BODY POLITICS: DISCOVERING WOMEN'S SEXUAL PREFERENCES
Lecture by Mary Lee Sargent, YMCA Friday Forum, 5 October 1990
The title of this paper is "Body Politics : Discovering Women's Sexual Preferences", plural preferences rather than singular to signify that women have several, many, gobs of choices to make about our sexuality -- about when, whether, where, how, with whom and under what circumstances to behave sexually. I mean sexual preference both in the sense that it is commonly used to refer to one's choice to be sexual with men or women or both or neither, to act heterosexually, homosexually, lesbianly, bisexually or celibately. Or all of them at different points in time. And I also mean sexual preference to refer to the specific sexual practices we might prefer or not prefer and that we might choose to engage in or not. For example, solo masturbation, or parallel masturbation, or cunnilingus, or toe sucking. I say toe sucking to alert you to the fact that I will be specific today. Not because I want to. Like many of you, I am very uncomfortable talking about sex, but because I think it is important that all of us talk honestly and more to each other about our sex lives. While gillions of words have been written about sex, we U.S. Americans talk very little to each other one to one and face to face about what we actually do, what we want, and how we feel. I believe that we need to change and to be more open, across generations especially.
When I was twelve years old my mother found me reading under the covers with a flashlight. During this period of my life, I did this almost every night--I read potboiler, popular fiction--From Here to Eternity, The Revolt of Mamie Stover, The Young Lions, The Amboy Dukes, and Gone With the Wind, war stories with sexually explicit scenes of heterosexual sex. When she found me, my Mom was not angry, more amused. And though I do not remember her exact words, I remember the tone--a wryness, a dry wit--and the main message, which was "Don't get too excited by these books because they are not true, you'll see. Sex is overrated, not all that it's cracked up to be." That is the only talk I ever remember us having about sex. Our silence was by mutual consent.
During the next 38 years I spent considerable energy trying to fill in the huge information gap that her terse comments left me with. Before I tell you some of the things I have discovered, let me say that I speak from the perspective of a middle class southern white woman raised during the 1940's and 50's by two southern white parents, one, my mother, working class, and one, my father, middle class, both protestant christians who grew up in the 1920's and 30's. I lived heterosexually for 2/5ths of my adult life, have lived as a lesbian for 3/5ths. Like millions, most, all women I have been celibate for longer and shorter periods. Like millions, most ,all women I have survived multiple forms of sexual abuse. Later I will talk about the effect of the universality of sexual abuse on women's sexuality. In my determined search for sexual knowledge, understanding, peace, health and pleasure I have been in therapy, sex therapy, self help groups. I have attended workshops and conferences focusing on sexuality. I have talked with hundreds of women about their sexual lives, women in the groups I mentioned and as a teacher of over 2000 women students, many of whom have talked with me about their intimate lives. And I have read and studied a portion of the vast literature which focuses on the many aspects of sexuality.
I want to say something about that literature. It is staggering in its magnitude--personal accounts, clinical reports, sex survey research, medical, philosophical, theological, public health studies, how-to books, pop psychology and spirituality guides, recovery literature, literary criticism, histories of sexuality, women's magazine advice columns (in fact every issue of Redbook, Glamour, Mademoiselle, Cosmopolitan, Ladies Home Journal, Woman's Day, Family Circle, Reader's Digest, Seventeen, Working Woman, Self) contains sex advice or readers survey reports. Deeply buried in this mass and bulk of print are the truths I want to tell today, but one has to ask certain questions to find them and perhaps have a certain critical perspective. Here you see about 5% of articles in the mass media (not specialized research journals or scholarly publications or governmental reports, or privately funded research reports) in the past 4 years. A print out of the other 95% would take us to Rantoul. I am curious why so much is written and spoken because there is also a huge profession of sex therapy and sex workshops which talk and talk about it. Does this avalanche of thoughts words deeds prove the importance and power of sex? Or are we sick and obsessed about it? Or are we just engaged in the oh so human desire to get it right?
So here are the discoveries I have made which I will explain in more detail in the remaining time.
1) Women do not have a sexuality of our own. We do not name what we do, we don't freely choose what we do and when we do it. Most of us go through all or most of our lives not even having the idea in our heads that we can or should make choices. The English phrases "women choosing", a woman chooses", "women choose", "women prefer" are oxymorons, contradictions and incongruities having no meaning in women's real life experience sexually. The condition of women in most places in the world, in most classes, races, nationalities, religions, today in 1990 and historically for several thousand years, is to do what they are told. The one exception to that rule may be lesbians, in that about half the lesbians in the few US studies which have been done on lesbians report that they made a choice to be lesbian. In most cultures in the world today most women do not choose to be heterosexual or to engage in the penis-in-vagina intercourse which makes up 99% of heterosexual practice. They are made, forced, taught, talked into, punished, brain washed, conditioned, raped, incested, preached, socialized, videoed, pop musiced, romance novelled to be heterosexual and to engage in the heterosexual practice of penis-in-vagina intercourse. As Joan Loulan, the author of Lesbian Sex and another book, Lesbian Passion said, "Women are not given the space to develop our own desire, to discover our preferred practices. We have neither the physical, emotional, psychic, or spiritual space free of male desire and demands to discover and to choose what we want and like. Men's sexual needs, demands and definitions are thrust upon us from infancy. We grow up in a world where every image we see, injunction we hear is shaping us to play our role as man's sexual partner--to be pretty and pleasing to men, to be sexy and attractive to men.
2) The second point I want to make is that women need to know the consequences, results, effects of that sexual practice which, for the sake of perfect clarity, I am calling penis-in-vagina intercourse. In all that literature there is overwhelming evidence that this is a risky, even dangerous, practice for women and yet this truth is almost never explicitly stated. In fact, it is common for the literature which tells of the dangers and difficulties to go to great lengths to tell women how they can do penis-in-vagina intercourse in a safer or more pleasurable, or less unpleasurable way. The preponderance of the literature is to maintain and protect penis-in-vagina intercourse as women's major sexual practice. In fact, as many feminist writers have stated, the sexual revolution of the early twentieth century which culminated in the 1920's and the recent sexual revolution of the 1960's and 70's has not liberated women's sexuality but simply made women more available for penis-in-vagina intercourse at a younger age for more years of their lives and more times a week. The only real change of practice is that some men now know that there is a clitoris and some women insist that men spend more attention on the clitoris before doing real sex--penis-in-vagina intercourse.
3) Finally, I want to propose that women, all women, need to develop a woman-defined, woman-centered, personally safe and satisfying sexuality. It is my firm and steadfast and unshakable belief that if women were in control of sexuality, penis-in-vagina intercourse would be performed very rarely--perhaps only when we wished to conceive children and no other time. In proposing this I merely continue the work of feminists in the late 1880's and early twentieth century who tried to alert women to the dangers of compulsory and compulsive penis-in-vagina intercourse as women's primary sexual practice. The efforts of US and British feminists to truly liberate women's sexuality is documented in Sheila Jeffrey's study, The Spinster and Her Enemies: Feminism and Sexuality 1880-1930. In these times, when the dangers of penis-in-vagina intercourse are so clear, it is imperative that we learn to make choices. Just as some women now choose careers, colleges, health care, sexual partners, diets, friends, childlessness or motherhood, we must think about and choose our sexual practices carefully.
CULTURAL REALITIES/FORCES SHAPING WOMEN'S SEXUALITY
A. Male Dominance, Male Supremacy, Patriarchy, Malism by any name it means the universal, pervasive, institutionalized control of women by men. Women of color, lesbians, working class women have made lighter skinned feminists aware that patriarchy involves many intersecting systems of dominance and that not all men are equally supreme nor all women equally oppressed, and that skin and class privileged women oppress other women. One area where a simpler dualism could apply theoretically is in the area of sexuality. Most men do have gender power over most women sexually.
Hear the words of Andrea Dworkin in Pornography: Men Possessing Women: "In many parts of the world, the male right to own women and all that issues from them (children and labor) is still absolute , and no human rights considerations seem to apply to captive populations of women. In the United States in the last 140 years, this right has been legally modified, but the letter of the law, even where somewhat enlightened, is not its spirit. Wife beating and marital rape, pervasive here as elsewhere, are predicated on the conviction that a man's ownership of his wife licenses whatever he wishes to do to her; her body
belongs to him to use for his own sexual release, to beat, to impregnate....Marriage as an institution developed from rape as a practice. Rape, originally defined as abduction, became marriage by capture(19)". Of course the laws of ownership, modified in the past 140 years to which she refers are the rights 18th and 19th century US white men had to sexual intercourse, the ability to divorce women for refusing sex, the forcible return of runaway wives, the ownership and right to wives' labor, the ownership of children by men. Her statement that marriage developed from rape is discussed further in the work of Gerda Lerner in The Creation of Patriarchy and by others who see the exchange of women between tribes as a crucial stage in the development of patriarchy and the women so exchanged as the original form of both private property and slavery. Adrienne Rich in her essay "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence" lists other examples of the ownership of female sexuality in male dominated societies: the use of women as gifts, bride-price, pimping, arranged marriage, use of women as entertainers to facilitate male deals, e.g., wife-hostess, cocktail waitress required to dress for male sexual titillation, call girls, bunnies, geishas, kisaeng prostitutes, secretaries(639). What are the sexual consequences for women of the ownership and control of women and children in male supremacist cultures?
B. The Sexual Oppression/Repression of women in patriarchal
cultures and specifically in Judeo-christian and Islamic
cultures. Sexual repression affects men too, especially men who are not racially, economically, ethnically, religiously, sexually dominant in any given patriarchal society or culture. But today our focus is women. In the U.S and in other parts of the world, sexual repression has taken many forms. Adrienne Rich, in "Compulsory Heterosexuality and Lesbian Existence", describes some of them. She states, it is "the power of men to deny women our own sexuality by means of clitoridectomy and infibulation; chastity belts; punishments, including death, for adultery; punishments, including death, for lesbian sexuality; psychoanalytic denial of the clitoris; strictures against masturbation; unnecessary hysterectomy, pseudolesbian images in media and literature; closing of archives and destruction of documents relating to lesbian existence." Here Rich is referring to the repeated destruction of Sappho's poetry, much of which were love poems to women, by church fathers in both the Roman and Eastern Orthodox churches. A recent example of sexual repression would be the punitive statements of those opposed to reproductive
freedom and abortion rights that women should think about the likelihood of pregnancy before they have sex. The idea that women should be punished for sex is pervasive in the rhetoric of the anti-choice movement. The 19th century movement to change the existing Common Law doctrine that abortion was permissible until the quickening of the fetus and to outlaw both abortion and all forms of birth control was in part an effort by male legislators and their allies in the religious, medical, and legal professions to control and to punish female sexuality, as were and are the cruel laws against concealing the death of a bastard. The
insistence upon and vigorous enforcement of virginity for
women (and not men) prior to marriage in most patriarchal
cultures is another obvious form of repression. Shere Hite makes an intriguing point in her report on female sexuality that the pairing of love and sex for women, but not for men, is a form of male control of sexuality. Training us to want to have sex only with the one we love is the modern equivalent of the chastity belt. How do we begin to assess the effect that sexual repression has had on our sexuality?
Adrienne Rich was the first writer to name what I knew from experience to be true: that I had chosen to live lesbianly, but that I had not made a choice to live heterosexually. I had simply done what I was socialized, forced, made, conditioned to do from toddlerdom on. In this culture women are not free to be anything but heterosexual--lesbian existence is hidden and demonized. Patriarchal religions forbid it and call it sin. This is obvious to anyone. There are very few women who have freely chosen heterosexuality, because few women are ever given the opportunity to know that their is any other option. Even those women who become aware of their erotic feeling and love for women usually cannot choose to act on it, because of the economic dependency of women in cultures around the world. Even professional women with good incomes are dependent on the incomes of their male spouses and husbands if they have children. To raise their children without that income would pose too great a hardship. If women were liberated, knew their were choices, were free to make them, would so many choose to love and live intimately with men or would more be bisexual, lesbian, celibate?
THE HATRED OF HOMOSEXUALS AND THE FEAR OF BEING QUEER
One of the ways that heterosexuality is compelled is by institutionalizing the hatred and fear of lesbians and gay men. A great deal is being written about this and aware people of good will are changing their attitudes and behavior toward gay people. It is still important to examine the effect that the hatred of lesbians has on women's sexuality and ability to make sexual choices and on the struggle of women generally to be free. Cuca Hepburn and Bonnie Gutierrez, in their book Alive and Well: A Lesbian Health Guide, describe the function of homophobia and suggest some of its effects. "In the arsenal of patriarchy homophobia is a primary weapon used to maintain social control. The function of homophobia is to force both women and men to meet the expectations of traditional sex roles and to support the power imbalances inherent in our existing society. How many times have our energetic and adventurous longings been squashed with clear instructions to 'act like a lady'. Likewise, the word 'lesbian' is used as an epithet to characterize women who deviate from established gender expectations. The label 'lesbian' is often used to brand any woman who engages in activities threatening to men.(166)". One effect of this on all women might be to cut us off from our own bodies. I know it had that effect on me. If it is disgusting and sick for a woman to make love with a woman, how are women going to feel about loving themselves sexually, about touching themselves? If it is so foul and loathsome to be physically close to a woman, how does this make me feel about being a woman? The effect of lesbian hating on women who would like to be or would be happier being lesbians is obvious. A 1988 study by the US Dept of Health and Human Services, reported in the Wall Street Journal, found that gay adolescents commit suicide at 2 to 3 times the rate of heterosexuals. This is only the most dramatic negative effect. (Tuesday, June 12, 1990, p. 1)
COMPULSORY PENIS-IN-VAGINA INTERCOURSE
Women are not only compelled to direct their sexuality toward men, to be with men as sexual partners, to live as heterosexuals, but to engage in a very specific sexual practice which is a practice desired by men for their sexual pleasure and reproductive demands. And they are universally conditioned, forced, guilt tripped, frightened into doing this much more frequently than women would choose if we were in control of our sexuality. Shere Hite, in her "Report on Male Sexuality" published in 1981, a summary of responses from 7,000 men, found that 99% liked intercourse, 71% always wanted penis-in-vagina intercourse, 100% would not want to change sex or define it differently, 60% had never tried a number of practices which are more women centered (mutual masturbation), and 75% said they had to engage in foreplay (activities focused on women's pleasure) longer than they liked. And although 52% of the men reported having intercourse 2 to 3 times a week and another 41% said they had sex 4 to 8 times a month, most men said they didn't have intercourse as much as they wanted. Most wanted a larger penis and yet most were proud of their penises. 46% answered "yes" or "sometimes" to the question "Have You ever wanted to rape a woman?". 57% used pornography. There is no data in Hite's 1976 "Report on Female Sexuality" about either the frequency of sexual encounters or how frequently women would like to engage in sexual activity. When asked if they liked penis-in-vagina intercourse 87% said they did. The reasons given were overwhelmingly emotional closeness, security, to please a man, that it was a time they were sure of his love and attention. Interestingly enough, when asked the same question, men did not mention any of these reasons except emotional closeness.
Penis-in-vagina intercourse as the only permissable sexual practice is still a part of most Judeo-Christian traditions and codes. All sexual activity that does not have reproduction as its specific aim is condemned. Until 1961, all 50 states had sodomy laws which declared homosexual activity and many heterosexual practices illegal. Since then, sodomy law reform has occurred in 26 states, while 24 states still have legal regulation of sexual behavior (Newsweek, July 14, 1986, 37).
I had hoped to have the time to discuss the effects on our sexuality of sexual violence against women and the social acceptance of violence against women represented by the infrequency of punishment for these crimes and the mildness of sentences in the 1% or less of cases that do result in conviction. How does the constant threat and the almost universal experience of unwanted violent male sexuality affect our sexuality?
Or the effects on our sexuality of incest and childhood
sexual abuse and the social acceptance of incest and childhood sexual abuse. Some sources cite the figures 1 in 3 or 1 in 4 are abused. Those of us who have worked on these issues know that virtually every woman has experienced abuse if you place these acts on a continuum. We are breaking silence and creating a huge sisterhood of survivors. What are the effects of our sexual socialization to be passive, receptive, noninitiatory, dependent, co-dependent, to lie, fake or pretend about our own desires, to intertwine love and sex so tightly and inextricably.
And what about the institution of compulsory marriage and motherhood which keeps women running and overworking? Hite's newest study "Women and Love" (1987) asked 4,500 women to talk about their relationships. &6% who worked outside the home said they did not have anything approaching an equal sharing arrangement for household tasks. 80% said they did most of the housework/domestic tasks and had to remind others to do what little they did. What does sexual choice mean in that context?
CONSEQUENCES OF PENIS-IN-VAGINA INTERCOURSE FOR WOMEN
I will discuss several consequences of penis-in-vagina intercourse for woman, including the fear of pregnancy, the
fear of birth control and the health risks of-pregnancy and birth control; gynecological health risks; psychological effects and the issue of sexual pleasure.
1. Let us begin with pleasure. Studies done in the last 35 years of women's sexuality, including those by Kinsey, Hite, Seymour Fisher's work on female orgasm, Masters and Johnson, Helen Kaplan, Mary Jane Sherfey and others, confirm what most women have always known. Our pleasure comes from the clitoris and stimulation of the clitoris. When Hite asked the 3,000 women in her sample how they
masturbated to orgasm 70% used clitoral/vulva stimulation
exclusively. 98% used clitoral stimulation with some vagina
penetration by vibrators, fingers. Only 2% achieved orgasm
during masturbation by penetration only. When asked about their experience of orgasm during intercourse, only 30% could regularly or usually have orgasm from penetration alone without the clitoris being directly stimulated at the time of orgasm. Another 30% could not orgasm at all during intercourse and the remaining 40% could orgasm during penetration if directly stimulated at the same time. In Fisher's study of female orgasm, when directly asked if they had to choose one or the other--clitoral stimulation or penis in vagina intercourse--64% said clitoral stimulation. One of the most poignant things about Hite's study which is now dated (published in 1976) is that so many of the women reported wanting to be able to orgasm from penis-in-vagina intercourse but couldn't.
Masters and Johnson occupy a very odd and contradictory position in sex research in that they found that there is only one kind of orgasm--clitoral, report that the strongest and most frequent orgasms occur from masturbation and direct stimulation for a partner, and yet have designed a sex therapy which has as its goal treating women so that they can orgasm during penis-in-vagina intercourse and call the inability to orgasm during intercourse "coital orgasmic inadequacy". Hite says, "Masters and Johnson's theory that the thrusting penis pulls the woman's labia, which in turn pulls the clitoral hood, which thereby cause friction on the clitoral glans and thereby causes orgasm sounds more like a Rube Goldberg scheme than a reliable way to orgasm." She compares this means of indirect stimulation with that which would be produced in a man by the rubbing of the scrotal skin, perhaps pulling it back and forth and so causing the skin on the upper tip of the penis to move and quiver and in this way achieving stimulation. Admittedly this form of stimulation would probably require a good deal more foreplay for the man to have an orgasm and he would have to be patient and understand if it did not lead to orgasm every time.. Hite and others also critique the predominant model of heterosexual sex that involves foreplay, penetration, intercourse and male orgasm as unsatisfying to women because the foreplay is not done long enough for women to achieve orgasm. As one gay male friend of mine said: to expect women to orgasm from an act designed to achieve male orgasm would be like expecting
men to orgasm from whatever vibrations were caused while a man manually or orally stimulated a woman's clitoris.
2. Pregnancy and birth control-- The New Our Bodies Ourselves states it quite simply, "worrying about pregnancy can prevent us from enjoying sexual intercourse with a fertile man." And yet in our culture penis-in-vagina intercourse is what real sex is. In our culture the responsibility for birth control is still the women's. The
most common forms of birth control--spermicidal foams, creams, jellies, diaphragms, IUD, pills , tubal ligation--are all used by women. Condoms and vasectomies are used by men. Too often women are even responsible for getting condoms--there have been several brands aimed at the woman's market--Woman's Choice and Trojans for Women in a pink box. If sex means penis-in-vagina intercourse then every sexual encounter is a risk for a woman because she can get pregnant. No method except tubal ligation
seems to be 100% effective. There are health risks and side
effects for every means of birth control used by women, which are outlined in many sources, probably the most accessible one is Our Bodies Ourselves. One of the least dangerous is diaphragm and spermicidal jelly, which was used widely until the 1960's with the introduction of the pill. Now only 4% according to Planned Parenthood. One reason is a lO% failure rate. Most people are now aware that the pill increases risk of heart attack, strokes,
pulmonary embolism, clotting disorders, and other cardiovascular diseases. Cervical cancer is 3 to 5 times higher in pill users and the list goes on. I don't have time today for the IUD horror stories. The willingness of heterosexual women to subject themselves to the multiple and multiply compounded risks of using dangerous pregnancy prevention tecnniques in order to engage in a sexual practice which is not primarily, or even secondarily, for
women's pleasure, is incomprehensible to me. All I can think is that it is simply "a condition of our bondage." Think of the money spent on birth control and on visits to the doctor to treat the complications arising from their use. The pain and suffering women have experience is incalculable. (AND I'M SURE YOU ARE AWARE THAT THE SUFFERING IS EVEN GREATER for the poor and Third World women that these devices are tested on. The FDA requires
that all drugs be tested on human subjects. Since it takes 20 years for some complications to become evident actually all the women who use them are subjects in a long term experiment. One of the disheartening things for me as I did this research was the fact that none of the books which outlined the risks and dangers questioned the sexual practice which made them necessary.
3. Other gynecological health risks of penis-in-vagina intercourse-- In their book on lesbian health, Cuca Hepburn and Bonnie Ouitierrez say explicitly what many medical doctors, nurses, researchers, health statisticians that I have talked with, whose work I have read have said more subtly or indirectly. "The fact is that lesbians are generally healthier than heterosexual women, particularly our gynecological health. Heterosexuality, in fact, creates most of the risks for women gynecologically." There are
many studies testifying to the well-being of lesbian, including one which appeared in 1981 in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology which concluded that "there are no medical problems specific to lesbians and that lesbians suffer few of the problems which heterosexual women experience from engaging in penis in vagina intercourse. Though the medical risks are considerably reduced if both partners are monogamous, there are still enough problems, especially bladder infections, vaginal inrections and perhaps an increased tendency to cervical cancer from regular frequent intercourse, that penis in vagina intercourse is called 'the most risky sex practice there is after anal intercourse'. The risks from birth control could almost even that out. In a manual on "Teaching Safer Sex", which both the HIV/AIDs epidemic and the skyrocketing sexually transmitted disease figures are making necessary, 30 sexual behaviors are listed from least risky--abstinence and masturbating alone--to
highest risk. Vaginal intercourse done with various
precautions are # 25, 26 and 28. Penis-in-vagina intercourse without any precaution is #29. Anal intercourse is #30. So what are some of these risks: HIV infection--women are the fastest growing group of infected persons--7% of the death in 89-90, 8% of new cases. The second
most common cause of infection after IV drug use is heterosexual intercourse with an infected person. 28% of women with HIV infection /AIDs caught from intercourse. Less than .3% of men caught it heterosexually. In calling around about lesbians-I would hear of a possible case here or there but as yet there are no absolutely sure case of woman to woman transmissions--most lesbian cases involve IV drug transmission.
Sexually Transmitted diseases-- The number of lesbians with most STDs is insignificant(less than l% of lesbians according to several studies I read). We get trichomonas and gardnerella (nonspecific vaginitis), but very few cases of herpes, cervical cancer, and almost no gonorrhea, syphilis, venereal warts, gonoccal pelvic inflammatory disease. Meanwhile, heterosexual women, especially the young, are getting more and more and new strains. Syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia are transmitted primarily by heterosexual intercourse, frequently gonorrhea and chlamydia are transmitted together. If you have sex with an infected man, just one exposure gives you a 40-50% chance of getting it. As Dr. Ann Robin of Mckinley Health Center said, "STD's do not seem to be equal opportunity infections"--women catch them more easily from men than men from women and the symptoms are worse in women. Women are 5 to 10 times more susceptible to gonorrhea than men and need twice the penicillin as males. As Dr. Robin phrased it, both chlamydia and gonorrhea bacteria can hitch a free ride on sperm which can swim into the upper reproductive system (uterus and tubes) and cause pelvic inflammatory disease. This in turn can cause tubal infertility and acute infection of the abdomen. Warts are associated with a change in tissue that is associated with cervical cancer. In fact cervical cancer is increasingly being viewed as an STD transmitted by men to women. There were 14 million cases of reportable STDs last year, about 30 to 35% women, almost all heterosexually transmitted. STD's had been dropping between 1981 and 1986 or 1987, but all are now higher than 1981 levels. The annual cost of physicians' visits last year was estimated by a National Academy of Science study: for herpes, S500, 000; gonorrhea, $1 billion; chlamydia, $1.4 billion; for PID, S2.6 million. More than half is spent by women because their symptoms are so often worse. Last year 78 million was spent by the government on syphilis, gonorrhea, chlamydia research.
And then there are bladder infections, cervical cystitis, hepatitis B which are also caused or exacerbated by heterosexual intercourse. You will often read in literature about "exchange of fluids" being the cause of heterosexual transmission. That is a misleading choice of words because there is not really an equal exchange. Rather there is an injection of semen. Vagina fluids may coat the penis but they are not injected into a mans body.
I have to ask why do women endure this pain and suffering and anxiety--unwanted pregnancies and unwanted children and disease--to engage in a practice that is not our practice for our pleasure? Why do men who love women continue to want this risky practice to be a major part, if not the be all and end all, of every sexual time and encounter?
TOWARD A WOMAN CENTERED SEXUALITY
What I am going to suggest will be difficult and challenging for many heterosexual women, and for many lesbians who still behave bisexually more than either lesbians or straights are aware. Women who have worked out a comfortable sexuality don't want to rock the boat--life is hard enough; women who haven't worked out a satisfying sexuality also don't want to rock the boat--many of us need male approval, love, support too much to cause friction and make waves over something we have been conditioned to believe is not that important. Many others of us have simply let go of sexuality and don't want to think about what has been a difficult and painful area. Women must and will do as they like but I think it is sad to give up behavior which is so human and can be so good for us and so healthful--the clitoris serves no other function than pleasure and its there to enjoy. Vagina pressure is also pleasurable. But there are many ways to experience both without the dangers involved in penis-in-vagina intercourse with ejaculation of 400 million sperm.
Some of the things I can think to do and which I need to do-- I need to ask myself what I feel; take time to listen; develop the courage to tell my partner what I want and don't want; don't ever have sex when I don't want to; don't do anything I don't feel like doing; learn to make choices, practice making choices; educate myself, share my knowledge with others, tell the truth to myself and others, and put my health and pleasure first.
If I were heterosexual, I hope that I would be self-loving enough, care about my health enough, to work out new ways to be sexual. Penis-in-vagina intercourse is emotionally safe because it is scripted behavior--we know what to do. It isn't awkward. We are emotionally less vulnerable because we are not subjected to our partner's gaze and scrutiny. But other acts are safer for women and could be more exciting for us. It is our turn to be the center of attention.