Reclaiming Your Sexual Freedom

Monogamy, society, and female sexuality

By Vivienne Arkell

“Before the war on drugs, the war on terror, or the war on cancer, there was the war on female sexual desire. Like the others, it’s a war that can never be won, as the declared enemy is a force of nature.”

Sex at Dawn by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá  exposes groundbreaking anthropologic, psychological and physiological evidence, showing how far from human nature monogamy really is. For The Sensualogist, the more compelling argument, as they summarize above, is how a society primarily run by men has been able to control womens’ sexual freedom.

“Until agriculture, human beings evolved in societies organized around an insistence of sharing just about everything. Universal, culturally imposed sharing was simply the most effective way for our highly social species to minimize risk… Hunter-gatherer societies are nearly universal in their fierce egalitarianism. Sharing is mandatory. Hoarding or hiding is considered deeply shameful,” their research notes. Interdependent communities with communal living shared resources, food, child care, and sexual partners.

The shift to agricultural settlements, managed by a landowner, forced women to live “in a world where they had to barter their reproductive capacity for access to the resources and protection they needed to survive.” The authors continue. “Women went from occupying a central, respected role in foraging societies to becoming another possession for a man to earn and defend, along with his house, slaves, and livestock.”

Women today have come a long way in terms of respect and equality. But in terms of what that means for re-claiming our sexual freedom, we are far from free. The highly religious reader might have more trouble accepting these insights than those who relish scientific logic, but Ryan and Jetha’s finer arguments, in a nutshell, are real thought provoking material.


Why are women potentially multi orgasmic if they weren’t meant to enjoy it?

Doesn’t it seem that a female, who can continue to have sex for hours and have varying strengths of orgasms in a row, should be having more sex? Why are we matched with males who have one doozy and must rest for 20 minutes or are done for the whole evening altogether? Our authors note, “Echoing the Kama Sutra, Sherfey isn’t shy about the mismatch of orgasmic capacity between human males and females, writing: ‘The sexual hunger of the female and her capacity for copulation completely exceeds that of any male.’”


-Why were therapeutic masturbations performed on patients without acknowledgement that a women’s sexual release was as important as a man’s?  

This historic detail from The Health and Diseases published in 1873 is quite spicy. I have seen a few Jung and Freud studies, but an estimated 75% of American women were in need? Ryan and Jetha’s book notes: “The men who provided this lucrative therapy didn’t write about ‘orgasm’ in the medical articles they published on hysteria and its treatment…This supposed medical treatment for horny, frustrated women was but just one element in an ancient crusade to pathologize the demands of the female libido – a libido that experts have long insisted hardly exists.”


-Why were vibrators the number 1 electric appliance in 1917 if women really didn’t like sex?

“Maine, the man publishing The Technology of Orgasm, found “no evidence that male physicians enjoyed providing pelvic massage treatments.” Hamilton Beach patented the first home-use vibrator in 1902, thereby making it just the fifth electrical appliance approved for domestic use,” our authors report.


When libido is present, is a woman’s sexuality more contextual than most men’s?

Ryan and Jethá might have hit the real quagmire here, stating how “the price of women’s greater erotic flexibility is more difficulty in knowing – and, depending on what cultural restrictions may be involved, in accepting – what they’re feeling. This is worth keeping in mind when considering why so many women report lack of interest in sex or difficulty reaching orgasm.” 

The female libido has been squelched. Our authors agree that “Women’s libidinous motivations tend to be far more fluid, and thus harder to discuss adequately, than men’s. Women tend to be more responsive to external conditions (Are the kids grown and out of the house? Is she financial independent? What would her friends and family say? Does she suspect that he’s having an affair?)”

The modern female libido has become undeniably complicated. “Afraid of the wild, farmers set out to destroy it,” state Ryan and Jethá . This is probably where we can all agree. Apparently bonobos, the primate most socially similar to humans, do enjoy freer sex (not being constricted by the ownership, and paternity rules of modern man). According to extensive research, bonobos copulate for recreation, not only for reproduction. And also appear to do so for community reasons of cooperation, generosity, and perhaps love.


Why are men allowed to have multiple partners yet not women?

Primate species most related to humans like the bonobos, with orgasmic females, tend to be promiscuous. Promiscuous here meaning those females who are readily available to engage in sexual encounters. Few modern women today want to be judged as easy, ready or promiscuous. Welcome the double standard where men who have multiple partners are considered to be following human nature and praised for being experienced.

Controlling female orgasms has been so prevalent that it’s a wonder we can still have them. “Orgasm, Donald Symons concludes, never is considered to be a spontaneous and inevitable occurrence for females as it always is for males.”

Let’s try to modify this old world thinking with body and mind, though liberated thought. A woman’s brain is what controls her sensuality and desire. After reading this book, perhaps you will feel enlightened and want to open yourself up to greater pleasure through less societal pressure, more enlightened partners, and relationships that reconsider strict monogamy.


To learn more about this book and other recommendations, visit the bookshop.


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