The Feminine Mystique: Sexual Phantasy

“So, from teen age to late middle age, American women are doomed to spend most of their lives in sexual phantasy.” — “The Sex-Seekers,” The Feminine Mystique

In 1963, it was Peyton Place and The Chapman Report – in 2012, it is the Fifty Shades of Grey.  The female “sex-seeker,” as Friedan terms her, remains unsatisfied through the physical act of sex (whether it be with her husband or in extramarital affairs) and throws her energies into “sexual phantasy” – “the novelists of suburbia, the mass media, ads, television, movies, and women’s magazines that pander to the voracious female appetite.”

The kind of sex described in these medias seems so unrealistic – either asexual in its visual component or overly graphic in its descriptions – that the act becomes depersonalized completely . . . even dull.  Is it possible, Friedan posits, that this sex-seeking is not an extension of the sexual revolution, but is merely an outlet for women’s unused creative energy?

“Sex-seekers,” Friedan notes, are rarely “sex-finders” – especially amongst suburban housewives (the target of the ‘mystique’).  While men are engaged in pursuits outside of the home, women use sex to fill the time available – especially by creating pre-meditated romantic scripts for how their sexual relationships should be.

It’s something she has been trained and educated for, all this sexual information and preoccupation, this clearly laid out pattern that she must devote herself to becoming a wife and mother.  There is no wonder of two strangers, man and woman, separate beings, finding each other.  It’s all laid out ahead of time, a script that’s being followed without the struggle, the beauty, the mysterious awe of life.  And so she says to him, do something, make me feel something, but there is no power within herself to evoke this. – “The Sex-Seekers,” The Feminine Mystique

Sound familiar, readers?  We may not all be reading Fifty Shades (please God, let us not all be reading Fifty Shades – it’s so poorly written, for God’s sake), but we’re all consumers in some degree of the romance/sexual fantasy.  In this sense, we undeniably (again, to varying degrees) attempt to fit our real-life relationships into these models . . . and do so to our peril. 

On the one hand, we can appreciate how fantasy can inform reality in positive ways.  Fifty Shades has exponentially increased sales of bondage sex toys – 65 percent at San Francisco’s Good Vibrations, 40 percent at New York’s Babeland – and increased attendance at BDSM workshops such as Babeland’s new “Fifty Shades of Hot Sex” class.  It is unequivocally good when we communicate our sexual desires more clearly.  If leaving Fifty Shades out suggestively on the coffee table for your partner is helping you to do that – great.

But do the pros outweigh the cons?  Carol Queen, staff sexologist at Good Vibrations, brings up a concern that the BDSM community has had regarding Fifty Shades from the get-go (especially from a safety and consent perspective – something that Fifty Shades deals with exceptionally poorly) – that “people will try something without really knowing how to get into it – or out of it – and will be disappointed or put off, which can further dim their sexual fires.”

The problem with getting one’s sexual ideas from erotic fiction or visual media (BDSM or non) can be likened to trying to mimic a famous star’s hairstyle.  It will never come out exactly the way you imagined because what you see simply isn’t what you get.  Period.

Because here’s the thing.  Brace yourself.  You aren’t Megan Fox.  And your boyfriend isn’t Ryan Gosling.  I know.  Pour yourself a glass of wine to deal with this blow if necessary.

Sex for you and your partner isn’t going to be blockbuster worthy.  And that’s a good thing.  They never use fun toys in the movies.  They never laugh when a position that looked super do-able on paper turns out to be acrobat-worthy.  They don’t know the beauty of improvising an awkward striptease with clothes that certainly aren’t coming off in one fell swoop.  Sex for you and your partner is for you and your partner.  It is personal and real – in all the joy, anxiety, ecstasy, and achy joints that that implies.

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