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Ryan And Jetha On Female Sexuality

November 16, 2013

Excerpted from Sex at Dawn, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jetha:

This apparent need to punish female sexual desire as something evil, dangerous, and pathological is not limited to medieval times or remote Mayan villages. Recent estimates by the World Health Organization suggest that approximately 137 million girls undergo some form of genital mutilation every year.

Before the war on drugs, the war on terror, or the war on cancer, there was the war on female sexual desire. It’s a war that has been raging far longer than any other, and its victims number well into the billions by now. Like the others, it’s a war that can never be won, as the declared enemy is a force of nature. We may as well declare war on the cycles of the moon.

There is a pathetic futility animating the centuries-long insistence—against overwhelming evidence to the contrary—that the human female is indifferent to the insistent urgings of libido. Recall the medical authorities in the antebellum South who assured plantation owners that slaves trying to break out of their chains were not human beings deserving of freedom and dignity, but sufferers of Drapetomania, a medical disorder best cured with a good lashing. And who can forget the “well-intentioned” Inquisition that forced Galileo to disown truths as obvious to him as they were offensive to minds calcified by power and doctrine? In this ongoing struggle between what is and what many post-agricultural patriarchal societies insist must be, women who have dared to renounce the credo of the coy female are still spat upon, insulted, divorced, separated from their children, banished, burned as witches, pathologized as hysterics, buried to their necks in desert sand, and stoned to death. They and their children—those “sons and daughters of bitches”—are still sacrificed to the perverse, conflicted gods of ignorance, shame, and fear.

If psychiatrist Mary Jane Sherfey was correct when she wrote, “The strength of the drive determines the force required to suppress it” (an observation downright Newtonian in its irrefutable simplicity), then what are we to make of the force brought to bear on the suppression of female libido?

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