Deserving Desire: Women's Stories of Sexual Evolution

Deserving Desire: Women's Stories of Sexual Evolution

Deserving Desire: Women's Stories of Sexual Evolution

Deserving Desire: Women's Stories of Sexual Evolution


Women experience considerable changes in their bodies, lives, and identity between the ages of twenty and seventy, including marriage, motherhood, the dissolution of relationships, and menopause, all of which often impact sexuality. In Deserving Desire, Beth Montemurro takes a wide-ranging look at the evolution of women's sexuality over time, with a specific focus on the development of sexual subjectivity--that is sexual confidence, agency, and a sense of entitlement to sexual desire.
Detailed stories of the ninety-five women in this study explore how they become more comfortable with their bodies, when most begin to enjoy sex, feel confident and positive about engaging in it, and how they become sexual subjects in control of their bodies. Deserving Desire explores the complex multi-stage process in which sexual subjectivity evolves over a woman's lifetime. As girls, they learn about sex and how those around them--parents, peers, religion and media--regard sex. Physical and emotional transitions such as having a baby or ending a relationship further affect women's sexual confidence and desire. Montemurro emphasizes that sexual subjectivity is about feeling in control of sexual decision making and acting purposefully and confidently.
Though adolescent sexuality has been a major focus of sociological research, few studies have examined, as Montemurro does here, the development of sexuality through women's lives and the events that change the way women feel about themselves, their bodies, and their relationships.


I don’t think I’ve ever really sat there and thought…. what
does sexuality mean to me? I think in society, unfortunately, our
sexuality is defined negatively…. When I just think of print ads and
music videos and music, I don’t think we’re given enough opportunity
to become comfortable and figure out what that actually means to
us. I think society does play a big role in actually defining it for us. My
mother never really sat down and had a talk about how my sexuality
would play into me becoming a woman. Never had that conversation,
so I had to kind of figure it out on my own. So I guess if I had to give
you a definition, it would be hard for me to do because no one’s ever
really…. no one’s asked me.

— Monica, age thirty-five

Monica is an attractive, bright woman from a large northeastern city. She is a married, African American mother of two young children who works full time in the field of education. When we met to talk about the evolution of her sexuality, Monica confessed that, in college, she lied to friends about having had an orgasm. She did not know what it felt like to climax, so she just laughed along with friends when the subject came up. Her parents never talked to her about sex, nor was it something she discussed openly with friends. Recalling her sexual feelings as a young adult, she said, “It was so awkward because I didn’t really know. I really wasn’t comfortable with my sexuality. I didn’t really know about my desires at that point. It’s like you’re young and you really don’t know about yourself and about your body.”

As a teenager, Monica set limits on how far she would go sexually because she believed she was not supposed to be sexually active and feared . . .

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