Thirty percent of British women get more satisfaction from cleaning then sex. How is it then that the Fifty Shades of Grey series has sold over 31 million copies worldwide? Bella Elwood-Clayton, Susan Johnson and Caroline Baum wonder if women are more concerned with appearing as though they are having sex then they are with actually having it. Although we spend vast amounts of money and time on looking desirable we don’t spend much time actually desiring.
Men’s desire and sexual function is well understood, while a woman’s is still largely a mystery. What little research that is being done into female sexual function is largely backed by pharmaceutical companies- the search for a Pink Viagra. One such study suggested that 43% of women have a sexual disfunction. How absurd that we should suggest that nearly half the female population needs a pill or a cream to ‘fix’ their sexuality.
‘Limerence’, Caroline loved the word when she discovered it in Bella’s Sex Drive- In pursuit of female desire. Limerence is the early days of a relationship; it describes the intense emotional and physical connection felt with a new partner as love develops. It also appears to represent the most heightened state of female sexual drive throughout a woman’s lifetime. “For many women libido is something we used to have,” says Bella “movies and fiction are always concerned with limerence… but how do we maintain a passionate monogamy?”
In Susan’s most recent book My Hundred Lovers she explores a woman’s life through her sensual experiences. Those hundred lovers aren’t all men and women, they don’t even all involve genitalia. Susan explores the eroticism of the everyday, the feeling of being absolutely in your body, of finding the sensual in a croissant or in lying on your back in the grass. The erotic experiences of women are not confined to the sexual.
Lamenting the disconnection of women from their bodies Susan remembered her beginnings as a second wave feminist in ‘Our Bodies, Our Selves’ groups, everyone in a circle examining their own vaginas with a speculum. It doesn’t happen anymore, perhaps to the detriment of a new generation of feminists who see raunch culture and pole dancing as liberation and a hairy ‘pussy’ as needing a good wax. Do women know their bodies? Is the new empowerment controlling mens desire rather than owning our own?
Susan admires Jaime McCartney’s artwork The Great Wall of Vagina. Presenting the casts of 400 women’s vulvas maybe it helps women connect with their own ‘privates’; even if its not with speculums in hand! Being able to connect with the vast variety of vulvas helps women feel normal in the face of a sexualised media that presents labial surgery and full Brazilians as the new normal.
The audience was largely female at this session, but one of the few men to attend stood at question time and greeted by thunderous applause apologised for the fact that more men hadn’t attended. He asked the women on stage what they thought the Shades of Grey series might mean for men? The message, it was agreed, was that all women secretly fantasise about being controlled and dominated by a wealthy man. A dangerous notion that flies in the face of all feminism has achieved. Perhaps a product of the culture we inhabit it certainly is the desire of some women, but not representative of a larger feminine sexuality. As Caroline said, just because a woman reads Fifty Shades of Grey it does not mean they long to be locked in a room of pain.
The way to a true female desire means ceasing to worry about being sexy. If we focus on what we are passionate about and undertake projects that fulfil us then it will promote recognition of our desires. Concentrate on having a sexy mind and you’ll not only seem sexier but you’ll come to know exactly what you desire.
Emily Handley is a Southern Cross University Media student.