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Is it a coincidence? On Halloween—the same day we are acknowledging the dark and evil side of life—the predominant costume choices available on sale for women are titillating get-ups that makes a woman look slutty? Is it possible that our society still views the sexual woman as evil?
What’s the difference between a “slutty” woman and a “good” woman? Perhaps if she’s slept with more partners than we have, or if she’s had partners that differ in gender than our preference, or if she shows “too much” cleavage at work (this is America I’m talking about, other cultures have their own standards), or if she guffaws too loudly at a sexual joke, or if she tells a sexual joke, or if she has bigger breasts and dares to wear a tighter sweater than we do, or if she is more successful than us (probably slept her way to the top), or if she’s younger than we are and knows how to use her younger looks, then she’s a slut. Out of envy or perhaps the desire to possess or control, both men and other women can spitefully tear at her character. Writer Leora Tanenbaum, author of Slut says “‘Slut is, of course, a disturbing insult.” Arguing against the double standard she writes, “Females as well as males should be entitled to express their sexual desires… but it can stir up a lot of hostility.” This cultural double standard splits women into bad and good. “When we say a man is ‘bad,’ we generally mean that he drinks, or can’t hold down a job,” continues Tanenbaum. “When we say a woman is ‘bad,’ however, we always mean that she has an active sex life.”
A good woman is like mom—asexual. Perhaps allowing that she did it once per child, but only because she had to. An angel in the morning and [only] a devil [or a sexual being] when we get back home, like Charley Pride sings. If you think that’s dated thinking, more recently, Ludacris is still rapping excitedly that “She’s the lady in the street and the freak in the bed.” She’s got her nails done, her eyes are innocent and she’s always clean at work. Back home though and all for her man—”She a nasty girl.” Basically, a good woman keeps her desire under tight control and apparently needs her man to free her inner sexuality. Every romance novel reinforces the theme—an inexperienced woman is finally turned on and blossoms into a sexual being by the man (who incidentally turns out to be rich).
A psychological split is a distortion of thinking about something in extremes—it’s all good or all bad; whore-madonna. Such as what we are talking about here: if a woman is sexual then she is bad and if she is chaste then she is good. I remember being a young woman and a friend-boy told me I seemed horny. The implication was I wasn’t very lady-like. I felt deep shame. The cultural split of labeling women who express sexual interest (and labeling purely to denigrate or control a woman) as a slut leaves an impression on our unconscious. Once married and responsible to a partner to express our interest and sexual desire in him, there is often a note of psychological anxiety. In our unconscious, we worry that showing, even to our beloved, our sexual self is somehow bad. It’s hard to think that after years of repressing the exhibition of our feelings that now it’s perfectly fine and completely desirable to openly initiate sexual contact.
Becoming a mother can cement this splitting off of a woman’s sexual self. The image of a selfless mother is contrary to being a lover who owns selfish sexual feelings. While we get children through sex, somehow, putting a lock on the master bedroom door, taking mommy and daddy time alone, dressing in our pre-baby club clothes seems wrong. Fathers can split their baby-mommy as well, no longer able to see the sexual woman now that she’s with child or caring for children, he can lose his sexual desire. Obviously, this is a small aspect of the sexual changes at motherhood but I hear it in many female patients suddenly experiencing low desire. They exclaim that before children they were really interested in sex and now they don’t know why they aren’t. (Yes, I acknowledge the tired thing and the lack of shared-effort thing.) I also think that there is a deep social unconscious message that these young mommies are responding to. Be the madonna. Be pure. Be unsullied by carnal desire. The fantasy ideal of our childhood is that our mother was solely focused on us. We don’t remember her relationship with daddy or others. The counterforce of sex is too seductive of a pull for the mother to be wholly about the children (read Ester Perel ‘s Mating In Captivity for more). The reality is our mother was never only focused on us. In fact, the passionate relationship with daddy is what fuels mother to continue to give.
So dress up if you want. But don’t revel in it for just one day—enjoy your sexual side every day. Being a woman means being sexual. Being female and sexual is good. It doesn’t mean you are a slut.