HOW MEN AND WOMEN LOOK AT SEX (Jan, 1964)
HOW MEN AND WOMEN LOOK AT SEX
When it comes to matters of a sexual nature, it all depends on viewpoint—his or hers!
by Lester A Kirkendall, Ph.D.
Dr. Kirkendall, Professor of Family Life at Oregon State University, is author of “Sex Education as Human Relations,” “Premarital Intercourse and Interpersonal Relationships,” and many other writings.
Men and women cannot look at sex in the same way, but they are only dimly aware of this fact. The fact of being male or female means, inevitably, that sex will be seen from different points of view.
Nor does this promise to change! So long as men produce only the sperm which begins the entire reproductive process, and so long as women bear the children, these differences will exist.
Physically, women can become victims of a sexual mistake: they can become pregnant. As a result girls are protected and supervised more strictly than boys from a very early age.
As a consequence, girls very often resent these restrictions and the fact that boys have greater freedom and more privileges. Some of the bitterness and some of the hard feelings between the sexes which appear later in life arise from just this situation.
Generally a boy can have the key to the house, leave and return home without being closely questioned, walk the streets after dark, and set his own hours. A girl can not.
Puberty, or the coming of physical maturity, affects boys and girls differently. Once menstruation begins, the girl faces a monthly event which will influence a number of her activities. Menstruation is a more serious matter for some girls than others, but for all girls it brings an awareness of sex and the significance of the reproductive processes which differs from that of boys.
At best, for girls, menstruation is something to be attended to; it is probably much of the time a nuisance, and for some even a disturbing or a miserable event.
Boys? Well, they may have nocturnal emissions if they are not masturbating too frequently for this to happen. But these in no way upset their routine. If a boy wants to play football next week, he doesn’t have to check his calendar. The need for relating his activities to the functioning of his reproductive system never occrurs to him.
Intercourse for an intelligent girl aware of her own physiology can hardly be entered in the same casual way a boy can enter it. A boy can be almost certain of finding physical pleasure and achieving an orgasm; a girl is less likely to experience this pleasure.
If conception should result from casual intercourse, the boy’s part is done; the girl’s is only begun. Without doubt there are some men who are parents without knowing it; one can be sure this is not true for women.
With pregnancy there are many obvious developments for the girl. She experiences a change in her figure. There is the problem of clothes, the matter of nutrition for the developing child, and the difficulty (in the later stages of pregnancy) in moving about. There may be fear of the physical consequences of giving birth.
If the pregnancy is outside marriage, and if the relationship was casual, the woman is almost entirely on her own except as family and friends can, and will, help. Her sexual partner is out of the picture; he may not even know what is happening.
Even in marital pregnancy the husband has difficulty in really becoming a vital part of the experience. One evidence of this is the efforts of family life education organizations to help husbands become more nearly partners in the process of pregnancy and childbirth.
There is no choice, however, on the part of the mother. She is a part of it whether she wants to he or not—and there is no getting out of it.
The same things which have been said about the relation of the male and female to pregnancy can be said with reference to childbirth. It is something the father can participate in only at secondhand.
With childbirth comes the production of milk, nursing and car- ing for the child. This means still another change in figure, and a prolonged period of confinement. With pregnancy, childbirth and the care of children comes a restriction of movement not experienced by men.
The amount of lifting and carrying which a mother does in caring for a child before he can walk, if computed in foot – pounds of work, would doubtless mount to a surprising figure.
In the case of a wanted pregnancy, most women find all this a joy. They are fulfilling a speical function in a very different way than a man can. This does not change the point, however. Intercourse, conception, pregnancy, childbirth and child care are still matters which have a different significance for men and women, and result in their having different feelings and attitudes toward sex.
The points which have been discussed thus far relate to the early or middle years of life. Toward the latter part of life comes the menopause, and it too is experienced differently by the two sexes. I often ask both men and women if there is a male menopause. Replies range all the way from those who are sure there is, to those who are sure there is not. This uncertainty does not exist, however, in regard to the female menopause. Everyone is clearly aware of its existence.
So the different functioning of the reproductive system produces differences in sexual attitudes and behavior throughout the lives of i men and women. If nothing more than physiology was involved, the two sexes would have to look at sex and sexual participation in different ways. But more is involved.
Around these differences which result from physiology is a network of social practices which further divide the sexes so far as attitudes toward sex are concerned.
One of the most obvious of these ways is the double standard. Under the double standard women have always been more harshly critieized for sexual experimentation and participation than men are. Men are able to take part in casual relationships with little or no criticism. Their activities may be accepted indulgently as “sowing their wild oats.” Such behavior on the part of women is much more severely condemned.
These attitudes are changing. however, and it is quite possible that the double standard will gradually disappear. In fact, Dr. Ira L. Reiss in his study Premarital Sex Standards in America feels that this is exactly what is happening.
Still we can be sure that the biological difference, which can never be erased, will mean that men and women can never look at sexual functioning, the sexual relationship, and the production of children in exactly the same way.
This means that sex education should be much more than providing facts about reproduction. Parents and teachers who wish to provide young people with a good sex education need to be aware of the problems and feelings of both males and females. Most people lack a keen awareness of the problems of the other sex.
For a good sex education then, both men and women need to have a hand in the sex education of both boys and girls. But before they begin they would do well to educate each other — in all due respects, and apart from the children.