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Women’s Sexuality Close Up

By January 30, 2019April 16th, 2019No Comments

The fluidity of romance and desire

As a result of the second and third waves of the feminist movement, many women have felt freer to examine and express their sexuality. Before this time, it was simply assumed that heterosexuality centered on the experience of the male partner. If you asked a heterosexual couple how many times per week they had sex, they counted by times of intercourse and male orgasm. This definition was used as recently as the studies of Masters and Johnson, who, in their own way, helped disabuse the public and professionals of this antiquated notion and even discovered that women were capable of multiple orgasms, given the right stimulation. [1] The definition of sex had to change.

The role of the clitoris and its anatomy were virtually ignored and often unknown until the second wave of the women’s movement, which coincided with the sexual revolution in the United States. Feminist clinicians and researchers took up the issue of women and sexual pleasure. Wasn’t that sex also?

It was soon discovered that women had a sexual organ that was homologous to the male penis and it was named the clitoris. Various forms of stimulation would bring a woman to orgasm. To begin with, Betty Dodson[2] and others began to run what they called pre-orgasmic groups to teach women how to self-stimulate to orgasm. Initially this involved the use of vibrators and was conducted in Pre-Orgasmic groups. The term pre-orgasmic replaced the previously common one “frigidity.” Once the woman learned her own body, she could teach the ins and outs to her partner for a more satisfying sex life.[3]

This kind of study became an area of research and treatment in psychotherapy. Research on female sexuality has continued and so have clinical observations. I offer here my clinical observations, which are being supported by the research of many young scientists, as Western culture passes once again through a sexual revolution, perhaps smaller than the earlier one, but just as significant. It concerns orientation and fluidity.

Many girls and women, the majority in fact, grow up being attracted only to males. They are cisgender and heterosexual by definition. Then somewhere around the age when reproduction is no longer an option, many of these women find themselves surprisingly attracted to other women. Apparently women’s sexuality is also fluid in a way that men’s does not seem to be even when they are younger. Many women have gone on to form lifelong romantic relations with other women, after having considered themselves strictly heterosexual.[4]

It is too soon to know if this phenomenon is hormonal, psychological or cultural. I would add to this list that it may have an evolutionary aspect, in that women did not need men after their reproductive years. However, this idea does not explain the greater fluidity found by researchers in earlier years and I myself have seen it in my practice with women from 20 to 80 or more. An alternative hypothesis is that women are a bit more advanced on the evolutionary scale than are men as a group. These are still only hypotheses.

There is still much to be learned about women’s sexuality in a society that has suppressed it all these years. We are no longer in the Victorian times of Freud. Cultural context always affects individual psychology in different ways.

In my next post, I will discuss what we have learned about the sexuality of men in these years since the 1960’s, when feminist revolution made this research possible.


[1] Masters, W. And Johnson, V. What We Learned About Sex, 1966.

[2] Dodson, B. (1974)Liberating masturbation: A meditation on self love

[3] Dodson, B. (1987) Orgasms for two: The joy of partner sex

[4] Diamond, L. (2008), Sexual Fluidity: Understanding Women’s Love and Desire

This article was originally published in Psychology Today.

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak

Ellyn Kaschak, Ph.D. is an internationally acclaimed and award-winning psychologist, author and teacher. She is well-known as a speaker, workshop leader, human rights advocate and a public intellectual.