Human female sexuality

''This article is about the issues and phenomena pertaining to sexual function and behavior of human females.

Human female sexuality encompasses a broad range of issues, behavior and processes, including female sexual identity and sexual behavior, the physiological, psychological, social, cultural, political, and spiritual or religious aspects of sex. Various aspects and dimensions of female sexuality, as a part of human sexuality, have also been addressed by principles of ethics, morality, and theology. In almost any historical era and culture, the arts, including literary and visual arts, as well as popular culture, present a substantial portion of a given society's views on human sexuality, which also include implicitly or explicitly female sexuality.

In most societies and legal jurisdictions, there are legal bounds on what sexual behavior is permitted. Sexuality varies across the cultures and regions of the world, and has continually changed throughout history, and this applies equally to female sexuality. Aspects of female sexuality include issues pertaining to biological sex, body image, self-esteem, personality, sexual orientation, values and attitudes, gender roles, relationships, and activity options, and communication.

Historical conceptions of female sexuality

Representations of female sexuality date back to prehistoric times; there is clear evidence of the depiction of female fecundity in ancient Venus figurines. Fertility goddesses are common in many ancient cultures, and in many cultures are also the gods of sex, marriage, and love.

In the ancient civilizations of India, Japan, and China, the subject of female sexuality found expression in several writings and commentaries. For example, much of the Kama Sutra, an ancient treatise on sex and sexuality, deals with female sexuality.

Historically, female sexuality has been seen in many male-dominated cultures as subordinate to male sexuality, and as something to be controlled by society by restrictions on female behaviour.

Traditional cultural practices such as enforced modesty and chastity have historically tended to place restrictions principally on women, without imposing similar restrictions on men. Some controversial traditional cultural practices such as female genital cutting have been described as attempts at nullifying women's sexuality altogether. Other cultural practices such as honor killings threaten uncontrolled female sexual behaviour with death, often by the hands of the woman's own relatives.

Even as late as the early twentieth century, many people did not believe that respectable women should enjoy sex; the apocryphal advice supposedly given by Victorian era mothers to their daughters, "lie back and think of England," comes to mind.

Nevertheless, many studies have shown that women's actual sexual behaviour throughout history appears, like that of men, not to have been controlled to anywhere near the degree desired by society.

Modern studies of female sexuality

In the modern age, psychologists and physiologists engaged in the task of exploring female sexuality. Sigmund Freud propounded the theory of two kinds of female orgasms, "the vaginal kind, and its kid sister, the clitoral orgasm." However, studies (1960s) by Masters and Johnson reject this distinction . Further studies have revealed the existence of uterine orgasms, so there remains some debate.

Other medical ideas from the nineteenth century have also fallen into disrepute; the concepts of disorders of female sexuality such as female hysteria and nymphomania have disappeared from modern medical thought, to be replaced by a variety of clinical conditions that are no longer gender-specific. Some feminists and relationship counselors argue that women and teenage girls have a much greater capacity than men and teenage boys for prolonged sexual activity, multiple sexual partners and anatomically are better equipped for group sex. Females are also more likely than males to be bisexual. Some researchers also claim that women's sexual needs are greater in order to ensure the best genetic makeup for their children.

Feminist concepts

The feminist movement, and the increasing social status of women in modern society, have led to women's sexuality as being reassessed as a subject in its own right.

During the 1970s and 1980s, in the wake of the sexual revolution, numerous feminist writers started to address the question of female sexuality from their own female perspective, rather than allowing female sexuality to be defined in terms of largely male studies. The first such popular non-fiction book was Nancy Friday's My Secret Garden. Other writers such as Germaine Greer, Simone de Beauvoir and Camille Paglia were particularly influential in this, although their views were far from being uniform. Toward the end of the Twentieth Century the most significant European contributions to understanding female sexuality came from psychoanalytical French feminism, with the work of Luce Irigaray and Julia Kristeva followed by the work of Bracha Ettinger.

Lesbianism and female bisexuality also emerged as topics that could be talked about in public. A short-lived movement towards political lesbianism within the feminist movement led to temporary schisms within the feminist movement between heterosexual and (real or self-avowed) lesbian women, then rapidly floundered in the face of the acceptance that most women's sexuality was not defined by politics, but by their own sexual preferences. Most modern feminist movements now accept all forms of female sexuality as equally valid.

Feminist attitudes to female sexuality have taken two, superficially opposing, directions. The first is that female sexuality should be accepted and women should be free to have sex when they like, with whomever they like. The other is that women should be empowered to refuse to have sex when they want to, or to have their sexuality respected in society. A minority view within radical feminism states that even if it appears that women consent, heterosexual sex is inherently nonconsensual and women cannot ever be said to truly consent to it, because their decision is forged by the expectations and influences of growing up in a predominantly male-oriented society.

This has led, for example, to different groups of feminists simultaneously embracing and opposing pornography as sexually liberating and sexually oppressive respectively, both in the name of women's empowerment over their own sexuality.

See also

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