Women's Sexuality Across the Life Span: Challenging Myths, Creating Meanings.Women's Sexuality Across the Life Span: Challenging Myths, Creating Meanings. By Judith C. Daniluk. New York New York, state, United States
New York, Middle Atlantic state of the United States. It is bordered by Vermont, Massachusetts, Connecticut, and the Atlantic Ocean (E), New Jersey and Pennsylvania (S), Lakes Erie and Ontario and the Canadian province of : The Guilford Press, 1998, 416 pages. Cloth, $36.95.
"Women's sexuality is a powerful source of energy and pleasure," states Judith Daniluk, associate professor of counseling psychology at the University of British Columbia Locations
The Vancouver campus is located at Point Grey, a twenty-minute drive from downtown Vancouver. It is near several beaches and has views of the North Shore mountains. The 7. , "but the paradoxical way women's sexuality is constructed in our society makes it difficult for most women to feel at home in their bodies and comfortable with their sexuality" (p. ix). That women have long been objectified and otherwise misrepresented in both culture and sexual science is old news. That the lifelong messages women receive alienates them from themselves is the subject of countless self-help books. What makes this book eye-openingly fresh is its articulation of exactly how these misrepresentations and alienations create patterns of sexual significance for women and its painstaking review of possibilities for creating change. The meaning of sexual meanings in the lives of women is the theme with which the book begins, and it is repeated in each chapter thereafter. Daniluk's book is different from those that primarily analyze or offer advice.
This work is organized around sexual development from infancy through old age. In Part I, Daniluk expands definitions, making a strong case for sexuality as a dynamic process rather than a fixed set of measurable responses (such as orgasm) and quantifiable behaviors (such as intercourse). At the same time, she takes into account the many faces of personal and cultural diversity. Part II, on childhood and adolescence, outlines early development, menstrual initiation, sexual roles and expectations, love, intimacy, status, and sexual violence. Part III, on young adulthood, focuses on body image, pregnancy, infertility, voluntary childlessness, sexual communication with partners, and the media messages that affect women's sexual choices. Part IV, on the middle and later years, discusses the body changes of menopause and beyond, to the broader sexual challenges that face women as they age.
This is a user-friendly book for both professionals and clients. It offers copious suggestions for developing skills for sexual self-definition at every age and stage of development. Chapter-end exercises include letter writing and drawing to help women identify and confront feelings, psychodrama psychodrama /psy·cho·dra·ma/ (-drah´mah) a form of group psychotherapy in which patients dramatize emotional problems and life situations in order to achieve insight and to alter faulty behavior patterns. and body sculpting body sculpting Surgery A highly popular term for cosmetic surgery intended to change the contours of a person's body to achieve what he or–more commonly–she perceives to be a perfect physique. See Cosmetic surgery. to exorcise demons Demons
See also devil; evil; ghosts; hell; spirits and spiritualism.
one who denies the existence of the devil or demons.
recognition of the existence of demons and goblins. , guided fantasy and gestalt Gestalt (gəshtält`) [Ger.,=form], school of psychology that interprets phenomena as organized wholes rather than as aggregates of distinct parts, maintaining that the whole is greater than the sum of its parts. exercises to activate disowned dis·own
tr.v. dis·owned, dis·own·ing, dis·owns
To refuse to acknowledge or accept as one's own; repudiate. body parts, and self-affirmations to help women reoccupy Re`oc´cu`py
v. t. 1. To occupy again. their bodies. Fifty-one pages of references include an extensive bibliography along with specific readings about issues such as early sexual development, body image, sexual violence, lesbian identity, reproductive health, disability and illness, and aging.
Aside from Daniluk's scholarship, which borders on encyclopedic en·cy·clo·pe·dic
1. Of, relating to, or characteristic of an encyclopedia.
2. Embracing many subjects; comprehensive: "an ignorance almost as encyclopedic as his erudition" , what I appreciate most about her work are her particular cultural biases. She repeatedly exposes the media as antagonistic to healthy sexual development for women. Disney movies, which polarize po·lar·ize
v. po·lar·ized, po·lar·iz·ing, po·lar·iz·es
1. To induce polarization in; impart polarity to.
2. To cause to concentrate about two conflicting or contrasting positions. wicked witches and compliant heroines; teen magazines, with their standards of impossible thinness; television, with its predominantly middle-class, white, heterosexist role models; and the invisibility of erotic postmenopausal post·men·o·paus·al
Of or occurring in the time following menopause.
postmenopausal Change of life Gynecology adjective Referring to the time in ♀ when menstrual periods stop for ≥ 1 yr maturity--all of these estrange es·trange
tr.v. es·tranged, es·trang·ing, es·trang·es
1. To make hostile, unsympathetic, or indifferent; alienate.
2. To remove from an accustomed place or set of associations. women from their bodies and from themselves. She calls into question sexology's focus on the centrality of genital sexuality, which reinforces stereotypical, gender-loaded norms. This, she observes, leaves many women outside the loop of "normal" and leaves many clinicians ill-equipped to help women cope with sexual dysfunction sexual dysfunction
Inability to experience arousal or achieve sexual satisfaction under ordinary circumstances, as a result of psychological or physiological problems. , let alone understand the full, delicious scope of what might be included in sexual function. She uses strong words to describe the medicalization medicalization Social medicine A term for the erroneous tendency by society–often perpetuated by health professionals–to view effects of socioeconomic disadvantage as purely medical issues of sexual problems. Women over forty fall into a particular sexual abyss, she notes, citing pathologizing language such as "vaginal atrophy vaginal atrophy Atrophic vaginitis, see there ." She urges a more sensitive medical approach to women's sexual realities after midlife mid·life
See middle age.
Of, relating to, or characteristic of middle age. , and points out that many women report deeper intimacy and more satisfying sexual responses as they grow older and presumably pre·sum·a·ble
That can be presumed or taken for granted; reasonable as a supposition: presumable causes of the disaster. wiser about their relationships.
Also, Daniluk has smart things to say about the therapeutic process. She eschews the usual assumptions that therapy is necessarily a one-on-one contract between clinician and client. She advocates the safety and peer support of group work. She views this as especially useful for issues that have an underlying social context, such as ideals of beauty that result in body-image problems for girls and women and negative myths and messages that prevent young women from defining their sexual boundaries or older women from "looking menopause in the eye" (p. 283).
Despite the thoroughness with which this book challenges cultural myths and focuses on the larger meanings of women's sexuality, I realized, in the end, that I was not quite satisfied--as if I were waiting for another shoe to drop. I found myself asking the questions so many women have posed in my therapy office: "Is that all there is to sex? Isn't there something more?" What's missing here is thorough documentation of sexual pleasure--the joy, sensuality, buoyancy, creativity, break-your-heart tenderness, and sheer roll-around-naked fun that is women's birthright across the lifespan. If, as Daniluk states, sex is a powerful source of energy and pleasure for women, she gives these relatively short shrift in this otherwise impeccably-documented book. This is an understandable shortcoming, given the lack of academic research on pleasure. (I remember that to receive University funding for a laboratory project on women's orgasm in the early 90s, I had to make a case for orgasm as a form of pain relief.) Still, there is responsible literature on women's pleasure (e.g., Barbach, 1984; Dodson, 1987; Maltz & Boss, 1997). Passing over it tilts Daniluk's arguments toward the slippery category of those that define women by their victimization victimization Social medicine The abuse of the disenfranchised–eg, those underage, elderly, ♀, mentally retarded, illegal aliens, or other, by coercing them into illegal activities–eg, drug trade, pornography, prostitution. : dependency, self-hatred, world-weariness--you know the litany--rather than their positive attributes. Reading between the lines Between the lines can refer to:
Also missing for me is open acknowledgment of the spirituality implicit in women's sexuality. While Daniluk implies spiritual content whenever she discusses meaning, there is a broad level of spiritual connection that she never brings to light. By spiritual connection, I mean such unquantifiable qualities as imagination, exquisitely heightened senses, transcendence, ecstatic surrender, love, altruism, and a sense of oneness with one's self, with one's partner, and with a power greater than one's self. Eisler's recent research (1995) along with my own (Ogden, 1998, 1999) has shown that spiritual connection is intrinsic to women's sexual desire, arousal, and satisfaction, and has everything to do with challenging sexual myths and creating meanings in women's lives.
If you can live with pleasure and spirituality implied rather than fully revealed, Women's Sexuality Across the Lifespan is a valuable resource. I recommend this book to women who want to learn more about their sexual selves and to the counselors who want to help them. In addition, I hope this book is widely adopted in human sexuality courses and women's studies courses. This is a book that challenges and informs with the inexorability of research rather than the polemic of F-word Feminism. In this sense it feels like a homecoming.
Barbach, L. (1984). Pleasures. New York: Doubleday.
Dodson, B. (1987). Sex for one. New York: Crown.
Eisler, R. (1995). Sacred pleasure: Sex, myth, and the politics of the body. San Francisco: Harper San Francisco.
Maltz, W., & Boss, S. (1997). In the garden of desire: The intimate world of women's sexual fantasies. New York: Broadway Books.
Ogden, G. (1998, February). Integrating sexuality and spirituality. New Age Journal, 56-60.
Ogden, G. (1999). Women who love sex: An inquiry into the expanding spirit of women's erotic experience (Rev. ed.). Cambridge, MA: Womanspirit Press.
Gina Ogden, Ph.D., Independent Practice, 36 Shepard St., Cambridge, MA 02138; e-mail: firstname.lastname@example.org.