The Myth of the Coy Female and The Origins of Slut Shaming

Hysteria and Nymphomania

b5ee5f561699c4d2c3806160c3ab847dDear female readers, have you ever suffered from “anxiety, sleeplessness, irritability, nervousness, erotic fantasy, sensations of heaviness in the abdomen or vaginal lubrication?”

Have no fear, you’re probably just suffering from – get this – hysteria.

Nevermind that your symptoms are identical to those of sexual frustration, if you had asked for medical assistance for your condition prior to 1952, your male doctor would’ve convinced you that you were simply experiencing hysteria, a uniquely female disease with “no known cause,” but a very simple remedy.

From the time of Hippocrates until the 1920s, doctors routinely massaged  female patients to orgasm, and it cured hysteria like a charm! Yes, that’s right, Victorian-era doctors were valiantly “getting women off” in their offices to keep their “unmanageable emotional outbursts” from destroying marriages and upsetting foundation of modern civilization – the pair-bonded, monogamous, sexless, nuclear family unit.

But eventually these heroic doctors grew tired their work. Learning the women were insatiable, they hired nurses to finish the job with high-pressure water sprayers, vibrators and piston-thrusted dildos.

The Health and Diseases of Women, published in 1873, estimates that about 75 percent of American women were in need of these treatments and that they constituted the single largest market for therapeutic services at that time.

“This supposed medical treatment for horny, frustrated women was not an isolated aberration confined to ancient history, 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,” Sex at Dawn authors Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha write.

0ee92318f96fa85946d3d91278154a82“The medical monopoly on providing socially acceptable extramarital orgasms to women was assured by a strict prohibition against women or girls masturbating themselves to orgasm. In 1850, the New Orleans Medical & Surgical Journal declared masturbation public enemy number one, warning: ‘Neither plague, nor war, nor smallpox, nor a crowd of similar evils, have resulted more disastrously for humanity than the habit of masturbation: it is the destroying element of civilized society.’ Children and adults were warned that masturbation was not only sinful, but very dangerous—sure to result in severe health consequences, including blindness, infertility, and insanity. Besides, these authorities intoned, ‘normal’ women had little sexual desire anyway.”

In 1858, British gynecologist Isaac Baker Brown proposed that “most women’s diseases were attributable to over-excitement of the nervous system, with the pudic nerve, which runs to the clitoris, being particularly culpable.”

He warned female masturbation would lead to hysteria, epilepsy, idiocy, mania and then death, and proposed surgical removal of the clitoris as the cure.

Clitorectomies were performed in the United States as a cure for hysteria, nymphomania, and female masturbation well into the 20th century.  As late as 1936, Holt’s Diseases of Infancy and Childhood, a respected medical-school text, recommended surgical removal or cauterization of the clitoris as a cure for masturbation in girls.

il_570xN.319279676Harvey Kellogg, of Kellogg’s cereal, suggested the application of carbolic acid to the clitorises of young girls who couldn’t stop touching themselves. For boys, he recommended circumcision.

And the punishment for being an overly sexual female a couple of centuries earlier was even worse – “If a witch-hunter in the 1600s discovered a woman or girl with an unusually large clitoris, this ‘devil’s teat’ was sufficient to condemn her to death,” Ryan and Jetha write.The_witches_Sabbath,_by_Luis_Ricardo_Falero

Despite the grim warnings about the consequences of masturbation, the demand for female orgasms was so high – and the supply of men willing or able to produce them (given the context of monogamy) was so low – that Hamilton Beach Company patented the first home-use vibrator in 1902, only the fifth electrical appliance approved for domestic use. By 1917, there were more vibrators than toasters in American homes.

The Myth of The Coy Female

“The best mothers, wives, and managers of households know little or nothing of sexual indulgences…as a general rule, a modest woman seldom desires any sexual gratification for herself. She submits to her husband, but only to please him.” ~ William Acton, 187500446418

Charles Darwin believed “the female … is less eager than the male… [she] requires to be courted; she is coy, and may often be seen endeavoring for a long time to escape the man.”

“The reason this understanding of female sexuality is so popular is because it is beneficial to those in charge,” says the author of this awesome blog post, Shannon Butler.

In reality, early human females – like most of her female primate relatives – were far from blushing and bashful when it came to sex. Here are four pieces of evidence from Sex at Dawn:victorian_woman_with_fan

Female Copulatory Vocalization

“If you’ve ever heard a heterosexual couple having sex (and who hasn’t?), which partner was louder?” Ryan and Jetha ask in Sex at Dawn. “Yes, the ‘meek,’ ‘demure,’ ‘coy’ sex is the source of all the high-decibel moaning, groaning and calling out to the good Lord above, neighbors be damned.”

The purpose for these vocalizations in humans is the same as it is in other primates, they argue – to attract other males to the scene when a female is getting lucky. Her moans and groans are nothing more than a mating call, to encourage males to line up and take turns having their way with her, one after the other.

Multiple Orgasms

studygraphWhy would a female primate want to have sex with several males in a row, with little if any break in between? Two reasons: One, she is capable of multiple orgasms – which tend to get progressively better – while the average male is only capable of giving her about one if she’s lucky, maybe two if he’s some kind of immortal. Two, sperm competition.

Sperm Competition

bonobos-female-groupThe more males she can entice to have sex with her in succession, the wider the gene pool her vagina has to choose from and the better her chance at producing viable offspring. Yes, vaginas can “choose” which sperm to reject and which to guide up the canal to their eggs, based upon which are the best genetic match for her. It’s crazy science. There’s a whole chapter about it in the book, just read it.

The anatomy of the penis also suggests humans were designed for sperm competition. “The reason they’re longer is so that they can leave semen in less accessible parts of the vagina.” Butler writes. “The penis also does this neat thing where it expands once inside a woman to perfectly fit her, so that the ridges can scrape off other men’s semen from her vaginal walls. Combined with the thrusting movement and mushroom-shaped glans, which creates a suctioning effect in the vagina, men are attempting to displace the sperm of the competitors.”

Extended Sexual Receptivity

0201012154-7207Extended sexual receptivity – the ability and desire to have sex throughout her menstrual cycle – is another clue that humans, like bonobos, are designed for sexual promiscuity. And hiding her time of ovulation, gives males more incentive to give her pleasure around the clock – or moon cycle – to increase their chances of impregnating her.

One benefit of the the almost insatiable female desire is the elimination of the need for violence and competition among males for sex. Check out these awesome National Geographic videos here and here that prove it. Rather than strong-arming each other for access, males could all get in on the action and just let their sperm duke it out.

The Origins of Slut Shaming

Cavewoman prehistoric pinups 5 inside front coverSo, with all the evidence that female promiscuity is good for both the genetic health of the species and the emotional, mental and physical health of individuals (see James Prescott’s work on pleasure deprivation and violence), why does modern society condemn women for wanting “too much” sex?

It all started in the Garden of Eden… or something like that. Sex at Dawn authors Ryan and Jetha cleverly suggest that the Garden of Eden myth represents the advent of agriculture – the switch from the easy, low-stress, pleasure-filled life of hunter-gatherers to the hard labor and toil of agriculturalists – the transition from what anthropologists guess was an average 17-hour work week to dawn-til-dusk plowing, planting and weeding.

Farming enabled people to settle down in one spot – to build storehouses for their surplus grains, fences for their sheep and goats, and more permanent homes for their “stuff.” In other words it created the concept of property.

“For nomadic foragers, personal property—anything needing to be carried—is kept to a minimum, for obvious reasons. There is little thought given to who owns the land, or the fish in the river, or the clouds in the sky …

But when people began living in settled agricultural communities, social reality shifted deeply and irrevocably. Suddenly it became crucially important to know where your field ended and your neighbor’s began. Remember the Tenth Commandment: ‘Thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s house, thou shalt not covet thy neighbour’s wife, nor his manservant, nor his maidservant, nor his ox, nor his ass, nor any thing that [is] thy neighbour’s.’

“Clearly, the biggest loser (aside from slaves, perhaps) in the agricultural revolution was the human female, who 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.

“Land could now be possessed, owned, and passed down the generations. Food that had been hunted and gathered now had to be sowed, tended, harvested, stored, defended, bought, and sold. Fences, walls, and irrigation systems had to be built and reinforced; armies to defend it all had to be raised, fed, and controlled.

Because of private property, for the first time in the history of our species, paternity became a crucial concern.” ~ Sex at Dawn

And thus, women’s sexuality had to be tightly controlled, because what man in the modern world wants to slave away in the fields – or the office – to feed and pass on property to kids that aren’t his?

In tribal communities, no one cared whose children were whose. Their survival depended on sharing and there was no property to sort out.

Getting Back to Our “Slutty” Roots

hunter-gatherersI don’t know that we can ever transition fully back into a hunter-gatherer lifestyle, but we have to find a way to stop treating women’s bodies and reproductive organs as property to be purchased. We also have to find a way to free men from the burden of being the sole “bread winners” for mothers and children. Isolated, monogamous couples are ill-equipped to carry the load of parenting all by themselves.

Somehow we’ve got to recreate the tribe in the modern world. And each tribe needs to decide together how many children it can support.

And you know the best way to create a tightly knit, cooperative, peaceful social group? You guessed it – a network sexual connections between most of the group’s members to ease tension and conflict and create bonds and trust.

I think if we can get back a little closer to our roots, stop shaming women for their natural sexual desires, stop putting unrealistic expectations on men to be solitary financial providers for the family, stop pressuring women to have children they can’t support, stop overpopulating the earth and stop attempting to dominate the earth, we can return to our natural state of bliss – which will include total sexual freedom – and lack of sexual shame – for men and women.

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8 Comments

  1. […] talking about after having my sexual hunger fully satiated last week. I wrote my couple of posts (here and here) from a place of sexual scarcity (which is the state I now believe long-term monogamy will […]

  2. […] been following this blog, you know Sex at Dawn spends several chapters talking about the “myth of the coy female,” the fact that women often have even higher sex drives than men, and that women are also highly […]

  3. […] A year and a half into our open relationship, I now understand that’s actually not how I’m genetically wired. According to Sex at Dawn, females crave sexual novelty at least as much as males, and have a sex drive/capacity for multiple orgasms that could wear out dozens of males in a row. (See my posts: “I am Bonobo Woman, Hear Me Moan” and “The Myth of the Coy Female and The Origins of Slut Shaming.”) […]

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