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Let's Give Sex Role Scripts the Boot

by Dr. Barb DePree

Our culture sends lots of messages about sex, through TV shows and movies, articles, girlfriend talk, and “wisdom” from our mothers (some of it really was wise!). Some of these messages become self-perpetuating, whether or not they have any basis in fact. Here are three in particular that I hear and wish would go away:
  • Men like sex more than women do.
  • Men are always ready for sex.
  • Men should always initiate sex.

What I don’t like is the ways in which these statements can be internalized in ways that affect women’s own sexuality, that lead them to second-guess or doubt what they’re really feeling or wanting. Every woman’s sexuality is individual—and, to be fair, every man’s is, as well.

Let’s take those statements one by one.

There was a time when women were reputed to “suffer through” sex, just to keep their husbands happy. There wasn’t a lot of understanding of the mechanics of women’s pleasure, which, thank heavens, has changed by now. The women I see in my practice like sex and recognize it’s an important part of their lives—which is why when they have problems, they’re looking for solutions.

The other issue I’ve got with us thinking men like sex more than we do is that we’re more likely to let them off the hook. For foreplay, for example, which we need more of as our hormone levels change. What we certainly have in common with men is that we both like good sex, although our definitions of that may differ. And that, by the way, is one more reason to talk about what we like and what we’re willing to do.

Men “always ready for sex” is another one that makes me crazy. Call me a radical, but my experience says that men are people, too. Where I see this one get women in trouble is that in the absence of open communication about sex in a relationship, we start to imagine reasons why our partner may not be in the mood. We miss cues about his overall health. We start to look at ourselves more critically, to notice the extra pound or the new sag, to lose perspective on the inevitable imperfections in our relationships, even to have a sneaking suspicion, sometimes, that our partner is finding affection somewhere else. Stop! Ask! Men get headaches, too, and they get distracted by deadlines at work, projects in the garage, and family drama.

And that brings us to the final “myth,” that men should always initiate. That is the way most of us were raised: We had to wait for the boy to call, stand on the sidelines until he asked us to dance, see when he would attempt that first kiss. Whether or not that’s still true for our daughters and granddaughters, it certainly doesn’t need to be true for us in our relationships. Did you feel some sympathy for those poor boys, facing the potential of rejection? Did you feel some envy for their position of power?

Well, it’s about time to share both in your relationship, if you haven’t already. If you’re in the mood, show your interest by taking the first step. Flirt. It’s fun, it’s empowering, and it will send all kinds of arousal cues to your body. And there’s nothing more “ladylike” than that. Your partner will be flattered and receptive (and if not in this moment, see above: he’s human, and there will be another time!).

I’m not going to debate whether these messages are myths or truisms. What I will do is encourage you to live your own script. Set aside what doesn’t fit for you, regardless of how many times you’ve heard the messages. Sex is a wonderful part of an intimate relationship, and both partners can invest equally in keeping it vibrant! It’s one of life’s greatest pleasures. And that’s a message I’ll keep spreading.


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