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Women’s Sexuality: Behaviors, Responses, and Individual Differences

Classic and contemporary approaches to the assessment of female sexuality are discussed. General approaches, assessment strategies, and models of female sexuality are organized within the conceptual domains of sexual behaviors, sexual responses (desire, excitement, orgasm, and resolution), and individual differences, including general and sex-specific personality models. Where applicable, important trends and relationships are highlighted in the literature with both existing reports and previously unpublished data. The present conceptual overview highlights areas in sexual assessment and model building that are in need of further research and theoretical clarification.

Research in female sexuality is fractionated. Significant contributions in specific areas, such as assessment, treatment, or understanding sexual phenomena have not necessarily led to offshoot contributions in related areas. Mirroring the field of human sexuality, the study of women’s sexuality has lacked an overarching conceptual basis with which to compare, evaluate, and guide ongoing research; hence, to significantly advance sexual science, it has been suggested that we must develop comprehensive theories and constructs that describe, explain, and predict sexual phenomena ( Abramson, 1990 ). The present contribution discusses issues in the assessment of female sexuality from the organizational framework of concepts rather than measures. Here, we provide information on classic and contemporary approaches, and the discussion is framed within the conceptual domains of sexual behaviors, sexual responses (i.e., the sexual response cycle), and individual differences.

An unprecedented number of sexual behavior studies have been conducted in response to the HIV–AIDS crisis (see Catania, Gibson, Chitwood, & Coates, 1990 , for a review). However, research on the assessment of female sexual behavior, exclusive of behaviors that lead to increased HIV risk, remains limited (but see sex survey of Laumann et al. from the University of Chicago; Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994 ). The coverage is most complete for heterosexual behaviors. This is not an intentional bias, and we acknowledge the dearth of data on sexuality topics for lesbians.

We regard a sexual response cycle conceptualization, specifically desire, excitement, orgasm, and resolution, as an important second component in a working model of female sexuality. Although there are significant and important interrelationships among the phases, there are sufficient data to suggest that each has unique aspects, too. The separate elaboration of the phases may also clarify the female sexual dysfunctions, as the majority of Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed.; DSM-IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994 ) diagnoses are now conceptualized according to phasic disruption. As we consider assessment of each phase, we consider four “channels” for assessment: physiological, cognitive, affective, and behavioral.

The resurgence in personality research in the past decade (see Goldberg, 1993 , for an interesting historical discussion) and our own line of cognitive research compels us to examine the role of individual differences in women’s sexuality. Here we discuss the contemporary organization of personality structure, the Big Five model, as well as sexually relevant personality factors, such as sexual self-schema.

Sexual Behavior

In the United States, the first large-scale study of sexual behavior was that by Kinsey and his colleagues ( Kinsey, Pomeroy, & Martin, 1948 ; Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin, & Gebhard, 1953 ). Their efforts, however, were predated by Terman’s ( Terman, Buttenwieser, Ferguson, Johnson, & Wilson, 1938 ) more focused analysis of sexual behaviors, practices, and preferences in the context of marriage. Terman was specifically interested in the role of a couple’s sexual relationship in their marital adjustment and headed one of the first research groups to study in detail such aspects as the frequency of intercourse, relative “passionateness” of the spouses, refusal of intercourse, orgasm, duration of intercourse, the wife’s response to first intercourse, contraceptive practices, the wife’s desire, and each individual’s sexual complaints about the other. In the Kinsey interviews, conducted with thousands of women and men, the focus was similar, yet with a life-span orientation. They included the following: preadolescent heterosexual and homosexual play; masturbation; nocturnal sex emissions and dreams; heterosexual petting; premarital, marital, and extramarital coitus; intercourse with prostitutes (for men only); homosexual contacts; animal contacts; and, finally, the total sexual outlet, defined as the sum of the various activities which culminated in orgasm. Other topics that are now recognized as important to sexual development (and perhaps the subsequent occurrence of sexual dysfunctions), such as incest and other traumatic sexual experiences, received less coverage.

In addition to the significant public attention that the Kinsey volumes received, it is clear that their behavior chronicle interview is one of the few examples of a method affecting the nature of sex research for decades. It was mirrored, for example, in the late 1950s to the early 1970s with investigators including Podell and Perkins (1957) , Brady and Levitt (1965) , and Zuckerman (1973) publishing listings of heterosexual behaviors for men and women. The scales consisted of 12 to 20 items and included experiences that ranged from kissing to intercourse or mutual oral stimulation. Undergraduates were typically the research participants—an unusually relevant group because one aspect of these studies was to provide an ordinal (Guttman) scaling of the items. These data suggest, in part, a hierarchical or chronological ordering of sexual experiences. This is nicely illustrated by Peter Bentler’s (1968) 21-item experience scale. Years later, this method continues to appear in assessment and therapy arenas. For example, omnibus sexual functioning inventories, such as the Sexual Interaction Inventory by LoPiccolo and Steger (1974) , include the same hierarchical listing of sexual behaviors for each of its 11 scales. Such orderings also provide an empirical basis for generic hierarchy construction in systematic desensitization therapy studies (see Andersen, 1983 , for a review).

To illustrate scales of this sort, we provide data in Table 1 for the 24 items from the Sexual Experience Scale of the Derogatis Sexual Functioning Inventory (DSFI; Derogatis & Melisaratos, 1979 ). Rather than use the Derogatis yes–no format for scoring, we asked 172 undergraduate women (mean age, 19.3 years) to complete two versions of the scale. On the first assessment (previous scoring), they indicated whether they had ever experienced the activity. We have used such a scoring as an indicator of a woman’s sexual history, as scores would range from 0 to 24 and quantify the range of heterosexual behaviors that had been experienced in one’s lifetime (e.g., Andersen & Jochimsen, 1985 ). As indicated in the far left column of Table 1 , a hierarchical ordering of the items can be determined. In large part, comparison of the ordering with the much earlier Bentler data (1968) is similar, with the addition of the items masturbation, anal intercourse, and anal stimulation on the low-frequency end of the listing. Also of note is male-initiated or male-dominated versions of many of the items preceding the female counterpart items (e.g., intercourse with male “on top,” 71%, vs. intercourse with female “on top,” 68%; oral stimulation of one’s genitals by partner, 72%, vs. oral stimulation of partner’s genitals, 70%). These trends are consistent with gender differences found in the frequency of oral sex, as reported in the most recent comprehensive sex survey (e.g., 77% of men vs. 68% of women reported engaging in active oral sex at least once in their lifetime; Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994 ). On the second assessment, women indicated their frequency of behaviors in the past 30 days on a scale ranging from 0 (activity did not occur) to 9 (activity occurred two or more times per day) for each item. As might be expected, data for the present scoring reflect the previous scoring hierarchical ordering. We have also found that use of frequency rating scales rather than dichotomous presence–absence scoring provides greater sensitivity when the purpose is to assess behavior change or group differences (see Andersen & Broffitt, 1988 , for a discussion).

Sexual Experience Scale for Previous and Current Scoring for College-Age Women (N= 172)

Note. For the previous scoring, items were scored 0 (never experienced in my lifetime) and 1 (experienced at least once in my lifetime). Values are percentages of women in the sample who endorsed each item as having been experienced at least once. For the current scoring, the following scale was used for the frequency of each behavior in the past 30 days: 0 = this activity did not occur, 1 = activity occured once, 2 = activity occurred twice, 3 = activity occurred three times, 4 = activity occurred four times, 5 = activity occurred five times, 6 = once a week, 1 = two to six times a week, 8 = once a day, and 9 = two or more times a day. SES = Sexual Experience Scale.

Despite the usefulness of such scales, questions have been raised about the reliability and validity of any method that uses self-reports of sexual behavior. Rather than discuss them here, we refer the reader to reviews of these issues (e.g., Catania, Gibson, Chitwood, & Coates, 1990 ; Morokoff, 1986 ). Methodologic problems notwithstanding, further research efforts are needed to clarify which variables constitute the domain of women’s sexual behavior. The behavior listings noted earlier may provide a useful starting point. For example, in an earlier report we provided a factor-analytic study of the Sexual Experience Scale from the DSFI ( Andersen & Broffitt, 1988 ). Responses were obtained from nonstudent, “older” women (mean age, 41 years; range, 21 to 65 years). Women rated each item in a yes–no format, indicating whether the activity had occurred in the previous 3 months. A five-factor principle components solution that accounted for 82% of the variance was selected as the best fit for the data. Inspection of the factor loadings indicated that the items fell into the following subgroups: (a) masturbation (7% of the variance); (b) arousing activities, the majority of which occurring while clothed, including kissing with tongue contact, erotic embraces, breast fondling, and undressing (22% of the variance); (c) intimate activities, the majority of which occurring while unclothed, including kissing of breasts and other parts of the body and manual and oral genital stimulation (23% of the variance); (d) intercourse position items (13% of the variance); and (e) anal stimulation and anal intercourse (16% of the variance). We have since replicated this factor solution with the sample of 172 undergraduate women who provided the data in Table 1 . Data from the previous scoring was submitted to a principal-axis factor analysis with an oblique Harris-Kaiser rotation. The solutions are identical with one exception: items from groupings (b) and (c) combine to form a single factor, with the oral-genital stimulation items forming a second, separate factor.

As any factor solution is dependent on the items represented, these are unique to the items included by Derogatis and the participants in the samples described. However, if comparison is made between these Derogatis items and those in the scales noted earlier, one finds significant overlap, 100% with the Zuckerman (1973) and 86% with the Bentler (1968) measures, for example, and often the exact wordings for the items are used. The notable additions by Derogatis to the earlier behavioral scales were items assessing masturbation and anal stimulation. In summary, these analyses suggest that behavioral listing measures may provide a reasonable sampling of the sexual behavior domain for adult heterosexual women. Furthermore, careful selection of rating scales for such listings may provide useful indicators for women’s heterosexual behavior repertoires and estimates of current sexual activity.

Sexual Response Cycle

As noted by Rosen and Beck, there is “a fundamental assumption underlying most conceptualizations of sexual response [and that is that] sexual arousal processes are likely to follow a predictable sequence of events, and that a cyclical pattern of physiological responding can potentially be identified” (1988, p. 25). However, there has been disagreement about the number and importance of each phase. Although popularized by Masters and Johnson (1966) , the concept of stages of sexual engagement has early origins. As summarized in Table 2 , the number of stages has ranged from two to four. The phases of desire, plateau, and resolution are inconsistently represented, whereas a two-dimensional model of arousal–excitement process and an orgasm or orgasm–immediate postorgasm phase has been consistent. Historically, researchers have focused on understanding excitement (or sexual arousal), but more recently there has been similar emphases on defining the psychological and behavioral boundaries of sexual desire.

Historical Models of the Sexual Response Cycle

We combed the literature to find assessment strategies for these four dimensions, yet there are few that follow this comprehensive conceptualization. In fact, Masters and Johnson’s (1966) widely publicized findings appear to have had minimal impact when it comes to assessing sexual responding in clinical samples. Even their own assessment strategy—a lengthy oral interview described in the 1970 book—has little continuity with the 1966 model. In articles and chapters by researchers, a functional analysis of the antecedents, problem behaviors, and consequences of the particular sexual difficulty is most common. Although the latter is very useful, one may not necessarily obtain information about all phases of the sexual response cycle. Whereas our efforts have concentrated on such a measure (e.g., Andersen, Anderson, & deProsse, 1989 ), others have either developed phase-specific measures or multidimensional inventories (e.g., body image, sexual satisfaction, sexual roles, etc.; Derogatis & Melisaratos, 1979 ; LoPiccolo & Steger, 1974 ).

Sexual Desire

A decade after Masters and Johnson’s (1966) formulation proposing sexual excitement as the first phase of the response cycle, Kaplan (1979) and Lief (1977) asserted an expanded model that began with sexual desire, and the term inhibited sexual desire was coined for individuals who chronically failed to initiate or respond to sexual cues ( Lief, 1977 ). What is sexual desire? Current theories range from purely dynamic models to ones that emphasize biologic factors. Kaplan (1979) , in her influential volume, Disorders of Sexual Desire, reiterated the psychoanalytic position of libido as an innate emotional force that would be expressed in either sexual or nonsexual outlets. It would follow, then, that any inhibition of desire would be due to the unconscious repression or conscious suppression of urges for sexual contact. In either case, such defenses would arise from intrapsychic conflicts surrounding sexuality.

There are interactional models of desire and ones that emphasize other, nondynamic, psychological processes (see also a discussion by Beck, 1995 ). Levine (1992) , for example, highlights the role of sexual drive, seen as a biologically based source, and the individual’s behavioral and cognitive efforts to seek sexual stimulation. In contrast, Singer and Toates (1987) offer a central-nervous-system-mediated motivational model. They propose that sexual motivation, like hunger or thirst, emerges from an interaction of external incentives (i.e., a sexual stimulus) and internal states (e.g., sexual deprivation). Leiblum and Rosen (1988) note both intrapsychic and interpersonal aspects, but they define sexual desire functionally (i.e., desire is both a setting event and a consequence of sexual activity. Finally, Hatfield relies on her rich conceptualization of passionate love for the context of sexual desire; she sees sexual desire as a psychological longing for sexual union that is tied to sexual satisfaction and interpersonal relationship satisfaction (i.e., love) for the partner ( Hatfield & Rapson, 1987 ; Traupman, Eckels, & Hatfield, 1982 ).

Biologic models of sexual desire are controversial and currently emphasize hormonal mechanisms. Data are most consistent for the necessary (but not sufficient) role of androgens, probably testosterone. For this model, the majority of supporting data comes from men (e.g., O’Carroll, Shapiro, & Bancroft, 1985 ). Bancroft (1988) proposes that the occurrence of spontaneous erections during sleep are the behavioral manifestations of the androgen-based neurophysiological substrate of sexual desire; in contrast, erections with fantasy or erotic visual cues are seen as evidence for androgen-independent responses.

Hormone–sexual behavior relationships for women are less clear, although estrogen, progesterone, and androgen (testosterone) have been studied. Regarding estrogen effects, it is clear that some amount of estrogen is necessary for normal vaginal lubrication, and receipt of estrogen replacement therapy after menopause may reduce the problematic symptoms (e.g., lack of lubrication, atrophic vaginitis) and allow sexual activity or functioning to proceed unimpaired ( Walling, Andersen, & Johnson, 1990 ). In contrast, progesterone may actually have an inhibitory effect ( Bancroft, 1988 ). Finally, testosterone may have direct effects on sexual functioning; both Bancroft and Wu (1983) and Schreiner-Engel, Schiavi, Smith, and White (1982) have found positive relationships between testosterone levels and frequency of masturbation and vaginal responses to erotic stimuli. In studies of women for whom estrogen therapy was not effective for postmenopausal symptoms, testosterone administration improved sexual desire and related outcomes ( Burger et al., 1984 ; Studd et al., 1977 ). Perhaps the most direct data on this topic are by Alexander and Sherwin (1993) . In studying 19 oral contraceptive users, they reported that plasma levels of free testosterone was correlated with self-report measures of sexual desire, sexual thoughts, and anticipation of sexual activity. However, an interesting and more direct test of the hypothesis that testosterone is related to sexual cognitions was disconfirmed; using a selective attention (dichotic listening) task, Alexander and Sherwin found no relationship between levels of free testosterone and an attentional bias for sexual stimuli. Finally, a clinical study by Schreiner-Engel, Schiavi, White, and Ghizzani (1989) is relevant. They compared 17 women who met Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (3rd ed., revised; DSM–HI–R; American Psychiatric Association, 1987 ) criteria for loss of desire with 13 healthy, sexually active women. Blood samples were drawn every 3–4 days for one menstrual cycle and were analyzed for testosterone, estradiol, progesterone, prolactin, and luteinizing hormone. No differences between the groups were found, and subgroup analyses (e.g., comparison of women with lifelong absence of desire vs. those with acquired loss of desire) were also disconfirming. At present, it is unclear whether physiologic measures, and hormonal assays in particular, are useful physiologic indicators of sexual desire.

Considering the other channels for assessment, cognitions have been emphasized. For example, in DSM definitions (both DSM–III–R and the fourth edition [DSM–IV; American Psychiatric Association, 1994 ]), there is little suggestion of the theoretical models discussed earlier or of any specific physiologic or affective markers (other than generic psychologic distress). Instead, a circular statement (i.e., that hypoactive desire is deficient desire) is linked to a cognitive symptom—the absence of sexual fantasy. Correlational data suggest that, in general, individuals distressed about their sexual functioning report fewer spontaneous sexual fantasies, a higher likelihood that sexual fantasy will generate concomitant feelings of sexual guilt, and that they may prematurely terminate their fantasizing ( Zimmer, Borchardt, & Fischle, 1983 ). A comparison of women diagnosed with inhibited sexual desire and nondysfunctional women has revealed that women with desire problems fantasized less during a variety of sexual activities, including foreplay, coitus, and masturbation ( Nutter & Condron, 1983 ). Epidemiologic data indicate that women use sexual fantasies to increase sexual desire and facilitate orgasm ( Lunde, Larsen, Fog, & Garde, 1991 ). Not surprisingly, fantasy does play an important role in sex therapies (e.g, directed masturbation, systematic desensitization). Although these lines of data suggest some importance to the role of fantasy, there are not data at present suggesting that the absence of fantasy is pathognomic for low sexual desire.

Data comparing the frequency of internally generated thoughts (fantasies) and externally prompted thoughts (sexual urges) among young heterosexual men and women indicate that men report a greater frequency of urges than do women (4.5/day vs. 2.0/day), although the frequency of fantasies were similar (2.5/day; Jones & Barlow, 1990 ). Related data from Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, and Michaels (1994) indicate a normal distribution in the frequency of autoerotic activities (e.g., fantasy, masturbation, use of erotica) among women, with an elevated flat distribution for men. This indicates that, on average, men have higher rates of autoerotic activities and that there is less variance among men; for women, this indicates that, on average, women have generally lower rates but there are more individual differences among women in the frequency of autoerotic activity. Regarding the specific content of women’s fantasies, the data of Ellis and Symons (1990) suggest that touching, partner responses, and emotional responses may be important, in contrast to the characterization of men’s fantasies, which emphasizes visual imagery of the sexual partner or the sexual act.

There are self-report measures of sexual fantasy. Wilson’s (1988) 40-item measure includes four topical areas: exploratory (e.g., group sex, swapping items), intimate (e.g., heterosexual behaviors), impersonal (e.g., sex with strangers), and sadomasochistic fantasy topics (e.g., forced sex, whipping). Correlation analyses reveal that higher self-reported levels of sex drive are correlated with more frequent sexual fantasies, particularly intimate fantasies for women (e.g., r = .49 for women vs. .05 for men). There is also a 20-item fantasy scale on the DSFI; however, there are few psychometric data on this scale. Snell and Papini (1989 ; see also Snell, Fisher, & Schuh, 1992 ) have developed a measure of sexual preoccupation, or the tendency to think about sex to an “excessive degree.” This is a 10-item subscale from the Sexuality Scale on which an individual endorses frequent thoughts, fantasies, and daydreams about sex (e.g., “I think about sex a great deal of the time,” “I hardly ever fantasize about having sex”). Internal consistency of the measure is high (.88–.91) and 4-week test–retest is adequate (.70–.76). There are few convergent and discriminant data, but they are supportive. The measure is positively correlated but not overlapping with Byrne’s (1983) measure of erotophilia (.32) and negatively correlated with measures of sexual anxiety (−.36) and sexual guilt (−.22). Measures such as these may be useful to assess sexual cognitions. Other techniques exist (see Cacioppo & Petty, 1981 , for thought listing procedures) yet have not been used in sexuality research, despite their usefulness in the areas of social cognition and cognitive therapy research. When such measures are not used, researchers often use proxy variables. One strategy has been to have participants rate their sexual desire and then correlate these data with other indicators, such as sexual arousal or behavior (e.g., Beck, Bozman, & Qualtrough, 1991 ).

Provided below are symptom descriptions of individuals complaining of low desire. These may provide useful phenomenologic information for future assessment research. Specifically, we note the following.

  • Individuals with low desire report that they are generally uninterested in sexual activity. Such an attitude can be manifest behaviorally by never initiating sexual contact, avoiding sexual contexts, or refusing a partner’s initiations. These behaviors are presumably not due to strong negative responses to interpersonal or genital contact, an important point to consider when ruling out alternatives, specifically a sexual aversion disorder (see Discussion; for an early example of the absence of distinction, see McCarthy, 1984 ). Instead, individuals with low desire disorder are thought to be indifferent or neutral toward sexual activity. Sexual urges seem not to occur.
  • Individuals with low desire may report no sexual cognitions—fantasies or other pleasant, arousing sexual thoughts and mental images.
  • In terms of self-descriptions, individuals with low desire may have an asexual self-view.
  • Disruption in the frequency, focus, intensity, or duration of sexual activity may occur, and secondary disruption of sub sequent response cycle phases may occur.

Sexual Excitement

Either physical or psychologic sexual stimulation can initiate sexual excitement. The bodily changes with sexual excitement are considerable. The general physiologic responses are widespread vasocongestion, either superficial or deep, and myotonia, with either voluntary or involuntary muscle contractions. Other changes include increases in heart rate and blood pressure and deeper, more rapid respiration. For women, sexual excitement is also characterized by the appearance of vaginal lubrication, produced by vasocongestion in the vaginal walls, leading to transudation of fluid. Other changes include a slight enlargement of the clitoris and uterus with engorgement. The uterus also rises in position with the vagina expanding and ballooning out. Maximal vasocongestion of the vagina produces a congested orgasmic platform in the lower one third of the vaginal barrel. As discussed later, individuals may not be aware of the physiologic sensations of arousal; even if they are, their affects may or may not be convergent. Thus, in the following discussion, we consider both positive affects, such as arousal, and negative affects, such as anxiety, which may relate to sexual excitement. Consideration of negative affects is relevant as some (e.g., anxiety) are key in theoretical models of sexual excitement difficulties or dysfunctions.

Arousal and other positive emotions

Studies have addressed the physiological and affective aspects of arousal. Although the aforementioned description notes vasocongestion and lubrication as the predominant bodily responses, psychophysiological research has consisted largely of measures of vaginal vasocongestion (i.e., vaginal pulse amplitude [VPA], vaginal blood volume [VBV]) using the vaginal plethesmograph. Other genital measurements (such as those for lubrication) have not emerged, are unreliable, or are not sensitive to changes in arousal (see Geer & Head, 1990 , for a review). As a physiological indicator of sexual arousal, it is still unclear what these vaginal signals represent and whether they are analogues of distinct vascular processes ( Levine, 1992 ). However, there is evidence for their convergent validity. For example, VPA and VBV are capable of detecting group differences (e.g., differences in as absolute levels of arousal between women with and those without sexual dysfunctions), and responsiveness to experimental conditions (e.g., novel exposure and habituation to erotic stimuli, contrasts between erotic vs. nonerotic stimuli; Meuwissen & Over, 1990 ; Heiman, Rowland, Hatch, & Gladue, 1991 ; Laan, Everaerd, van Bellen, & Hanewals, 1994 ). Of the two measures, a variety of data suggest that VPA is the more sensitive and reliable genital measure, particularly because of its insensitivity to anxiety-evoking stimuli ( Lann, Everaerd, & Evers, in press ).

The construct of arousability is central to understanding cognitive and affective aspects of sexual excitement in women. According to Bancroft (1989) , arousability is a cognitive sensitivity to external sexual cues. He suggests that high arousability implies enhanced perception, awareness, and processing of not only sexual cues but the bodily responses of sexual excitement. This model seeks to connect cognitive–affective responses with control of genital and peripheral indications of sexual excitement through a neurophysiological substrate for sexual arousal. Fortunately, one of the psychometrically strongest self-report measure for female sexuality is one that also taps sexual arousability, the Sexual Arousability Index (SAI) by Hoon, Hoon, and Wincze (1976) . On this 28-item measure, women rate their sexual arousal for a variety of erotic and explicit sexual behaviors. Both the clinical usefulness and the power of the instrument are likely due to the important steps that were taken in the scale construction and validation process, including selecting items that evidenced convergent validity with criterion variables such as women’s awareness of physiological changes during sexual arousal (e.g., vaginal lubrication, nipple erection, sex flush, breast swelling, muscular tension), ratings of satisfaction with responsiveness, and sexual behavior measures. The measure samples a range of individual and partnered erotic and sexual behaviors; our psychometric studies indicate that the SAI samples the following domains: arousal associated with erotica (e.g., literature or photography) and masturbation, seductive activities (e.g., passionate kissing, being undressed), body caressing by a male partner, oral-genital and genital stimulation, and intercourse ( Andersen, Broffit, Karlsson, & Turnquist, 1989 ). 1

Although there is the expectation that physiologic measures, behavioral reports, and subjective reports converge, examples of dyscrony are common (see Turpin, 1991 , for a discussion of assessment of anxiety disorders), so too in this area, reports are mixed. Significant correlations have been found between genital measures and women’s ratings of their general arousal (e.g., Morokoff, 1985 ; Palace & Gorzalka, 1992 ; Laan, Everaerd, & Evers, in press ), yet low-to-zero correlations have been found between genital measures and women’s ratings of genital arousal (e.g., warmth in the genitals, lubrication; Laan, Everaerd, & Evers, in press ; Palace & Gorzalka, 1992 ). In the Laumann et al. survey, 19% of the female sample reported difficulties with lubrication, but only 12% of women reported anxiety about performance ( Lauman, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994 ). Other relevant data indicate that the magnitude of the correlations may be moderated by individual differences among women, such as indications of their sexual responsiveness. For example, Adams, Haynes, and Brayer (1985) found that “infrequently” orgasmic women showed a differential tendency to respond to distracting stimuli; that is, they were less accurate in gauging their physiologic sexual response during a task that was distracting of sexual arousal than were “frequently” orgasmic women. Related examples of this phenomena have been reported by other investigators ( Heiman, 1978 ; Morokoff & Heiman, 1980 ). At this time, there is insufficient data to draw a conclusion about the significance (or lack thereof) of this dysyncrony.

It may be useful to consider other positive affects or emotions that may influence sexual excitement–arousal. This examination provides a way to establish convergent and discriminant validity for the excitement construct. Researchers have found that positive mood, not surprisingly, accompanies sexual arousal in women ( Heiman, 1980 ; Laan, Everaerd, van Bellen, & Hanewald, 1994 ). 2 If an assessment question focuses on sexual excitement in the context of an interpersonal relationship, one of the more relevant emotions may be love. Walster and Berscheid (1974) proposed that people may be apt to experience love whenever they are intensely aroused physiologically (see Hatfield & Rapson, 1993 , for a thorough discussion). People then label this arousal as love. A classic experiment provided evidence for this notion. Dutton and Aron (1974) had men (who were between 19 and 35 years old) walk across one of two bridges. One bridge was suspended over a deep gorge and swayed vigorously from side to side. The other bridge was much more stable and was much closer to the ground. Presumably, participants would be substantially more psychophysiologically aroused by crossing the swaying bridge than by crossing the stable one. As the men walked across the bridge, they were met by a research assistant, who was either male or female and who asked the participant to answer a few questions and to tell a story based on a picture. After the tasks were completed, the research assistant mentioned that if a participant wanted more information, he could call the assistant at home. Two important findings emerged. The first was that the stories of the participants (in response to a Thematic Apperception Test card) were highest in sexual imagery in the group that crossed the swaying bridge and met the female assistant. The second was that members of this condition were also the most likely to call the assistant at home, in some cases, even attempting to arrange another, more personal, meeting. These data have been interpreted as indicating that arousal, accompanied by a plausible labeling of the arousal as love (or at least attraction), seems to be one basis for passionate love (see Sternberg, 1987 , for a related discussion). Although this experiment has not been replicated with women, it illustrates the general phenomena of positive affective labeling with sexual attraction, and possibly sexual arousal.

The 30-item Passionate Love Scale by Hatfield and Sprecher (1986) is reliable and evidences broad construct validity. Passionate love, defined as an intense longing for union with another, consists of three components: cognitive (e.g., intrusive thinking or preoccupation with the partner), emotional (attraction, and especially sexual attraction, for the partner), and behavioral aspects (e.g., efforts to maintain physical closeness to the partner, efforts to help the partner). The measure is correlated but not overlapping with relevant measures of sexual desire and excitement (e.g., interest in engaging in sex with the partner, .34; feelings of sexual excitement, .29 ([ Hatfield & Sprecher, 1986 ]; ratings of sexual satisfaction, .42 [ Traupmann & Hatfield, 1981 ]). Furthermore, women who have a positive view of themselves as sexual persons and their ability to become sexually aroused also report higher levels of passionate love and more romantic involvements ( Andersen & Cyranowski, 1994 ).

Negative affects that may impair excitement

Historically, anxiety has been the hypothesized mechanism in many theories of arousal deficits. Psychodynamic hypotheses emphasize fears of phallic-aggressive impulses, castration, rivalry, or incestuous object choices ( Janssen, 1985 ). More central to contemporary views, Wolpe (1958) was the first to emphasize anxiety-based impairment of physiologic responses. In his view, the sympathetic activity characteristic of anxiety inhibits the local (i.e., genital) parasympathetic activity responsible for the initial phases of sexual excitement (i.e., erection for men and, presumably, lubrication and vasocongestion for women). Initially offered to explain male arousal deficits, the model has been applied less satisfactorily for women. There is little experimental support for the contention that the early phases of sexual arousal in women are primarily parasympathetic ( Geer & Head, 1990 ) or even that anxiety will inhibit the physiologic responses of sexual arousal (although anxiety preexposure will effect verbal reports of subjective arousal; Palace & Gorzalka, 1990 ).

Dysfunctional attentional processes and negative affects have been the core of psychological theories of excitement deficits. 3 Masters and Johnson (1970) proposed two components: “spectatoring” (i.e., attentional distraction as the individual “watches” for his or her sexual responding) and negative expectations that the bodily response (e.g., erection) will be inadequate. Anxiety about performance failure (i.e., the absence of the physiologic responses of excitement) then occurs. Again, male sexual responding is usually the exemplar for this model.

An overlapping, although more detailed, model is Barlow’s (1986 ; see also Beck, 1986 ). When a positive, functional sexual response (e.g., an erection) would be expected, men with sexual difficulties evidence physiologic, cognitive, and emotional characteristics that lead to erectile failure. For example, data indicate that men with erection difficulties underreport their levels of sexual arousal (relative to the magnitude of actual erectile response) if queried ( Sakheim, Barlow, Abramson, & Beck, 1987 ), focus their attention on nonerotic rather than erotic cues ( Abramson, Barlow, Beck, Sakheim, & Kelly, 1985 ), and report negative (depressed) feelings ( Abramson, Barlow, Beck, Sakheim, & Kelly, 1985 ) and a lack of control over their sexual responses ( Beck, Barlow, & Sakheim, 1982 ). This dysfunctional process is reiterated and “improved” (i.e., the dysfunctional individual becomes even more proficient at focusing on the wrong aspects of the sexual context— the consequences of not performing, the continuation of erectile insufficiency), and thus, the individual comes to avoid sexual contexts in the future.

The majority of data for Barlow’s (1986) model of anxiety and cognitive distraction comes from male participants. When the model has been examined, women (usually female undergraduates or, perhaps, women recruited from the community) representing “functional” and “dysfunctional” groups are tested in psychophysiology laboratories. Women are presented with stimuli, usually videotapes, representing anxiety-provoking, neutral, or erotic sequences. Vaginal measures, as well as self-reports of general or genital arousal, are recorded. In tests of the physiologic effects of anxiety, the data have, in general, indicated that genital arousal is not inhibited by anxiety. Using individualized, anxiety-provoking audiotaped scenarios, Beggs, Calhoun, and Wolchik (1987) , for example, found that genital arousal (VBV) increased during the anxiety-provoking condition, although the levels were not as high as those achieved during an erotic verbal stimulus. Palace and Gorzalka (1990) found that preexposure with an anxiety-provoking videotape (e.g., a threatened amputation) in contrast to a neutral videotape facilitated VBV responses during subsequent viewing of erotic scenes for both women with and without sexual dysfunctions. This effect, preexposure to an anxiety-provoking stimulus increasing subsequent VBV during erotica, has also been replicated (Palace, in press). Other data disconfirming of both the Masters and Johnson and the Barlow conceptualizations is that by Laan, Everaerd, van Aanhold, and Rebel (1993) . They found that VPA was higher (rather than lower) under experimental “demand” conditions (i.e., “Try to become as sexually aroused as possible within 2 min and try to maintain it for as long as you can. Your level of sexual arousal will be recorded”) in contrast no demand conditions. Taken together, these data suggest that these previous conceptualizations may be less relevant (if relevant at all) for women, as they substantiate neither the arousal processes (they may be predominately sympathetic rather than parasympathetic) nor hypothesized mechanisms (e.g., performance demand).

For these reasons, we consider anxiety as well as a broad band of other affects that may be relevant to discriminate from excitement processes for assessment. As an aside, we note that the DSM–IV gives no clues as to the direction of assessment and largely omits affective criteria for arousal disorder in women. Disruption of a predominant physiologic response (lubrication and swelling of the genitals) until the “completion of sexual activity” is regarded as pathognomic, and this disturbance needs to result in either “marked distress” or “interpersonal difficulty.”

Sexual anxiety, or related terms, has been used to name scales that differ considerably in content and intent. We also note that, rather than use previously published measures, many investigators commonly develop their own sexual anxiety scales by appending a rating scale (e.g., a scale ranging from 0 [no anxiety at all] to 6 [extremely anxious, nervous, or tense]) to a behavioral hierarchy such as the Bentler (1968) listing. A procedure not unlike the latter was E. Hoon’s (1978) modification of the SAI to the SAI— expanded version (SAI-E). She defined anxiety as a negative feeling of tension or nervousness and used the SAI items but changed the anchors for the rating scale (7-point Likert scale ranging from — 1 [relaxing] to 5 [extremely anxiety provoking]). Somewhat surprising is that in a validity study ( Chambless & Lifshitz, 1984 ), the ratings for the SAI and the anxiety ratings on the SAI-E were uncorrelated but that the anxiety ratings were inversely correlated with reports of orgasm frequency (–.25). Factor analysis of the SAI-E ( Chambless & Lifshitz, 1984 ) reveals a similar structure to that found with the SAI ( Andersen, Broffitt, Karlsson, & Turnquist, 1989 ; see earlier discussion).

In contrast, the Sex Anxiety Inventory ( Janda & O’Grady, 1980 ) defines anxiety as a generalized expectancy for nonspecific external punishment for the violation of, or the anticipation of violating, perceived normative standards of acceptable sexual behavior. This definition and the actual items for the measure are similar to Mosher’s (1965) Sex Guilt Scale, which assesses the expectancy for self-mediated punishment (rather than external). In fact, there is significant overlap between the measures (correlations of .67, or about 45% shared variance between the scales). Factor analysis indicates that the items of the two scales are intermingled across factors.

Some extreme, negative reactions have been termed sexual aversions. In the DSM–IV, sexual aversion is defined as persistent or recurrent extreme aversion to, and avoidance of, all or almost all, genital contact with a sexual partner. The behavioral reference of complete (or almost complete) absence of genital contact presumably signifies that all sexual activity is halted, and so the latter stages of the sexual response cycle would thus be circumvented. Aside from specific genital avoidance, there may be wide variation in the clinical pattern of avoidance. Some people proceed up to the point of genital exposure during sex, but others become so avoidant that there is generalization to many stimuli, however sexually vague or intrusive, that become labeled “sexual” and are thus avoided. From an assessment standpoint, aversion may be difficult to distinguish from anxiety with avoidance. At present, there are no experimental or clinical studies that have made the comparison.

Katz and his colleagues ( Katz, Gipson, Kearl, & Kriskovich, 1989 ; Katz, Gipson, & Turner, 1992 ) developed a measure called the Sexual Aversion Scale (SAS), yet the content of the subscales differs from the aforementioned DSM description of sexual aversion. Thirty items are rated on a 4–point Likert scale and assess sexual fears associated with sexually transmitted diseases (primarily HIV), sexual guilt, negative social evaluation, pregnancy, and sexual trauma. Factor analyses suggest that the measure includes two domains that are potentially relevant to negative emotions disruptive of sexual excitement: sexual avoidance (e.g., “I have avoided sexual relations because of my sexual fears,” “I am not afraid of kissing or petting, but intercourse really scares me) and sexual self-consciousness and self-criticism (“I worry a lot about sex,” “I would like to feel less anxious about my sexual behavior,” “I feel sexually inadequate”). The other two factors assess fear of sexually transmitted disease (“The thought of AIDS really scares me”) and childhood sexual trauma (“I was sexually molested when I was a child”). Reliability data include estimates of .85 for internal consistency and .86–.89 for 4-week test-retest reliability. Few validity data are provided, but they are supportive in that the measure correlates .36 with the state and .44 with the trait forms of the Spielberger State–Trait Anxiety Inventory (STAI). Comparison of this measure with the SAI-E indicates that the SAI-E appears to tap anxiety, tension.and nervousness for sexual behaviors. In contrast, the SAS assesses self-reported avoidance of sexual activities and negative emotionality about sex, including worry, self-consciousness, and self-criticism. Although the former factor (sexual avoidance) may be related to sexual aversion as defined by DSM–III–R, it is not clear whether the latter factor (which appears to assess sexual neuroticism) is.

Masters and Johnson (1966) proposed that orgasm is a reflex-like response that occurs once a plateau of excitement has been reached or exceeded, although the specific neurophysiologic mechanisms are not known. The physiologic and behavioral indices of orgasm involve the whole body—facial grimaces, generalized myotonia of the muscles, carpopedal spasms, and contractions of the gluteal and abdominal muscles. For women, orgasm is also marked by rhythmic contractions of the uterus, the vaginal barrel, and the rectal sphincter, beginning at 0.8-s intervals and then diminishing in intensity, duration, and regularity. Attention is focused on internal bodily sensations (concentrated in the clitoris, vagina, and uterus), and one’s awareness of competing environmental stimuli may be lessened. The subjective experience of orgasm includes feelings of intense pleasure with a peaking and rapid, exhilarating release. These sensations are reported to be singular, regardless of the manner in which orgasm is achieved ( Newcomb & Bentler, 1983 ). Women are unique in their capability to be multiorgasmic; that is, women are capable of a series of distinguishable orgasmic responses without a lowering of excitement between them.

There are few assessment measures of orgasm. In fact, in the majority of research (e.g., Kelly, Strassberg, & Kircher, 1990 ; Raboch & Raboch, 1992 ), investigators simply ask women how consistently orgasm is achieved (e.g., 10% of the time or “rarely,” 70% of the time or “on most occasions”). There are unpublished measures (e.g., Warner, 1981 ), and one measure of attributions for orgasm consistency. The latter scale by Loos, Bridges, and Critelli (1987) assesses internal versus external and stable versus unstable attributions for regularity of orgasm during coitus. There are few supporting psychometric data, although the initial report for the measure suggests that it can discriminate between women of high and low orgasm consistency. In our research, we have assessed awareness of the physiological signs and symptoms of orgasm (e.g., Andersen, Anderson, & deProsse, 1989 ). We have found, for example, that women with and without orgasmic dysfunction differ on their awareness of orgasm signs (see Figure 1 ). These data replicate earlier research by Hoon and Hoon (1978) with a nondysfunctional sample. Their data indicated that women reporting the lowest orgasm consistencies were significantly less aware of physiological changes accompanying sexual arousal than women reporting higher consistencies of orgasm.

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Percentage of orgasmic and orgasmic dysfunction individuals reporting the occurrence of orgasm signs.

The lack of reliable and valid assessment methods for female orgasm may have contributed to the lack of clarity, heterogeneity, and controversy surrounding the criteria for female orgasmic dysfuntion ( Morokoff, 1989 ; Wakefield, 1987 ). In the current DSM definition of female orgasmic disorder (in DSM–III–R, the label was inhibited female orgasm), it is defined as delayed or absent orgasm following an unimpaired sexual excitement phase. No subtypes are noted, although requiring that the excitement phase be unimpaired imposes a de facto subgroup. Historically, other distinctions have been made. For example, primary orgasmic dysfunction has been the designation for women who have never experienced orgasm under any circumstances (the possible exception might be an occasional orgasm during sleep with erotic dreams). Previous estimates suggested that 5%–10% of sexually active women have not experienced orgasm. In the Laumann et al. (1994) survey, only 29% of women reported that they always had an orgasm with their regular partner during sex and 24% reported an inability to have orgasm ( Lauman, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994 ). A second clinical pattern, called secondary orgasmic dysfunction, has been used for women who have orgasms but express concern with their frequency or circumstances of occurrence (e.g., orgasm may occur on a random basis or not with desired activities, such as coitus). For many women, this represents normal variation in sexual response patterns and is usually not appropriate as a diagnostic entity. In fact, the absence of coital orgasm is common for many adult women early in their sexual relationships, as the rate of coital orgasm slightly increases with experience ( Kinsey, Pomeroy, Martin & Gebhard, 1953 ). In the Laumann et al. survey ( Laumann, Gagnon, Michael, & Michaels, 1994 ), 10% of women reported that they climaxed too quickly). Other clinical scenarios (e.g., a woman becoming nonorgasmic after being so) are rare. When this does occur, a history may reveal pharmacologic agents as instrumental; for example, anorgasmia in previously responsive women may be associated with the use of tricyclic antidepressants, monoamine oxidase inhibitors, benzodiazepines, and neuroleptics.

As noted, the presumption of a normal sexual excitement phase describes a specific subgroup of women with orgasm difficulties, as previous research suggests that women presenting for treatment vary widely not only in their capacity for sexual arousal but in the presence of accompanying negative affects such as anxiety or aversion to sexual activity ( Derogatis, Pagan, Schmidt, Wise, & Glidden, 1986 ; see Andersen, 1983 , for a review). Thus, too, etiological hypotheses for inorgasmia have emphasized the role of anxiety or other distressing affects ( Derogatis, et al., 1986 ; Wolpe, 1958 ), performance anxiety ( Masters & Johnson, 1970 ), and skills deficits ( Barbach, 1975 ). Hypotheses for coitally inorgasmic women often focus on the role of the interpersonal couple relationship (e.g., McGovern, Stewart, & LoPiccolo, 1975 ) or marital satisfaction.

Thus, contrary to the current DSM criteria, theoretical and intervention research suggests that subtypes of orgasmic dysfuntion may exist. If the response cycle conceptualization is considered, previous phases—desire and excitement—would both be expected to have linkages to the occurance of orgasm. For illustration, consider clinical cases of orgasmic dysfunction in which desire may or may not be regularly present, and excitement may or may not be regularly present (see Table 3 ). The consideration of the desire and excitement phases in the context of a presenting complaint of orgasmic dysfunction leads to the delineation of phasic-based subtypes, in this case, subtypes for orgasmic dysfunction. Hence, subtyping for assessment purposes is tied directly to the response cycle conceptualization.

Orgasmic Dysfunction Subtypes

To examine this conceptualization empirically, we inspected the range of sexual arousability and sexual anxiety scores (unfortunately, we did not collect data on desire) of women who presented for a treatment outcome study for primary orgasmic dysfunction ( Andersen, 1981 ). When selecting women for study, we screened in for orgasmic dysfunction and screened out for dyspareunia, vaginismus, or medical problems. In terms of SAI scores for the women as they entered treatment, 70% of the women scored below the 50th percentile based on the Hoon, Hoon, and Wincze (1976) normative data, and, furthermore, 47% of the sample scored below the 25th percentile. Only 30% of the sample presenting for orgasmic dysfunction scored above the 50th percentile on the SAI, with only 7% of the sample above the 75th percentile. These data suggest that the numbers of nonorgasmic women who would report unimpaired sexual arousal (i.e., meeting DSM– IV criteria) would be very low. Furthermore, consideration of the relationship between orgasm and previous response cycle phases may provide useful assessment information for diagnostic and treatment purposes. In summary, it is probable that there are diagnostically distinct subgroups of women who have difficulty with orgasm.

The concluding phase of the sexual response is resolution. After orgasm, the anatomic and physiologic changes of excitement reverse. In women, the orgasmic platform disappears as vasocongestion diminishes, the uterus moves back into the true pelvis, and the vagina shortens and narrows. A filmy sheet of perspiration covers the body and the elevated heart rate and respiration gradually return to normal. If orgasm has occurred, there are concomitant psychological sensations of bodily relaxation and feelings of release and sexual contentment–and satisfaction. If orgasm has not occurred, the same physiologic processes occur at a much slower rate, and the psychologic responses are usually either neutral or negative (e.g., continued sexual tension, disappointment at having not experienced orgasm). As described here, there have been few attempts to assess the state of resolution (but see Andersen, Anderson, & deProsse, 1989 as one example).

In contrast, there are measures that assess global evaluations of one’s sexual life or general satisfaction with sexuality, and as such, reflect a trait like view of resolution (P. M. Bentler, personal communication, October 4, 1994). For example, on the DSFI, there is a 10-item sexual satisfaction scale. Each item appears to assess a different aspect of satisfaction with the sexual life, including satisfaction with the frequency and range of sexual activities, communication with partner, the occurrence of orgasm, and resolution feelings. There are few psychometric data, but the available information is supportive. The internal consistency is .71, and the scale can distinguish from sexually dysfunctional and functional samples.

Conversely, Snell and Papini (1989) have developed a measure of sexual depression or the tendency to feel saddened and generally discouraged about one’s sexual life (e.g., “I feel down about my sex life”). Psychometric data for the scale are available ( Snell, Fisher, & Schuh, 1992 ; Snell & Papini, 1989 ). Internal consistency is .88– .93 and 4-week test–retest reliability is .67 to .76. Validity data indicate that the measure appears to assess relevant aspects of depression, as it is correlated .25 with sexual guilt as assessed with the Janda and O’Grady (1980) measure and it is correlated .32 with the Beck Depression Inventory. In contrast, it is not correlated (—.05) with other negative sexual affects, such as erotophobia ( Fisher, Byrne, White, & Kelley, 1988 ; see Discussion later).

Finally, we note the Sexual Interaction Inventory ( LoPiccolo & Steger, 1974 ), which was designed as an omnibus measure for assessing sexual satisfaction and adjustment in heterosexual couples. In the past 20 years, reliability and validity data have accumulated for this measure; however, we note that the measure would be limited in the assessment of female sexuality per se. Briefly, the measure includes 17 heterosexual behaviors (modeled after the behavioral hierarchies discussed earlier) and a series of questions assessing such areas as satisfaction with the frequency, actual and preferred pleasure from the activity, and estimations of partner’s response.

Individual Differences

With two major exceptions (Freud and Eysenk), few researchers have explored the relationship between personality and sexuality. However, in the past decade there has been a resurgance of research in personality. Here we discuss the relationship between sexual behavior and the response domains and the contemporary general model of personality structure—the Big Five model—and sexually relevant personality factors, such as sexual self-schema.

General Factors

Historically, sexuality occupied a central role in psychology. Freud hypothesized that sexual instincts were the driving force in personality development, and sexual impulses gone awry were the etiological bases for psychopathology. Even later, neoanalysts and object relations theorists focused on the interrelationship between the capacity for sensuality and the development of stable, intimate relationships ( Fairburn, 1952 ; Klein, 1976 ).

In the 1970s Eysenck (1971 Eysenck (1972) , using his three-factor P-E-N model of personality, consisting of psychoticism, extraversion, and neuroticism, showed that personality and sexual variables were correlated. For example, women scoring high on neuroticism had lower reported levels of sexual experience, whereas those high on extraversion (particularly men) had much higher levels of sexual experience. These findings suggested that the negative emotionality characteristic of neuroticism (i.e., anxiety, guilt, and self-consciousness) would be a deterrant to sexual expression, whereas the positive emotionality characteristic of extraversion (i.e., dominance, sociability, exhibitionism, confidence, and excitement seeking) would be facilitative. Also, women scoring high on psychoticism reported greater involvement with coital and oral activities. Other studies of the Eysenck Psychoticism scale indicate that it is a blend of orthogonal Big-Five factors of Agreeableness and Conscientiousness (low A and low C; Goldberg & Rosolack, in press ).

Costa and his colleagues ( Costa, Fagan, Piedmont, Ponticas, & Wise, 1992 ) have used their measure of the Big Five, the NEO (Neuroticism, Extraversion, and Openness) Personality Inventory. They reported data from 163 women seeking outpatient treatment for sexual problems. Scores on the DSFI ( Derogatis & Melisaratos, 1979 ) and the NEO Personality Inventory ( Costa & McCrae, 1985 ) were reported. Women seeking treatment for sexual dysfunction and scoring high on neuroticism (particularly subscales endorsing higher anxiety or depression and self-consciousness) reported lower levels of sexual information (—.19) and poorer body image (.28). Conversely, women scoring higher on openness (individuals who seek out and appreciate varied experiences) reported higher levels of sexual information (.38), higher levels of sexual activity (.26), and a more positive body image (–.20.). No significant correlations were found with the other personality scales (i.e., Extraversion, Agreeableness, or Conscientiousness scales) and the remaining sexuality scales (sexual experience, sexual satisfaction). Other studies with a smaller sample have also failed to find a significant correlation between extraversion and sexuality for women (see Jupp & McCabe, 1989 , for sexual arousability, or Harris, Yullis, & LaCoste, 1980 , for relationship with coital frequency). In comparison, extroversion is a strong, broad band predictor of sexual behaviors and affects for men ( Costa, Fagan, Piedmont, Ponticas,& Wise, 1992 ).

Sexually Relevant Individual Differences

Measures of sexual attitudes, affects, behaviors, and more recently, cognitions, are available. Several individual difference measures assess evaluative (attitudinal) or affective reactions to sexual cues. One example is erotophobia–erotophilia, a tendency to respond to sexual cues along a negative to positive dimension of affect and evaluation ( Byrne, 1983 ; Fisher, Byrne, White, & Kelley, 1988 ). According to this view, erotophobic individuals have negative affective and evaluative responses to sex and should therefore show avoidance, whereas erotophilic individuals, who have a positive affective and evaluative response to sex, should evidence approach responses. Factor analysis of the 21 items indicate that three dimensions are assessed: (a) openness to sexual experiences (primarily pornography); (b) arousal for sexual activities; and, (c) opinions (primarily negative) about homosexuality. Validity research indicates that, as expected, there is a positive correlation between erotophilia scores and measures of sexual behavior (intercourse) and sexual fantasy. Another example is the 43-item Sexual Attitudes Scale ( Hendrick & Hendrick, 1987 ). This scale assesses four attitude topics: sexual permissiveness (similar to the sociosexuality measure), diverse sexual practices (e.g., masturbation) or topics (e.g., sex education), sex as a communication form with another person, and sex as an instrumental activity (e.g., “sex is for pleasure”).

Simpson and Gangestad (1991a , 1991b) have offered a conceptual framework for their focus on sociosexual orientation or the willingness to engage in uncommitted sexual relations. Individuals who possess an unrestricted sociosexual orientation require less closeness and commitment before having sex, whereas a restricted sociosexual orientation requires greater emotional involvement. Validity information indicates, for example, that unrestricted individuals tend to engage in sex at an earlier point in their sexual relationships; are more apt to have concurrent sexual affairs; and have relationships characterized by less commitment, love, and psychological dependency.

Surprisingly, there has been little attention to cognitive representations of sexuality (i.e., self-views of one’s sexuality). From this perspective, cognitions about the self (e.g., Markus & Wurf, 1987 ) would be important. We have proposed that sexual self-schema (self-concept) is a cognitive view about sexual aspects of oneself. One’s sexual self-view is derived from past experience, manifest in current experience, and it guides the processing of domain-relevant social information ( Andersen & Cyranowski, 1994 ). Well-articulated schemas may function as a quick referent of one’s sexual history, and also as a reference point for information—judgments, decisions, inferences, predictions, and behaviors—about the current and future sexual self. In addition to regulating intrapersonal processes, sexual self-schema mediates interpersonal processes, the most obvious being sexual relationships. Individuals with a clearly specified, positive sexual schema, for example, enter sexual relationships more willingly, have a more extensive behavioral repertoire, and evidence more positive emotions when in sexual relationships.

The 26-item Sexual Self-Schema Scale ( Andersen & Cyranowski, 1994 ) includes two positive aspects (an inclination to experience romantic–passionate emotions and a behavioral openness to sexual experiences or relationships) and a negative aspect (embarrassment or conservatism), that appears to be a deterrent to sexual expression. Women with a positive sexual schema, relative to those with a negative schema, view themselves as emotionally romantic or passionate, and as behaviorally open to romantic and sexual relationships and experiences. These women tend to be liberal in their sexual attitudes, and are generally free of such social inhibitions as self-consciousness or embarrassment. Women with positive schemas for example, tend to evaluate various sexual behaviors more positively, report higher levels of arousability across sexual experiences, and are more willing to engage in uncommitted sexual relations. This schematic representation is not merely a summary statement of sexual history, but it marks current and future possibilities, as women with positive schemas anticipate more sexual partners in the future than their counterparts with negative schemas. Despite this seemingly unrestricted view of sexuality, it is perhaps important to note that affects and behaviors indicative of romantic, loving, and intimate attachments are also central to women with positive sexual schemas, as they report extensive histories of romantic ties. This latter aspect distinguishes the sexual schema construct from Simpson and Gangestad’s (1991a , 1991b ) concept of sociosexuality. In their view, individuals who are characterized as “unrestricted” in their sexual orientation report higher rates of sexual behavior as do the women with positive schemas; however unrestricted individuals also have less commitment and weaker affectional bonds. Thus, the positive schematic representation of a sexual woman includes both arousal–drive and romantic–attachment elements.

Conversely, women holding clear negative self-views of their sexuality tend to describe themselves as emotionally cold or unromantic and as behaviorally inhibited in their sexual and romantic relationships. These women tend to espouse conservative (and, at times, negative) attitudes and values about sexual matters and may describe themselves as self-conscious, embarrassed, or not confident in a variety of social and sexual contexts. Finally, there may be some potential vulnerability for women with negative self-views because their self-view can be significantly moderated or defined by others (e.g., the presence of a current sexual relationship), whereas this does not appear to be the case for the women with positive schemas.

In addition to representing positive and negative sexual schemas, the Sexual Self-Schema Scale can be scored to represent aschematic and coschematic profiles. Women who are aschematic appear to lack a coherent framework for guiding sexually relevant perceptions, cognitions, and behaviors. On the schema measure, they provide weak endorsements of both positive and negative schema adjectives. Hypotheses that such women have lower rates of sexual behavior and less positive sexual affects (e.g., sexual arousability and love for the sexual partner) have been confirmed. Alternatively, coschematic individuals have a schematic representation of their sexuality that is, in some sense, “conflicted.” Their pattern of responding on the schema measure is to provide strong endorsements of both positive and negative aspects. Our hypothesis that coschematic women might evidence discrepancies in their sexual affects has been confirmed; these women report higher levels of sexual anxiety, yet high levels of romantic attachment (love) for a partner. A final methodologic note about the scale is that the measure consists of 26 trait adjectives, and respondents completing the measure have no notion that an aspect of sexuality is being assessed. This aspect of the measure contrasts markedly with every assessment scale reviewed here, and it thus offers significant methodologic and clinical advantages. In summary, sexual schema is a previously untapped yet seemingly important aspect of women’s sexuality and self-concept.

Integration: An Empirical Examination of Sexual Behaviors, Sexual Responses, and Individual Differences

To illustrate the relationship between the domains identified here, we present data from female undergraduates (N = 172) who completed several measures of sexual behavior, response cycle, and personality as part of another study ( Andersen & Cyranowski, 1994 ). We used Goldberg’s (1992) measure of the Big Five and several of the assessment measures discussed earlier. Measures of current sexual behavior (e.g., frequency of intercourse) were actually completed on two occasions, separated by 2 months. For the present analyses, we averaged the current sexual behavior variables to obtain a more stable estimate.

The data are provided in Table 4 . Considering the five personality dimensions, the most consistent pattern of relationships was found for the Extraversion scale. This pattern is inconsistent with the pattern that Costa et al. (1992) obtained using the NEO-PI with older women seeking treatment. One interpretation of these differences is that they indicate important generational and developmental differences in the study samples. In primarily young, unmarried women, extraversion may be related to the likelihood of engaging in sex, the variability in one’s behavior, and the affects associated with sex. Among older, predominately married women whose patterns of sexual behavior and responding may be more established, the dimension of neuroticism appears to be a more important personality variable.

Correlations Between Sexual Behavior and Responses and Measures of Individual Difference for College-Age Women (N = 172)

Note. All correlations >. 15 are significant, p= .05. DSFI = Derogatis Sexual Functioning Inventory; SAI = Sexual Arousability Index; Love = Hatfield Passionate Love Scale.

Comparison of the Big Five data with the sexual-specific measures reveals the usefulness of using such measures to predict sexual variables. As might be anticipated, the sociosexuality measure correlated strongly with measures of sexual behavior, and these data suggest potential overlap with measures assessing sexual history, particularly the number of previous partners. For the erotophobia measure, these data suggest that the construct functions as a generalized deterrent for sexual behavior as well as positive sexual responses. Finally, the sexual schema measure, as would be predicted, is correlated to virtually all aspects of sexuality.

We propose that the assessment of female sexuality be considered within the conceptual domains of sexual behaviors, sexual responses, and individual differences rather than by categories (e.g., functional vs. dysfunctional) or measures. Self-reports of sexual behavior have proven a necessary mainstay in both historical and contemporary assessments of female sexuality. However, many methodological problems of such assessments remain (see Catania et al., 1990 ), and today the area continues with a heterosexual emphasis. Still, sufficient research has emerged to suggest that the behavioral domain for women includes the behaviors of masturbation and other individual erotic activities, and arousing activities with a heterosexual partner ranging from kissing, erotic caressing, oral-genital contact, and anal stimulation, to intercourse.

A response cycle conceptualization, a four-stage model consisting of sexual desire, excitement, orgasm, and resolution, offers conceptual and diagnostic advantages. Within this framework, we considered physiological, cognitive, and affective assessment approaches. One area in need of scientific advancement is the concept of sexual desire (but see Beck, 1995 ). There are no measures of desire, per se, with the current alternatives including measures of sexual cognitions or proxy variables.

In contrast, theories have been proposed and several measures have been developed for the assessment of sexual excitement and related affects. With few exceptions, however, these efforts have consisted of the application of theories and methods for understanding men’s sexuality to the discovery of women’s arousal processes. Although useful data has resulted, the majority of it indicates that the empirical fit is poor. For example, data appear to support the influence of hormonal mechanisms on male sexual desire and behaviors, but data assessing hormone–behavior relationships for women are considerably less clear. Whereas there has been some confirmation of sexual arousal models of male response, empirical tests have disconfirmed these same conceptualizations when applied to women, such as parasympathetic predominance for initial arousal, anxiety inhibiting physiological arousal, and disruptive effects of performance demand.

In short, theoretical advances are needed in the understanding of sexual excitement processes for women. Toward this end, our discussion includes both positive and negative affects, as there is evidence for dysyncrony, but it also provides a manner for clarifying the boundaries for the construct. Within the domain of positive affects, emotions such as romantic attachment or love might be considered, as a variety of converging data indicate that for women these feelings are closely tied to sexual affects. For example, there are gender differences in content of sexual fantasies with women focusing on the personal–emotional feelings in contrast to men, who focus on the sexual content per se ( Ellis & Symons, 1990 ); research on women’s self-esteem suggests that it comes, in part, from a sensitivity and interdependence with others ( Joseph, Markus, & Tafarodi, 1992 ) rather than the more independent orientation common for men; and, finally, women’s own judgments about a “sexual woman” describe her as one who is passionate as well as romantic and loving ( Andersen & Cyranowski, 1994 ).

With regard to negative affects that may inhibit or lower sexual arousal, we proposed several which fall within the domain of negative emotionality. This includes anxiety (i.e., tension and nervousness as assessed, e.g., with the SAI-E), sexual guilt or self-blame (e.g., the Janda & O’Grady measure), sexual self-criticism and self-consciousness (subscale of the SAS), and global sexual depression (i.e., sadness and hopelessness about one’s sexual life, as found in the Snell and Papini measure). It is also likely that aspects that tap behavioral avoidance are relevant to sexual excitement, including avoidance of sexual activities or stimuli per se (e.g., such as the sexual avoidance factor on the Katz Aversion Scale).

It is somewhat puzzling that, despite the considerable research tradition on the treatment of orgasmic dysfunction, there has been very little energy directed toward assessment. The modal strategy in research is to obtain frequency estimates for orgasm and then provide supplementary information on sexual affects (e.g., sexual arousal). In conceptualizing and assessing orgasm, we urge a view that considers the previous sexual responses of desire and excitement, as a variety of data suggest that subtypes of women with orgasm difficulties exist. Finally, there are no measures of sexual resolution per se. Instead, measures of sexual “satisfaction” exist. These latter measures do not appear to tap resolution, and it is unlikely that such measures would add incremental value to an assessment that included other, more central topics, such as sexual behavior or sexual excitement.

This is a point in time when psychology has come full circle, and there is renewed interest in the role of individual differences in predicting and understanding psychological phenomena. Additional research with the contemporary model of personality structure, the Big Five Model, but even more specifically the “big two”—extraversion and neuroticism—may be of some value in understanding women’s sexuality. The available data suggest, however, that conclusions about the role of personality in female sexuality may operate differently depending on the developmental stage in a woman’s sexual life. Specifically, characteristics of positive emotionality or extraversion may be more influential as women begin sexual interactions with others, whereas negative emotionality or neuroticism may play a greater role when sexual patterns are established or when the woman is “older.” More powerful predictors of sexuality, however, are the sex-specific measures. The Sociosexuality measure seems suited to the prediction of sexual behavior variables, whereas the Erotophobia-Erotophilia measure may function as a suppressor variable in the prediction of sexual behaviors and responses. The Sexual Schema measure is unique in its cognitive focus, its band width in the prediction of sexual phenomena, and its capability of differentiating topologies of women (positive schema, coschematic, aschematic, and negative schema) who differ in their sexual behaviors and responses. Finally, the Sexual Schema scale is the only sexuality measure that includes no explicit sexual content in the items; respondents are unaware that a sexual construct is being assessed.

In conclusion, we urge consideration of constructs when making choices for the assessment of female sexuality. We underscore the domains of sexual behaviors, responses, and individual differences, with each clarified by subdomains or constructs. In so doing, we hope to facilitate the suggestion and testing of theoretical, nomological networks for the understanding of women’s sexuality.


This research was supported by research funds from the American Cancer Society (PBR-89) and the U.S. Army Medical Research Acquisition Activity (DAMD17-94-J-4165).

1 Comparison of the SAI factor-analytic data ( Andersen, Broffitt, Karlsson, & Turnquist, 1989 ) with those of the Bentler (1968) behavioral hierarchy or the Derogatis Sexual Experience scale ( Andersen & Broffitt, 1988 ) reveal very similar factor structures. This suggests that a broad sampling of both individual and couple sexual behaviors for women would likely yield a domain representation of the following: (a) masturbation and other individual erotic activities; (b) pleasant, potentially arousing activities with a partner, the majority of which occur while clothed, such as kissing with tongue contact, erotic embraces, lying together, or breast fondling; (c) intimate touching, caressing, and kissing of the body (but excluding oral-genital contact) by or with a partner; (d) manual and oral-genital stimulation of a partner or by a partner; (e) various intercourse positions; (f) anal stimulation and anal intercourse.

2 However, in an experimental test of this question using a novel strategy to induce a positive versus a neutral mood (a comparison of two musical stimuli, which presumably differed in their mood induction properties), there was no difference in the stimuli in their effect on VPA or subjective ratings of arousal ( Laan, Everaerd, van Berlo, & Rifs, in press ). This manipulation may have failed because of the use of a non-standardized mood induction rather than other validated procedures (e.g., Velton Mood Induction) or the lack of a mood comparison that was strong enough, such as positive versus negative mood.

3 Again, these theories elaborate the arousal deficit processes for male responses, and then the models are expanded to included women. Even so, the majority of the supporting data come from studies with men, and so we cite the studies with women as is possible.

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Friday essay: a sex-positive feminist takes up the ‘unfinished revolution’ her mother began – but it’s complicated

essay about female sexuality

Senior Lecturer, School of Humanities, UNSW Sydney

Disclosure statement

Zora Simic does not work for, consult, own shares in or receive funding from any company or organisation that would benefit from this article, and has disclosed no relevant affiliations beyond their academic appointment.

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Bad Sex – like Bad Feminist (the title of the essay collection that launched Roxane Gay to literary stardom back in 2014) – is an enticing title for a book. Who hasn’t had bad sex at some time or other, including those of us who identify as feminists?

Bad sex, variously defined and experienced, continues to be depressingly common, even though sex “has never been more normalised, feminism has never been more popular” and “romantic love has never been more malleable”.

Or, so argues Nona Willis Aronowitz, in her genre-defying first book, Bad Sex: Truth, Pleasure and the Unfinished Revolution .

Bad Sex: Truth, Pleasure and an Unfinished Revolution – Nona Willis Aronowitz (Plume).

Aronowitz’s regular writing gigs include a love and sex advice column for Teen Vogue. But in taking “bad sex” as her subject, she’s less concerned with offering remedies than in the “broader question of what cultural forces interfere with our pleasure, desire and relationship satisfaction”.

What has changed, what remains

In her cleverly constructed investigation, Aronowitz makes this a personal and historical question, as well as a feminist dilemma. Across 11 chapters, she blends memoir, social history, feminist analysis and cultural commentary in a highly readable, often insightful – and occasionally self-indulgent – fashion.

essay about female sexuality

Hers is a very US-centric story: the backdrop to her investigations is the election of Donald Trump and his term in office, which heightened the chaos of her personal world, and her feminist framework is almost exclusively US-based. But Bad Sex has wider resonance and appeal.

The starting point is Aronowitz’s own compulsion to understand and move beyond the “bad sex” that eroded her otherwise satisfying (though ultimately short-lived) marriage. Through her “zig zag pursuit of sexual liberation”, Aronowitz ranges across the contemporary sexual landscape – dating apps, ethical non-monogamy, sexual and gender fluidity – while also looking back to feminist and gender history to contemplate what has changed, and what perennials remain.

These include the murky edges of consent (a conversation, she reminds us, that started well before #MeToo), everyday forms of sexual coercion, and the “woke misogynist” – a contemporary type with antecedents like “men’s libbers”.

Yet despite what the title might suggest, sexual harm is not her main concern and Bad Sex is not a #MeToo book. Aronowitz wants to bring both pleasure and nuance back to the centre of feminist sexual politics, including by way of telling the truth about how difficult it can be for women to pursue (or even identify) their desires in an enduringly patriarchal world.

Sometimes this involves poking gentle fun at herself and the whole concept of “feminist sex”. (“I wanted my hook-ups to be both fulfilling and morally sound”.) But there’s no doubting her commitment to the task – which includes knowing her history.

essay about female sexuality

Feminist sexual revolutions and sex wars

The “unfinished revolution” of the subtitle is the explicitly feminist sexual revolution launched by women’s liberationists like Anne Koedt, whose essay The Myth of the Vaginal Orgasm was first published in 1968.

essay about female sexuality

By harking back to it, Aronowitz offers an updated telling of the heady and horny history of early radical feminism – as captured in Jane Gerhard’s Desiring Revolution: Second-Wave Feminism and the Rewriting of Twentieth-Century American Thought, 1920 to 1982 (2001), and before that, Daring to Be Bad: Radical Feminism in America 1967-1975 (1989) by Alice Echols.

In this century, “radical feminism” has ossified into a catch-all for what many see as the most negative and obstinate manifestations of feminism – among them transphobia, anti-porn and anti-sex work, gender essentialism, and an agenda dominated by white, middle-class women.

But Gerhard and Echols, among many others, have recuperated a vibrant and multi-faceted lineage of radical feminism in which good sex was integral to liberatory feminist politics.

essay about female sexuality

The points at which those earlier histories conclude are significant. Echols stops in 1975. She says that’s when “cultural feminism” became the dominant strain of feminism in the US, marked by separatism and a female counterculture that alienated many heterosexual and bisexual women – not to mention lesbians who were turned off by what they saw as the policing of their sexual desires.

Gerhard continues to 1982, the year of the historic Scholar and the Feminist Conference at Barnard College. Entitled “Towards a Politics of Sexuality”, the conference was convened by feminists eager to return to (and extend) feminism’s earlier focus on sexual pleasure – much to the consternation of anti-porn feminists. They protested outside, wearing T-shirts with “For a Feminist Sexuality” on one side, and “Against S/M” on the other.

The Barnard Conference did not launch the “Feminist Sex Wars” – with “pro-sex” feminists on one side and the so-called “anti-sex” feminists on the other. It certainly galvanised them, though. And it has been heavily dissected and narrated ever since, including by those who were there.

Anthropologist Gayle S. Rubin, part of the West Coast lesbian sadomasochism scene, was still a graduate student when she presented an early version of her since much-anthologised essay, “Thinking Sex: Notes for a Radical Theory of the Politics of Sexuality” , at the conference.

In her essay, Rubin lamented the “temporary hegemony” of the anti-pornography movement, defended pro-sex feminism as part of a longer tradition of sex radicalism, and provocatively challenged the “assumption that feminism is or should be the privileged site of a theory of sexuality”. This last point partly accounts for why Rubin’s essay is as canonical to queer theory as it is to feminist thought.

essay about female sexuality

In a lecture delivered earlier this year, Rubin noted a resurgence of interest in the Feminist Sex Wars, post-#MeToo. It’s evident in a surge of books released in 2021. There were two dedicated revisionist histories: Lorna Bracewell’s Why We Lost the Sex Wars: Sexual Freedom in the #MeToo Era and Brenda Croswell’s The New Sex Wars: Sexual Harm in the #MeToo Era .

And those Feminist Sex Wars were part of philosopher Amia Srinivisan’s lauded essay collection The Right to Sex . Srinivisan also wrote an essay for The New Yorker on the Sex Wars, extending its preoccupations to the British context.

Each of these books is markedly different in its emphasis. Bracewell spotlights the participation of queer women of colour. Croswell contemplates the limits of the law for addressing sexual assault. And Srinivisan re-evaluates anti-porn feminism in light of contemporary concerns. All three, however – like Aronowitz – see the feminist politics of sex as unfinished business, with the Feminist Sex Wars of the 1980s offering both guidance and a cautionary tale.

For Rubin, however, the new literature on the Sex Wars – some of it tainted with errors of fact – is not so much history as a reiteration of myths and recycled narratives. These books reflect what she sees as a “growing tendency to pontificate on these earlier conflicts without actually knowing what was going on in them”, nor the context in which they unfolded (notably – the Reagan administration, the rise of the Christian right and the onset of the AIDS crisis).

essay about female sexuality

Rubin recalls the Sex Wars as traumatic for many reasons, including because they eclipsed an earlier, more wide-ranging and libidinous feminist sexual agenda. Early radical feminists and women’s liberationists, says Rubin, were “incredibly concerned with sex, sexuality, women’s sexual pleasure, along with violence, rape and battery, and a whole lot of other things”.

One of the most prominent was Ellen Willis , author of “Towards a Feminist Sexual Revolution” (published in 1982), among other key essays. Two years later, her daughter (with activist and scholar Stanley Aronowitz ) was born: Nona Willis Aronowitz.

Read more: Is the #MeToo era a reckoning, a revolution, or something else?

Like mother, like daughter?

Like many millennial women, Aronowitz came of age with “pro-sex” feminism on the ascent. But though she was literally raised by one of the recognised progenitors of that feminism, she says while she was growing up, her mother “didn’t pry or even offer” counsel on puberty or sex.

Willis died in 2006, when Aronowitz was in her early 20s. It’s primarily through her mother’s writings that she’s absorbed her views on sex and relationships, including as editor of the posthumous collection The Essential Ellen Willis (2014).

essay about female sexuality

In Bad Sex she digs deeper, reading through her mother’s letters and personal papers to piece together her sexual experiences and past relationships – including with Aronowitz’s father. Some of what she finds is confronting (especially about her dad’s first marriage). But there’s also solace, wisdom and solidarity to be found in her mother’s life and writing, and those of others like her, who have made (or continue to make) “good sex” central to their feminism.

Willis began her writing career as a rock critic. She was initially wary of the version of women’s liberation she found in Notes from the First Year (1968), a collection of writings from New York radical women.

“Sexuality,” writes Aronowitz, “was all over Notes” – including Koedt’s advocacy for the clitoris and call to “redefine our sexuality”, and Shulamith Firestone’s transcription of one of the group’s meetings on sex, a somewhat damning indictment of the sexual revolution.

essay about female sexuality

Willis wrote at the time that “the tone strikes me as frighteningly bitter” – but within months of meeting the New York women, she was a total convert. She formed the breakaway group Redstockings with Firestone, who went on to write the feminist classic The Dialectic of Sex (1970). Willis also re-evaluated her relationship with her boyfriend in the light of what consciousness-raising had exposed, and went on to spend much of her thirties single.

By the end of the 1970s, Willis was an eloquent critic of the then-emerging anti-pornography feminism. She warned in a landmark 1979 essay that if

feminists define pornography, per se, as the enemy, the result will be to make a lot of women afraid of their sexual feelings and afraid to be honest about them.

In the same essay, Willis shared that “over the years I’ve enjoyed various pieces of pornography […] and so have most women I know”. A couple of years later, in “Lust Horizons: Is the Women’s Movement Pro-Sex?” (1981), Willis surveyed the flashpoints.

She concluded that both “self-proclaimed arbiters of feminist morals” and “sexual libertarians who often evade honest discussion by refusing to make judgements at all” were obstacles to “a feminist understanding of sex”. By her lights, that involved recognising that “our sexual desires are never just arbitrary tastes”.

Read more: Shulamith Firestone: why the radical feminist who wanted to abolish pregnancy remains relevant

A candid narrator

Aronowitz is clearly indebted to her mother’s style of feminism. Her description of Willis’s particular niche (in the introduction to The Essential Ellen Willis) could well describe her own. She was intellectual, but not academic. She was a journalist, but not primarily an “objective” reporter; she “poached from her life and detailed her thought processes”.

Like her mother, Aronowitz is alert to the grey areas between utopian feminist visions of sexual liberation and the tricky realities of heterosexuality – or in Aronowitz’s case, heteroflexibility. “Reconciling personal desire with political conviction,” she writes, “is frankly, a tall order,” but nevertheless “essential”.

Yet while Willis stopped short of memoir, Aronowitz – reared on social media as much as feminism – is a candid narrator. It’s hard not to bristle with sympathy for her now ex-husband Aaron when she describes their sex towards the end as “metastasizing in the worst way”, or her own experience of it as “some putrid combination of bored, irritable, and disassociated”.

Elsewhere, Aronowitz describes her sexual encounters when her marriage is opened up, while she’s separated and as she moves into a new relationship – in enough detail to possibly tip over into too-much-information territory for some readers.

A smiling woman with curly hair in front of a painted red brick wall.

What stops Bad Sex from descending into an extended confessional is that her truth-telling (which is different to tell-all) is not a solipsistic exercise. Aronowitz knows the limits of extrapolating from one’s own experience – especially if, like her, you’re a white, middle-class feminist with a big platform – and that the best way to do it is to be honest and to share the stage.

She reveals she enjoyed the social capital accrued from getting married and was terrified of being thirtysomething and single. And how she violated the rules of ethical non-monogamy (crossing over into a far less progressive “affair”), and largely went through the motions of queer experimentation.

Aronowitz indicts herself as much as she does her own generation of so-proclaimed sexual renegades. But hers is not a satirical gaze; her quest to understand what makes sex “good” or “bad” – and why it matters – is genuine.

Aronowitz typically launches each chapter with a personal experience: either her own, or from someone who offers a different perspective. Like her friend Lulu, a Black, queer woman, whose personal and family histories preface a larger discussion of the distinctive trajectories of black feminist sexual thought.

Readers with prior knowledge will be familiar with some of the key works and figures Aronowitz showcases (for instance, Audre Lorde’s classic 1978 essay “Uses of the Erotic: The Erotic as Power” ). She weaves these classics together with contemporary literature and activism (like adrienne moore browne’s 2019 book Pleasure Activism: The Politics of Feeling Good ). And so, she provides entry points for different potential audiences: readers seeking a historical primer, and readers who are after an update.

essay about female sexuality

The gap between theory and practice – or the challenge of what Sara Ahmed calls living a feminist life – is of special interest to Aronowitz. She manages to both capture the power of polemic in feminist history and to get behind the scenes.

For instance, Aronowitz reminds us, even Emma Goldman, the defiant anarchist who inspired women’s liberationists with her proclamations of free love, was hardly immune to romantic despair.

Elsewhere, she revisits essays by radical feminists Dana Densmore and Roxanne Dunbar on celibacy and asexuality as essential and invigorating aspects of second-wave feminist sexual thought.

When Densmore later tells her there wasn’t anyone in their militant group, Cell 16, who was actually celibate, Aronowitz isn’t surprised or judgemental. Instead, she heeds what Densmore saw as the most important sentence of her essay – one Aronowitz had originally overlooked:

This is not a call for celibacy but for an acceptance of celibacy as an honourable alternative, one preferable to the degradation of most male-female sexual relationships.

Sex, Densmore tells her, was “really bad in 1968”. In the early phase of the sexual revolution, when feminism had yet to happen, “it felt important to tell women they could walk away from bad relationships.”

Read more: Friday essay: 'with men I feel like a very sharp, glittering blade' – when 5 liberated women spoke the truth

Over 50 years later, Aronowitz has a lot to share with readers about sex. But her book is no polemic. In thinking about sex – her own and in general – feminism has clearly been an enormous and generative influence, but Aronowitz also acknowledges its limits and shares her frustrations. “I felt grateful”, she writes, “for the radical feminism that encouraged shame-free sexual exploration but I resented its high bar too.”

Crucially, however, Aronowitz does not disavow feminism or make grand claims about what sex should or should not be. That phase, Aronowitz suggests, was necessary once, but is now over.

This sets Bad Sex productively apart from other recent books, such as Louise Perry’s The Case Against the Sexual Revolution: A New Guide to Sex in the 21st Century (2022). Perry’s somewhat unrelenting diatribe against sex-positive feminism concludes with motherly advice to her readers, including “don’t use dating apps” and “only have sex with a man if you think he would make a good father to your children”.

For Aronowitz, ultimately the “unsteady conclusions of liberationists” – including those of her mother – were more inspirational “than any righteous slogan”. Bad Sex offers a rich compendium of these teachings, but its value is more elusive and greater than this.

In sharing her doubts, reflections and vulnerabilities, Aronowitz pushes feminist sexual politics beyond the binaries it is sometimes reduced to: pleasure/danger, positive/negative, pro/anti. Instead, she pushes it towards the complex engagement that Ellen Willis, among others, had encouraged all along.

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Understanding Gender, Sex, and Gender Identity

It's more important than ever to use this terminology correctly..

Posted February 27, 2021 | Reviewed by Kaja Perina

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Representative Marjorie Taylor Greene hung a sign outside her Capitol office door that said “There are TWO genders: MALE & FEMALE. ‘Trust the Science!’” There are many reasons to question hanging such a sign, but given that Rep. Taylor Greene invoked science in making her assertion, I thought it might be helpful to clarify by citing some actual science. Put simply, from a scientific standpoint, Rep. Taylor Greene’s statement is patently wrong. It perpetuates a common error by conflating gender with sex . Allow me to explain how psychologists scientifically operationalize these terms.


According to the American Psychological Association (APA, 2012), sex is rooted in biology. A person’s sex is determined using observable biological criteria such as sex chromosomes, gonads, internal reproductive organs, and external genitalia (APA, 2012). Most people are classified as being either biologically male or female, although the term intersex is reserved for those with atypical combinations of biological features (APA, 2012).

Gender is related to but distinctly different from sex; it is rooted in culture, not biology. The APA (2012) defines gender as “the attitudes, feelings, and behaviors that a given culture associates with a person’s biological sex” (p. 11). Gender conformity occurs when people abide by culturally-derived gender roles (APA, 2012). Resisting gender roles (i.e., gender nonconformity ) can have significant social consequences—pro and con, depending on circumstances.

Gender identity refers to how one understands and experiences one’s own gender. It involves a person’s psychological sense of being male, female, or neither (APA, 2012). Those who identify as transgender feel that their gender identity doesn’t match their biological sex or the gender they were assigned at birth; in some cases they don’t feel they fit into into either the male or female gender categories (APA, 2012; Moleiro & Pinto, 2015). How people live out their gender identities in everyday life (in terms of how they dress, behave, and express themselves) constitutes their gender expression (APA, 2012; Drescher, 2014).

“Male” and “female” are the most common gender identities in Western culture; they form a dualistic way of thinking about gender that often informs the identity options that people feel are available to them (Prentice & Carranza, 2002). Anyone, regardless of biological sex, can closely adhere to culturally-constructed notions of “maleness” or “femaleness” by dressing, talking, and taking interest in activities stereotypically associated with traditional male or female gender identities. However, many people think “outside the box” when it comes to gender, constructing identities for themselves that move beyond the male-female binary. For examples, explore lists of famous “gender benders” from Oxygen , Vogue , More , and The Cut (not to mention Mr. and Mrs. Potato Head , whose evolving gender identities made headlines this week).

Whether society approves of these identities or not, the science on whether there are more than two genders is clear; there are as many possible gender identities as there are people psychologically forming identities. Rep. Taylor Greene’s insistence that there are just two genders merely reflects Western culture’s longstanding tradition of only recognizing “male” and “female” gender identities as “normal.” However, if we are to “trust the science” (as Rep. Taylor Greene’s recommends), then the first thing we need to do is stop mixing up biological sex and gender identity. The former may be constrained by biology, but the latter is only constrained by our imaginations.

American Psychological Association. (2012). Guidelines for psychological practice with lesbian, gay, and bisexual clients. American Psychologist , 67 (1), 10-42. https://doi.org/10.1037/a0024659

Drescher, J. (2014). Treatment of lesbian, gay, bisexual, and transgender patients. In R. E. Hales, S. C. Yudofsky, & L. W. Roberts (Eds.), The American Psychiatric Publishing textbook of psychiatry (6th ed., pp. 1293-1318). American Psychiatric Publishing.

Moleiro, C., & Pinto, N. (2015). Sexual orientation and gender identity: Review of concepts, controversies and their relation to psychopathology classification systems. Frontiers in Psychology , 6 .

Prentice, D. A., & Carranza, E. (2002). What women should be, shouldn't be, are allowed to be, and don't have to be: The contents of prescriptive gender stereotypes. Psychology of Women Quarterly , 26 (4), 269-281. https://doi.org/10.1111/1471-6402.t01-1-00066

Jonathan D. Raskin, Ph.D.

Jonathan D. Raskin, Ph.D. , is a professor of psychology and counselor education at the State University of New York at New Paltz.

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Gender Studies: Foundations and Key Concepts

Gender studies developed alongside and emerged out of Women’s Studies. This non-exhaustive list introduces readers to scholarship in the field.

Jack Halberstam, Afsaneh Najmabadi-Evaz and bell hooks

Gender studies asks what it means to make gender salient, bringing a critical eye to everything from labor conditions to healthcare access to popular culture. Gender is never isolated from other factors that determine someone’s position in the world, such as sexuality, race, class, ability, religion, region of origin, citizenship status, life experiences, and access to resources. Beyond studying gender as an identity category, the field is invested in illuminating the structures that naturalize, normalize, and discipline gender across historical and cultural contexts.

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At a college or university, you’d be hard pressed to find a department that brands itself as simply Gender Studies. You’d be more likely to find different arrangements of the letters G, W, S, and perhaps Q and F, signifying gender, women, sexuality, queer, and feminist studies. These various letter configurations aren’t just semantic idiosyncrasies. They illustrate the ways the field has grown and expanded since its institutionalization in the 1970s.

This non-exhaustive list aims to introduce readers to gender studies in a broad sense. It shows how the field has developed over the last several decades, as well as how its interdisciplinary nature offers a range of tools for understanding and critiquing our world.

Catharine R. Stimpson, Joan N. Burstyn, Domna C. Stanton, and Sandra M. Whisler, “Editorial.” Signs , 1975; “Editorial,” off our backs , 1970

The editorial from the inaugural issue of Signs , founded in 1975 by Catharine Stimpson, explains that the founders hoped that the journal’s title captured what women’s studies is capable of doing: to “represent or point to something.” Women’s studies was conceptualized as an interdisciplinary field that could represent issues of gender and sexuality in new ways, with the possibility of shaping “scholarship, thought, and policy.”

The editorial in the first issue of off our backs , a feminist periodical founded in 1970, explains how their collective wanted to explore the “dual nature of the women’s movement:” that “women need to be free of men’s domination” and “must strive to get off our backs.” The content that follows includes reports on the Equal Rights Amendment, protests, birth control, and International Women’s Day.

Robyn Wiegman, “Academic Feminism against Itself.” NWSA Journal , 2002

Gender studies developed alongside and emerged out of Women’s Studies, which consolidated as an academic field of inquiry in the 1970s. Wiegman tracks some of the anxieties that emerged with the shift from women’s to gender studies, such as concerns it would decenter women and erase the feminist activism that gave rise to the field. She considers these anxieties as part of a larger concern over the future of the field, as well as fear that academic work on gender and sexuality has become too divorced from its activist roots.

Jack Halberstam, “Gender.” Keywords for American Cultural Studies, Second Edition (2014)

Halberstam’s entry in this volume provides a useful overview for debates and concepts that have dominated the field of gender studies: Is gender purely a social construct? What is the relationship between sex and gender? How does the gendering of bodies shift across disciplinary and cultural contexts? How did the theorizing of gender performativity in the 1990s by Judith Butler open up intellectual trajectories for queer and transgender studies? What is the future of gender as an organizing rubric for social life and as a mode of intellectual inquiry? Halberstam’s synthesis of the field makes a compelling case for why the study of gender persists and remains relevant for humanists, social scientists, and scientists alike.

Miqqi Alicia Gilbert, “Defeating Bigenderism: Changing Gender Assumptions in the Twenty-First Century.” Hypatia , 2009

Scholar and transgender activist Miqqi Alicia Gilbert considers the production and maintenance of the gender binary—that is, the idea that there are only two genders and that gender is a natural fact that remains stable across the course of one’s life. Gilbert’s view extends across institutional, legal, and cultural contexts, imagining what a frameworks that gets one out of the gender binary and gender valuation would have to look like to eliminate sexism, transphobia, and discrimination.

Judith Lorber, “Shifting Paradigms and Challenging Categories.” Social Problems , 2006

Judith Lorber identifies the key paradigm shifts in sociology around the question of gender: 1) acknowledging gender as an “organizing principle of the overall social order in modern societies;” 2) stipulating that gender is socially constructed, meaning that while gender is assigned at birth based on visible genitalia, it isn’t a natural, immutable category but one that is socially determined; 3) analyzing power in modern western societies reveals the dominance of men and promotion of a limited version of heterosexual masculinity; 4) emerging methods in sociology are helping disrupt the production of ostensibly universal knowledge from a narrow perspective of privileged subjects. Lorber concludes that feminist sociologists’ work on gender has provided the tools for sociology to reconsider how it analyzes structures of power and produces knowledge.

bell hooks, “Sisterhood: Political Solidarity between Women.” Feminist Review , 1986

bell hooks argues that the feminist movement has privileged the voices, experiences, and concerns of white women at the expense of women of color. Instead of acknowledging who the movement has centered, white women have continually invoked the “common oppression” of all women, a move they think demonstrates solidarity but actually erases and marginalizes women who fall outside of the categories of white, straight, educated, and middle-class. Instead of appealing to “common oppression,” meaningful solidarity requires that women acknowledge their differences, committing to a feminism that “aims to end sexist oppression.” For hooks, this necessitates a feminism that is anti-racist. Solidarity doesn’t have to mean sameness; collective action can emerge from difference.

Jennifer C. Nash, “re-thinking intersectionality.” Feminist Review , 2008

Chances are you’ve come across the phrase “intersectional feminism.” For many, this term is redundant: If feminism isn’t attentive to issues impacting a range of women, then it’s not actually feminism. While the term “intersectional” now circulates colloquially to signify a feminism that is inclusive, its usage has become divorced from its academic origins. The legal scholar Kimberlé Crenshaw created the term “intersectionality” in the 1980s based on Black women’s experiences with the law in cases of discrimination and violence. Intersectionality is not an adjective or a way to describe identity, but a tool for analyzing structures of power. It aims to disrupt universal categories of and claims about identity. Jennifer Nash provides an overview of intersectionality’s power, including guidance on how to deploy it in the service of coalition-building and collective action.

Treva B. Lindsey, “Post-Ferguson: A ‘Herstorical’ Approach to Black Violability.” Feminist Studies , 2015

Treva Lindsey considers the erasure of Black women’s labor in anti-racist activism , as well as the erasure of their experiences with violence and harm. From the Civil Rights Movement to #BlackLivesMatter, Black women’s contributions and leadership have not been acknowledged to the same extent as their male counterparts. Furthermore, their experiences with state-sanctioned racial violence don’t garner as much attention. Lindsey argues that we must make visible the experiences and labor of Black women and queer persons of color in activist settings in order to strengthen activist struggles for racial justice.

Renya Ramirez, “Race, Tribal Nation, and Gender: A Native Feminist Approach to Belonging.” Meridians , 2007

Renya Ramirez (Winnebago) argues that indigenous activist struggles for sovereignty, liberation, and survival must account for gender. A range of issues impact Native American women, such as domestic abuse, forced sterilization , and sexual violence. Furthermore, the settler state has been invested in disciplining indigenous concepts and practices of gender, sexuality, and kinship, reorienting them to fit into white settler understandings of property and inheritance. A Native American feminist consciousness centers gender and envisions decolonization without sexism.

Hester Eisenstein, “A Dangerous Liaison? Feminism and Corporate Globalization.” Science & Society , 2005

Hester Eisenstein argues that some of contemporary U.S. feminism’s work in a global context has been informed by and strengthened capitalism in a way that ultimately increases harms against marginalized women. For example, some have suggested offering poor rural women in non-U.S. contexts microcredit as a path to economic liberation. In reality, these debt transactions hinder economic development and “continue the policies that have created the poverty in the first place.” Eisenstein acknowledges that feminism has the power to challenge capitalist interests in a global context, but she cautions us to consider how aspects of the feminist movement have been coopted by corporations.

Afsaneh Najmabadi, “Transing and Transpassing Across Sex-Gender Walls in Iran.” Women’s Studies Quarterly , 2008

Afsaneh Najmabadi remarks on the existence of sex-reassignment surgeries in Iran since the 1970s and the increase in these surgeries in the twenty-first century. She explains that these surgeries are a response to perceived sexual deviance; they’re offered to cure persons who express same-sex desire. Sex-reassignment surgeries ostensibly “heteronormaliz[e]” people who are pressured to pursue this medical intervention for legal and religious reasons. While a repressive practice, Najmabadi also argues that this practice has paradoxically provided “ relatively safer semipublic gay and lesbian social space” in Iran. Najmabadi’s scholarship illustrates how gender and sexual categories, practices, and understandings are influenced by geographical and cultural contexts.

Susan Stryker, Paisley Currah, and Lisa Jean Moore’s “Introduction: Trans-, Trans, or Transgender?” Women’s Studies Quarterly , 2008

Susan Stryker, Paisley Currah, and Lisa Jean Moore map the ways that transgender studies can expand feminist and gender studies. “Transgender” does not need to exclusively signify individuals and communities, but can provide a lens for interrogating all bodies’ relationships to gendered spaces, disrupting the bounds of seemingly strict identity categories, and redefining gender. The “trans-” in transgender is a conceptual tool for interrogating the relationship between bodies and the institutions that discipline them.

David A. Rubin, “‘An Unnamed Blank That Craved a Name’: A Genealogy of Intersex as Gender.” Signs , 2012

David Rubin considers the fact that intersex persons have been subject to medicalization, pathologization, and “regulation of embodied difference through biopolitical discourses, practices, and technologies” that rely on normative cultural understandings of gender and sexuality. Rubin considers the impact intersexuality had on conceptualizations of gender in mid-twentieth century sexology studies, and how the very concept of gender that emerged in that moment has been used to regulate the lives of intersex individuals.

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson, “Feminist Disability Studies.” Signs , 2005

Rosemarie Garland-Thomson provides a thorough overview of the field of feminist disability studies. Both feminist and disability studies contend that those things which seem most natural to bodies are actually produced by a range of political, legal, medical, and social institutions. Gendered and disabled bodies are marked by these institutions. Feminist disability studies asks: How are meaning and value assigned to disabled bodies? How is this meaning and value determined by other social markers, such as gender, sexuality, race, class, religion, national origin, and citizenship status?

The field asks under what conditions disabled bodies are denied or granted sexual, reproductive, and bodily autonomy and how disability impacts the exploration of gender and sexual expression in childhood, adolescence, and adulthood historical and contemporary pathologization of genders and sexualities. It explores how disabled activists, artists, and writers respond to social, cultural, medical, and political forces that deny them access, equity, and representation

Karin A. Martin, “William Wants a Doll. Can He Have One? Feminists, Child Care Advisors, and Gender-Neutral Child Rearing.” Gender and Society , 2005

Karin Martin examines the gender socialization of children through an analysis of a range of parenting materials. Materials that claim to be (or have been claimed as) gender-neutral actually have a deep investment in training children in gender and sexual norms. Martin invites us to think about how adult reactions to children’s gender nonconformity pivots on a fear that gender expression in childhood is indicative of present or future non-normative sexuality. In other words, U.S. culture is unable to separate gender from sexuality. We imagine gender identity and expression maps predictably onto sexual desire. When children’s gender identity and expression exceeds culturally-determined permissible bounds in a family or community, adults project onto the child and discipline accordingly.

Sarah Pemberton, “Enforcing Gender: The Constitution of Sex and Gender in Prison Regimes.” Signs , 2013

Sarah Pemberton’s considers how sex-segregated prisons in the U.S. and England discipline their populations differently according to gender and sexual norms. This contributes to the policing, punishment, and vulnerability of incarcerated gender-nonconforming, transgender, and intersex persons. Issues ranging from healthcare access to increased rates of violence and harassment suggest that policies impacting incarcerated persons should center gender.

Dean Spade, “Some Very Basic Tips for Making High Education More Accessible to Trans Students and Rethinking How We Talk about Gendered Bodies.” The Radical Teacher , 2011

Lawyer and trans activist Dean Spade offers a pedagogical perspective on how to make classrooms accessible and inclusive for students. Spade also offers guidance on how to have classroom conversations about gender and bodies that don’t reassert a biological understanding of gender or equate certain body parts and functions with particular genders. While the discourse around these issues is constantly shifting, Spade provides useful ways to think about small changes in language that can have a powerful impact on students.

Sarah S. Richardson, “Feminist Philosophy of Science: History, Contributions, and Challenges.” Synthese , 2010

Feminist philosophy of science is a field comprised of scholars studying gender and science that has its origins in the work of feminist scientists in the 1960s. Richardson considers the contributions made by these scholars, such as increased opportunities for and representation of women in STEM fields , pointing out biases in seemingly neutral fields of scientific inquiry. Richardson also considers the role of gender in knowledge production, looking at the difficulties women have faced in institutional and professional contexts. The field of feminist philosophy of science and its practitioners are marginalized and delegitimized because of the ways they challenge dominant modes of knowledge production and disciplinary inquiry.

Bryce Traister’s “Academic Viagra: The Rise of American Masculinity Studies.” American Quarterly , 2000

Bryce Traister considers the emergence of masculinity studies out of gender studies and its development in American cultural studies. He argues that the field has remained largely invested in centering heterosexuality, asserting the centrality and dominance of men in critical thought. He offers ways for thinking about how to study masculinity without reinstituting gendered hierarchies or erasing the contributions of feminist and queer scholarship.

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Women, Gender and Sexuality Studies

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Focus: Looking Critically at Gender and Sexuality

  • By discoversociety
  • December 06, 2016
  • 2016 , Focus , Issue 39

Susan F. Frenk and Mark McCormack

Societies across the world have experienced large-scale social change related to gender and sexuality. For example, despite some intensification of homophobic attitudes and laws in a number of countries, the global trend has been towards increasing legal rights for gay, lesbian and bisexual people (Smith, 2011). Transgender issues continue to be a cultural battleground, but a growing movement, connected through social networks, recognizes the importance of combatting transphobia as a human rights issue. Experiences in other parts of the world are radically diverse but too often marginalised in research in the global north.

When we think about gender and sexuality, we recognize these aspects not just as personal characteristics that individuals maintain but as some of the multiple modes of power that stratify and structure our social relationships. A focus on gender inequality, for example, that examines how men and women interact problematically, must include an analysis of the institutionalized and implicit ways in which some social groups are privileged over others. Similarly, a study of sexuality is not limited to the experiences of sexual minorities but extends to the freedoms people maintain to engage in sexual pleasure, and the ways in which social policy can both protect and harm people, depending on the specific dynamics of sex, sexual desire and sexuality in any society. While binary models of gender persist widely, there are ‘third gender’ exceptions, with long (pre-colonial) histories, surviving in some locations and a contemporary re-assertion of gender fluidity, particularly (but not exclusively) amongst young people.

The interdisciplinary study of gender and sexuality produces a constant flow of critical, innovative and complex ways of thinking about these issues. Scholars from Michel Foucault to Gayle Rubin have questioned how and why formulations and typologies of gender and sexuality exist at specific times and places. This is not to argue for an approach that excludes the value of biological and sexological research into gender and sexuality – such an approach is never truly interdisciplinary, failing to engage with the full scope of human knowledge – but it compels us to appreciate the forcefield that social and cultural norms exert on how we experience and understand gender and sexuality in our everyday lives and throughout the life course.

A key component is theorizing how power is maintained and exerted in society. Much scholarship has used Gramsci’s notion of hegemony to understand the ways in which oppressive practices are reproduced, including by those who suffer from them. Poststructuralists have drawn upon Foucault’s theory of power to contest categorical approaches and seek a queer politics of transgression. There are myriad other ways to approach the issue. Yet regardless of theoretical or disciplinary tradition, one constant was summarised powerfully by Hannah Arendt (1973), who argued that power “is never the property of an individual; it belongs to a group and remains in existence only so long as the group keeps together”—offering an understanding both of why inequalities can be so hard to contest and the possibilities for radical transformation.

These theoretical explorations are not removed from the tangible effects that oppressions related to gender and sexuality can have on people’s lives. Rubin (2013: 32) reminds us that there are “real material, cultural, and emotional stakes to these intense social conflicts over morals and values.” A fundamental tenet of feminist research is that people’s, and particularly women’s, lives, and experiences, need to be foregrounded in order to understand how gender inequality is lived and felt. Focusing on gender and sexuality together, alongside a broader intersectional approach, produces research that explores diverse lives, develops theorizing about their connections to wider social processes, and contributes to a new understanding of gender and sexuality in society.

In this Special Issue of Discover Society we are delighted to host a broad spectrum of research that, in different ways, enhances our understanding of these issues. The articles were selected from papers presented at our annual Summer School, a centrepiece of the work of the Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities at Durham University. Each year, over two days, we provide a range of training and intellectual activities for postgraduate and early career researchers interested in sex, gender and sexuality in society. The second day takes the form of a conference where people across the career span contribute in a warm and inclusive environment.

We begin with an exciting On The Frontline article by Simon Forrest about his research on sex education and how young people engage with this vital yet undervalued form of learning. Drawing out the historical persistence of adult anxieties around young people’s sexualities and desire, he captures both their own widespread dissatisfaction with current approaches and the extensive evidence that current sex ed. increases the likelihood of unpleasurable, unhealthy, unequal and socially problematic sexual experiences.  Calling for a serious engagement with alternative responses that will shift the focus from polarisation between a liberal model of empowerment that is often ignorant of its own class biases, and a socially conservative moralising model that simultaneously denies and seeks to contain young people’s sexuality, he delineates the dangers inherent in the prescriptive social policy proposed by the Minister for Education and Equalities.

Both in implicit socialisation and in its more recent forms, Sex Ed has played its own role in producing and sustaining binary gender. The impact of gendered identities emerged powerfully at the Summer School, in Sue Scott’s personal history of her experiences in academic sociology, as a female scholar writing on issues of gender and sexualities evoking strong resonances with Ken Plummer’s keynote from the year before on the importance of telling sexual stories. In her Viewpoint she draws on long experience of researching and writing about gender and sexuality to examine key aspects through the lens of consumption. Exploring the ways in which gendered bodies are both consumed and are the terrain over which consumption practices are played out, Sue is particularly interested in the ways in which women’s bodies are utilized – objectified – in the context of gendered power relations.  Focussing on late modern society’s contradictory positioning of childhood as, on the one hand, a special realm in which children should be ‘innocent’ and on the other where children are exposed to the full gamut of consumerism, which can expose them to adult sexual mores that they don’t fully understand, Sue argues that some of the ways in which we seek to protect children and young people from sexualisation and sexual risk can render them more vulnerable.

Of course, social policy is a vital area in the study of gender and sexuality. Policy interventions are necessary to protect vulnerable and marginalized groups, yet so often with gender and sexuality in particular, policy can become divorced from an evidence base and contribute to inequality and oppression. The double-edged nature of policy intervention is particularly pertinent in debates about sex work and its regulation. Maggie O’Neill crystallises her long engagement with the ongoing issues related to the regulation of sex work in the U.K. in this Policy Briefing with Alison Jobe on the history of Sex Work. From the Victorian era to the current globalised trade in sex, sex work is analysed through the shifting and often contradictory representations of sex workers. Highlighting how legislation both regulates and criminalises sex work while simultaneously fixing sex workers in a deviant identity or as objects of moral ‘rescue’, they trace the remarkable persistence of key discourses and social relations into our own time.  Through the voices of sex workers now embedded in participatory research and drawing on troubling evidence of shortcomings in supposedly progressive Scandinavian contexts, decriminalisation emerges as a pressing policy need, framed by a call to recognise and address wider sexual and social inequalities.

Inequalities in healthcare on the other hand are often discussed in relation to socio-economic positioning, with some attention to gender, but may overlook the impact on wellbeing of key cultural factors.  In his study of doctor-patient relationships in health care, Michael Toze examines the importance of coming out. Drawing on 36 interviews with Lesbian, Gay, Bisexual and Transgender (LGBT) people, Toze documents a real diversity in relationships of LGBT patients with their doctors. While coming out can be vital for some, it can have little relevance for others. Highlighting the significance of changes in the organization and everyday practice of doctors’ surgeries, Toze argues that the move away from a regular doctor can have a particular impact on LGBT patients, some of whom find it difficult to disclose personal information about their sexuality to strangers. Recognizing how healthcare has become more inclusive for many minority groups, Toze calls for greater recognition of the relationships between patients and practitioners, ensuring that patients both have the opportunity and feel able to discuss aspects of their sexuality and gender identity in the context of their health.

William Potter’s article takes us from work and medicalisation to the possibilities of leisure, focusing on retreats for gay men—periods of time away from everyday routine to provide a space to engage in reflexive introspection and consideration of your place in the world. Potter uses observation and interview data from two gay male retreats to argue that these places do not conform to popular images of “the hedonism of the health spa or the austerity of the monastic cell”. He foregrounds aspects of adult play, and sees play as having a social use that enabled these men to transcend their daily routine while developing strong friendship bonds. Much has been written about the changing nature of gay spaces (e.g. Ghaziani, 2014), and Potter’s research documents one of the ways in which this shifting landscape is influencing behaviour: a landscape where gay men seek a space and a community outside the bonds of the traditional, that are frequently rooted in alcohol consumption or sexual intercourse. Eschewing these pursuits, gay retreats serve as a new way to explore gay identity in society.

The importance of play also emerges in Liam Wignall’s exploration of the emerging kinky practice known as pup play or puppy play. Drawing on interviews with 30 gay and bisexual young men who practice pup play, Wignall charts the social and community aspects of this kink activity. In contrast to Potter’s study, the motivation of many participants was to develop friendships and connections within a sexual context. Yet to focus on the sexual aspects is to miss the ways in which pup play remains deeply social. Indeed, Wignall shows how a subculture has developed related to pup play, moving from a sexual activity between individuals to a much broader community that attends Pride events, sees “pups” communicating semi-publically on sites such as Twitter, and has been commodified by porn studios and kink shops. Wignall situates pup play within broader debates about the emergence of kink communities in a context where the gay scene is radically evolving, and pup play may constitute a community in which young adults find an introduction to gay subcultures beyond the gay bar or the LGBT+ Students Union Society.

Although represented as ‘leisure’, M.F. Ogilvie offers a glimpse into what is actually the highly structured world of competitive sport. Drawing on a year-long ethnography of elite male athletes at a British University, Ogilvie documents the homosocial behaviours of these men from the intimacy of the changing room to the public venues of nights out clubbing. Following other research, he finds high levels of intimacy and tactility between these men, who will cuddle and spoon and dance and kiss each other on a night out. As an openly bisexual player on the team, Ogilvie witnesses the nonchalance of these behaviours for his teammates, even though many were newly arrived from the U.S. He also explores the ways in which his heterosexual teammates appreciate men’s bodies, deploying the ‘homoerotic gaze’ to understand how men view, discuss and compliment each other’s bodies. These positive comments occur in the wider context of bromances common among many young men today.

The complex interplay of bodies in sport and play cannot ignore the commodification of bodies and Charlotte Rhian Jones traces a fascinating comparison between the experiences of wet nurses in the early modern period and their contemporary counterparts in the ‘Body Bazaar’ of late capitalism.  Defying the stigma and, in some cases, health risks attached to the practice, permitted women with limited options to sustain themselves and their own families. Jones argues that they enjoyed a level of control over the use of their body and sometimes also emotional bonds, which are denied to women donating or selling breast milk in the online marketplace today. It seems that they also maintained a positive image of their work, despite the social scripts of the moralists who condemned them.

This capacity to question and re-frame oppressive gender scripts written onto and into our bodies emerges movingly in Elham Amini’s work with menopausal women in Iran. While some of the responses suggest social reward – ‘being taken care of’ – can lead some women to accept the limitations their society places on them, others expressed bitter disappointment. Their stories of key events in both their ‘gender discovery’ and the framing of female desire and sexuality as ‘risky’ and ‘polluted’ reveal the ways in which language can shape and contain lived experience. Yet these accounts are often complex and ambivalent, recalling the thrill of desire and bodily freedom and moving from sadness to anger at the constraints. For some, their initial desire to have a male child, because of the possibilities he would enjoy, shifts to an emphasis on educating their daughters and enabling them to flourish, although the cycle is not yet broken as one respondent repeats her own mother’s history of wishing she were a boy. Amini’s article provides an important insight into a group of people about whom many assumptions are made but with whom there is little academic research.

Social narratives of gender difference can play out as powerfully in social policy as in individual experience, as Kate Butterworth notes in the policing of partner abuse in same-sex relationships in the UK. While the types of crime recorded for men and women are broadly similar, which challenges the notion that men are ‘naturally’ more violent than women, the outcomes suggest that this idea persists, despite the counter-evidence, and underlies how police assess who is most at risk of further violence or harassment. Equally, the notion that women are ‘naturally’ more vulnerable, may influence police assessments of risk for both men and women, even as the criminal justice system seeks to improve its standing amongst LGBT+ individuals and communities.

Janet Weston takes us ‘inside’, as she uncovers the history of male same-sex activity, from 19 th century anxiety about ‘unnatural acts’, through the legalisation of homosexuality, but the denial of the right to sex in the supposedly ‘public’ space of the prison.  Ironically, the then deadly new disease of HIV in the 1980s enabled some access to condoms and a tacit acknowledgement that same-sex activity was and would occur in prisons. However, Weston shows how this medical model sidestepped key questions of human rights while the ‘prescribing’ of condoms varied widely according to the personal decisions of individual doctors and sex continued to be prohibited by some prison governors. The paper concludes by highlighting, through the lens of healthcare, the contradictions that permeate our broader approach to criminal justice.

This is echoed in Emily Setty’s research into sexting. She shows how policy responses risk criminalising large numbers of young people, without regard for their rights to sexual expression and to privacy, under the banner of preventing moral and physical harm. Setty’s subtle analysis takes us into a much more complex reality, where young people often debate the ethics of sexting in different contexts and critique breaches of consent and trust even where their attempts to navigating oppressive social norms can lead to ‘victim blaming’. She calls for a social conversation with young people about empowered consent and responsibility towards others, to counter the pressure from some quarters to withdraw from the digital world and their own sexual exploration, rather than re-shaping their engagement with it.

Finally, Valeria Quaglia reminds us that social change around sexual identities is still uneven across Europe as she explores the experiences of LGBQ parents and heterosexual parents of LGBQ people, in Italy. Negotiating complex paths of visibility and invisibility, disclosure and silence, the persistence of stigma and powerful generational obligations, requires constant reflection and reframing by all the parents who speak to us here. However, the many moving personal narratives, such as the father of a gay son who shifts from disappointment and rejection to activism, renew the urgency and optimism with which Quaglia invites us all to continue the quest for inclusive societies.

This thread runs through the work of all our authors, creating a rich, colourful, tapestry of shifting, complex patterns.  Movement towards a greater ease with more fluid and plural identities, an ethic of sexual knowledge, empowerment and shared responsibility, and a focus on social justice, requires acknowledging the persistence of powerful counter-narratives and understanding the anxieties of those who inhabit them. In an increasingly polarised global political landscape the importance of having these conversations around policy and everyday life is more pressing than ever.

Susan Frenk is Principal of St. Aidan’s College, Durham University, Co-Director of the Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities and a member of the Steering Group of the Centre for the Study of Jewish Culture, Society and Politics

With a background in Latin American Studies, she previously taught and researched on gender and sexualities across a range of contexts in the School of Modern Languages and Cultures at Durham, following her BA, MPhil and PhD at Cambridge University, with periods of research in Berkeley (California) and Sussex Universities.    

Mark McCormack is a Senior Lecturer in Sociology at Durham University, and Co-Director of its Centre for Sex, Gender and Sexualities. His research examine how social trends related to decreasing homophobia influence the gender and sexual identities and the everyday practices of young people in the UK and the US. He has published on these themes in many leading journals, including Sociology, British Journal of Sociology, Archives of Sexual Behavior and Sex Roles. See also his books: McCormack, M. (2012). The Declining Significance of Homophobia: How Teenage Boys are Redefining Masculinity and Heterosexuality . New York: Oxford University Press and Anderson, E. & McCormack, M. (2016). The Changing Dynamics of Bisexual Men’s Experiences: Social Research Perspectives . New York: Springer.

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Gender and Sexuality

The academic inquiry has sought to understand the two essential aspects of human identity: gender and sexuality (Secules et al., 2021). For many years, gender and sexuality have been topics of social discourse and academic inquiry. Such notions are firmly entrenched within society’s fabric, cultural beliefs, and individual experiences contributing to shaping their relationships with themselves and others. Exploration into various grades or elements surrounding sex identity, including the social-cultural backdrop developing historically and then forming disagreements nowadays, will be carried out by me through writing the rest part of this write-up. Throughout this document, I will investigate numerous theoretical frameworks governing notions of gender and sexuality.

Furthermore, I will evaluate various perspectives relating to these themes–taking note not only of positive aspects but also potential shortcomings while acknowledging any additional critics’ viewpoints. A thorough appreciation of how gender identity impacts society necessarily involves recognizing it as an inherently complex concept with far-reaching implications. Considering the complexities involved in comprehending the meaning of gender and sexuality on both societal norms or individual identity, it is impractical for any one theory to be considered uniformly practical when studying this concept providing a quick introduction to the historical evolution and societal perception changes surrounding sex and gender is going to be my starting point. Then we will examine various theoretical constructs that have been applied in interpreting those themes; some notable ones being feminist philosophy, transformative opinion & social constructivism. Moreover, part of my exploration process would involve discussing contemporary issues regarding sexuality; these include aspects such as seeking tolerance for people who identify themselves as lgbtq+ and permitting individuals freely express their genders by their preference through transgender transition surgeries, among others. This research paper’s primary focus is to provide a complete understanding of how gender and sexuality matter across a sociological theory by investigating its impact on individuals’ lives within societies. In analyzing multiple perspectives and theories, one can attain an enhanced grasp of these intricate concepts, allowing us to create a more inclusive social order.

In other cultures, gentleness might be associated with masculinity while aggression with femininity; however, these associations are socially constructed based on location & history. Masculinity may be associated with aggression and dominance in some cultures or gentleness and sensitivity in others, but both relate to social expectations of gender(Alsarve & Johansson, 2021). Cultural norms shifting across time and location can heavily influence what constitutes being masculine or feminine. Cultural expectations of masculinity and femininity vary between different periods and societies. Marginalizing people that break from traditional gender norms has been a typical result of the social construct behind it. Exclusion from employment and education opportunities, along with discrimination in housing and healthcare, are among some of the discriminations faced by individuals who identify as transgender.

Two solid social identities that can intersect are gender and sexuality, shaping an individual’s experiences. An individual’s social experience may vary based on both gender and sexual orientation as two key components that affect this type of interaction between broader society and these core human traits (De Neef et al., 2019). As opposed to people having distinct classifications, being at an intersectional point regarding factors like sex identity or sexual preference can result in unique societal benefits/drawbacks. Oppression is manifested differently depending on factors like race, gender, and sexuality all intersecting with each other–in relation to members identifying under both queer or non-heterosexual identities as well as who are persons of color. Experiences with discrimination and marginalization vary greatly among white members of the LGBTQ + community compared to those identifying with a different race or ethnicity within this group. High rates of murder and assault disproportionately affect black transgender women. Tackling discrimination against people who identify as LGBTQIA requires taking an interdisciplinary view since doing so would help understand how sexual orientation intersects with other characteristics (like Gender or Race), thereby influencing one’s life chances. Folks from traditionally stigmatized populations often witness this ‘intersection’ firsthand; LGBTQ+ people facing poverty challenges (e.g., lack of access to healthcare) serve as just one example. Individuals facing marginalization due to financial hardship or physical impairments could encounter unique barriers when seeking gender- or sexuality-oriented assistance. Obtaining adequate and necessary healthcare can prove challenging for those in the low-income category who are part of the LGTBQIA+ community.

Discrimination faced by those who identify as transgender or LGBTQ+ regarding healthcare/workplace/housing access highlights the unfortunate consequences resulting from traditional societal expectations about one’s sexual persuasion. While individuals’ sexual orientation describes their emotional and physical attraction toward others, it is essential not to confuse this aspect with one’s internal sense of being male or female. Sexual orientation labels include heterosexual/straight (sexes are opposite), homosexual/gay/lesbian (same sexes), and bisexual (both same & different) (Lippa, 2020). Misalignment between a person’s gender identity/sexual preference & societal conventions leads to mistreatment/discrimination. Individuals belonging under the banner of the LGBTQ+ community may have difficulty acquiring accommodation or securing employment, while someone identifying themselves as transgender may suffer from facing prejudice when seeking medical assistance specifically dealing with matters relating o their transitional journey.

Analyzing the experiences of individuals and groups involves considering the role that power and privilege play in constructing gender and sexuality. Despite significant progress made over the years on this front through affirmative action policies or programs, women undeniably continue to contend with gender disparities even today Persistent gender pay gap signifies the presence of discrimination against women despite notable progress. Marginalization of certain groups due to power dynamics contributes significantly to shaping gender identity, thereby further resulting in oppression & stereotypes, exemplified by fewer opportunities for female advancement into high-level executive employment roles laying bare society’s systematic prejudices. Similarly, the past has seen LGBTQ+ people receive substantial discrimination and social isolation owed to their gender identity or sexual preference (Madrigal-Borloz, 2021). The impact of violent actions towards members of the LGBTQ+ community cannot be ignored throughout history, implying that using laws regulating sexual interactions contributed negatively gives an understanding of how some policies act exclusively favoring groups interested in imposing social disadvantage. In addition, accessing healthcare, housing, and employment can be challenging for many LGBTQ+ individuals. Acknowledging marginalized groups’ experiences means being aware of how power works within social hierarchies- this awareness promotes an equitable & inclusive society. The role played by power in reinforcing social hierarchies must be acknowledged while marginalized groups’ experiences are recognized to create equity among all individuals. Eliminating oppression suffered by women and LGBTQ+ individuals may begin with undermining patriarchy as a structure and other oppressive societal institutions. To tackle discrimination faced by women and members of the LGBTQ+ community, power dynamics must be recognized along with efforts toward equality.

With numerous views and arguments, gender and sexuality are intricate themes that require careful consideration. Our exploration in this article involves numerous elements regarding this particular matter – namely, issues surrounding social constructions that define genders, effects generated by sexualities or identities toward health goals, current endeavors highlighting justice movements for individuals belonging to all spectrums within LGTBQ+There are several areas affected by gender/sexuality which include proving differences between academic growth rates for students. While advances toward accepting gender-identity diversification took place recently, plenty is still needed before people are treated equally, no matter their sexual orientation. Challenging traditional gender roles & promoting acceptance of diverse sexualities are essential for creating a more equitable & just society that respects all individuals regardless of their identities moving forward. The pursuit of creating a just society that esteems each citizen equally, irrespective of sexuality or gender, requires our relentless drive towards shaking up social traditions regarding gender while amplifying awareness of varied sexual preferences.

Alsarve, D., & Johansson, E. (2021). A gang of ironworkers with the scent of blood: A participation observation of male dominance and its historical trajectories at Swedish semi-professional ice hockey events.  International Review for the Sociology of Sport ,  57 (1), 54–72. https://doi.org/10.1177/1012690221998576

De Neef, N., Coppens, V., Huys, W., & Morrens, M. (2019). Bondage-Discipline, Dominance-Submission, and Sadomasochism (BDSM) From an Integrative Biopsychosocial Perspective: A Systematic Review.  Sexual Medicine ,  7 (2), 129–144. https://doi.org/10.1016/j.esxm.2019.02.002

Lippa, R. A. (2020). Interest, Personality, and Sexual Traits That Distinguish Heterosexual, Bisexual, and Homosexual Individuals: Are There Two Dimensions That Underlie Variations in Sexual Orientation?  Archives of Sexual Behavior ,  49 (2), 607–622. https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01643-9

Madrigal-Borloz, V. (2021). The price that is paid: violence and discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity and poverty.  Elgar Online: The Online Content Platform for Edward Elgar Publishing , 171–191. https://www.elgaronline.com/display/edcoll/9781788977500/9781788977500.00022.xml

Secules, S., McCall, C., Mejia, J. A., Beebe, C., Masters, A. S., L. Sánchez‐Peña, M., & Svyantek, M. (2021). Positionality practices and dimensions of impact on equity research: A collaborative inquiry and call to the community.  Journal of Engineering Education ,  110 (1), 19–43. https://doi.org/10.1002/jee.20377

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Human Rights Careers

5 Powerful Essays Advocating for Gender Equality

Gender equality – which becomes reality when all genders are treated fairly and allowed equal opportunities –  is a complicated human rights issue for every country in the world. Recent statistics are sobering. According to the World Economic Forum, it will take 108 years to achieve gender parity . The biggest gaps are found in political empowerment and economics. Also, there are currently just six countries that give women and men equal legal work rights. Generally, women are only given ¾ of the rights given to men. To learn more about how gender equality is measured, how it affects both women and men, and what can be done, here are five essays making a fair point.

Take a free course on Gender Equality offered by top universities!

“Countries With Less Gender Equity Have More Women In STEM — Huh?” – Adam Mastroianni and Dakota McCoy

This essay from two Harvard PhD candidates (Mastroianni in psychology and McCoy in biology) takes a closer look at a recent study that showed that in countries with lower gender equity, more women are in STEM. The study’s researchers suggested that this is because women are actually especially interested in STEM fields, and because they are given more choice in Western countries, they go with different careers. Mastroianni and McCoy disagree.

They argue the research actually shows that cultural attitudes and discrimination are impacting women’s interests, and that bias and discrimination is present even in countries with better gender equality. The problem may lie in the Gender Gap Index (GGI), which tracks factors like wage disparity and government representation. To learn why there’s more women in STEM from countries with less gender equality, a more nuanced and complex approach is needed.

“Men’s health is better, too, in countries with more gender equality” – Liz Plank

When it comes to discussions about gender equality, it isn’t uncommon for someone in the room to say, “What about the men?” Achieving gender equality has been difficult because of the underlying belief that giving women more rights and freedom somehow takes rights away from men. The reality, however, is that gender equality is good for everyone. In Liz Plank’s essay, which is an adaption from her book For the Love of Men: A Vision for Mindful Masculinity, she explores how in Iceland, the #1 ranked country for gender equality, men live longer. Plank lays out the research for why this is, revealing that men who hold “traditional” ideas about masculinity are more likely to die by suicide and suffer worse health. Anxiety about being the only financial provider plays a big role in this, so in countries where women are allowed education and equal earning power, men don’t shoulder the burden alone.

Liz Plank is an author and award-winning journalist with Vox, where she works as a senior producer and political correspondent. In 2015, Forbes named her one of their “30 Under 30” in the Media category. She’s focused on feminist issues throughout her career.

“China’s #MeToo Moment” –  Jiayang Fan

Some of the most visible examples of gender inequality and discrimination comes from “Me Too” stories. Women are coming forward in huge numbers relating how they’ve been harassed and abused by men who have power over them. Most of the time, established systems protect these men from accountability. In this article from Jiayang Fan, a New Yorker staff writer, we get a look at what’s happening in China.

The essay opens with a story from a PhD student inspired by the United States’ Me Too movement to open up about her experience with an academic adviser. Her story led to more accusations against the adviser, and he was eventually dismissed. This is a rare victory, because as Fan says, China employs a more rigid system of patriarchy and hierarchy. There aren’t clear definitions or laws surrounding sexual harassment. Activists are charting unfamiliar territory, which this essay explores.

“Men built this system. No wonder gender equality remains as far off as ever.” – Ellie Mae O’Hagan

Freelance journalist Ellie Mae O’Hagan (whose book The New Normal is scheduled for a May 2020 release) is discouraged that gender equality is so many years away. She argues that it’s because the global system of power at its core is broken.  Even when women are in power, which is proportionally rare on a global scale, they deal with a system built by the patriarchy. O’Hagan’s essay lays out ideas for how to fix what’s fundamentally flawed, so gender equality can become a reality.

Ideas include investing in welfare; reducing gender-based violence (which is mostly men committing violence against women); and strengthening trade unions and improving work conditions. With a system that’s not designed to put women down, the world can finally achieve gender equality.

“Invisibility of Race in Gender Pay Gap Discussions” – Bonnie Chu

The gender pay gap has been a pressing issue for many years in the United States, but most discussions miss the factor of race. In this concise essay, Senior Contributor Bonnie Chu examines the reality, writing that within the gender pay gap, there’s other gaps when it comes to black, Native American, and Latina women. Asian-American women, on the other hand, are paid 85 cents for every dollar. This data is extremely important and should be present in discussions about the gender pay gap. It reminds us that when it comes to gender equality, there’s other factors at play, like racism.

Bonnie Chu is a gender equality advocate and a Forbes 30 Under 30 social entrepreneur. She’s the founder and CEO of Lensational, which empowers women through photography, and the Managing Director of The Social Investment Consultancy.

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In This Article Expand or collapse the "in this article" section Gender and Sexuality in Music

Introduction, foundational texts of feminist musicology, foundational texts of opera and gender or sexuality, foundational texts of queer musicology, queer and feminist interventions, first generation of edited collections, second generation of edited collections, third generation of edited collections, review essays, bibliographies, biographical approaches to lesbian, gay, and queer musicians, gender and sexuality in music theory, ethnographic approaches to gender and sexuality, participant observation, gender, and sexuality, blackness in relation to gender and sexuality, hispanic and asian identities in relation to gender and sexuality, whiteness in relation to gender and sexuality, early music, eighteenth-century music, nineteenth-century music, twentieth- and twenty-first-century classical music, trans-historical texts, opera studies, voice studies, musical theater studies (not opera), music and violence, masculinity studies, twentieth- and twenty-first-century popular music, related articles expand or collapse the "related articles" section about, about related articles close popup.

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Gender and Sexuality in Music by Emily Wilbourne LAST REVIEWED: 27 April 2017 LAST MODIFIED: 27 April 2017 DOI: 10.1093/obo/9780199757824-0198

The field of gender and sexuality studies emerged in the wake of feminist musicology and work on women in music (cf. Women and Music). While frequently deployed in amalgamated form, two distinct if related dimensions of scholarly inquiry are invoked. The term “gender” marks a distinction between a presumed biological sex (male or female) and the systems by which sex differences affect embodied experience (masculinity and femininity). “Gender studies” thus expands feminist methodologies beyond the topic of “women,” incorporating men and masculinity along with trans*, non-fixed, and cross-gendered subject positions. While the term “gender” can indicate a shift away from identity politics and positions, it more frequently represents an attempt at a more inclusive or nuanced set of identities. In contrast, the term “sexuality” calls attention to various modes of desire, particularly the ways in which desires are policed and/or authorized by the dominant power structures of a given society. As such, sexuality studies have been strongly influenced by gay and lesbian studies and queer theory. Importantly, “gender” and “sexuality” are inextricably linked: as Eve Kosofsky Sedgwick makes clear, gender is built into the very definition of the terms “heterosexuality” and “homosexuality.” Gender and sexuality studies are particularly reliant on English-language and specifically North American academic cultures; the bibliography reflects this reliance. The relevance of gender and sexuality for music scholarship emerges in relation to musical meaning or context, whether historical, ethnographic, or analytic. Both “gender” and “sexuality” mark the bodies and the lived experiences of groups and individuals in ways that provide unequal access to cultural, physical, and psychic resources, including but not limited to behavioral norms, education, careers, finances, and political power. Music interacts with each of these fields, and the rich descriptive and analytic dimensions of scholarship into gender and sexuality have proved illuminating to questions such as: Who makes music, and for whom? What kind of music is made? How did music signify, how does it signify now? What was represented? How did (or does) musical performance or consumption respond to or shape social norms? Such questions assume that music is a practice—created, appreciated, and utilized by particularly situated people at specific historical times. Each assumes a benefit from working to understand how music functions within society. Importantly, scholarship on gender and sexuality is often political, not only predicated on an ethical imperative that recognizes the humanity of the scholar, of her readers, and of her music-making subjects, but actively working to untangle or dismantle prejudice and inequality. In recent years, music scholarship on gender and sexuality has become increasingly intersectional, positing both gender and sexuality as axes in a larger context that considers race, ethnicity, class, citizenship, and disability alongside other categorical terms.

The emergence of scholarly work on gender, sexuality, and music can be dated with precision: a flurry of publications during the early 1990s reflects the impact of conference papers and presentations given during the late 1980s. The early works in the field of gender and sexuality studies were part of the “New Musicology” and of a disciplinary shift toward cultural critique. As such, most made an explicit claim to disciplinary legitimacy.

Particular attention has been given here to those works that focus on broader questions of gender and sexuality, rather than those directed at the more limited topic of women and music (cf. Women and Music). A number of the earliest feminist texts focused on opera; see the separate list in Foundational Texts of Opera and Gender or Sexuality . McClary 1991 was widely seen—and widely critiqued—as the originary work of feminist musicology. Cusick 1993a and Cusick 1993b were remarkably influential and remain useful today; Citron 1993 was part of a larger conversation about altering the musical canon—a conversation that has largely faded, leaving only minimal impact on the music that is regularly played and the repertoire that is taught in universities. Drinker 1948 was an outlier which received attention retrospectively as part of a deliberate historicization of feminist music scholarship (see Solie 1993b ). Solie’s introduction to the edited collection Musicology and Difference ( Solie 1993a ) proved definitional, laying theoretical groundwork for an entire generation of scholars. Several works are dated in terms of their specific musical analytic methods, their language, or examples; however, the overarching critiques and motivating questions remain pertinent, since the large-scale structural inequalities that motivated feminist musicology remain entrenched in both music scholarship and the culture at large. The journal Women & Music is a forum with ongoing importance to the field.

Citron, Marcia J. Gender and the Musical Canon . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1993.

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Considers questions of gendered socialization and constructions of genius as a means to understand the exclusion of women from careers in composition and from positions of influence within the musical canon.

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Cusick, Suzanne G. “‘Thinking from Women’s Lives’: Francesca Caccini after 1627.” Musical Quarterly 77.3 (1993a): 484–507.

DOI: 10.1093/mq/77.3.484 Save Citation » Export Citation » Share Citation »

Presents new archival documents on the female composer Francesca Caccini. Articulates a sophisticated critique of the ways in which gendered assumptions warp the supposedly neutral practice of archival work, and the interrogational questions of musicological scholarship writ large.

Cusick, Suzanne G. “Gendering Modern Music: Thoughts on the Monteverdi-Artusi Controversy.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 46 (1993b): 1–25.

One of the earliest articles to connect gendered analysis to the rhetoric around musical performance. Particularly influential because of the place of publication, and the topic—addressing the most prestigious composer of the early Baroque.

Drinker, Sophie. Music and Women: The Story of Women in Their Relation to Music . New York: Coward-McCann, 1948.

Ambitious trans-historical and trans-cultural account of women throughout music history. While providing some information on specific female composers, Drinker tends toward anthropological analysis of wider cultural trends, thus considering the roles of women as musical performers and cultural or religious figures. Useful background is provided by Solie’s essay on the volume ( Solie 1993a ).

McClary, Susan. Feminine Endings: Music, Gender and Sexuality . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1991.

An important early text. Served as the flagship of feminist musicology and was widely critiqued by unsympathetic scholars. Uses feminist theory to critique canonical works by male composers, as well as less-widely known works by women composers of classical and popular music. Reprinted in 2002.

Solie, Ruth A. “Introduction: On Difference.” In Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship . Edited by Ruth A. Solie, 1–20. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993a.

Less an introduction to the specific articles that follow than an argument for the relevance of New Musicological work dealing with gender and sexuality. Solie’s formulation of the issues has proved highly influential. The volume as a whole had an enormous impact on the field and is cited under First Generation of Edited Collections .

Solie, Ruth A. “Women’s History and Music History: The Feminist Historiography of Sophie Drinker.” Journal of Women’s History 5.2 (1993b): 8–31.

DOI: 10.1353/jowh.2010.0261 Save Citation » Export Citation » Share Citation »

Useful exegesis of Drinker’s history, noting both its remarkable achievements and its limitations.

Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture . 1997–.

The first and only journal dedicated to the topics of music in relationship to gender and sexuality. Currently edited by Emily Wilbourne, the journal is published annually by the University of Nebraska Press. Since its inception in 1997, the journal has served as a forum for a wide range of cutting-edge research.

Opera provides one of the clearest opportunities for the discussion of gender, sexuality, and music, since the genre itself relies on representations of specific characters and the narratives of opera libretti foreground stories of love and desire. Clément 1988 helped initiate the start of feminist musicology, arguing that the female characters of the 19th-century canonical operas were (mis)treated in disturbing, musically inflected ways. Abbate 1993 suggested, in response, that the act of performance and the vocal force of operatic performance in particular allowed the reception context to differ from the bald outlines of plot alone. Koestenbaum 1993 and Morris 1993 delineated a specific community of gay male listeners, documenting their identifications with female operatic voices and with female operatic performers. Blackmer and Smith 1995 performs similar work with regard to lesbian audiences. Henson 1999 is important for the focus on heterosexual listeners and on the specificities of a given historical moment.

Abbate, Carolyn. “Opera; or, the Envoicing of Women.” In Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship . Edited by Ruth A. Solie, 225–258. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

An important response to Clément 1988 . Argues that, in contrast with the narrative deaths of female operatic characters, the act of performance renders female opera singers in particularly live and dramatic ways. Abbate’s argument has been particularly influential on writings about performance and embodiment.

Blackmer, Corinne E., and Patricia Juliana Smith, eds. En travesti: Women, Gender Subversion, Opera . New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Interdisciplinary collection of articles on lesbian reception histories of operatic trouser roles.

Clément, Catherine. Opera; or, the Undoing of Women . Translated by Betsy Wing. Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1988.

English translation of 1979 French text. Considers the narrative trajectories of canonical Western operas (particularly 19th-century operas) and the frequency with which lead female characters end up dead. Argues that the musical aspects of operatic performance and the laws of tonal closure encourage audience members to desire the death of women characters in a cathartic moment of narrative closure.

Henson, Karen. “Victor Capoul, Marguerite Olagnier’s ‘Le Saïs,’ and the Arousing of Female Desire.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 52.3 (1999): 419–463.

An early and important article that takes female heterosexual desire as its subject. Considers the impact and draw of the performer, Victor Capoul.

Koestenbaum, Wayne. The Queen’s Throat: Opera, Homosexuality, and the Mystery of Desire . New York: Poseidon, 1993.

A classic text. Highly personal and confessional narrative about gay desire and about gay identification with the operatic diva.

Morris, Mitchell. “Reading as an Opera Queen.” In Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship . Edited by Ruth A. Solie, 184–200. Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Puts critical pressure on the act of reception and thus on the definition of the work itself. Describes a specific gay subculture of operatic consumption.

The politicized beginnings of lesbian and gay music scholarship are best understood within the polemical reception context of feminist musicology and the New Musicology. Many of the early self-identified investigations into sexuality and music took pains to justify the importance of such work and to mark out a space for the pursuit of such scholarship. The 1994 work Queering the Pitch (cited herein as Brett, et al. 2006 ) served as a forum for the intellectual legitimization of the “new” field; the most influential contributions to the volume are also itemized separately ( Brett 2006 , Wood 2006 , Cusick 2006 ). The legitimizing power of this collection was evidenced by an invitation to two of the editors to write an article on “Gay and Lesbian Music” for the New Grove dictionary. Brett and Wood took the invitation as an opportunity for political activism. The resulting article, Brett and Wood 2002 , was drastically cut by the New Grove editors and the name altered; the original text was eventually published online, and also appears in the second edition of Queering the Pitch ( Brett, et al. 2006 ). The LGBTQ Study Group of the American Musicological Society (AMS), previously known as the Gay and Lesbian Study Group, has been a major force in the development of queer musicology, sponsoring the Philip Brett Award, as well as panel sessions and study days. Interest groups at the Society for Ethnomusicology (SEM) and the Society for Music Theory (SMT) have followed a similar path.

Brett, Philip. “Music, Essentialism, and the Closet.” In Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology . Edited by Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas, 9–26. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Considers the relationship of labels to identity, focusing on the constructivist and essentialist interpretations of homosexuality and drawing parallels between “homosexuality” and “musicality.” First published 1994.

Brett, Philip, and Elizabeth Wood. “ Lesbian and Gay Music .” Edited by Carlos Palombini. Electronic Musicological Review 7 (2002).

Full text of the article drafted by Brett and Wood for the New Grove II. The article rearticulates the link between “musicality” and “sexuality” first predicated by Brett in his article “Music, Essentialism, and the Closet,” and focuses on a predominantly 20th-century narrative of queer musical production and consumption. Classical music is included alongside popular musics; a large number of composers and performers are identified as non-heterosexual. A bibliography is included. The article is also available in Portuguese translation on the same site.

Brett, Philip, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas, eds. Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

A manifesto of the emergent discipline, this volume contains article-versions of many papers that had previously been given in conferences. It captures much of the pioneering spirit of early “gay and lesbian” musicology. The editors stake a claim for the importance of personal involvement and confessional scholarship that has persisted within queer musicological writings. While the volume has been critiqued for the primacy it accords Western art music and white, upper-middle-class perspectives, it remains an important and influential body of work. First published 1994.

Cusick, Suzanne G. “On a Lesbian Relationship with Music: A Serious Effort Not to Think Straight.” In Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology . Edited by Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas, 67–84. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Based on a radical feminist definition of “lesbian” that prioritizes the power dynamic between similarly oppressed members of a patriarchal society over specific sexual desires or behaviors, the article thinks through musical listening and musical pedagogy as constitutive interactions, closely associated with identity and subjectivity. First published 1994.

Palombini, Carlos. “ Translating and Editing ‘Lesbian and Gay Music’ by Elizabeth Wood and Philip Brett .” Echo 5 (2003).

Good summary of the controversies surrounding the commission and publication of the original article; includes a thoughtful evaluation of the full-length piece, isolating the constitutive critical moves made by the authors and the limitations of the format.

Raykoff, Ivan. “Comparative Notes.” GLSG Newsletter: For the Gay & Lesbian Study Group of the American Musicological Society 11.1 (2001): 2.

Comparative review of the original and published versions of the New Grove II article on lesbian and gay music (the published version is Brett and Wood 2002 ). Highlights some of the subtle editorial changes made to those sections that were published in Grove. Download available online .

Whitley, Sheila. Special Issue: Queering the Pitch: Past, Present and Future . GLSG Newsletter: For the Gay & Lesbian Study Group of the American Musicological Society 14.1 (2004).

Includes contributions by Sheila Whitley, Karen Pegley, Jennifer Rycenga, Suzanne G. Cusick, Martha Mockus, and Paul Attinello. Discusses the limitations of the volume and celebrates the extent to which the book inspired other practitioners toward queer musical scholarship. Download available online .

Wood, Elizabeth. “Sapphonics.” In Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology . Edited by Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas, 27–66. New York: Routledge, 2006.

A sophisticated consideration of the nexus of voice and body, gender and sexuality. Wood focuses on the specifically lesbian erotics of certain forms of music-making and listening in the cultural milieu surrounding Ethel Smyth. First published 1994.

Brett 1977 is widely seen as an originary moment of queer musicological writing. Cusick 2000 brought musicology into contact with one of the most influential queer and feminist scholars outside the discipline and renewed the focus on bodies and performance that has remained central to musicological work on gender and sexuality. Tucker 2008 provides a crucial moment of redefinition for queer scholarship in general and also links queer theory to the specificities of jazz history and jazz scholarship.

Brett, Philip. “Britten and Grimes.” The Musical Times 118.1618 (1977): 995–1000.

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Cited as “the first scholarly article to consider the influence of a composer’s sexual identity on the music itself” (Byron Adams, et al., “ In Memoriam Philip Brett ”). The article considers not only the way in which Britten modified the story and depiction of the operatic character Grimes, but also the extent to which the musical setting provides context and characterization.

Cusick, Suzanne G. “On Musical Performances of Gender and Sex.” In Audible Traces . Edited by Elaine Barkin and Lydia Hamessley, 25–49. Zurich, Switzerland: Carciofoli Verlagshaus, 2000.

Considers the influential theories of Judith Butler concerning gender performativity within the context of literal performance, specifically of song.

Tucker, Sherrie. “ When Did Jazz Go Straight? A Queer Question for Jazz Studies .” Critical Studies in Improvisation/Études Critiques en Improvisation 4.2 (2008).

Draws upon Sara Ahmed’s Queer Phenomenology to mount a searing critique of both jazz studies and queer musicologies. Questions the norms of sexuality and scholarship.

Edited Collections

During the early years of research into gender and sexuality, there was a limited (though at times vitriolic) backlash against the practitioners of such work; anecdotal evidence suggests that some detractors took advantage of the blind review process to silence queer and feminist perspectives. In this context, edited collections served an important function: guaranteeing a review process that evaluated the value of each piece rather than the premise of gender- and sexuality-based scholarship. In this way, a considerable body of work that had been presented at scholarly conferences was disseminated to a wider audience. Edited collections also facilitated a multiple-perspectives approach to gender and sexuality. Many deliberately integrated ethnomusicological and musicological approaches. The collections here have been organized into three groups, broken down by chronology: each generation of collections shares certain priorities and assumptions about the field of gender and sexuality studies and that of musicology as a whole.

First-generation edited collections on the topic of gender, sexuality, and music date predominantly from the 1990s and share an explicit goal of disseminating material that had begun to find a home in academic conferences. Most volumes are deliberately inclusive of a broad range of topics and approaches. Koskoff 1987 is the earliest work cited here; it offers an important theoretical basis for the assumption—axiomatic in all later work—that gender both shapes and is shaped by music-making practices. Solie 1993 was particularly influential; Cook and Tsou 1994 significantly broadened the range of topics beyond questions of female composition. Dunn and Jones 1994 , Blackmer and Smith 1995 , and Whiteley 1997 begin to focus on more narrowly defined topics (as becomes typical in later years); these collections, along with Brett, et al. 2006 , map out the most productive subareas of the early feminist landscape. Voice, popular music, and sexuality have remained crucial focal points of the field.

Interdisciplinary collection; articles discuss lesbian reception histories of operatic trouser roles.

A manifesto of the emergent discipline, this volume contains article-versions of many papers that had previously been given in conferences. It captures much of the pioneering spirit of early “gay and lesbian” musicology. The editors stake a claim for the importance of personal involvement and confessional scholarship that has persisted within queer musicological writings. While the volume has been critiqued for the primacy it accords Western art music and white, upper-middle-class perspectives, it remains as an important and influential body of work. First published 1994.

Cook, Susan C., and Judy S. Tsou, eds. Cecilia Reclaimed: Feminist Perspectives on Gender and Music . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 1994.

An important contribution of this collection is the deliberate inclusion of women in non-compositional roles alongside women who composed music. Several articles address the public/private divide and the consequences for women’s musical participation. Repertoire discussed is primarily Western art music.

Dunn, Leslie C., and Nancy A. Jones, eds. Embodied Voices: Representing Female Vocality in Western Culture . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Voice is understood in a variety of ways throughout the collection: women’s voices as written or narrated by male authors, listening to actual women’s voices in performance, female authorship or performance, and interpretations of maternal voices. A broad range of historical periods and some ethnographic work are represented.

Herndon, Marcia, and Susanne Ziegler, eds. Music, Gender, and Culture . Wilhelmshaven, Germany: Florian Noetzel Verlag, 1990.

Reflecting the use of “gender” in the title of this collection, roughly half of the fifteen contributions compare the musical roles of women and men within specific cultures. The remaining essays focus on women’s musical experiences.

Koskoff, Ellen, ed. Women and Music in Cross-Cultural Perspective . New York: Greenwood, 1987.

Fifteen essays that push beyond descriptive practice in relation to women’s roles in music-making and aim toward a twofold theory, asking how specific cultures differentiate music by gender, and how musical communities and music-making within specific cultures affect the articulation of gender itself.

Solie, Ruth A., ed. Musicology and Difference: Gender and Sexuality in Music Scholarship . Berkeley: University of California Press, 1993.

Highly influential collection of essays; one of the first to move from “Women in Music” to “Gender and Sexuality in Music.” Since 2007, the American Musicological Society (AMS) has given the Ruth A. Solie award for an edited collection in honor of this book and its impact. Most articles focus on Western music history, although several ethnographic contributions are included. The introduction is cited separately ( Solie 1993a , cited under Foundational Texts of Feminist Musicology ).

Whiteley, Sheila, ed. Sexing the Groove: Popular Music and Gender . London and New York: Routledge, 1997.

Popular music considered in this collection is limited to late-20th-century examples. Masculinity is considered in several articles (particularly in relationship to rock music); other topics include femininity, gender, eroticism, and sexual appeal.

The First Generation of Edited Collections (particularly Solie 1993 ; Brett, et al. 2006 ) can be understood to have facilitated the emergence of the later, generally more specialized volumes of the second wave; all the works cited here date from the first half of the 2000s. Smart 2000 has proved particularly influential, and gender remains an integral part of opera studies in its current form. Borgerding 2002 and Austern 2002 reflect an increased attention to historical differences in perception and subjectivity.

Austern, Linda Phyllis, ed. Music, Sensation, and Sensuality . New York: Routledge, 2002.

Important collection of articles dealing specifically with the historicization of bodily sensation in relationship to musical sound. A large number of the contributions deal with early music repertories, though the collection as a whole ranges from the 16th century to the late 20th century, and includes ethnographic work as well as historical/musicological writings.

Bernstein, Jane A., ed. Women’s Voices across Musical Worlds . Boston: Northeastern University Press, 2004.

Integrates historical and anthropological approaches to music scholarship. Thirteen chapters on a wide range of topics, from medieval music to late-20th-century popular music.

Borgerding, Todd M., ed. Gender, Sexuality, and Early Music . New York: Routledge, 2002.

Deals primarily with Italian vocal repertoires, both sacred and secular. Includes articles dealing with masculinity and ethnicity alongside female identity formation, instrumental music, sacred and secular repertoires.

Fuller, Sophie, and Lloyd Whitesell, eds. Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Identity . Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Winner of the Philip Brett Award. Broad collection of articles; includes chapters on female friendship, Ravel, lesbian musicians, male impersonators, Tchaikovsky, transcription, Edward J. Dent, Saint-Saëns, Elgar, male friendship, Wagnerian reception, and closeted subjects.

Magrini, Tullia, ed. Music and Gender: Perspectives from the Mediterranean . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2003.

Fourteen essays plus an introduction; most are focused on specific Mediterranean regions, including Albania, Egypt, Corsica, etc., and several treat Roma repertories. The collection treats gender as integral difference and purposefully builds upon the earlier collections.

Moisala, Pirkko, and Beverley Diamond, eds. Music and Gender . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2000.

The introduction to the volume, “Music and Gender—Negotiating Shifting Worlds” by Diamond and Moisala, underscores the shared crux of the fourteen essays: each looks at gendered musical responses to rapid political, economic, or technological change.

Smart, Mary Ann, ed. Siren Songs: Representations of Gender and Sexuality in Opera . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Broad range of articles dealing with canonical operatic repertoire; includes work on masculinity, motherhood, staging the female body, heterosexual and homosexual plotlines.

Several recent and forthcoming publications aim specifically at updating the content of the earlier works while maintaining the breadth and format of the edited collection. Peraino and Cusick 2013 is less ambitious, presenting instead a selection of short position papers as part of a printed colloquy. Bloechl, et al. 2015 and Wilbourne 2015 are both, notably, festschrifts, for Solie and Cusick, respectively; Bloechl, et al. 2015 deliberately revisits the content and context of Solie 1993 (cited under First Generation of Edited Collections ). Two forthcoming collections—Gregory Barz and William Cheng, eds., Queering the Field: Sounding Out Ethnomusicology , and Fred Maus and Shelia Whiteley, eds., The Oxford Handbook of Queerness and Music , both published by Oxford University Press—share similar priorities of remapping the current field. Other edited works demonstrate the continued flexibility and utility of such collections as a means to tackle complex interdisciplinary topics, notably Feldman and Gordon 2006 and Rustin and Tucker 2008 . Jarman-Ivens 2007 demonstrates the increased range of subject positions that the study of gender offers, rather than a concentration explicitly on women.

Bloechl, Olivia, Melanie Lowe, and Jeffrey Kallberg, eds. Rethinking Difference in Music Scholarship . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press: 2015.

Festschrift for Ruth A. Solie. Articles cover a wide temporal span; focus is almost exclusively on Western art music. A large-scale disciplinary shift toward intersectionality is evident in these articles: many consider race alongside gender and sexuality. Introduction (Bloechl, with Lowe) presents a sustained critique of the use of representation and difference within music scholarship, focuses on the political possibilities of academic labor.

Feldman, Martha, and Bonnie Gordon, eds. The Courtesan’s Arts: Cross-Cultural Perspectives . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2006.

Inaugural winner of the Ruth A. Solie Award given by the American Musicological Society. Includes essays on the Edo period and modern Japan, 20th-century Korea, Ming dynasty China, ancient Greece, Early Modern Italy, and India, past and present.

Hayes, Eileen M., and Linda F. Williams, eds. Black Women and Music: More than the Blues . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2007.

Includes contributions on black women in the blues of the title, as well as classical music and a wide variety of popular musical forms, including hip-hop and gospel.

Jarman-Ivens, Freya, ed. Oh Boy! Masculinities and Popular Music . New York: Routledge, 2007.

Introduction plus twelve essays. Predominantly North American popular music but includes articles on Indonesia and Indigenous Australian popular musics.

Peraino, Judith, and Suzanne G. Cusick, eds. “Colloquy on Musicology and Sexuality.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 66.3 (2013): 825–872.

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Seven short contributions, an introduction by Peraino and a response by Cusick. Thoughtful, mostly theoretical pieces that provide an excellent snapshot of the state of the field.

Rustin, Nicole T., and Sherrie Tucker, eds. Big Ears: Listening for Gender in Jazz Studies . Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.

Includes articles on women performers, on the masculinity of male performers, on race and gender, on gendered hierarchies of performance and reception, as well as gendered representations of jazz in novels and on screen.

Whiteley, Sheila, and Jennifer Rycenga, eds. Queering the Popular Pitch . New York: Routledge, 2006.

Written a decade after both the original Queering the Pitch volume and Sexing the Groove (see Brett, et al. 2006 and Whiteley 1997 , both cited under First Generation of Edited Collections ), the essays in this collection deliberately seek to correct several of the perceived shortcomings of the earlier works. The articles share an awareness of the ways in which gender and sexuality are intersected by race, ethnicity, and citizenship.

Wilbourne, Emily, ed. Special Issue in Honor of Suzanne G. Cusick . Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 19 (2015).

Festschrift in honor of Suzanne G. Cusick. Most of the twenty essays in the collection address issues of gender and sexuality. Contributions include work on historical Italian singers and performers, gendered hiring practices, voice, popular music, sexual and musical violence, and historiographical critiques of musicology, ethnomusicology, and jazz studies. Wilbourne’s introduction to the volume, “On a Lesbian Relationship with Musicology: Suzanne G. Cusick, Sound Effects,” is an exegesis of Cusick’s contributions to feminist and queer musicology.

Over the relatively short history of music scholarship on topics of gender and sexuality, there have been a disproportionately high number of review essays. The importance of this format to the field demonstrates both a reactionary claim to intellectual legitimacy and an acknowledgement of the inter- and intra-disciplinary challenges facing queer and gender scholars. Gender and sexuality studies have had to build coalitions across frequently balkanized sectors of musical scholarship; students of gender and sexuality must be equally conversant within the geographical, historical, and musical stylistic parameters of a given genre, and with the work of queer and feminist scholars in repertoires vastly different from their own. The list of sources given here is by no means exhaustive. The sources chosen represent particularly influential English-language reviews as well as efforts to disseminate scholarship on gender and sexuality into other languages. Monson 1997 is primarily aimed at ethnomusicological readers and introduces material from the related field of anthropology. Lewis 2009 sums up the field of queer musicology in relation to feminist work. Bowers 2000 has a focus on German-language material. Beghelli 2000 and Daolmi and Senici 2000 were published together and are aimed at Italian readers. Dell’Antonio 2015 looks specifically at Early Modern scholarly work. Review essays are, by nature, dated by their point of publication. Cusick 1999 and Cusick 2001 remain the most cited and influential of those listed here; both analyze the ways in which scholarship on gender and sexuality has shaped musicological thought and offer questions about the future of the field.

Beghelli, Marco. “Erotismo canoro.” Il Saggiatore Musicale 7 (2000): 123–136.

First of a pair of “ interventi ” intended to summarize the effects of gender and sexuality studies on voice scholarship and opera in particular. Presents material predominantly available in English-language sources for an Italian readership. See also Daolmi and Senici 2000 .

Bowers, Jane. “The Development of Gender Studies in American Musicology: A View from 2000.” In Frauen- und Männerbilder in der Musik: Festschrift für Eva Rieger zum 60. Geburtstag . Edited by Freia Hoffmann, Jane Bowers, and Ruth Heckmann, 21–25. Oldenberg, Germany: Bibliotheks- und Informationssystem der Universität Oldenberg, 2000.

Because this essay appears in a festschrift it has a particular focus on Eva Rieger’s work; as a consequence, it looks at the relationship between German-language and English-language scholarship in some detail.

Cusick, Suzanne G. “Gender, Musicology, and Feminism.” In Rethinking Music . Edited by Nick Cook and Mark Everist, 471–498. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 1999.

Widely cited and influential article. Argues that the scholars responsible for the founding of musicology in North America actively worked to gender the field masculine, excluding women and connotations of music as women’s work. Cusick presents feminist musicology as a corrective to the violence of presumed objectivity. She calls for multiple scholarly perspectives as a means to render musicology more palatable and to reconfigure the scholarly understanding of music as a practice embedded in the lives of scholars and their subjects alike.

Cusick, Suzanne G. “Eve . . . Blowing in Our Ears? Toward a History of Music Scholarship on Women in the Twentieth Century.” Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 5 (2001): 140–145.

Edited text based on an earlier talk. Cusick analyzes a distinction between scholarship on “women and music” from the 1970s and 80s, and that on “gender and sexuality” from the 1990s.

Daolmi, Davide, and Emanuele Senici. “‘L’omosessualità è un modo di cantare’: Il contribuito queer all’indagine sull’opera in musica.” Il Saggiatore Musicale 7 (2000): 137–178.

Second of a pair of “ interventi ” intended to summarize the effects of gender and sexuality studies on voice scholarship and opera in particular. Presents material predominantly available in English-language sources for an Italian readership. See also Beghelli 2000 .

Dell’Antonio, Andrew. “Performances of Identity in Early Modern Italian Music.” I Tatti: Studies in the Italian Renaissance 18.1 (2015): 23–31.

Focuses on thought-provoking scholarship of the decade 2005–2015. Most sources discussed consider gender to a large degree.

Lewis, Rachel. “What’s Queer about Musicology Now?” Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 13 (2009): 43–53.

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Introduction to the three queer-themed articles that follow, all drawn from “Queer Vibrations,” an interdisciplinary graduate student conference held at Cornell University in March 2007. Situates the field of queer musicology in relationship to feminist musicology and definitional debates within queer theory at large, with a particular focus on transnational theory and on the voice.

Monson, Ingrid. “Music and the Anthropology of Gender and Cultural Identity.” Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 1 (1997): 24–32.

Summarizes the then-current state of anthropological research, mapping out four categories of scholarship. Calls for a greater engagement with gender and with the consequences of gendered differences.

In a complementary fashion to the Review Essays , bibliographies in gender and sexuality studies have served to disseminate work and critical approaches across the temporal and repertoire-based boundaries of traditional musicological scholarship. Online formats have proved the most useful, as they can be regularly updated; however, most of the sources listed here depend on pro bono work and do not follow a regular updating schedule. Wilbourne 2006 updates the New Grove–style list originally appended to Brett and Wood 2002 (cited under Foundational Texts of Queer Musicology ), but is not currently slated for further updates. Interest groups associated with the American Musicological Society (AMS) and the Society for Music Theory (SMT) maintain bibliographies updated by their members, see Cumulative LBTGQ Music Bibliography and Sayrs and VanHandel 2002 . While search engines such as RILM increasingly list gender and sexuality as search terms, the more targeted approach of dedicated bibliographies provides a more useful resource for early-career scholars and graduate students. Pendle and Boyd 2010 includes annotations.

Cumulative LBTGQ Music Bibliography . Compiled and updated by Jacob Sagrans, Keith Wace, and Lloyd Whitesell. LBTGQ Study Group of the American Musicological Society.

Formatted alphabetically, no annotations. Updated at regular intervals (approximately every two years). Aims at a comprehensive list. The bibliography indexes music scholarship that features material on gender diversity, queer identity, culture, knowledge, or practice, or that approaches its topic from a queer, transgender, or anti-oppressive perspective.

Pendle, Karin, and Melinda Boyd. Women in Music: A Research and Information Guide . 2d ed. New York: Routledge, 2010.

Over 3000 citations and annotations. Includes entries on sexuality and on work about gender. Citations are arranged by topic.

Sayrs, Elizabeth, and Leigh VanHandel. “ Bibliography of Sources Related to Women’s Studies, Gender Studies, Feminism, and Music .” 2002. Website of the Committee on the Status of Women of the Society for Music Theory.

Last updated 2002. One of the best resources for musical theoretical sources and analytic references. Extensive list arranged into various categories, including “Feminist Theories and/of Music,” “Music Theory and Feminist Theory,” “Feminist Music Pedagogy,” etc.

Wilbourne, Emily. “Updated Bibliography for ‘Lesbian and Gay Music,’ by Elizabeth Wood and Philip Brett.” In Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology . 2d ed. Edited by Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas, 379–389. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Extends and updates the bibliography provided by Wood and Brett to their original New Grove II article which is reprinted in the second edition of Queering the Pitch . The bibliography is arranged chronologically (then alphabetically within each year). Selective bibliography intended to show the development and expansion of the field. No annotations.

There exists a broad range of writing about specific composers and performers with non-conforming sexualities. Such literature provides a strong parallel with women’s studies and with the focus of some scholars on female composers and performers. The issues, however, are not strictly comparable. Most female musicians are visibly and undeniably female, whereas sexuality is more difficult to discern and often hotly contested; this issue is discussed in Tucker 2002 . Brett was arguably the first scholar to discuss a composer’s sexuality as bearing upon their music; his articles on Britten were anthologized posthumously ( Brett 2006 ). Solomon 1989 sparked a polemical reaction leading to an entire special issue of 19th Century Music (see Schubert: Music, Sexuality, Culture ). Thomas 2006 explores the historiographical implications of questioning a composer’s sexuality. Griffin 2002 , Hubbs 2004 , and Mockus 2008 present original models of biographical writing grounded in the non-normative sexualities of their subjects.

Brett, Philip. Music and Sexuality in Britten: Selected Essays . Edited by George E. Haggerty. Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

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Winner of the Philip Brett Award. Includes an introduction by Susan McClary and an afterword by Jenny Doctor. Posthumous publication that collates essays written over the span of Brett’s life.

Griffin, Farah Jasmine. In Search of Billie Holiday: If You Can’t Be Free, Be a Mystery . New York: Ballantine, 2002.

Deliberately eschews traditional biographical models. Focuses on the myths and stories that surrounded Holiday, contrasting them with those facts that can be discerned, in order to consider what Holliday and her music meant to her listeners.

Hubbs, Nadine. The Queer Composition of America’s Sound: Gay Modernists, American Music, and National Identity . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

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Winner of the Philip Brett Award. A biographical account of a Manhattan-based group of gay male composers, including Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Paul Bowles, David Diamond, and Ned Rorem. Considers how the music of these men became associated with a distinctively and widely celebrated “American” sound, despite their sexuality.

Mockus, Martha. Sounding Out: Pauline Oliveros and Lesbian Musicality . New York: Routledge, 2008.

Situates Oliveros within a network of women, including feminist activists, artists, writers, and other musicians. Drawing on musical works, archival documents (including letters), and interviews, Mockus offers a radically original biographical model that pushes against traditional narratives of exceptional women.

Solomon, Maynard. “Franz Schubert and the Peacocks of Benvenuto Cellini.” 19th Century Music 12.3 (1989): 193–206.

Interprets cryptic comments about Schubert found in contemporary documents as evidence of homosexual behavior. Article provoked a notable outcry; see responses in the special issue Schubert: Music, Sexuality, Culture .

Special Issue: Schubert: Music, Sexuality, Culture . Edited by Lawrence Kramer. 19th Century Music 17.1 (1993).

Large-scale response to Solomon 1989 . Includes articles from Rita Steblin, Maybard Solomon, Kristina Muxfeldt, and David Gramit; and commentary from Kofi Agawu, Susan McClary, James Webster, and Robert S. Winter. Taken together these articles represent the frankest discussion of why the sexuality of historical composers could be considered necessary (on the one hand) and problematic (on the other). See also Brett 1997 (cited under Nineteenth-Century Music ) for an assessment of the contributions to this special issue.

Thomas, Gary C. “Was George Frideric Handel Gay? On Closet Questions and Cultural Politics.” In Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology . Edited by Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas, 155–204. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Considers the biographical and contextual evidence about Handel’s sexuality alongside the historiographical tradition of writing on Handel. Sophisticated and nuanced articulation of what is at stake in questions about the sexuality of historical figures and of the importance of such questions for music scholarship. First published 1994.

Tucker, Sherrie. “When Subjects Don’t Come Out.” In Queer Episodes in Music and Modern Identity . Edited by Sophie Fuller and Lloyd Whitesell, 293–310. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2002.

Discusses instances from her own field work in which informants denied lesbian aspects of their own behavior and those of other women. Suggests some approaches that can be taken in such circumstances.

The sub-discipline of music theory is typically understood to focus on the notes and internal workings of a piece, with less attention paid to the historical context or hermeneutic content of the music in question. As a consequence, many music theorists have regarded scholarship on music and gender as extrinsic to their work. It is, however, only the most heavily analytic of music theoretical writings that function without regard to the implications of historical style and thus of context more broadly, and a large proportion of recent work in musical theoretical sub-disciplines relies heavily on the contextual historicism of the New Musicology. During the early years of feminist and queer scholarship in music, several authors called for an awareness of the ways in which gender and sexuality shaped the very tenets of the genre of music theory. The journal Perspectives of New Music provided a particularly welcoming forum, and both issues of volume 32 (1994) included material collated together under the topic of feminist music theory. Maus 1993 and Guck 1994 provided an important critique of the supposedly neutral language of academic writing and music theory in particular. Hisama 2001 and Le Guin 2006 provide models of how a reimagined music theory might look. Leach 2006 and Fuller 2011 are concerned with music theorists of the 14th century, offering highly divergent interpretations of the same body of written material.

Cusick, Suzanne G. “Feminist Theory, Music Theory, and the Mind-Body Problem.” Perspectives of New Music 32.1 (1994): 8–27.

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Addresses the difficulties of writing about the body, drawing on theory from Joan Scott and Judith Butler. Includes examples from Fanny Hensel’s Trio in D minor, op. 11, and J. S. Bach’s Clavierübung , Part III, BWV 686.

Fuller, Sarah. “Concerning Gendered Discourse in Medieval Music Theory: Was the Semitone ‘Gendered Feminine’?” Music Theory Spectrum 33.1 (2011): 65–89.

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Response to Leach 2006 , contesting the claims of the earlier article. Contends that the substantial majority of 14th-century music theorists used gender-neutral language to describe intervals smaller than a tone. Calls for care in interpreting the attitudes of historically distant writers.

Guck, Marion A. “A Woman’s (Theoretical) Work.” Perspectives of New Music 32.1 (1994): 28–43.

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Considers her own efforts in developing evocative language to describe musical effects as feminized in relationship to the more analytic vocabularies of traditional music theory. Explores essentialist versus constructivist definitions of femininity.

Guck, Marion A. “ Music Loving, Or the Relationship with the Musical Work .” Music Theory Online 2.2 (1996).

Considers the way in which a love of music is disavowed by most music scholars, both within musicology and within music theory.

Hisama, Ellie M. “Feminist Music Theory into the Millennium: A Personal History.” Signs: Journal of Women in Culture and Society 25.4 (2000): 1287–1291.

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Traces the author’s exposure to feminist scholarship within the sub-discipline of music theory, outlines some of the ways in which feminist theory has impacted her analytic methods, and provides an example of how feminist theory can impact pedagogical practice with a description of how she has discussed music by John Zorn within her classes.

Hisama, Ellie M. Gendering Musical Modernism: The Music of Ruth Crawford, Marion Bauer, and Miriam Gideon . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2001.

Analyzes six works by three women composers, attending to the ways in which the music might reflect the gender of the composers.

Kielian-Gilbert, Marianne. “Of Poetics and Poesis, Pleasure and Politics: Music Theory and Modes of the Feminine.” Perspectives of New Music 32.1 (1994): 44–67.

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Nuanced consideration of identity politics in relationship to feminist music theory and, in particular, of the liberating, utopic possibilities that it offered to many female theorists.

Leach, Elizabeth Eva. “Gendering the Semitone, Sexing the Leading Tone: Fourteenth-Century Music Theory and the Directed Progression.” Music Theory Spectrum 28.1 (2006): 1–21.

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Controversial reading of gendered language in the music theoretical writings of Marchetto of Padua and Johannes Boen. Suggests the 14th century as the origin of pervasive musical associations between chromaticism and an exotic, Eastern femininity.

Le Guin, Elisabeth. Boccherini’s Body: An Essay in Carnal Musicology . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

Though broadly musicological rather than theoretical, Le Guin’s analyses provide the most explicit application to date of feminist theory to analysis. Le Guin analyzes Boccherini’s music from the perspective of a performer, and from the perspective of an ensemble. As such her work considers the music as a practice embodied within and by specifically situated, and thus gendered, individuals.

Maus, Fred Everett. “Masculine Discourse and Music Theory.” Perspectives of New Music 31 (1993): 263–293.

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Argues that the analytic terms deployed by music theorists are gendered, examining pairs of words and noting how one word of each pair is valorized in ways consistent with characterizations of masculinity. Suggests that the attentive listening of music theorists is itself gendered feminine and that the objective vocabularies developed by theorists may exist to conceal the originary femininity of the field.

Gender and Sexuality in Ethnomusicology

The topic of women and music was an established part of ethnomusicology well before the reactionary beginnings of feminist musicology, though most work was limited to specific feminized genres (such as lament), and there was little overt theorization about the consequences of gendered musical differences.

Nettl 1983 questioned why the large numbers of female ethnomusicologists hadn’t yet had much impact on the disciplinary theorization of gender. Herndon 1990 provided an important and articulate definition of gender in terms of culture and biology. Sugarman 1997 is a widely cited model of feminist ethnography that looks beyond merely women and their participation. Koskoff 2014 collates a range of material from throughout the author’s career, including some of the most influential early feminist work and her later reflections on the topic. Wong 2015 calls for a greater and more explicit ethnomusicological engagement with the erotics of musical performance and with the understanding of sexuality as culturally constructed.

Herndon, Marcia. “Biology and Culture: Music, Gender, Power, and Ambiguity.” In Music, Gender, and Culture . Edited by Marcia Herndon and Susanne Ziegler, 11–26. Wilhelmshaven, Germany: Florian Noetzel Verlag, 1990.

A touchstone in ethnomusicological writings and widely considered as one of the first articles to focus on “gender” instead of “sex.” The discussion is structured around the music of the Cherokee Indians, and considers how biology and culture interact in order to naturalize specific behaviors and choices.

Koskoff, Ellen. A Feminist Ethnomusicology: Writings on Music and Gender . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2014.

Includes a foreword by Suzanne G. Cusick and an extensive bibliography on the topic of music and gender provided by the author. A retrospective collation of Koskoff’s many articles, from the mid 1970s up to 2010, as well as new work outlining the changes and developments in Koskoff’s own thinking and the discipline at large.

Nettl, Bruno. “Vive la différence.” In The Study of Ethnomusicology: Twenty-Nine Issues and Concepts . By Bruno Nettl, 333–345. Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 1983.

Looks at the ways in which gender affects the musical lives of various cultures. Directly asks the question as to whether the work of female ethnomusicologists has been different in kind than that of male ethnomusicologists.

Sugarman, Jane C. Engendering Song: Singing and Subjectivity at Prespa Albanian Weddings . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 1997.

Excellent account of the ways in which the music of Prespa weddings in both Macedonia and the diaspora map across gender as they define and renegotiate the dynamics of interaction between participants.

Wong, Deborah. “Ethnomusicology without Erotics.” Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 19 (2015): 178–185.

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Argues that ethnomusicologists have been largely silent about erotics and scholarship, in part because their interlocutors rarely talk about music in such terms, and in part because sexuality studies so frequently deal with Western terms and repertoires. Ends with a manifesto calling for ethnomusicologists to engage with sound and sexuality.

The role and identity of participant observers have proved an ongoing issue for feminist ethnomusicology. Killick 1995 , Babiracki 1997 , and Hankins 2014 all address the issue from a variety of perspectives. Kisliuk 1998 has been particularly influential in modeling an engaged and self-aware narrative stance.

Babiracki, Carol. “What’s the Difference? Reflections on Gender and Research in Village India.” In Shadows in the Field: New Perspectives for Fieldwork in Ethnomusicology . Edited by Gregory F. Barz and Timothy J. Cooley, 121–136. New York: Oxford University Press, 1997.

Discusses a romantic relationship in the field between scholar and research subject, exploring in frank terms the way in which such intimacies impacted her work.

Hankins, Sarah. “Queer Relationships with Music and an Experiential Hermeneutics for Musical Meaning.” Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 18 (2014): 83–104.

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Thoughtful consideration of the erotic experience of the participant observer within ethnographies of queer communities; in particular the tip exchange at queer cabaret performances. Extends Cusick 2006 (cited under Foundational Texts of Queer Musicology ).

Killick, Andrew P. “The Penetrating Intellect: On Being White, Straight, and Male in Korea.” In Taboo: Sex, Identity and Erotic Subjectivity in Anthropological Fieldwork . Edited by Don Kulick and Margaret Willson, 76–106. London: Routledge, 1995.

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Reflects on the consequences of the author’s sex, race, and nationality during his own field work, and discusses the ways in which his subject position as participant observer is affected by his subject position as a straight, white man.

Kisliuk, Michelle. Seize the Dance: BaAka Musical Life and the Ethnography of Performance . New York: Oxford University Press, 1998.

Based on over a decade of participant ethnography in the Lobaye region of the Central African Republic, this book is both a detailed description of the music-making and associated social practices of the BaAka and an in-depth consideration of the role of the scholar.

Race in Relation to Gender and Sexuality

The field of gender and sexuality studies has become increasingly intersectional, as scholars negotiate the complex terrain of identity politics. Within studies of popular music and ethnomusicology the intersection of race with the axes of gender and sexuality has needed little justification; in contrast, the point has had to be made rather forcibly in relationship to Western classical repertoires. Interested readers should consult the works listed under Edited Collections and Twentieth- and Twenty-First-Century Popular Music in addition to those listed here.

In North American scholarship, blackness is the most heavily theorized racial difference, and the extant literature reflects this disciplinary formation. Grier 2002 is a sophisticated look at the larger cultural associations of race in relationship to popular musical repertoires. Brown 2008 is an excellent example of race-attentive history. Gordon 2015 integrates the discussion of race and slavery with reference to specific Western musical examples. Guillory 1998 was an influential text that looks at the impact of gender and sexuality on male jazz performers. Hayes and Williams 2007 collects a range of approaches to writing about black women and musical performance. Gaunt 2006 deftly weaves the study of specific cultural behaviors (children’s games) and musical repertoires.

Brown, Jayna. Babylon Girls: Black Women Performers and the Shaping of the Modern . Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2008.

Traces the careers of a number of black women performers from 1900 through the first half of the 20th century, in the United States and Europe. Repertoires include variety, musical hall fare, and jazz.

Gaunt, Kyra D. The Games Black Girls Play: Learning the Ropes from Double-Dutch to Hip-Hop . New York: New York University Press, 2006.

Winner of the Merriam Prize. Considers the role of play in the identity formation of black women and puts the linguistic and structural features of black girls’ games into conversation with the features of black popular musics.

Gordon, Bonnie. “What Mr. Jefferson Didn’t Hear.” In Rethinking Difference in Music Scholarship . Edited by Olivia Bloechl, Melanie Lowe, and Jeffrey Kallberg, 108–132. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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Considers the racialization of music and sound in Jeffersonian Virginia. Contrasts the American colony with the sounds of racial uprising in Haiti.

Grier, Miles Parks. “ The Only Black Man at the Party: Joni Mitchell Enters the Rock Canon .” Genders 56 (2002).

Considers the alter ego “Art Nouveau,” a blackface male character, impersonated by Mitchell on several occasions. Looks at the tensions between the black male jazz musician and the white female folksinger in relationship to cultural authority within popular music culture.

Guillory, Monique. “Black Bodies Swinging: Race, Gender, and Jazz.” In Soul: Black Power, Politics, and Pleasure . Edited by Monique Guillory and Richard Green, 191–215. New York: New York University Press, 1998.

Discusses black masculinity in jazz with a focus on sexism. Charles Mingus and Miles Davis feature as examples.

Hayes, Eileen M. Songs in Black and Lavender: Race, Sexual Politics, and Women’s Music . Urbana: University of Illinois Press, 2010.

Draws on fieldwork undertaken at a variety of women’s music festivals. Considers the place of black women and black lesbians within the women’s music community. Includes a chapter on drag kinging.

Includes contributions on black women in the blues of the title, as well as classical music and a wide variety of popular musical forms, including gospel and hip-hop.

Grouped together for convenience and to make the point that neither category is as well populated as that of blackness and music. Both Hisama 1993 and Tsou 2015 look at representations of Asian women in music written by white men. Aparicio 1998 and Hahn 2007 are interested in the ways that bodies learn to dance and what dance teaches bodies. Tongson 2011 and Rivera-Servera 2012 consider identities in relationship to specific musical and performed behaviors.

Aparicio, Frances. Listening to Salsa: Gender, Latin Popular Music and Puerto Rican Cultures . Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 1998.

Shows how the embodied memories of dancing to popular music can sustain gendered subjectivities (both masculine and feminine) long after the social conditions that fostered them might have changed.

Hahn, Tomie. Sensational Knowledge: Embodying Culture through Japanese Dance . Middletown, CT: Wesleyan University Press, 2007.

Winner of the Merriam Prize. Considers the practice of somatic transmission as mediated through culture, with a focus on the pedagogical practices of the traditional Japanese dance, nihon buyo . A personal and experimental text, the book looks at how the senses construct our sense of self and how the senses themselves have particular cultural valences.

Hisama, Ellie M. “Postcolonialism on the Make: The Music of John Mellencamp, David Bowie and John Zorn.” Popular Music 12.2 (1993): 91–104.

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Considers pop songs sung by white men about desirable Asian women, from the perspective of a female Asian listener.

Rivera-Servera, Ramón H. Performing Queer Latinidad: Dance, Sexuality, Politics . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2012.

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An ethnographic, performance studies text. Considers both modern dance and nightclub dance within specific Latina/o neighborhoods in the United States.

Tongson, Karen. Relocations: Queer Suburban Imaginaries . New York: New York University, 2011.

Considers Asian American identity in suburban settings and the relationship to voice and performance, particularly karaoke.

Tsou, Judy. “Composing Racial Difference in Madama Butterfly : Tonal Language and the Power of Cio-Cio-San.” In Rethinking Difference in Music Scholarship . Edited by Olivia Bloechl, Melanie Lowe, and Jeffrey Kallberg, 214–237. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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Contrasts the musical characterizations of Cio-Cio-San and Pinkerton, noting a sharp distinction between the two. Though the international characteristics given to Cio-Cio-San are broadly foreign rather than specifically Asian, the author traces a musical mapping that Others the Asian woman of the story.

Whiteness has been undertheorized in music scholarship in general, and only recently has work on the topic of whiteness achieved any real traction. Much of the scholarship that has been produced focuses on popular music repertoires, particularly those where black musical forms have become the norm; much less work deals with whiteness and Western art music. Bannister 2006 and Stras and Scott 2010 reflect the preoccupation with popular musics. Bloechl 2015 is an impassioned plea for scholars of Western art music to pay attention to race and to colonialism. Marshall 2015 looks at how whiteness can operate as the seemingly neutral ground against which other aspects are judged.

Bannister, Matthew. White Boys, White Noise: Masculinities and 1980s Indie Guitar Rock . Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2006.

Heavily theoretical. Deconstructs the broad and rather simplistic popular assumption that Indie rock manages to undercut the sexism inherent in more popular rock genres.

Bloechl, Olivia. “Race, Empire, and Early Music.” In Rethinking Difference in Music Scholarship . Edited by Olivia Bloechl, Melanie Lowe, and Jeffrey Kallberg, 77–107. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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In part a manifesto for the consideration of race and of colonialization alongside gender and sexuality, the article looks at racialized costume designs from 18th-century French court productions, noting the bifurcation of representation along gender axes.

Marshall, Melanie L. “ Voce Bianca : Purity and Whiteness in British Early Music Vocality.” Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 19 (2015): 36–44.

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Considers the way in which women’s voices are shaped and valued within British early music performance cultures.

Stras, Laurie, and Derek B. Scott, eds. She’s So Fine: Reflections on Whiteness, Femininity, Adolescence and Class in 1960s Music . Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2010.

Eight essays placing the music and the female performers of 1960s popular music into an intersectional analytic frame.

Historicized Models of Gender and Desire

Studies in gender and sexuality have placed pressure on naturalized concepts of desire and bodily difference and thus on more obviously musical tropes of embodiment, subjectivity, sensation, gendered representation, expressive content, and aesthetic priorities. The recognition of gender and sexuality as culturally and historically contingent constructs helpfully destabilizes the expressive means of past works and musicians, as it enables a critique of modern music and musical reception.

Several key figures in the first wave of feminist and queer musicology were specialists in early music (Brett, Cusick, McClary; see also work by these scholars cited in other categories). Work on early music history has thus provided a large impetus to feminist and queer music scholarship from other periods. Cusick 1993b (cited under Foundational Texts of Feminist Musicology ) was one of the earliest articles to connect gendered analysis to the rhetoric around musical performance, and was widely read not least because of the place of publication. Macy 1996 addressed one of the taboo subjects of early music with historically informed precision. Borgerding 2002 (cited under Second Generation of Edited Collections ) demonstrates the breadth and the disciplinary priorities of the early music gender and sexuality subfield during the second wave of feminist and queer scholarly work, as does the rash of other publications cited here from the early years of the new millennium: most deal with Italian repertory in a highly sophisticated manner. Holsinger 2002 and Gordon 2004 provide important introductions to the different epistemological models of gender and sexuality during the medieval and baroque periods, respectively. Freitas 2003 proposed a completely original and highly influential perspective on castrati and on historicized desire. Cusick 2009 on Francesca Caccini presents a thoroughly feminist revision of biographical practice, tracing gender through the life of the composer herself, through the courtly milieu in which she worked, and through the performance (and rehearsal) context of the music that Caccini wrote. Wilbourne 2009 considers the sounds of performance and the valence of contemporary metaphors connecting sex and sound.

Cusick, Suzanne G. Francesca Caccini at the Medici Court: Music and the Circulation of Power . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2009.

Monumental “life and works” account of the composer, Francesca Caccini, that considers the impact of gender on all aspects of the subject. Provides a fundamentally new model for thinking about musical biography.

Freitas, Roger. “The Eroticism of Emasculation: Confronting the Baroque Body of the Castrato.” The Journal of Musicology 20.2 (2003): 196–249.

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Sophisticated and convincing reconsideration of the castrato within historical context. Argues for the erotic valence of the adolescent boy and outlines how the castrato was understood to preserve the state of being on the cusp of manhood. A later version, more closely tailored to the discussion of a specific castrato and omitting the comparative work of this article is found in his Portrait of a Castrato: Politics, Patronage, and Music in the Life of Atto Melani (Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009); this book was the recipient of the Philip Brett Award.

Gordon, Bonnie. Monteverdi’s Unruly Women: The Power of Song in Early Modern Italy . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2004.

Reads Early Modern Italian sonic practice against the contemporary scientific literature of embodiment and sexuality. Most cited for the application of “one sex” models to music. The “women” of the title are characters and representations of women in Claudio Monteverdi’s vocal music, predominantly the madrigal and chamber repertory.

Heller, Wendy. Emblems of Eloquence: Opera and Women’s Voices in Seventeenth-Century Venice . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2003.

Considers Venetian representations of women on the 17th-century operatic stage. Women are considered as a gendered representation of the civic figure of the city of Venice. Detailed analysis of the libretti and of the changes made by poet and composer are used to track the specific motivations of the works’ creators.

Holsinger, Bruce. Music, Body, and Desire in Medieval Culture: Hildegard of Bingen to Chaucer . Stanford, CA: Stanford University Press, 2002.

Important work considering the differently historicized ways in which desire and the body were understood during the medieval period.

Macy, Laura. “Speaking of Sex: Metaphor and Performance in the Italian Madrigal.” Journal of Musicology 14.1 (1996): 1–34.

Situates the amateur performance practice of the Italian madrigal within a context of learned conversation and courtly behavioral norms. Frankly addresses the sexual content of madrigal texts in terms of contemporary conceptions of the body and of sexuality; looks at the ways in which musical representations of desire changed over the course of the 16th century.

McClary, Susan. Desire and Pleasure in Seventeenth-Century Music . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2012.

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A sustained look at “the music itself” as a coherent expressive language. Utilizes a modal framework alongside analytic attention to the development of tonality in an attempt to account for the music of the period in its own terms.

Wilbourne, Emily. “ Amor nello specchio (1622): Mirroring, Masturbation, and Same-Sex Love.” Women & Music 13 (2009): 54–65.

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Winner of the Philip Brett Award. Focusing on a commedia dell’arte play text, this article traces the use of musical metaphors and dramatic representation across a variety of sexual practices.

During the 17th and 18th centuries, large numbers of boys underwent castration before puberty as a means to preserve their high voices. The direct conflation of surgical intervention, altered development of secondary sex characteristics, and musical performance has made castrati a particularly fecund site of work on gender and sexuality. Much of the musicological literature on castrati has been strongly influenced by Roland Barthes’ S/Z , in which the castrato’s voice is seen as a sexually charged compensation for a lack of genitals. Poizat 1992 , Dame 2006 , and Bergeron 1996 shaped the initial dimensions of the field; all draw heavily upon Barthes. Freitas 2009 offers a welcome corrective, grounding his discussion of castrati in a historically relevant context. Feldman 2015 treats both theoretical and pragmatic considerations in an attempt to answer the question of why castration was so common.

Beghelli, Marco, and Raffaele Talmelli. Ermafrodite armoniche . Varese, Italy: Zecchini Editore, 2011.

The book as a whole argues that the sounds of castrati voices can be traced through recordings of their non-castrated students. Includes a chapter on Lily Dan, a transsexual who was designated male at birth, but who coincidentally possessed a rare chromosomal abnormality that interrupted the male-patterned development of her vocal chords that would otherwise have taken place during puberty. Book includes a CD with rare recordings of historical singers, including Lily Dan.

Bergeron, Katherine. “The Castrato as History.” Cambridge Opera Journal 8.2 (1996): 167–184.

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In large part a review of the 1994 film, Farinelli, the article considers the interplay of voice and sexuality as represented by the castrato. Engages with Roland Barthe’s S/Z .

Dame, Joke. “Unveiled Voices: Sexual Difference and the Castrato.” In Queering the Pitch: The New Gay and Lesbian Musicology . Edited by Philip Brett, Elizabeth Wood, and Gary C. Thomas, 139–154. New York: Routledge, 2006.

Considers the castrato and castrato roles in opera from the perspective of a modern-day lesbian listener who enjoys performances in which women substitute in travesty, seeing and hearing them as representations of lesbian desire on the operatic stage. First published 1994.

Feldman, Martha. The Castrato: Reflections on Natures and Kinds . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2015.

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Considers the cultural meanings of castration within the Italian Early Modern context as well as the pragmatic effects of the practice. Particularly useful for the central section on voice, which provides a rich reconstruction of what can be known about the sound of castrati voices.

Freitas, Roger. Portrait of a Castrato: Politics, Patronage, and Music in the Life of Atto Melani . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2009.

Develops material presented in his dissertation and in his 2003 article ( Freitas 2003 , cited under Early Music ). An extended case study of the castrato Atto Melani, one of the best-documented musicians of his era, as representative of the possibilities and opportunities that were available for castrati during the 17th century.

Gilman, Todd S. “The Italian (Castrato) in London.” In The Work of Opera: Genre, Nationhood, and Sexual Difference . Edited by Richard Dellamora and Daniel Fischlin, 49–70. New York: Columbia, 1997.

Focuses on the reception of Italian castrato singers in London during the early 18th century. Argues that British listeners were intrigued by the sexualized implications of castrato song and traces positive and negative readings that circulated among British critics.

Poizat, Michel. Beyond the Pleasure Principle in Opera . Ithaca, NY: Cornell University Press, 1992.

Lacanian reading of the voice. Views the act of castration as an intervention that transfers the sexually productive power of the phallus into the vocal organ.

Eighteenth-century music scholarship has yet to develop the kind of consolidated approach to gender and sexuality that is typical of early music scholarship and that on 17th-century Italy in particular. Harris 2001 is important for the discussions of private versus public music-making, and as evidence of the relevance of sexuality scholarship among the discipline as a whole. Le Guin 2006 is valuable as a methodological resource and theoretical model beyond the time period and the specific composer/performer who stands as its subject. Brown-Montesano 2007 is emblematic of gender scholarship based in characterization; there are parallels to Heller 2003 (cited under Early Music ).

Brown-Montesano, Kristi. Understanding the Women of Mozart’s Operas . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2007.

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Focuses on the female characters of the Mozart-Da Ponte operas and The Magic Flute . Engages with the representations of individual female characters and on the relationships between female character pairs. Good introduction for undergraduate students.

Harris, Ellen T. Handel as Orpheus: Voice and Desire in the Chamber Cantatas . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 2001.

Considers the private compositional practice and performance context of Handel’s chamber cantatas—a large part of his compositional corpus, but unpublished, and rarely discussed or performed. Traces a network of homosocial interaction and desire among the elite male patrons and musicians.

Head, Matthew. Sovereign Feminine: Music and Gender in Eighteenth-Century Germany . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2013.

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Uncovers the social constructs around female musical performance in Germany during the late 18th century. Argues that contemporaries saw music as a fine art and the participation of women as a measure of the decorum and civilization of their current historical moment.

Hunter, Mary. The Culture of Opera Buffa in Mozart’s Vienna: A Poetics of Entertainment . Princeton, NJ: Princeton University Press, 2000.

Gender forms a major axis of analysis, both in discussions of reception, and in regard to characterization and aria types.

Original and innovative contribution to music scholarship. Theorizes the body in relationship to the historical musician and to the modern scholar and performers. Addresses the 18th-century conception of “sensibility.” Valuable also for the quality of the writing and the experimental nature of the prose.

The 19th century houses the bulk of canonical music, a circumstance reflected in the large quantity of scholarship that deals with modern reception and questions of interpretation, as scholars so frequently write about their own relationship to the music in question. The works cited here should be supplemented by works from other categories. Important examples include the relevant chapters of McClary 1991 , Citron 1993 (both cited under Foundational Texts of Feminist Musicology ), Clément 1988 , and Koestenbaum 1993 (both cited under Foundational Texts of Opera and Gender or Sexuality ), along with the other 19th-century examples in Voice and Vocal Musics . Brett 1997 is a classic exemplar that considers reception and performance context within the context of musical meanings. Solie 2004 is a masterful look at the meanings of music in Victorian culture. Esse 2013 evidences a particularly thought provoking take on the historicization of the gendered voice in relation to improvisation and composition.

Adams, Byron. “The ‘Dark Saying’ of the Enigma: Homoeroticism and the Elgarian Paradox.” 19th Century Music 23 (2000): 218–235.

Winner of the Philip Brett Award; later republished in Fuller and Whitesell 2002 (cited under Second Generation of Edited Collections ). Interrogates composer intentionality and meaning in relationship to the Enigma Variations of Edward Elgar. Considers documentary evidence and theorizations of the closet to trace musical representations of homoerotic desire.

Brett, Philip. “Piano Four-Hands: Schubert and the Performance of Gay Male Desire.” 19th Century Music 21.2 (1997): 149–176.

Level-headed assessment of the furor around Schubert and his sexuality. Considers Schubert’s music for piano four hands, the gendered rhetoric of “domesticity,” and a specific community of gay male performers and listeners.

Bullock, Philip. “Ambiguous Speech and Eloquent Silence: The Queerness of Tchaikovsky’s Songs.” 19th Century Music 32.1 (2008): 94–128.

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Winner of the Philip Brett Award. A nuanced reading of Tchaikovsky’s songs against aspects of the composer’s autobiography. Utilizes theories of Bakhtin and Foucault.

Esse, Melina. “Encountering the Improvvisatrice in Italian Opera.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 66 (2013): 709–770.

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Winner of the Einstein Award. Begins from the wildly popular 19th-century opera Sappho , by Giovanni Pacini, and opens out into a broad consideration of improvisation, performance, voice, female creativity, and the role of the composer.

Kallberg, Jeffrey. Chopin at the Boundaries: Sex, History, and Musical Genre . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1996.

Attempts to uncover the elements of Chopin’s compositional style that would have seemed strange to contemporary listeners (but which have become normalized as Chopin’s works achieved their current canonical status).

Kramer, Lawrence. Franz Schubert: Sexuality, Subjectivity, Song . Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1998.

Considers the poetry and text-setting of Schubert’s songs as representations of a wide variety of subject positions, with a particular focus on the ways in which the songs construct and project desire. Chapters on masculinity and on domesticity.

Solie, Ruth A. Music in Other Words: Victorian Conversations . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2004.

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Examines a range of written sources (journalism, novels, religious tracts, teenagers’ diaries, etiquette manuals) to uncover the meanings of music in the Victorian era. Chapters on Beethoven and Schubert; of particular importance for gender studies is the chapter, “‘Girling’ at the Parlor Piano” (pp. 85–117).

The terms “homosexual” and “heterosexual” were first defined around the turn of the 20th century, and it is only during the 20th century that modern identity labels have much relevance for the subjects of historical research. The 20th century also witnessed increased numbers of women composers working in professional and amateur contexts. Wood 1995 considers the conjunction of sexuality and gender in the professional life of Edith Smyth; Wood’s other work is also worthy of mention. Hubbs 2004 presents a radical reconfiguration of American music history, writing about the intertwined personal lives of a group of gay male composers and the ways in which their music came to represent identities at some remove from their own.

Winner of the Philip Brett Award. Considers how the music of a Manhattan-based group of gay male composers—including Aaron Copland, Virgil Thomson, Leonard Bernstein, Marc Blitzstein, Paul Bowles, David Diamond, and Ned Rorem—became associated with a distinctively and widely celebrated “American” sound, even while the homosexual, and in many cases Jewish, identities of these men were erased from the prevalent definitions of “American” nationalism.

Moore, Christopher. “Camp in Francis Poulenc’s Early Ballets.” The Musical Quarterly 95.2–3 (2012): 299–342.

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Winner of the Philip Brett Award. Considers the composer’s sexuality as an important element of his compositional style. Looks at examples of androgyny, cross-dressing, and same-sex desire with Poulenc’s ballets.

Pénet, Martin. “L’expression homosexuelle dans les chansons françaises de l’entre-deux-guerre: Entre derision et ambiguïté.” Revue d’Histoire Moderne et Contemporaine 53 (2006): 106–127.

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Winner of the Philip Brett Award. Examines the music hall repertory of the 1920s and 1930s for references to homosexuality. Notes a distinction between representations of male homosexuality, which tend to be marked by derision, and female homosexuality, which is marked by ambiguity.

Wood, Elizabeth. “Performing Rights: A Sonography of Women’s Suffrage.” The Musical Quarterly 79.4 (1995): 606–643.

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Focuses on the years 1910–1914 and on the contributions of British lesbian composer Ethel Smyth to the cause of women’s suffrage. Considers protest music written by Smyth, including her “March of the Women,” and the militant feminist inspiration of other pieces written by Smyth during the same period.

There have been few attempts to trace music and gender and sexuality over large temporal spans, particularly since one of the important contributions of the field as a whole has been the insistence on historical specificity. An early exception is Drinker 1948 : this work is innovative but largely outdated. Drinker is best read in conjunction with Solie 1993b (cited under Foundational Texts of Feminist Musicology ). Peraino 2006 considers music as a favored means for expressions of non-normative desire.

Ambitious trans-historical and trans-cultural account of women throughout music history. While providing some information on specific female composers, Drinker tends toward anthropological analysis of wider cultural trends, thus considering the roles of women as musical performers and cultural or religious figures.

Peraino, Judith A. Listening to the Sirens: Musical Technologies of Queer Identity from Homer to Hedwig . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2006.

Winner of the Philip Brett Award. Theoretically indebted to Foucault. Considers a wide range of music, most by composers or performers who can be identified as queer in some way, including medieval song, 18th- and 19th-century composers, 20th-century popular musicians, and film musicals. Understands music as a privileged means to express desire.

Voice and Vocal Musics

Voice has a privileged place within studies of gender and sexuality: as a marker of the human, as a gendered secondary sex characteristic, and through association with semantic content in both speech and song. Voice also takes precedence in studies of opera, which in turn has proved a fertile locus of studies in gender and sexuality, primarily as a consequence of the genre’s explicitly representational nature. Within studies of gender and sexuality, opera proved an early point of interest; see Foundational Texts of Opera and Gender or Sexuality . Opera studies and musical theater studies share a focus on communities of listeners, and thus on reception, as well as looking at direct characterizations through music.

The works in this category treat specific musical works or specific historical periods. Brett 1983 and McClary 1992 , both part of the Cambridge Opera Handbooks series, were particularly influential readings of canonical works. Hadlock 2015 (cited under Masculinity Studies ) demonstrates the more flexible categories of recent work in the genre.

André, Naomi. Voicing Gender: Castrati, Travesti, and the Second Woman in Early Nineteenth-Century Opera . Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2006.

Focuses on the historical moment in which castrato voices were fading out of favor and tenor voices rising in prominence. Maps the changes in voice types and gender representation against a shift in operatic or narrative endings.

Brett, Philip. Benjamin Britten: Peter Grimes . Cambridge Opera Handbooks. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1983.

Considers the sexuality of the composer and the way in which sexuality and desire are represented in the opera.

Cowgill, Rachel, and Hilary Poriss, eds. The Arts of the Prima Donna in the Long Nineteenth Century . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Sixteen chapters and two interludes. Covers a range of perspectives, from characterization and representation on stage, representation and interpretation of diva figures offstage, and historical writing on specific female opera stars. The collection as a whole provides an important legitimation of the burgeoning field of writing on performers and on performances of musical works.

McClary, Susan. Georges Bizet: Carmen . Cambridge Opera Handbooks. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 1992.

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Influential text that considers the representation of female desire and desirability.

Wood, Elizabeth. “The Lesbian in the Opera: Desire Unmasked in Smyth’s Fantasio and Fête galante .” In En travesti: Women, Gender Subversion, Opera . Edited by Corinne E. Blackmer and Patricia Juliana Smith, 285–305. New York: Columbia University Press, 1995.

Winner of the Philip Brett Award. The two operas considered in the article ( Fantasio [1894] and Fête galante [1924]) narrate romantic passion within a conventional, heteronormative frame. Wood examines subtle cues and doublings in order to excavate hidden lesbian subtexts.

The broader category of voice studies includes most work on opera; those that are cited here focus more specifically on the voice itself than on a specific genre. Wood 2006 and Wood 2000 are early and influential pieces of writing that think carefully about the various ways in which voices engender emotional responses. Peraino 2007 reads voices in terms of Judith Butler’s theories of performativity. Cheng 2014 considers voices in terms of gender and technology. Cusick 2015 presents a sophisticated historicization of voice and desire. See also the entries under Castrati , most of which deal with voice in some form. Goldin-Perschbacher 2007 and Krell 2013 demonstrate a growing theoretical interest in trans* voices, a rich locus for understanding the intertwined histories of biology, culture, gender, and desire. See also Tongson 2011 (cited under Hispanic and Asian Identities in Relation to Gender and Sexuality ), which discusses the voice and identity in relation to karaoke and the suburbs.

Cheng, Will. “Acoustemologies of the Closet.” In The Oxford Handbook of Virtuality . Edited by Mark Grimshaw, 337–348. Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2014.

Winner of the Philip Brett Award. Examines the use of live voice-chat technology within online first-person shooter games and the gendered implications that voices bring to communities structured around the use of avatars engaged in virtual violence.

Cusick, Suzanne G. “He Said, She Said? Men Hearing Women in Medicean Florence.” In Rethinking Difference in Music Scholarship . Edited by Olivia Bloechl, Melanie Lowe, and Jeffrey Kallberg, 53–76. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

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Close reading of trial documents linked to a 1620 scandal. Considers the ways in which certain voices are preserved in historical documents and how song could function as erotic practice within elite court circles and cloistered spaces. Contextualizes melophilia within an Italian Early Modern context.

Goldin-Perschbacher, Shana. “‘Not with You but of You:’ ‘Unbearable Intimacy’ and Jeff Buckley’s Transgendered Vocality.” In Oh Boy! Masculinities and Popular Music . Edited by Freya Jarman-Ivens, 213–234. New York: Routledge, 2007.

Considers Buckley’s identification with particular female singing voices and the consequences for his singing persona.

Jarman-Ivens, Freya. Queer Voices: Technologies, Vocalities, and the Musical Flaw . London: Palgrave Macmillan, 2011.

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Technology is considered as both material processes and tools and in a more Foucaultian sense as “technologies of power.” Listens for moments when technologies are audible in recorded voices and argues that such moments have queer potential. Understands the voice as a privileged site of identification and dis-identification.

Krell, Elias. “Contours through Covers: Voice and Affect in the Music of Lucas Silveira.” In Special Issue: Trans/Queer . Edited by Karen Tongson and Gustavus Stadler. Journal of Popular Music Studies 25.4 (2013): 476–503.

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Considers the musical covers of out transgender singer Lucas Silveira both before and after he began hormone replacement therapy. Avoids setting up a binary between the two different voices of before and after medical transition. Considers the importance of the cover in relationship to passing, transitioning, gender, sex, identity, and embodiment.

Peraino, Judith A. “Listening to Gender: A Response to Judith Halberstam.” Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 11 (2007): 59–64.

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A response to Judith Halberstam’s article in the same journal issue, “Keeping Time with Lesbians on Ecstasy.” Peraino concentrates on the voice, elaborating a reading of Judith Butler’s theory of gender performativity and vocal production, and discussing the naturalization of various queer voices.

Wood, Elizabeth. “Decomposition.” In Decomposition: Post-Disciplinary Performance . Edited by Sue-Ellen Case, Philip Brett, and Susan Leigh Foster, 201–214. Bloomington: Indiana University Press, 2000.

Beautifully written essay mingling grief about her mother’s death—and the ways in which music had negotiated their fraught relationship—with a sophisticated discussion of lesbian listening, voice, and the singer Kathleen Ferrier.

A sophisticated consideration of the nexus of voice and body, gender and sexuality. Wood focuses on the specifically lesbian erotics of certain forms of music-making and listening in the early 20th century. First published 1994.

Like opera, musical theater combines narrative, music, and directly represented characters—with clear opportunities to analyze gender and desire. In addition, both genres are associated with stereotypically gay audiences. Clum 1999 and Miller 1998 focus on gay male consumption and production of musical theater. Wolf 2002 and Wolf 2011 look specifically at lesbian and feminist audiences. Roger 2010 provides a historical ethnography of cross-dressing in variety theater during the 19th century.

Clum, John M. Something for the Boys: Musical Theatre and Gay Culture . New York: St. Martin’s, 1999.

Structured as a historical narrative. Considers the question of why musicals have proven so appealing for certain sectors of the gay male community.

Miller, D. A. Place for Us: Essay on the Broadway Musical . Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1998.

Considers the various points of reception at which Broadway musicals interacted with gay male subcultures: the cast recording, listened to at home; songs performed in gay bars, both piano bars and in disco; live performances in the theater.

Roger, Gillian M. Champagne Charlie and Pretty Jemima: Variety Theatre in the Nineteenth Century . Champaign: University of Illinois Press, 2010.

Traces the trajectory of variety theater from deliberately bawdy to family friendly, with a focus on the classed and raced dynamics of performance, as well as the gendered representations found on the stage. Looks particularly at the careers of male impersonators.

Wolf, Stacy. A Problem Like Maria: Gender and Sexuality in the American Musical . Ann Arbor: University of Michigan Press, 2002.

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Focuses on the “Golden Age” of mid-20th-century musicals and particularly on four female performers (Mary Martin, Ethel Merman, Julie Andrews, and Barbara Streisand). Considers the appeal of musicals for lesbian and feminist audiences.

Wolf, Stacy. Changed for Good: A Feminist History of the Broadway Musical . New York: Oxford University Press, 2011.

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Interprets the Broadway musical in relationship to changing norms of gender and sexuality, dividing the narrative in terms of pre-feminist, feminist, and post-feminist North American culture. Also looks at the genre’s female fan base.

Wollman, Elizabeth L. Hard Times: The Adult Musical in 1970s New York City . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2012.

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Winner of the Philip Brett Award. Considers the specific genre of the “adult” musical, which showcased sexually suggestive skits in an updated variety format. Places the adult musical within sexual revolution, as well as considering the feminist and queer political implications of the genre.

Violence, including sexual violence, is a heavily gendered practice, and much of the growing literature on music and violence utilizes gender and sexuality as crucial intellectual rubrics. Cusick has been a very public face of work on music and violence; the work cited here— Cusick 2008 —is the first published forum in which she elaborates the link between musical violence and gendered hierarchies of power. McDonald 2010 looks at the ways in which violence can be valorized or normalized through musical performance. Pilzer 2012 , Greitzer 2013 , and Johnson 2015 all deal with sexual assault from the perspective of the victim, and with various musical responses to assault and to trauma.

Cusick, Suzanne G. “‘You are in a place that is out of the world’: Music in the Detention Camps of the ‘Global War on Terror.’” Journal of the Society for American Music 2.1 (2008): 1–26.

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Builds upon her earlier work, “Music as Torture/Music as Weapon” (2006), not cited in this bibliography. Outlines the various ways in which “loud music” has been used as a coercive force in American-run detention camps. Discusses how music in such circumstances works in tandem with “gender coercion” in order to deconstruct the subjectivities of detainees.

Greitzer, Mary Lee. “Queer Responses to Sexual Trauma: The Voices of Tori Amos’s ‘Me and a Gun’ and Lydia Lunch’s Daddy Dearest .” Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 17 (2013): 1–26.

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Considers the narrative personas of two very different songs, both about sexual assault, and both sung by the author/composer. Looks at the timbre of the voice and the ways in which both texts express multifaceted perspectives on the trauma and on the response of the victim.

Johnson, Jenny Olivia. “The Sounds That Know: Synaesthesia, Sexual Trauma, and a Musicological Confession.” In Special Issue in Honor of Suzanne G. Cusick . Edited by Emily Wilbourne. Women & Music: A Journal of Gender and Culture 19 (2015): 133–141.

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Most recent in a series of articles in which the author considers the relationship between musical synaesthesia and sexual violence.

McDonald, David A. “Geographies of the Body: Music, Violence, and Manhood in Palestine.” Ethnomusicology Forum 19.2 (2010): 191–214.

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Considers the way in which music and other forms of expressive culture help to normalize the conjunction of violence, physicality, and masculinity within Palestinian culture. Focuses on music from weddings.

Pilzer, Joshua D. Hearts of Pine: Songs in the Lives of Three Korean Survivors of the Japanese “Comfort Women.” New York: Oxford University Press, 2012.

Intimate portrait of three survivors of the sexual-slavery system known as the “Comfort Women.” Documents how music and song served as mechanisms for coping with sexual violence and as an expressive format for the women concerned, both during years of secrecy and during intervals of public protest.

The study of masculinity marks an important component of the transition from “women’s studies” to “gender studies.” In music scholarship, such work can be seen as emblematic essays in a large number of the Edited Collections , but has only recently begun to appear in less targeted venues. Walser 1993 is emblematic of early approaches. Meintjes 2004 has been particularly influential. Wistreich 2007 is an important historicization of masculinity and performance. Hadlock 2015 shows how questions about masculinity can deepen an understanding of characterization.

Biddle, Ian, and Kirsten Gibson, eds. Masculinity and Western Musical Practice . Burlington, VT: Ashgate, 2008.

Twelve contributions divided into three sections, each with an introduction by the editors: Effeminate and Virile Musics and Masculinities; National Masculinities, National Musics; and Identities, Voices, Discourses. Repertoires range from the medieval to the 20th century, though most articles focus on canonical pieces and time periods.

Hadlock, Heather. “Different Masculinities: Androgyny, Effeminacy, and Sentiment in Rossini’s La donna del lago .” In Rethinking Difference in Music Scholarship . Edited by Olivia Bloechl, Melanie Lowe, and Jeffrey Kallberg, 170–213. Cambridge, UK: Cambridge University Press, 2015.

DOI: 10.1017/CBO9781139208451.006 Save Citation » Export Citation » Share Citation »

Reads the various male characterizations in Rossini’s La donna del lago as part of a spectrum of masculinities: both destabilizing and historicizing the category of maleness.

Meintjes, Lousie. “Shoot the Sergeant, Shatter the Mountain: The Production of Masculinity in Zulu Ngoma Song and Dance in Post-Apartheid South Africa.” Ethnomusicology Forum 13.2 (2004): 173–201.

DOI: 10.1080/1741191042000286185 Save Citation » Export Citation » Share Citation »

Theorizes the way in which aesthetically powerful and thus masculine elements of the dance translate into political power. Situates her reading in terms of the body as situated within gender and state politics.

Spiller, Henry. Erotic Triangles: Sudanese Dance and Masculinity in West Java . Chicago: University of Chicago Press, 2010.

DOI: 10.7208/chicago/9780226769608.001.0001 Save Citation » Export Citation » Share Citation »

The triangle of the book’s title refers to three elements of male dancing: the female entertainer, the drum, and the freedom experienced by men during the dance. Argues that such dances allow men to literally perform their masculinity, both challenging and reinforcing gender stereotypes.

Walser, Robert. “Forging Masculinity: Heavy Metal Sounds and Images of Gender.” In Running with the Devil: Power, Gender, and Madness in Heavy Metal Music . By Robert Walser, 108–136. Hanover, NH: University Press of New England, 1993.

Considers the spectacular nature of performance itself as part of the visual heavy metal aesthetic, with a particular focus on music videos. Discusses virtuosic performance, violence, and androgyny in relationship to constructions of masculinity.

Wistreich, Richard. Warrior, Courtier, Singer: Giulio Cesare Brancaccio and the Performance of Identity in the Late Renaissance . Aldershot, UK: Ashgate, 2007.

Brancaccio was a soldier and a singer, best known to musicologists for his participation in the famous Ferrarese ensemble of the Concerto delle donne. Wistreich considers Bracaccio’s reluctance to perform on demand and the conflict that arose between Brancaccio’s sense of self and the priorities of his patron.

Yoon, Paul J. “Asian Masculinities and Parodic Possibility in Odaiko Solos and Filmic Representations.” Asian Music 40.1 (2009): 100–130.

Considers Asian and Asian American stereotypes of masculinity and the flow of representations between the two continents. Looks specifically at solo male performances on the Odaiko and filmic representations of Asian male bodies.

As with Western art music, Western popular music from the 20th and 21st centuries coincides with relatively coherent variants of sexual identities as they remain current today. The almost exclusive focus of popular music lyrics on desire and on love makes the repertoire a rich resource for writers on gender and sexuality. The historical currency of musical communities and recent popular music means that work in this category frequently employs interviews and a focus on ethnographic methodologies. A number of edited collections address popular music repertoires and interested readers should consult the Edited Collections in addition to those cited here. Gill 1995 is predominantly journalistic rather than scholarly. Keightley 1996 and McCracken 1999 deal with historicized models of gender and sexuality as articulated through new technologies of musical production: hi-fi and radio song, respectively. Leibetseder 2012 and Taylor 2012 aim at a monolithic encapsulation but are better read in tandem with more multifaceted approaches. Barg 2013 and Hubbs 2014 demonstrate the turn toward intersectional scholarship—Barg reading race and sexuality, Hubbs dealing with class and sexuality.

Barg, Lisa. “Queer Encounters in the Music of Billy Strayhorn.” Journal of the American Musicological Society 66 (2013): 771–824.

DOI: 10.1525/jams.2013.66.3.771 Save Citation » Export Citation » Share Citation »

Winner of the Philip Brett Award. Situates Strayhorn within the history of African American gay cultural production, through a focus on two midcentury works composed or arranged by Strayhorn.

Gill, John. Queer Noises: Male and Female Homosexuality in Twentieth-Century Music . Minneapolis: University of Minnesota Press, 1995.

Written by a British music critic, the text presents a survey of musical contributions made by musicians who were or are openly gay. Most of the material concerns popular music or jazz; however, Cage, the avant-garde, modern opera, and punk are also mentioned.

Hubbs, Nadine. Rednecks, Queers, and Country Music . Berkeley: University of California Press, 2014.

DOI: 10.1525/california/9780520280656.001.0001 Save Citation » Export Citation » Share Citation »

Theorizes country music and queerness within a rural, North American context that is attentive to working-class values. Argues that the middle-class, urban biases of most queer theory and of widely accepted narratives of queer visibility marginalize and conceal alternative structures of queer community.

Keightley, Keir. “‘Turn it down!’ she shrieked: Gender, Domestic Space, and High Fidelity, 1948–59.” Popular Music 15.2 (1996): 149–177.

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An analysis of popular press writings and advertisements from certain US publications at midcentury. Argues that many white, middle-class men viewed hi-fi technology as a means to reclaim domestic space from women.

Leibetseder, Doris. Queer Tracks: Subversive Strategies in Rock and Pop Music . Translated by Rebecca Carbery. Surrey, UK: Ashgate, 2012.

Translated from the German. An ambitious project to theorize alternatives to mainstream narratives of desire and musical consumption. Organized by theoretical concepts such as Irony, Parody, Camp, etc. Includes a chapter on trans*. Tone is simultaneously chatty and heavily theoretical.

McCracken, Allison. “‘God’s gift to us girls’: Crooning, Gender, and the Re-creation of the American Popular Song, 1928–1933.” American Music 17.4 (1999): 365–395.

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Looks at the popularity of radio crooners during the 1920s and 1930s and the way in which certain singers were desired through their voices and through their songs.

Randall, Annie Janeiro. Dusty! Queen of the Postmods . Oxford: Oxford University Press, 2008.

Winner of the Philip Brett Award. Considers Dusty Springfield, and particularly the years 1964 to 1968, within the context of voice, race, gender, and sexuality.

Taylor, Jodie. Playing It Queer: Popular Music, Identity and Queer World Making . Bern, Switzerland: Peter Lang, 2012.

DOI: 10.3726/978-3-0351-0420-2 Save Citation » Export Citation » Share Citation »

Ethnography of local queer performance scenes in Australia. Includes long sections of exegesis and literature survey useful for relative newcomers to the field of gender and sexuality.

Tucker, Sherrie. Swing Shift: “All-Girl” Bands of the 1940s . Durham, NC: Duke University Press, 2000.

DOI: 10.1215/9780822380900 Save Citation » Export Citation » Share Citation »

Combines archival research and exhaustive interviews to shed new light on the popularity and large numbers of all-girl bands during the Second World War.

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essay about female sexuality

Sheridan Le Fanu

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Carmilla , a tale of a female vampire who preys on young women, centers on the anxieties associated with female sexuality. Le Fanu was one of the first writers to depict a female vampire, and he consistently associates vampirism with eroticism. The disguised vampire Carmilla ’s longing for Laura is primarily sexual, and her craving for the blood of young women suggests that female sexual desire—particularly homosexual desire—is inherently threatening. Despite that Carmilla frames female sexuality as negative, the mere fact that Le Fanu acknowledges the existence of female sexuality is a divergence from the traditional gender roles of the time period, which often prevented women from demonstrating any sort of sexual desire.

Le Fanu emphasizes the sexual nature of Carmilla’s attraction to Laura even more than the vampire’s violent nature, as it is her “looks” that “won” Laura over. This asks the reader to see an intimate connection between vampirism and sexuality. Laura’s first encounter with Carmilla, which occurs twelve years before the main plot, sets this relationship up. Laura dreams of a young woman who crawls into bed with her, who “caressed” her, an act that soothed rather than frightened her. Years later, Carmilla engages in similar behavior, crawling into bed with Laura and treating Laura like her possession. Carmilla’s behavior resembles that of a passionate lover, though she never outright says that she sees Laura as anything more than a friend. While Laura has conflicting emotions for Carmilla, she can’t deny that she is fascinated by Carmilla and wishes to be close to her, feeling an intense physical response to Carmilla that certainly indicates an attraction.

Laura’s simultaneous attraction to and fear of Carmilla relates to the fact that Carmilla is free from the control of men. While she is with Carmilla, Laura is allowed to exist within a world that is not entirely controlled by men, which causes her to respond both physically and emotionally to Carmilla’s temptation. When Carmilla first arrives, Laura, confused by her guest’s displays of affection, wonders if perhaps Carmilla is a male suitor in disguise. The only way she can understand Carmilla’s desire is by believing that she might be a man, which shows the extent to which female sexuality was repressed. Not only does Carmilla experience sexual freedom, but she also has earned physical freedom from men by consistently escaping capture by the men who seek to destroy her. As a result, she never needs to conform to typical expectations—her permanent youth, and the presence of only her mother , ensures that she never needs to marry or rely on any man.

Laura’s feelings for Carmilla grow into both “adoration” and “abhorrence,” a “paradox” which reflects the uncertainty she feels towards sexual freedom. Le Fanu is explicit that Laura’s escalating illness is sexual in nature, and that Laura can only be “cured” once the source of her illness, Carmilla (and, specifically, the attraction they both feel for one another) has been eliminated. The illness comes to Laura in a female form, and she is overcome with “strange” sensations that both frighten and fascinate her. The result of these sexual encounters is shown to be deadly. Despite that Le Fanu defies gender norms by depicting female desire, he ultimately restores traditional norms by showing female desire as dangerous, and by making men—who are otherwise pushed to the fringes of the story—defeat Carmilla. Thus, as is traditional, men are the heroes who defeat the dangerous, erotic woman. At the end of the book, Laura’s father travels with her around Italy in an attempt to “cure” her, thereby placing her back within the norms that she escaped through her relationship with Carmilla. However, Laura is not wholly cured; it seems that she no longer wishes to be placed within a masculine narrative now that she has experienced the freedom that Carmilla gave her.

This complicated ending embodies the ambiguity about gender norms at the heart of Carmilla. On the one hand, it seems that Le Fanu is advocating for a degree of gender equality, implying that women have the potential to be just as evil and sexual as men. Furthermore, Le Fanu doesn’t wholeheartedly condemn lesbianism, despite the prejudices of the time. Since Laura doesn’t want to escape the consequences of her relationship with Carmilla, it seems that the relationship has been, in some way, freeing and liberating to her. However, Carmilla’s sexuality is still shown to be dangerous (as shown by Laura’s illness) and worthy of punishment, evident in Carmilla’s eventual defeat. Overall, then, the book takes no simple moralistic attitude towards gender and sexuality, challenging some norms and beliefs while upholding others.

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Women and Sexuality Quotes in Carmilla

The first occurrence in my existence, which produced a terrible impression upon my mind, which, in fact, never has been effaced, was one of the very earliest incidents of my life which I can recollect….I saw a solemn, but very pretty face looking at me from the side of the bed. It was that of a young lady who was kneeling, with her hands under the coverlet. I looked at her with a kind of pleased wonder, and ceased whimpering. She caressed me with her hands, and lay down beside me on the bed, and drew me towards her….I was now for the first time frightened.

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“Before then I had no idea of her danger. I have lost her, and now learn all, too late. She died in the peace of innocence, and in the glorious hope of a blessed futurity. The fiend who betrayed our infatuated hospitality has done it all. I thought I was receiving into my house gaiety, a charming companion for my lost Bertha. Heavens! what a fool have I been!”

essay about female sexuality

I saw the very face which had visited me in my childhood at night, which remained so fixed in my memory, and on which I had for so many years often ruminated with horror, when no one suspected of what I was thinking.

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“If you were less pretty I think I should be very afraid of you, but being as you are, and you and I both so young, I feel only that I have made your acquaintance twelve years ago, and have already a right to your intimacy; at all events it does seem as if we were destined, from our earliest childhood, to be friends. I wonder whether you feel as strangely drawn towards me as I do to you…”

In these mysterious moods I did not like her. I experienced a strange tumultuous excitement that was pleasurable, ever and anon, mingled with a vague sense of fear and disgust. I had no distinct thought about her while such scenes lasted, but I was conscious of a love growing into adoration, and also of abhorrence. This I know is paradox, but I can make no other attempt to explain the feeling.

Sometimes after an hour of apathy, my strange and beautiful companion would take my hand and hold it with a fond pressure, renewed again and again; blushing softly, gazing in my face with languid and burning eyes, and breathing so fast that her dress rose and fell with the tumultuous respiration. It was like the ardor of a lover; it embarrassed me; it was hateful and yet over-powering; and with gloating eyes she drew me to her…” You are mine, you shall be mine, you and I are one forever.”

“I have been in love with no one, and never shall,” she whispered, “unless it should be with you.” … I live in you; and you would die for me, I love you so.”

“The time is very near when you shall know everything. You will think me cruel, very selfish, but love is always selfish; the more ardent the more selfish. How jealous I am you cannot know. You must come with me, loving me, to death; or else hate me and still come with me, and hating me through death and after. There is no such word as indifference in my apathetic nature.”

“Love will have its sacrifices. No sacrifice without blood.”

It would be vain my attempting to tell you the horror with which, even now, I recall the occurrence of that night. It was no such transitory terror as a dream leaves behind it. It seemed to deepen by time, and communicated itself to the room and the very furniture that had encompassed the apparition.

For some nights I slept profoundly; but still every morning I felt the same lassitude, and a languor weighed upon me all day. I felt myself a changed girl. A strange melancholy was stealing over me, a melancholy that I would not have interrupted. Dim thoughts of death began to open, and an idea that I was slowly sinking took gentle, and, somehow, not unwelcome, possession of me…Whatever it might be, my soul acquiesced to it.

….and of having spoken to people whom I could not see; and especially of one clear voice, of a female’s, very deep, that spoke as if at a distance, slowly, and producing always the same sensation of indescribable solemnity and fear…Sometimes it was as if warm lips kissed me, and longer and longer and more lovingly as they reached my throat, but there the caress fixed itself.

Its horrible lust for living blood supplies the vigor of its waking existence. The vampire is prone to become fascinated with an engrossing vehemence, resembling the passion of love, by particular persons. In pursuit of these it will exercise inexhaustible patience and stratagem, for access to a particular object may be obstructed in a hundred different ways. It will never desist until it has satiated its passion, and drained the very life of its coveted victims…. In these cases it seems to yearn for something like sympathy and consent.

The following Spring my father took me a tour through Italy. We remained away for more than a year. It was long before the terror of recent events subsided; and to this hour the image of Carmilla returns to memory with ambiguous alternations—sometimes the playful, languid, beautiful girl; sometimes the writhing fiend I saw in the ruined church; and often from a reverie I have started, fancying I heard the light step of Carmilla at the drawing room door.

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Unpacking 5 truths about equality in sexual and reproductive health and rights today

Two women look towards the reader, their heads close.

  • 16 April 2024

UNITED NATIONS, New York – Over the past 30 years, global commitments to sexual and reproductive health and rights have made remarkable advances: Maternal death rates have dropped by almost a third, the number of women using modern contraception has doubled and more than 160 countries have passed laws against domestic violence.

A new report by UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and reproductive health agency, traces the path that led to this progress and empowered millions with increased freedom and autonomy. But it also lays bare how little these improvements have affected the world’s poorest and most marginalized, for whom rights and choices remain largely out of reach.

These disparate realities are driven by inequality and discrimination, often hidden within our health systems and economic, social and political institutions. Achieving equity, then, requires exposing inequalities so that inclusive solutions can be imagined and implemented.

Below, read about where and how inequality shows up in our societies, lifting some communities up while pushing others behind – and about what can be done to counteract it and ensure a peaceful, prosperous future for all.

1. Inequalities in sexual and reproductive health and rights are everywhere .

Sketch drawing of a midwife tending to a pregnant woman on a bed.

In Ashgabat, Turkmenistan, Alia* and her husband were told that it was “undesirable” for them to have a baby. The reason? They were both blind.

Women and girls with disabilities often face discrimination when it comes to sexual and reproductive health, limited access to services and exclusion from comprehensive sexuality education. Some are even forcibly sterilized.

The particular challenges Alia and other women with disabilities face during pregnancy and childbirth reinforce one of the report’s main themes: That access to health and rights vary greatly from one region, country and person to another.

Disability status represents just one facet of identity that affects the right to health. Geography is another, with women in Africa around 130 times more likely to die from pregnancy complications than women in Europe. And as for women and girls from ethnic minorities, disparities in health-care access were found in all countries surveyed for UNFPA’s report.

Sketch drawing of a woman seated at a weaving loom.

2. Progress on sexual and reproductive health for all is stalling, and by many counts, unravelling.

For nearly 20 years, the global annual reduction in maternal deaths has been zero – meaning there has been no progress. Meanwhile, one quarter of women today report not being able to say no to sex with their husband or partner.

This means that despite investments, advocacy and rafts of legislation, women’s ability to exercise decision-making over their own bodies is diminishing. And while barriers to health have fallen quickly for the most privileged, they are standing firm for the most disadvantaged.

“Even in better-off countries, maternal death rates are higher among communities that continue to confront racial and other prejudices in everyday life,” UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem said in her World Health Day statement . “We can and must do better.”

Sketch drawing of three women holding banners protesting their reproductive rights.

3. Sexual and reproductive health and rights are being politicized – and opinions polarized.

As half the world goes to the polls this year, many leaders have decided to base their political strategies on sowing division.

Anxieties over migration as well as low- and high-fertility rates are being weaponized by some policymakers to strike down sexual and reproductive health and rights agreements. Meanwhile others are making their legal systems less equitable by decriminalizing female genital mutilation or restricting the rights of LGBTQIA+ people, for instance.

Harmful stereotypes about women, girls and people with diverse sexual orientations and gender identities are too often peddled to justify gender inequality and homophobia, with dangerous consequences. As Efram*, a refugee from Syria who was struggling to access sexual health care in a new country, explained to UNFPA: “I can’t tell anyone that I’m gay because of the stigma. We are not recognized, and we don’t have any kind of rights”.

Sketch drawing of one hiker helping another to cross a rocky pass.

4.But there is hope: Where inequalities exist, community leaders are helping to bridge gaps in services.

Gender inequality, racial discrimination and misinformation are deeply embedded in many health systems: UNFPA research has found that in the Americas, Afrodescendent women are more likely to die during childbirth due in part to racist abuse in the health sector.

For these reasons and others – including cost and distance to facilities – Afrodescendent women may avoid going to hospitals for health care. “It wasn’t the environment I wanted,” Shirley Maturana Obregón from Colombia told UNFPA about her birth plan.

Instead, she delivered with a partera, a traditional birth attendant and practitioner of knowledge ancestral to Colombia’s Afrodescendent community.

Parteras provide culturally sensitive care among Colombian communities that remain largely disconnected from the country’s formal health system – and for whom getting to a doctor can require expensive travel across hazardous, conflict-affected terrain.

Ms. Maturana Obregón said her delivery with a partera was beautiful and unforgettable; she later became a traditional birth attendant herself. “We are there, making women’s dreams come true,” she said.

Sketch drawing of four women weaving on round looms.

5. Progress is achievable, but we must reject division and embrace collaboration.

UNFPA’s report shows above all that we cannot divide and conquer on our way to ensuring universal health and rights. Rather, we must find political consensus, tailor solutions to communities and mobilize urgent funding to achieve our aims.

Grassroots leaders are essential to this work: Sarah Sy Savané, who advocates against female genital mutilation and child marriage in Côte d’Ivoire, says programmes aimed at eliminating harmful practices are designed by people working in the communities they target. “Safe spaces, husbands’ clubs and other interventions are making a real difference, shining a light where young girls thought they had no rights,” she told UNFPA.

Initiatives like these have tangible impacts, but they need more support. Spending an additional $79 billion in low- and middle-income countries by 2030 would avert 400 million unplanned pregnancies, save 1 million lives and generate $660 billion in economic benefits. Training more midwives could also prevent about 40 per cent of maternal and neonatal deaths and over a quarter of stillbirths. 

Funding saves lives, while a lack of investment endangers them.

The truth is that inequality is everywhere we look – and once its devastating consequences have been revealed, they cannot be unseen. As UNFPA Executive Director Dr. Natalia Kanem said, “We have every reason to act – for human rights, for gender equality, for justice and for the world’s bottom line.

There is only one way to achieve a future of dignity and rights for all: By working together.”

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Human Sexuality, Essay Example

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Human sexuality is the way in which one experience and express themselves as sexual beings. There are many factors that help develop ones sexuality. Gender is one of the most important factors. Whether, someone is male or female will likely have a major influence on the development of their individual sexuality. Furthermore, sexuality is an integral part of ones personalities whether they are aware of it or not. (Ludwin)

An individual’s behavior in it relationship or marriage is often attributed to positive as well as negative actions and reactions of a partner. It is understood that happy and well-adjusted couples are able to engage in what are known as relationship-enhancing attributions. Couples who are unable to communicate, or those who are generally unhappy tend to engage in distress-maintaining attributions.(Human Sexuality,chpt 3)

In the book Dual Attraction Understanding Bisexuality the authors state “Men and women experience bisexuality in different ways…. For men it is easier to have sex with another man as opposed to falling in love with another man…for women it is easier to fall in love.” They went on to say both bisexual men and women seem to share the same traditional ideas about gender for example for men it is more physical and for women it is more intimate. The basis for the dual attraction being each gender has something different to offer.(Dual Attraction, pg 7)

STDs are infections you can get through having oral, anal or vaginal sex with an infected partner. An individual can become infected with more than one STD at a time. It is unlikely that STDs can be transmitted from inanimate objects other than sex toys—an object has to have fresh and wet with contaminated body fluid on it

(WEB STD Services).

Along with popular methods like the Pill and condoms, contraceptive options include intrauterine devices, diaphragms, and the transdermal patch, to name a few.

Many forms of birth control do not protect you from STDs. The Pill, for example, while a very effective method of birth control, does not protect against STDs, and may include side effects. Yet the benefits of taking the Pill include protection against acne and PMS symptoms, and reducing the risk to certain cancers. (Healthline Editorial Team)

Healthline Editorial Team (2012) Involve your Partner. Retrieved from website: http://www.healthline.com/health/emergencycontraception/birthcontrolptions?utm_account=EF&utm_medium=google&utm_semcampaign=Emergency+Contraception+%5BFertility%5D++ROC&utm_adgroup=Emergency+Contraception+Sitelinks&utm_match=Broad&utm_query=%2Bbirth%20%2Bcontrol&utm_term=Birth+Control+Options&utm_content=8714217656&utm_source=google&marinid=sdcrxeBP1&gclid=CNnD_PKp768CFQc4nAodN2MZWQ

Ludwin,Molina(1999)Human Sexuality, California State Universaty, Article

Parks, LCSW,Lance J. (2012)Human Sexuality.Retrieved from website: https://www.speedyceus.com/ceus-courses/material_detail/208/

Sexually Transmitted Diseases Services (2012) Retrieved from website: http://www.stdservices.on.net/std/definition.htm

Weinberg,Martin S. , Williams,Colin J. , Pryor,Douglas W. (1994) Dual Attraction Understanding Bisexuality

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Esther Perel on What the Other Woman Knows

The relationship expert reads one of the most controversial modern love essays ever published..

This transcript was created using speech recognition software. While it has been reviewed by human transcribers, it may contain errors. Please review the episode audio before quoting from this transcript and email [email protected] with any questions.


From “The New York Times,” I’m Anna Martin. This is “Modern Love.” Today, I’m talking to the most famous couples therapist in the world, Esther Perel. Esther’s books, “Mating in Captivity” and “State of Affairs,” have forced so many of us, myself included, to rethink our assumptions about love. Like maybe it’s unrealistic to expect the passion and fire we feel at the beginning of a relationship to last forever. And when one partner cheats on the other, what if it could actually bring the couple closer, instead of tearing them apart?

On her podcast, “Where Should We Begin,” Esther lets us eavesdrop on sessions with real couples. People come to her with impossible problems, and she somehow guides them to a breakthrough. She gives them hope. When I listen to Esther’s podcast, I feel like I’m getting a free therapy session, so I wasn’t surprised in the slightest when she told me that people come up to her in public all the time and ask her deeply personal questions.

The grocery store is one place, but airplanes is even better.

Oh, no, Esther. If I were you, I’d be really scared to fly.

[LAUGHS]: They’re suspended in the air, and they tell you lots of things. And it is often about, can trust be repaired when it’s been broken? Can you bring a spark back when it’s gone? Can you rekindle desire when it’s been dormant for so long? What do you do when you’re angry at yourself for having stayed when you think you should have left? Or what do you do when you’re angry at yourself when you’ve left and now you think you should have stayed?

You’re like, I’m just at the grocery store, man. I need to check out.

Clearly, people are struggling so much to be happy in long-term relationships that they’re cornering this woman basically everywhere she goes. And these things people ask Esther about, they’re exactly the kinds of high-stakes, make-or-break questions that come up in the essay she chose for our show today. It’s called “What Sleeping with Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity,” by Karin Jones.

Karin’s essay was one of the most controversial pieces ever published in the history of the “Modern Love” column. But when it comes to talking about sex and relationships, nothing is too taboo for Esther.

Esther Perel, welcome to “Modern Love.”

It’s a pleasure to be here.

So you’re going to read Karin Jones’s “Modern Love” essay. We’re going to talk all about infidelity. But before we get into that, I learned something about you that I need to know more about. You are fluent in nine languages. And you conduct therapy in seven of them? Is that true?

Yes. So I grew up in Belgium, in the Flemish part of Belgium, and I was educated in Flemish for 12 years. But we also spoke French and German and Polish and Yiddish at home.

So we had five languages in the house. And then I studied Spanish, Portuguese, Hebrew, and English. That comes to nine.

Would you ever do one more just to bring it to a solid 10?

I always wanted to study Arabic.

OK, in your free time, in your ample free time.

Are there certain languages that have better vocabulary for talking about the nuances of love and relationships than others?

That is a very difficult question to answer because my love language, the language in which I learned poetry, songs, novels, et cetera, was primarily French. And so, of course, I would say French. But that may be because I was inducted in it, rather than the language itself. What I can say is that certain cultures are more fluent in the language of feelings, love, relationships, and desire and sexuality than maybe English or Anglo cultures that are more pragmatic, more practical.

I think in therapy, sometimes, I find that there is certain cultures that allow me to speak differently about death, differently about the relationship of the individual to the collective. What I will say is this. In a therapy session, if a person tells me something and it needs to be said in his own language, I will ask them to translate it and to say it in their mother tongue, because you hear instantly the difference, the tone, the timber, the tremble.

And I know it. It’s like, I don’t even have to understand what they’re saying. I know that there is an authenticity and a truth to it that is very different. Sometimes, afterwards, I say, what did you say? But sometimes, I don’t even need to. I know when they say, “I feel alone,” “I ache for you,” “I miss you,” “where have you gone,” “I can’t forget you.” You don’t really need to understand the words to understand the effect.

Esther, the “Modern Love” essay you’re going to read for us today tackles a topic that I bet is very hard to talk about in almost any language. It’s called “What Sleeping with Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity” by Karin Jones. The author Karin is recently divorced, and she becomes the other woman to several men.

When I read that title, I kind of expect this story is going to be about all the sex she’s having or the secrets or how they’re hiding it. But you’ve worked with so many couples who are in the throes of dealing with cheating. So what does the word “infidelity” signal to you?

I wrote a book about infidelity. So I will say that one of my attempts in writing this book was to translate in writing the complexity of this experience that can be so shattering, that can fracture a family and an entire legacy. It needs more than just good, bad, victim, perpetrator, villain, saint. That there’s too much happening and for too many people that are involved to try to reduce it.

Infidelity is often about a lot of things, but sex. It’s about betrayal. It’s about violation of trust. It’s about lying. It’s about duplicity. It’s about deception. And sex is a piece of this, but that is not necessarily the only thing.

Oof. Esther, I am so excited to hear you read this. Whenever you’re ready.

OK. “What Sleeping with Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity” by Karin Jones.

“I’m not sure it’s possible to justify my liaison with married men, but what I learned from having them warrants discussion. Not between the wives and me, though I would be interested to hear their side. No, this discussion should happen between wives and husbands annually, the way we inspect the tire tread on the family car to avoid accidents.

A few years ago, while living in London, I dated married men for companionship while I processed the grief of being newly divorced.

When I created a profile on Tinder and on OkCupid saying I was looking for no strings attached encounters, plenty of single men messaged me, and I got together with several of them. But many married men messaged me, too.

After being married for 23 years, I wanted sex, but not a relationship. This is dicey because you can’t always control emotional attachments when body chemicals mix. But with the married man, I guess that the fact that they had wives, children, and mortgages would keep them from going overboard with their affections. And I was right. They didn’t get overly attached, and neither did I. We were safe bets for each other.

I was careful about the men I met. I wanted to make sure they had no interest in leaving their wives or otherwise threatening all they had built together. In a couple of cases, the men I met were married to women who had become disabled and could no longer be sexual, but the husbands remained devoted to them.

All told, I communicated with maybe a dozen men during that time in my life. I had sex with fewer than half. Others, I texted or talked with, which sometimes felt nearly as intimate. Before I met each man, I would ask, why are you doing this? I wanted assurance that all he desired was sex. What surprised me was that these husbands weren’t looking to have more sex. They were looking to have any sex.

I met one man whose wife had implicitly consented to her husband having a lover because she was no longer interested in sex at all. They both, to some degree, got what they needed without having to give up what they wanted. But the other husbands I met would have preferred to be having sex with their wives, and for whatever reason, that wasn’t happening.

I know what it feels like to go off sex, and I know what it’s like to want more than my partner. It’s also a tall order to have sex with the same person for more years than our ancestors ever hoped to live. Then, at menopause, a woman’s hormones suddenly drop, and her desire can wane. At 49, I was just about there myself and terrified of losing my desire for sex. Men don’t have this drastic change, so we have an imbalance, an elephant-sized problem so burdensome and shameful, we can scarcely muster the strength to talk about it.

If you read the work of Esther Perel, the author of the book ‘State of Affairs,’ you’ll learn that for many wives, sex outside of marriage is their way of breaking free from being the responsible spouses and mothers they have to be at home. Married sex for them often feels obligatory. An affair is adventure. Meanwhile, the husbands I spent time with would have been fine with obligatory sex. For them, adventure was not the main reason for their adultery.

The first time I saw my favorite married man pick up his pint of beer, the sleeve of his well-tailored suit pulled back from his wrist to reveal a geometric kaleidoscope of tattoos. He was clean shaven and well-mannered with a little rebel yell underneath. The night I saw the full canvas of his tattoo masterpiece, we drank prosecco, listened to ‘80s music, and, yes, had sex.

We also talked. I asked him, what if you said to your wife, look, I love you and the kids, but I need sex in my life? Can I just have the occasional fling or a casual affair? He sighed. If I asked her that kind of question, it would kill her, he said. So you don’t want to hurt her, but you lie to her instead? Personally, I’d rather know, I said.

It’s not necessarily a lie if you don’t confess the truth. It’s kind of to stay silent, he said. I’m just saying I couldn’t do that. I don’t want to be afraid of talking honestly about my sex life with the man I’m married to, and that includes being able to at least raise the subject of sex outside of marriage, I said. Good luck with that, he said.

I never convinced any husband that he can be honest about what he was doing, but they were mostly good-natured about it, like a patient father responding to a child who keeps asking why, why, why. Maybe I was being too pragmatic about the issues that are loaded with guilt, resentment, and fear. After all, it’s far easier to talk theoretically about marriage than to navigate it.

But my attitude is that if my spouse were to need something I couldn’t give him, I wouldn’t keep him from getting it elsewhere, as long as he did so in a way that didn’t endanger our family. I suppose I would hope his needs would involve fishing trips or beers with friends, but sex is basic.

Physical intimacy with other human beings is essential to our health and well-being. So how do we deny such a need to the one that we care about most? If our primary relationship nourishes and stabilizes us, but lacks intimacy, we shouldn’t have to destroy our marriage to get that intimacy somewhere else. Should we?

I didn’t have a full-on affair with the tattooed husband. We slept together maybe four times over a few years. More often, we talked on the phone. After our second night together, though, I could tell this was about more than sex for him. He was desperate for affection. He said he wanted to be close to his wife, but couldn’t because they were unable to get past their fundamental disconnect — lack of sex. That led to a lack of closeness, which made sex even less likely, and then turned into resentment and blame.

I’m not saying the answer is non-monogamy. That can be rife with risks and unintended entanglements. I believe the answer is honesty and dialogue, no matter how frightening. Lack of sex in marriage is common, and it shouldn’t lead to shame and silence. By the same token, an affair doesn’t have to lead to the end of a marriage. What if an affair, or ideally, simply, the urge to have one, can be the beginning of a necessary conversation about sex and intimacy?

What these husbands couldn’t do was have the difficult discussion with their wives that would force them to tackle the issues at the root of their cheating. They tried to convince me that they were being kind by keeping their affairs secret. They seemed to have convinced themselves. But deception and lying are ultimately corrosive, not kind.

In the end, I had to wonder if what these men couldn’t face was something else altogether — hearing why their wives no longer wanted to have sex with them. It’s much easier after all to set up an account on Tinder.”

Thanks so much for that reading, Esther. You know, it’s so funny because Karin Jones directly quotes you in her piece. And I feel like that is the first time ever we’ve had someone read an essay where they’re directly quoted.

Did anything jump out at you as you were reading?

What jumps out is she tackles a lot of different things — the subject of what is sexual aliveness, what is it that people actually lose when they stop being sexual with their partner, and how that loss of intimacy makes the sex even more complicated. She talked about the loss, the longing that this man has. I’ve often said that at the heart of affairs, you find duplicity and cheating and betrayal, but you also find longing and loss for the life that one had, for the parts of oneself that have been denied.

When we come back, I talk to Esther about the harsh criticism this essay got and why Esther thinks Karin Jones deserves more credit. Stay with us.

So Esther, this essay by Karin Jones was kind of a lightning rod when it was published. A ton of people were very critical of the author, saying she was sleeping with these men, but then also having conversations with them where she was like, it’s very wrong of you not to tell your wife what you’re up to. Why do you think this essay got so much backlash?

I think that the reaction to stories of infidelity are often intense. It’s a subject for which people are very quickly dogmatic because they have experienced the effects of it.

When I am in an audience, like if I was to ask, have you been affected by the experience of infidelity in your life, either because one of your parents was unfaithful or because you yourself had a child of an illicit affair, or because you had a friend on whose shoulder somebody weeping, or you had a confidant of someone who is in a complete bliss of an affair, or because you are the third person in the triangle, and about 80 percent of the people will raise their hand.

Wow. I mean, 80 percent sounds like a surprisingly large number, but when you explain it like that with different tendrils of an affair that affect everyone around the affair, not just the people in it, it makes total sense.

And it raises intense feelings in people. Karin Jones, she may have gotten the range of it, but you will hear more loudly the ones who say, you are a homewrecker, which, by the way, does not exist in the masculine.

Right, right.

The homewrecker is always a woman because the woman is the one who says yes, and therefore, if the woman hadn’t said yes, then he wouldn’t be able to do it. And then he would not be wrecking his family.

Yeah, there’s no other man either, by the way. It’s always the other woman.

Huh, there’s no other man.

Not in any of nine languages you speak.

No, because there’s never been another man who necessarily was willing to live in the shadow of a woman for his entire life.

That is so fascinating.

Her lover, [INAUDIBLE] you know her lover, but the other woman usually means that she lives in the shadow. She doesn’t just have a secret. She is the secret. That is the hardest thing about it. When people are writing to her, you can ask yourself, are they looking from the perspective of what it meant for her, or are they looking from the perspective of what it did to me, or to us?

Yeah, I mean, a lot of the criticism directed at Karin Jones, it seems, is coming from that perspective of saying, look what she did. Look at the harm she caused. Look at the pain she caused.

Which it is. Which it is.

Right, not discounting that, but it is interesting because her piece is so much about meaning making, right? That’s the whole conceit of her essay, is mining these experiences for meaning, and yet, people came with criticism. I wonder if this is like a kind of unfair question, but I wonder if there is an ethical way to be the other person. Is there a responsible way to do it without participating in hurt?

That depends. That depends. If you think the whole thing is unethical and is an egregious betrayal of trust and violation, then you will say no. I think the responsibility lies on the person who goes out, not on the lover.

Here’s what many people often say, is like, if you had asked me or if you had told me, but you made a decision without me. You made a decision about our marriage that did not involve me at all. And fair point. Of course, they know for a fact, too, that if they had been asked, they would have said no. But there is the things that you say after, and there is the things that you say before.

So, ultimately, I feel like I hear you agreeing with Karin Jones here that there are really important conversations that need to be happening between these husbands and their wives that actually don’t even have that much to do with Karin. Can you tell me more about that?

The conversation that Karin Jones would like these men to have with their wives is the conversations that take place in my book “Mating in Captivity,” because “Mating in Captivity” explored the dilemmas of desire inside relationships and why do people cease wanting. And could they want what they already have? And why does good sex fade, even in couples who still love each other as much as ever? And why do kids often deliver a fatal erotic blow?

What happens when they don’t have this conversation and they go elsewhere — and it’s not just a conversation about monogamy. It’s really a conversation of, what does sex mean to you? What do you want to experience in sex? Is it a place for connection?

Is it a place for transcendence, for spiritual union, to be naughty, to finally not be a good citizen, to be playful, to be taken care of, to surrender, to be safely dominant? What parts of you do you connect with through sexuality, rather than how often do we have sex, and we never have sex, and why don’t we do it more. So, that is a very different conversation.

But as Karin points to in her essay, and as you certainly point to in your book, those conversations are so difficult to have, even though this is the person we’re supposed to be the closest to. Why is that?

Because we grow up learning to be silent about sex and never talk about it. And then suddenly, we are expected to talk about it with the person we lov. Or in other words, sex is dirty, but save it for the one you love. It’s like we have very little practice talking about it.

We don’t get any of it in schools. Certainly, most families don’t talk about it either. And when we talk about sexuality, we talk about the dangers and the diseases and the dysfunctions. We don’t talk about intimacy. We don’t actually mix the word “sexuality” and “relationships” as one whole.

Yeah, and I mean, if we don’t talk about intimacy or the lack of it with a partner, that can, in some cases, lead to people going outside the marriage to find that intimacy they’re lacking in it. I’m thinking about Karin’s favorite married man, the one with all the tattoos. He says, it’s not necessarily a lie if you don’t confess the truth. It’s kinder to stay silent. In your experience working with couples, is he right? Is that true?

This is a very cultural question.

Because you live in a society here that believes in the moral cure of truth. But there are many societies for whom truth and honesty are not measured by the confession, but they are measured by what it will be like for the other person to walk with this on the street, meaning that they will consider the confession often as cruelty.

That, so what? So now you’ve got it off your chest. So now you’re less guilty, and now I have to live with this? Why don’t you just keep this to yourself, kind of thing. This is very cultural because in the United States, that is not the common view.

The common view is that the confession is the best state, even if you’re going to wreck the other person’s life for the next five years to come, which — and I am left with a question mark. But when I answer this question, I ask people about their own cultural codes as well. I do not impose mine. And mine fluctuates depending on the context. I think these questions are highly contextual, more than dogmatic.

We’ve talked about how there’s so many unsaid things between a couple that can lead to distance and infidelity. If a couple is feeling themselves drifting apart from each other emotionally, sexually, both, what are some things you could encourage them to do that might help?

Hmm. I like to coach people to do letter writing. Sometimes I make one person turn their back, and I make the other person write a letter on the back of the other person.

Oh, physically on the back?

Yes, but it’s a fake. You’re writing — you’re pretending to write, but you’re writing on the back. But that way, you don’t see the person.


Hi, Anna. This is something that I’ve been wanting to talk to you for a long time. And I give them the prompt. We never talk much about sexuality between us. For some reason, I decided a long time ago that you wouldn’t want to. But maybe it was I who didn’t know how to. And basically, they write these whole letters, in which they end up telling each other much of what they have never spoken.

I love that. What a kind and beautiful and compassionate way of easing into a conversation you’ve been afraid of having. Esther Perel, thank you so much for that idea. And thank you for talking with me today.

Thank you for having me.

Esther Perel is on tour in the US right now. Her show is called An Evening with Esther Perel, The Future of Relationships, Love, and Desire. Check her website for more details and to buy tickets. She told me she’s going to create an erotic experience in these theaters, so you do not want to miss that.

“Modern Love” is produced by Julia Botero, Chrstina Djossa, Reva Goldberg, Davis Land, and Emily Lange. It’s edited by our executive producer Jen Poyant and Davis Land. The “Modern Love” theme music is by Dan Powell. Original music by Dan Powell, Marion Lozano, Pat McCusker, Rowan Niemisto, Carole Sabouraud, and Diane Wong.

This episode was mixed by Daniel Ramirez. Our show was recorded by Maddy Masiello. Digital production by Mahima Chablani and Nell Gallogly. The “Modern Love” column is edited by Daniel Jones. Miya Lee is the editor of “Modern Love” projects. I’m Anna Martin. Thanks for listening.

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Hosted by Anna Martin

Produced by Julia Botero ,  Christina Djossa ,  Reva Goldberg and Emily Lang

Edited by Jen Poyant and Davis Land

Engineered by Daniel Ramirez

Original music by Pat McCusker ,  Marion Lozano ,  Carole Sabouraud ,  Rowan Niemisto ,  Diane Wong and Dan Powell

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‘at the heart of affairs, you find duplicity and cheating and betrayal, but you also find longing and loss for the life that one had, for the parts of oneself that have been denied’.

Esther Perel

Over the last two decades, Esther Perel has become a world-famous couples therapist by persistently advocating frank conversations about infidelity, sex and intimacy. Today, Perel reads one of the most provocative Modern Love essays ever published: “ What Sleeping With Married Men Taught Me About Infidelity ,” by Karin Jones.

In her 2018 essay, Jones wrote about her experience seeking out no-strings-attached flings with married men after her divorce. What she found, to her surprise, was how much the men missed having sex with their own wives, and how afraid they were to tell them.

Jones faced a heavy backlash after the essay was published. Perel reflects on why conversations around infidelity are still so difficult and why she thinks Jones deserves more credit.

Esther Perel is on tour in the U.S. Her show is called “An Evening With Esther Perel: The Future of Relationships, Love & Desire.” Check her website for more details.

Links to transcripts of episodes generally appear on these pages within a week.

Modern Love is hosted by Anna Martin and produced by Julia Botero, Reva Goldberg, Emily Lang and Christina Djossa. The show is edited by Davis Land and Jen Poyant, our executive producer. The show is mixed by Daniel Ramirez and recorded by Maddy Masiello. It features original music by Pat McCusker, Dan Powell, Marion Lozano, Carole Sabouraud, Rowan Niemisto and Diane Wong. Our theme music is by Dan Powell.

Special thanks to Larissa Anderson, Kate LoPresti, Lisa Tobin, Daniel Jones, Miya Lee, Mahima Chablani, Nell Gallogly, Jeffrey Miranda, Isabella Anderson, Reyna Desai, Renan Borelli, Nina Lassam and Julia Simon.

Thoughts? Email us at [email protected] . Want more from Modern Love ? Read past stories . Watch the TV series and sign up for the newsletter . We also have swag at the NYT Store and two books, “ Modern Love: True Stories of Love, Loss, and Redemption ” and “ Tiny Love Stories: True Tales of Love in 100 Words or Less .”


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Gender pay gap in U.S. hasn’t changed much in two decades

The gender gap in pay has remained relatively stable in the United States over the past 20 years or so. In 2022, women earned an average of 82% of what men earned, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers. These results are similar to where the pay gap stood in 2002, when women earned 80% as much as men.

A chart showing that the Gender pay gap in the U.S. has not closed in recent years, but is narrower among young workers

As has long been the case, the wage gap is smaller for workers ages 25 to 34 than for all workers 16 and older. In 2022, women ages 25 to 34 earned an average of 92 cents for every dollar earned by a man in the same age group – an 8-cent gap. By comparison, the gender pay gap among workers of all ages that year was 18 cents.

While the gender pay gap has not changed much in the last two decades, it has narrowed considerably when looking at the longer term, both among all workers ages 16 and older and among those ages 25 to 34. The estimated 18-cent gender pay gap among all workers in 2022 was down from 35 cents in 1982. And the 8-cent gap among workers ages 25 to 34 in 2022 was down from a 26-cent gap four decades earlier.

The gender pay gap measures the difference in median hourly earnings between men and women who work full or part time in the United States. Pew Research Center’s estimate of the pay gap is based on an analysis of Current Population Survey (CPS) monthly outgoing rotation group files ( IPUMS ) from January 1982 to December 2022, combined to create annual files. To understand how we calculate the gender pay gap, read our 2013 post, “How Pew Research Center measured the gender pay gap.”

The COVID-19 outbreak affected data collection efforts by the U.S. government in its surveys, especially in 2020 and 2021, limiting in-person data collection and affecting response rates. It is possible that some measures of economic outcomes and how they vary across demographic groups are affected by these changes in data collection.

In addition to findings about the gender wage gap, this analysis includes information from a Pew Research Center survey about the perceived reasons for the pay gap, as well as the pressures and career goals of U.S. men and women. The survey was conducted among 5,098 adults and includes a subset of questions asked only for 2,048 adults who are employed part time or full time, from Oct. 10-16, 2022. Everyone who took part is a member of the Center’s American Trends Panel (ATP), an online survey panel that is recruited through national, random sampling of residential addresses. This way nearly all U.S. adults have a chance of selection. The survey is weighted to be representative of the U.S. adult population by gender, race, ethnicity, partisan affiliation, education and other categories. Read more about the ATP’s methodology .

Here are the questions used in this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology .

The  U.S. Census Bureau has also analyzed the gender pay gap, though its analysis looks only at full-time workers (as opposed to full- and part-time workers). In 2021, full-time, year-round working women earned 84% of what their male counterparts earned, on average, according to the Census Bureau’s most recent analysis.

Much of the gender pay gap has been explained by measurable factors such as educational attainment, occupational segregation and work experience. The narrowing of the gap over the long term is attributable in large part to gains women have made in each of these dimensions.

Related: The Enduring Grip of the Gender Pay Gap

Even though women have increased their presence in higher-paying jobs traditionally dominated by men, such as professional and managerial positions, women as a whole continue to be overrepresented in lower-paying occupations relative to their share of the workforce. This may contribute to gender differences in pay.

Other factors that are difficult to measure, including gender discrimination, may also contribute to the ongoing wage discrepancy.

Perceived reasons for the gender wage gap

A bar chart showing that Half of U.S. adults say women being treated differently by employers is a major reason for the gender wage gap

When asked about the factors that may play a role in the gender wage gap, half of U.S. adults point to women being treated differently by employers as a major reason, according to a Pew Research Center survey conducted in October 2022. Smaller shares point to women making different choices about how to balance work and family (42%) and working in jobs that pay less (34%).

There are some notable differences between men and women in views of what’s behind the gender wage gap. Women are much more likely than men (61% vs. 37%) to say a major reason for the gap is that employers treat women differently. And while 45% of women say a major factor is that women make different choices about how to balance work and family, men are slightly less likely to hold that view (40% say this).

Parents with children younger than 18 in the household are more likely than those who don’t have young kids at home (48% vs. 40%) to say a major reason for the pay gap is the choices that women make about how to balance family and work. On this question, differences by parental status are evident among both men and women.

Views about reasons for the gender wage gap also differ by party. About two-thirds of Democrats and Democratic-leaning independents (68%) say a major factor behind wage differences is that employers treat women differently, but far fewer Republicans and Republican leaners (30%) say the same. Conversely, Republicans are more likely than Democrats to say women’s choices about how to balance family and work (50% vs. 36%) and their tendency to work in jobs that pay less (39% vs. 30%) are major reasons why women earn less than men.

Democratic and Republican women are more likely than their male counterparts in the same party to say a major reason for the gender wage gap is that employers treat women differently. About three-quarters of Democratic women (76%) say this, compared with 59% of Democratic men. And while 43% of Republican women say unequal treatment by employers is a major reason for the gender wage gap, just 18% of GOP men share that view.

Pressures facing working women and men

Family caregiving responsibilities bring different pressures for working women and men, and research has shown that being a mother can reduce women’s earnings , while fatherhood can increase men’s earnings .

A chart showing that about two-thirds of U.S. working mothers feel a great deal of pressure to focus on responsibilities at home

Employed women and men are about equally likely to say they feel a great deal of pressure to support their family financially and to be successful in their jobs and careers, according to the Center’s October survey. But women, and particularly working mothers, are more likely than men to say they feel a great deal of pressure to focus on responsibilities at home.

About half of employed women (48%) report feeling a great deal of pressure to focus on their responsibilities at home, compared with 35% of employed men. Among working mothers with children younger than 18 in the household, two-thirds (67%) say the same, compared with 45% of working dads.

When it comes to supporting their family financially, similar shares of working moms and dads (57% vs. 62%) report they feel a great deal of pressure, but this is driven mainly by the large share of unmarried working mothers who say they feel a great deal of pressure in this regard (77%). Among those who are married, working dads are far more likely than working moms (60% vs. 43%) to say they feel a great deal of pressure to support their family financially. (There were not enough unmarried working fathers in the sample to analyze separately.)

About four-in-ten working parents say they feel a great deal of pressure to be successful at their job or career. These findings don’t differ by gender.

Gender differences in job roles, aspirations

A bar chart showing that women in the U.S. are more likely than men to say they're not the boss at their job - and don't want to be in the future

Overall, a quarter of employed U.S. adults say they are currently the boss or one of the top managers where they work, according to the Center’s survey. Another 33% say they are not currently the boss but would like to be in the future, while 41% are not and do not aspire to be the boss or one of the top managers.

Men are more likely than women to be a boss or a top manager where they work (28% vs. 21%). This is especially the case among employed fathers, 35% of whom say they are the boss or one of the top managers where they work. (The varying attitudes between fathers and men without children at least partly reflect differences in marital status and educational attainment between the two groups.)

In addition to being less likely than men to say they are currently the boss or a top manager at work, women are also more likely to say they wouldn’t want to be in this type of position in the future. More than four-in-ten employed women (46%) say this, compared with 37% of men. Similar shares of men (35%) and women (31%) say they are not currently the boss but would like to be one day. These patterns are similar among parents.

Note: This is an update of a post originally published on March 22, 2019. Anna Brown and former Pew Research Center writer/editor Amanda Barroso contributed to an earlier version of this analysis. Here are the questions used in this analysis, along with responses, and its methodology .

essay about female sexuality

What is the gender wage gap in your metropolitan area? Find out with our pay gap calculator

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Women have gained ground in the nation’s highest-paying occupations, but still lag behind men

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Biden Title IX rules set to protect trans students, survivors of abuse

The administration’s regulations offer protections for transgender students, but do not address athletics.

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The Biden administration on Friday finalized sweeping new rules barring schools from discriminating against transgender students and ordering significant changes for how schools adjudicate claims of sexual harassment and assault on campus.

The provisions regarding gender identity are the most politically fraught, feeding an election-year culture clash with conservative states and school boards that have limited transgender rights in schools, banned discussion of gender identity in classrooms and removed books with LGBTQ+ themes. Mindful of the politics, the administration is delaying action on the contentious issue of whether transgender girls and women should be allowed to compete in women’s and girls’ sports.

The long-awaited regulation represents the administration’s interpretation of Title IX, a 1972 law that bars sex discrimination in schools that receive federal funding. Title IX is best known for ushering in equal treatment for women in sports, but it also governs how schools handle complaints of sexual harassment and assault, a huge issue on many college campuses.

Now the Biden administration is deploying the regulation to formalize its long-standing view that sex discrimination includes discrimination based on gender identity as well as sexual orientation, a direct challenge to conservative policies across the country.

Ten states, for instance, require transgender students to use bathrooms and locker rooms that align with their biological sex identified at birth, according to tracking by the Movement Advancement Project. Some school districts will not use the pronouns corresponding with a trans student’s gender identity. Both situations might constitute violations of Title IX under the new regulation. In addition, if a school failed to properly address bullying based on gender identity or sexual orientation, that could be a violation of federal law.

“No one should face bullying or discrimination just because of who they are or who they love. Sadly, this happens all too often,” Education Secretary Miguel Cardona told reporters in a conference call.

The Education Department’s Office for Civil Rights investigates allegations of sex discrimination, among other things, and schools that fail to come into compliance risk losing federal funding. A senior administration official said that the office could investigate cases where schools were potentially discriminating, even if they were following their own state’s law.

The final regulation also includes provisions barring discrimination based on pregnancy, including childbirth, abortion and lactation. For instance, schools must accommodate students’ need to attend medical appointments, as well as provide students and workers who are nursing a clean, private space to pump milk.

The combination of these two issues — sexual assault and transgender rights — drew enormous public interest, with some 240,000 public comments submitted in response to the proposed version published in 2022. The new rules take effect Aug. 1, in time for the start of next school year.

The final regulation makes a number of significant changes to a Trump-era system for handling sexual assault complaints, discarding some of the rules that bolstered due process rights of the accused. Supporters said those rules were critical to ensuring that students had the opportunity to defend themselves; critics said they discouraged sexual assault survivors from reporting incidents and turned colleges into quasi-courtrooms.

Education Department officials said they had retained the elements that made sense but created a better overall framework that balanced the rights of all involved.

Under the Trump administration’s regulation , finalized in 2020, colleges were required to stage live hearings to adjudicate complaints, where the accused could cross-examine witnesses — including the students who were alleging assault.

Under President Biden’s new rules, colleges will have more flexibility. The investigator or person adjudicating the case may question witnesses in separate meetings or employ a live hearing.

The new rules also will allow schools to use a lower bar for adjudicating guilt. In weighing evidence, they are now directed to use a “preponderance of the evidence” standard, though they may opt for a higher standard of “clear and convincing evidence” if they use that standard in other similar proceedings. Under the Trump version, universities had a choice, but they were required to use the higher standard if they did so in other settings.

The proposal also expands the definition of what constitutes sexual harassment, discarding a narrower definition used under President Donald Trump . Under the new definition, conduct must be so “severe or pervasive” that it limits or denies a person’s ability to participate in their education. The prior version required it to be both severe and pervasive.

The changes were derided by conservative critics who said they would revive problems that the Trump rules had solved.

“So today’s regulations mean one thing: America’s college students are less likely to receive justice if they find themselves in a Title IX proceeding,” said Will Creeley, legal director for the Foundation for Individual Rights and Expression, a free speech advocacy group.

The group was concerned that the opportunity for cross examination would no longer be guaranteed and that schools will again be allowed to have one person investigate and adjudicate cases.

Some of the Trump provisions were retained. Schools, for instance, will continue to have the option to use informal resolution of discrimination complaints, unless the allegation involves an employee of a K-12 school.

The Biden administration’s approach was welcomed by advocates for sexual assault survivors.

The rules “will make schools safer and more accessible for young people, many of whom experienced irreparable harm while they fought for protection and support,” said Emma Grasso Levine, senior manager of Title IX policy and programs at Know Your IX, a project of the advocacy group Advocates for Youth.

“Now, it’s up to school administrators to act quickly to implement and enforce” the new rules, she added.

Sexual assault has been a serious issue on college campuses for years, and in releasing the regulation, the Biden administration said the rates were still “unacceptably high.”

But the most controversial element of the regulation involves the rights of transgender students, and it came under immediate fire.

Administration officials point to a 2020 Supreme Court ruling that sex discrimination in employment includes gender identity and sexual orientation to bolster their interpretation of the law. But conservatives contend that Title IX does not include these elements and argue that accommodations for transgender students can create situations that put other students at risk. They object, for instance, to having a transgender woman — someone they refer to as a “biological man” — using women’s bathrooms or locker rooms.

Rep. Virginia Foxx (R-N.C.), chairwoman of the House Education Committee, called the regulation an escalation of Democrats’ “contemptuous culture war that aims to radically redefine sex and gender.” The department, she said, has put decades of advancement for women and girls “squarely on the chopping block.”

Betsy DeVos, who was education secretary during Trump’s administration, criticized the gender identity protections and the new rules on handling assault and harassment allegations.

“The Biden Administration’s radical rewrite of Title IX guts the half century of protections and opportunities for women and callously replaces them with radical gender theory,” she said in a statement.

Still, the administration sidestepped the contentious issue of athletics, at least for now. A separate regulation governing how and when schools may exclude transgender students from women and girls teams remains under review, and administration officials offered no timetable for when it would be finalized. People familiar with their thinking said it was being delayed to avoid injecting the matter into the presidential campaign, where Biden faces a close race against Trump.

A senior administration official, who spoke on the condition of anonymity in a briefing with reporters Thursday, declined to comment on the politics of this decision but noted that the athletics rule was proposed after the main Title IX regulation.

Polling shows that clear majorities of Americans, including a sizable slice of Democrats, oppose allowing transgender athletes to compete on girls’ and women’s teams. Twenty-five states have statewide bans on their participation.

The proposed sports regulation disallows these statewide, blanket bans, but it allows school districts to restrict participation more narrowly defined — for instance on competitive high school or college teams. The main Title IX regulation does not address the issue, and an administration official said the status quo would remain in place for now. Still, some have argued that the new general ban on discrimination could apply to sports even though the administration does not intend it to.

Sen. Patty Murray (D-Wash.) welcomed the protections for transgender students but urged the department to issue the sports regulation as well.

“Trans youth deserve to play sports with their friends just like anyone else,” she said in a statement.

The rules governing how campuses deal with harassment complaints have changed repeatedly in recent years.

The Obama administration issued detailed guidance in 2014 for schools in handling complaints, but DeVos later tossed that out. Her department went through its own laborious rulemaking process to put a new system in place.

As a candidate for president in 2020, Biden promised to put a “quick end” to that version if elected, saying it gave colleges “a green light to ignore sexual violence and strip survivors of their rights.” Friday’s action makes good on his promise.

Ted Mitchell, president of the American Council on Education, which represents colleges and universities, praised many of the changes but bemoaned the fact that schools will have to retrain their staffs on the new rules in short order.

“After years of constant churn in Title IX guidance and regulations,” he said, “we hope for the sake of students and institutions that there will be more stability and consistency in the requirements going forward.”

Danielle Douglas-Gabriel contributed to this report.

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Trevor Bauer accuser charged with allegedly defrauding exiled MLB pitcher after faking pregnancy

O ne of the women who accused exiled MLB pitcher Trevor Bauer of sexual assault was indicted this week for allegedly defrauding the former one-time Cy Young award winner in Arizona, according to legal papers.

Darcy Adanna Esemonu — who sued Bauer and allegedly demanded $1.6 million after claiming he impregnated her — was charged with one count of fraudulent schemes and artifices on Monday.

Bauer and another man were listed as the alleged victims in the case weeks after a grand jury handed down the indictment, according to paperwork provided by the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office.

She was also charged with theft by extortion, but only against the other alleged victim.

Bauer in a five-minute video message slammed Esemonu as he accused her of lying about what he says was a consensual sexual encounter.

“We had one plain sexual encounter in December of 2020, nothing that could be considered remotely rough,” said Bauer, who has denied all the sexual allegations he has faced over the last few years.

Esemonu could face more than 16 years if convicted on both charges. 

Fraudulent schemes and artifices is described as obtaining a benefit under false pretenses.

Multiple outlets, including Fox News, reported that Esemonu is the same woman who sued Bauer in Arizona in 2023, accusing the MLB pro of holding a knife to her throat and choking her until she passed out.

The lawsuit also claims the sexual encounter left her pregnant, which Bauer has denied was the case.

Bauer, who has never been charged over the allegations, went forward with a countersuit and claimed the woman was demanding $1.6 million to end the purported pregnancy.

He refused but said he would support whatever choice she made and ended up paying $8,761 related to the supposed pregnancy and abortion, his countersuit states, according to the Associated Press.

The woman later said she suffered a miscarriage, the outlet reported.

Bauer, in his video, claimed Esemonu was never even pregnant. He added she had made multiple “seven-figure” demands and only hired a lawyer after Bauer’s first accuser, Lindsey Hill, came forward with her allegations.

“She then demanded $3.6 million dollars and claimed I forced her to have an abortion leaving her ‘emotionally devastated and irretrievably damaged’ by it,” Bauer claimed in the video message.

“But here’s the thing – she never had an abortion, because she was never even pregnant, and that’s corroborated by her own medical records. When I refused to pay her the $3.6 million she was asking for, she made up a bogus sexual assault claim and filed a civil suit against me.”

He said at least two law firms dropped Esemonu as a client during the legal battle.

Scottsdale police told the AP last year that Bauer filed a criminal complaint against the woman in January 2023 claiming she was trying to extort him, but detectives did not recommend charges to prosecutors.

Authorities also confirmed no charges were recommended after the woman filed a complaint against Bauer in December 2022.

Scottsdale police directed The Post to request a report pertaining to the case when reached for comment. More information beyond the indictment was not immediately disclosed by the Maricopa County District Attorney’s Office.

A possible legal rep for Esemonu tied to the civil case did not reply to a message seeking comment.

“Her m.o. is clear. Lie to men to get their money. Extort them if she must. When they refuse to pay, stop paying, or stop giving her what she wants, go to the police, accuse them of sexual assault, and file a civil suit against them to retaliate,” Bauer claimed in Tuesday’s video.

Bauer also brought up Hill, the first woman who publicly accused Bauer of sexually assaulting and took legal action against him.

Bauer countersued and the two later settled their lawsuits without either side giving the other money.

“At this point, I’m not sure what else I can possibly do to prove my innocence in all of this. I did not do what I was accused of, and every institution that our society has entrusted to rule on issues like these, like courts, judges, law enforcement officers, prosecutors, etc, they all agree with me,” Bauer said.

Soon after Bauer posted his video, Hill replied on social media and dared Bauer and his agent to attempt to press charges against her.

“You haven’t caught me in one thing that proves me to be fraudulent like Rachel Luba claims,” Hill said in a video while referring to Bauer’s agent.

Bauer was released by the Los Angeles Dodgers in January 2023 after serving a lengthy suspension tied to the allegations.

He has since pitched in Japan and in Mexico in hopes of getting back to the major leagues.

Trevor Bauer accuser charged with allegedly defrauding exiled MLB pitcher after faking pregnancy


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    The cultural problems of the objectification of women and sexual aggression toward women are prominent among collegiate males, especially those involved in Greek Life. This study argues that these real-world injustices are being reinforced online via social media platforms, helping to perpetuate the cycle of gendered violence and inequality ...

  21. Opinion

    Re "The Problem With Saying 'Sex Assigned at Birth,'" by Alex Byrne and Carole K. Hooven (Opinion guest essay, nytimes.com, April 3): Mr. Byrne and Ms. Hooven argue that use of "assigned ...

  22. Essay On Female Sexuality

    Essay On Female Sexuality; ... Female sexuality has become a commodity in itself, a cultural reality with a long history (Gentile, 2006; Graydon, 2004). 4.2. Sex and Biology It is a popular notion that men and women are highly different in nature and characteristically ? Science research suggest that men and women are more similar than

  23. Women and Sexuality Theme in Carmilla

    Carmilla, a tale of a female vampire who preys on young women, centers on the anxieties associated with female sexuality.Le Fanu was one of the first writers to depict a female vampire, and he consistently associates vampirism with eroticism. The disguised vampire Carmilla 's longing for Laura is primarily sexual, and her craving for the blood of young women suggests that female sexual ...

  24. Unpacking 5 truths about equality in sexual and reproductive health and

    UNITED NATIONS, New York - Over the past 30 years, global commitments to sexual and reproductive health and rights have made remarkable advances: Maternal death rates have dropped by almost a third, the number of women using modern contraception has doubled and more than 160 countries have passed laws against domestic violence.. A new report by UNFPA, the United Nations sexual and ...

  25. Human Sexuality, Essay Example

    Essays.io ️ Human Sexuality, Essay Example from students accepted to Harvard, Stanford, and other elite schools. All papers examples ... They went on to say both bisexual men and women seem to share the same traditional ideas about gender for example for men it is more physical and for women it is more intimate. The basis for the dual ...

  26. Esther Perel on What the Other Woman Knows

    Karin's essay was one of the most controversial pieces ever published in the history of the "Modern Love" column. But when it comes to talking about sex and relationships, nothing is too ...

  27. Gender pay gap remained stable over past 20 years in US

    The gender gap in pay has remained relatively stable in the United States over the past 20 years or so. In 2022, women earned an average of 82% of what men earned, according to a new Pew Research Center analysis of median hourly earnings of both full- and part-time workers. These results are similar to where the pay gap stood in 2002, when women earned 80% as much as men.

  28. Biden Title IX rules set to protect trans students, sexual abuse

    Title IX is best known for ushering in equal treatment for women in sports, but it also governs how schools handle complaints of sexual harassment and assault, a huge issue on many college campuses.

  29. Trevor Bauer accuser charged with allegedly defrauding exiled MLB ...

    One of the women who accused exiled MLB pitcher Trevor Bauer of sexual assault was indicted this week for allegedly defrauding the former one-time Cy Young award winner in Arizona, according to ...

  30. Readers respond to essays on hospital taxes and more

    Readers respond to First Opinion essays on nonprofit hospitals and taxes, diversity in health care, ADHD in women and girls, and more.