“So I’m licking jelly off my boyfriend and all of a sudden, I’m thinking, ‘Oh my God, I’m turning into my mother.'”
Baby Boomer and other older women are experiencing their postmenopausal years with a confusing accumulation of social dictates.Â For decades, they have been patriarchally conditioned on the definition of a sexually appropriate woman.Â For example, Judy, a friend of mine, was born in 1940 just ahead of the Baby Boomer explosion.Â She grew up with the â€œgood girls donâ€™t have sex until marriageâ€ belief system imposed upon her.
Judy married at age eighteen and had her first child a year later. â€œI felt I always had to please my husband over myself.Â Sex between us was on his terms.â€Â Judy also felt subjugated in their method of birth control since her husband wanted not only his pleasure but to determine how many children they would have.Â Howeverâ€¦
Author Wajcman cites examples of how women had long taken birth control into their hands via â€œmagic, herbal potions, infanticide, abortion, coitus interruptus, vaginal sponges, douches, and pessaries.â€ (Wajcman, 1991)Â However, women were essentially forced to use those means of birth control in secrecy.
With the availability of birth control pills in the 1960s, women hoped they had found a form of sexual equality.Â Feminists expected the cultural tie between female reproduction and sexuality to be severed now that the â€œpillâ€ allowed sex when they wanted, and with whom they wanted, without the consequences of an unplanned pregnancy.
â€œMy sexuality is not an inferior trait that needs to be chaperoned by emotionalism or morality.â€
Promiscuity and the Sexual Revolution
In hindsight, although the 1960s was a decade with the potential for enormous advances in womenâ€™s sexuality given the increasingly permissive environment of â€œfree love,â€ and birth control pills, male sexual pleasure still governed the availability and use of contraceptives. (Wajcman, 1991)
Religious and conservative patriarchal viewpoints condemned birth control pills as a threat to womenâ€™sâ€”and therefore the USAâ€™sâ€”decency.Â â€œThe charge in the 1960s was that the pill was responsible for the sexual revolution,â€ historian Andrea Tone says.Â â€œIt was relaxing moral standards. … It was promoting promiscuity.” (Tone, 2001)Â Quietly, as the sexual revolution frayed on the rising winds of cultural debate, vibrators reappeared in stores and advertisements as an adjunct to female sexual satisfaction.Â For sexual ownership, the old social camouflage was shed, and vibrators were labeled openly as sex toys.
Orgasmic Postmenopausal Women
In the 1970â€™s women like Gloria Steinem, Shirley Chisholm, Betty Friedan, and Betty Dodson emerged as feminist activists.Â Dr. Betty Dodson, a Ph.D. sexologist, dedicated her life to teaching women about their genitals and deriving sexual pleasure.Â Early in her career, she was surprised to learn many of her female clients were not only unaware of, but loathed touching or seeing, their nether regions. Â Choosing to respond on a larger scale than her one-on-one consultations, Betty developed unique workshops that encouraged women to look at each otherâ€™s vaginas with the goal of seeing and accepting individual anatomy and differences. Â Betty vigorously promoted self-pleasuring through the use of vibrators then and continues to do so now at the age of eighty-two.Â In an email exchange, Betty told me the following, â€œI have a dream: America will be equally governed by orgasmic postmenopausal women!â€Â Given Bettyâ€™s strong pro-vibrator voice and influence, it is ironic that in 1973 Texas banned the sale of sex toys such as vibrators.Â Other states soon followed. The move towards governing womenâ€™s sexuality in the privacy of their homes set off a firestorm of anger amongst women that are still being fought in courts today.
â€œI consider the 70s to be the youth of old age. So all you women out there who are afraid of getting older, just keep your orgasms in place, eat a lot of vegetables, take exercise, and you’ll be fine.â€
â€“Dr. Betty Dodson
It Was the Strangest Flashlight Iâ€™d Ever Seen
In 1990, it was estimated that sixty percent of older women were unmarried and living alone and the numbers are growing as life spans increase. (B.Doress-Worters, 1994)Â Growing up in rural Minnesota I thought all older women lived alone because that was the norm in my community.Â My grandmother was widowed when she was only 57 years old and her sister, Margaret, was widowed at the age of 45. Â After their husbandâ€™s deaths, neither sibling ever remarried nor had another partner.Â In my youth, I was too naive to understand the challenges my grandmother, and Margaret faced as relatively young Lutheran widows desiring sexual release.
They only talked about sex in quiet whispers if they talked about it at all. And yet, as a child of about nine or ten years of age, I vividly remember finding a dildo-shaped vibrator among the folded blankets in Grandmaâ€™s closet (Read more about that here).Â She had sexual needs and figured out a way to meet them. Itâ€™s sad to me that she felt shame in wanting pleasure.
Do you have any memories or your mother, grandmother, and/or other favorite female and how they felt about sex?Â Iâ€™d love to hear about it!
Doress-Worters, P. B., & Diana Laskin Siegal. (1994). The New Ourselves Growing Older: Women Aging With Knowledge and Power.Â New York, NY: Touchstone.
Tone, A. (2001). Devices and Desires: A History of Contraceptives in America. New York, NY: Hill & Wang.
Wajcman, J. (1991). Feminism Confronts Technology. University Park, PA: Pennsylvania State University Press.