Guest blog by Nancy Madore
Author of Enchanted: Erotic Bedtime Stories For Women (Erotic Fiction)
In these times of sexual openness and honesty, more and more women are revealing that they are not satisfied sexually. This dissatisfaction has opened up a whole new industry for treating what we now call sexual dysfunction. Women in huge numbers are coming forward with a wide range of sexual problems, and there are all kinds of statistics being gathered in relation to what this means. I read somewhere that possibly as many as 70% of women suffer with some kind of sexual dysfunction. Not surprisingly, to me at least, was the discovery that these dysfunctions manifest themselves most often in the form of lack of desire.
This new wave of sexual dysfunction awareness is particularly satisfying for me. I have always wondered over the supposed indifference women appear to have towards the media's presentation of sex and sexual material. To my mind, sex in the media more often than not appeals to men while ignoring women almost entirely. It seems to take the position that sex is for guys, and women are only involved to please them. The most offensive thing about this, for me, is women's silence about it.
Officially, no definitive connection has been made between women's sexual dysfunction and our culture's presentation of sexual material. But this lack of corroboration doesn't dissuade me from my opinion that the most common sexual dysfunction complained about by women, lack of desire, is most certainly linked to the way sex that is presented in our media. It is a natural deduction once you put together the facts we do know. We know, for example, that women and men are sexually stimulated by different things. And it also generally agreed that women need to feel sexy in order to enjoy sex. With just these two factors in mind, how is it possible that a woman wouldn't be turned off by images and ideas that either alienate her or put her down?
Years ago, when I first noticed the negative effects this kind of media was having on me personally, I started filtering what I exposed myself to. I can truly say, for example, that I haven't looked inside a beauty magazine in over twenty years. I am also choosy about what I will spend my leisure time watching on television. Nearly all advertisements are totally off limits, and I've noticed that companies selling women's products are the most abusive. Without these negative influences, my own 'dysfunctions' have long since disappeared.
The irony here is that men are actually far less discerning than women in regards to sexual material. They are just as likely to find one sexual stimulant as effective as another. What's more, their sexuality tends to be more readily active even without the overabundance of stimuli and, finally, there is no potential harm to their libidos when the stimulant is directed toward the women (quite the opposite, in fact). So in appealing to women, the media has a wonderful opportunity to double their audience and entertain both genders at once. HBO's Sex in the City was a great example of this. Most of the men I know liked this show as much as women did. For advertisers, this kind of thinking could bring about a tremendous boost in sales. For some reason, they are hung up on the idea that women will buy more products if they are made to feel like they are not good enough without the products. I think their wrong about this. But it is really up to women as individuals to make a statement to the industry through their buying. If the advertisements for a product make you feel bad about yourself, why would you buy it?
Part of the problem is one of habit, but the other part is of ignorance and laziness. Most advertisers and writers appeal to men because it is simpler. They don't know how to appeal to women. Women are undeniably more difficult to excite sexually than men are. It takes more finesse and sensitivity. One of the biggest differences between men and women, for example, is that men seem to prefer visual stimulation, while visual stimulation can actually act as a deterrent to women, especially when it is presented in a way that intimidates them. It is intimidating and off putting for women to be faced with images that are unrealistic and unnatural, especially when those images are presented as superior. It threatens their sexuality to be faced with the concept that they are not, and could never be, truly sexy. One of the more obvious examples of this is the Victoria's Secret commercial that asks, "What is sexy?" and proceeds to present images of unnaturally thin women whose bodies have been surgically augmented so that they have curves in the "right" places. I would like to mention to whoever wrote that commercial that I personally know women who have suffered with years of depression and isolation and yes, sexual abstinence, because their bulimia did not make them feel sexy. I also know it was not considered sexy by their boyfriends and husbands. I could also tell you about women who suffered terrible repercussions and health issues from implant surgeries gone bad. These things are not sexy in the least, and frankly, I find it a bit arrogant of this company to suggest that they are an authority on what is sexy. From their commercials I am confident that there is nothing they could offer me in the way of lacy undergarments that could repair their thoughtless damage to my self image were I to actually believe their advertisements of what sexy is. Needless to say, I don't shop there. But unfortunately, scores of women do flock to their stores to try and capture this illusive "sexy" that they, like Dorothy in the Wizard of Oz, actually have had in their possession all along. The products sold at Victoria's Secret could bring out and enhance a woman's natural sex appeal, but it cannot produce it. Instead of browbeating women into thinking something is missing without their products, Victoria's Secret might sell even more products if they were to encourage women to simply enhance that unique part of themselves and have a little fun with it. I know that I would be more interested in seeing what they have to sell if they presented it that way to me.
The media overall is obsessed with presenting sex as if they were re-inventing the wheel. They want to project an image or idea that is better than anything real life has to offer. This translates to many women as there being a deficiency within themselves. I will agree that women are far too influenced by the media, but I can't for the life of me understand why women are buying products from companies who do this. Still, I strongly believe that these companies would sell even more products if they took a different approach.
In my first book, Enchanted; Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women, I conducted an experiment on this by intentionally leaving out all visual images of my female characters. I did this for several reasons. First and foremost, I wanted to focus on erotic behaviors and sexual fantasies-and not on appearances, especially stereotypes. Besides this, I wanted my readers, who I anticipated would be women, to be able to imagine themselves in the staring role. I wasn't certain that it could be done. Almost every type of sensual material I have found, from porn to romance novels feature, as their central focal point, a heroine that is, more times than not, over the top in physical perfection and/or performance. This has always acted as a distraction to me, so I thought perhaps it might be the same for others. And as it turns out, most women who have read my book did not even seem to notice that the images were missing. Even more surprisingly, men who read the book have told me that they did not miss the visual images either, and that they found the stories exciting without them. I found this remarkable.
The most obvious characteristic of erotica that is designed for women is that the subject matter appeals to and interests them. That is why in Enchanted; Erotic Bedtime Stories for Women, each fairy tale is re-written around a popular women's fantasy. In my next book, The Twelve Dancing Princesses, each princess overcomes a common sexual dysfunction. And yet, as straight forward as writing for women may sound, it presents a challenge. Sexual fantasies and dysfunctions alike can be extremely complex and contradictory. I found, for example, that many women take on a submissive role in their fantasies. This can become a paradox, though, even for the women who is fantasizing this way. After the fantasy, she can suffer with feelings of guilt and shame over the things it gave her pleasure to fantasize about moments before. Quite naturally then, there is bound to be censure when someone else entirely puts those fantasies down on paper. It has become more accepted since Nancy Friday's books, but even so, there will always be offense taken when a woman is portrayed in any way as being subjugated. Interestingly, my research revealed that dominance, when dispensed in an effort to please, is one of the most liberating experiences a woman (or man) can be subjected to. The submissive is generally the coveted role. But even more to the point, how can women be empowered sexually if they truly can't 'let go' in the bedroom? This is just one example of how it takes a thoughtful, careful hand to write to women, and even then there will be some women who are offended. My worst critics were feminists, and I found it perplexing that women would be so critical of a genuine, thoughtful effort on their behalf, while completely cowering under the open disregard for them in other aspects of the media. I suppose the effort in itself opens one up to critique. The idea is that women can help the evolution of a true sexual revolution for them by showing support for efforts to achieve it.
Writing female friendly erotica is most certainly a challenge, but it could be very rewarding for writers and advertisers alike to tap into this market. Now especially, as more and more is learned about sexual dysfunction in women, it becomes apparent that there is actually a need for erotica for women. Doctors are already saying that erotica can be a wonderful tool to help get women in the mood.
In closing I would like to say that I personally think that calling lack of desire a 'sexual dysfunction' is, in and of itself, a lack of understanding of women. Once again, we are being compared to men. Women are not machines, and the combination of forces working against women's sexual health, along with the everyday stresses of life, make it really more normal for women to not be in the mood than otherwise. It should be expected that women would need to relax and encourage the mood to achieve it, thereby taking charge of their sexual life and any 'problems' therein.