A.; Nevid, Jeffrey S.; Fichner-Rathus, Lois; Herold, Edward S.; McKenzie, Sue Wicks (2005). Human Sexuality In A World Of Diversity (Second ed.). New Jersey, USA: Pearson Education.
- Cairney, Richard (October 21, 2002). "Exploring female sexuality". ExpressNews. Archived from the original on June 29, 2011. Retrieved December 21, 2011.
- Stephen Jay Gould (2002). The Structure of Evolutionary Theory. Harvard University Press. pp. 1262–1263. ISBN 0674006135. Retrieved August 27, 2012.
- Review of General Psychology, by the Educational Publishing Foundation 2002, Vol. 6, No. 2, 166 –203: Cultural Suppression of Female Sexuality
- WHO, February 2014: Female genital mutilation
- UNICEF: Female genital mutilation/cutting
- http://www.bbc.co.uk/ethics/honourcrimes/[full citation needed]
- http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/honor+killing?s=t[full citation needed]
- Pitts-Talyor, Victoria (2008). Cultural Encyclopedia of the Body. Greenwood Publishing Group. pp. 517–519. ISBN 0313341451. Retrieved January 13, 2014.
- http://www.merriam-webster.com/dictionary/chastity%20belt[full citation needed]
- http://dictionary.reference.com/browse/chastity+belt[full citation needed]
- John Archer, Barbara Lloyd (2002). Sex and Gender. Cambridge University Press. pp. 85–88. ISBN 0521635330. Retrieved 25 August 2012.
- Charles Zastrow (2007). Introduction to Social Work and Social Welfare: Empowering People. Cengage Learning. p. 228. ISBN 0495095109. Retrieved March 15, 2014.
- Wentland, J. J.; Milhausen, R.R.; Desmarais, S. (2009). "Differentiating highly sexual women from less sexual women". Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality 18: 169–182.
- Duggan, Lisa; Hunter, Nan D. (1995). Sex wars: sexual dissent and political culture. New York: Routledge. ISBN 0-415-91036-6.
- Hansen, Karen Tranberg;; Philipson, Ilene J. (1990). Women, class, and the feminist imagination: a socialist-feminist reader. Philadelphia: Temple University Press. ISBN 0-87722-630-X.
- Gerhard, Jane F. (2001). Desiring revolution: second-wave feminism and the rewriting of American sexual thought, 1920 to 1982. New York: Columbia University Press. ISBN 0-231-11204-1.
- Leidholdt, Dorchen;; Raymond, Janice G (1990). The Sexual liberals and the attack on feminism. New York: Pergamon Press. ISBN 0-08-037457-3.
- Vance, Carole S. Pleasure and Danger: Exploring Female Sexuality. Thorsons Publishers. ISBN 0-04-440593-6.
- Bourne, Adam H., and Margaret A. Robson. "Perceiving risk and (re)constructing safety: The lived experience of having 'safe' sex." Health, Risk & Safety. 11.3 (2009): 283-295. Print.
- "Low condom use among sexually active adults in the united states". Retrieved 2011-01-20.[dead link]
- http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/sexual_health/defining_sexual_health.pdf[full citation needed]
- http://www.who.int/reproductivehealth/publications/sexual_health/defining_sexual_health.pdf[full citation needed]
- http://www.nyu.edu/classes/jackson/sex.and.gender/Readings/DownSoLong--Sexuality.pdf[full citation needed]
- http://www.theguardian.com/world/2006/apr/12/gender.politicsphilosophyandsociety[full citation needed]
- Gavey, N., McPhillips, K., and Doherty, M. (2001). If it’s not on, it’s not on -- or is it?. Los Angeles: Pine Forge Press. p. 323. ISBN 978-1-4129-7906-1.
- Johnson, M. Jr. (2010). "'Just getting off": the inseparability of ejaculation and hegemonic masculinity'". Journal of Men’s Studies 18 (3): 238–248. doi:10.3149/jms.1803.238.
- Garvey, Nicola, Kathryn McPhillips, and Marion Doherty. Trans. Array The Kaleidoscope of Gender: Prisms, patterns, and possibilities. Joan Z. Spade and Catherine G. Valentine. 3rd ed. Thousand Oaks: Pine Forge Press, 2011. 323-332. Print.
- Cook, Catherine. "'Nice girls don't': women and the condom conundrum." Journal of Clinical Nursing. 21. (2011): 535-543. Print.
- Alexander , Kamila A., Christopher L. Coleman, Janet A. Deatrick, and Loretta S. Jemmott. "Moving beyond safe sex to woman-controlled safe sex: a concept analysis." Journal of Advanced Nursing. 68.8 (2001): 1858-1869. Print.
- McPhillips, Kathryn, Virginia Braun, and Nicola Gavey. "Defining (Hetero)Sex: How imperative is the "coital imperative"?." Women's Studies International Form. 24.2 (2001): 229-240. Print.
- Taylor, B.M. (1995). "' Gender—power relations and safer sex negotiation*'". Journal of Advanced Nursing 22 (4): 687–693. doi:10.1046/j.1365-2648.1995.22040687.x.
- Maggie Wittlin, "Girls Gone Wild...For Monkeys", Seed Magazine" (10/14/2005)
- Sally Lehrman, The Virtues of Promiscuity
- Jennifer Armstrong, "Slut" is Not A Four Letter Word
- Sexual pleasure as a human right: Harmful or helpful to women in the context of HIV/AIDS?, by Jennifer Oriel, University of Melbourne