There are many gender specific role assumptions for men and women in every culture. For example, men are supposed to be strong and unemotional and women should be nurturing. According to the cognitive-social learning theory, individuals learn gender specific script early on in life from one’s own environment. Individuals tend to model other people in their lives or by watching television or reading magazines. The theory can be applied to sexual attitudes and behaviours as well. Learning gender specific sexual attitudes and behaviors from others has its advantages and disadvantages. One is likely to feel more accepted by the peer group which helps in building one’s self-esteem. But there are various negative consequences, such as, double standards for men and women, impact on women, and society does not appreciate expression of non-traditional forms of sexuality of LGBTQ population.
In this day and age, there is a widespread impact of internet and other media channels on sexuality of the viewers. With the advancement of technology there has been bombardment of sexually explicit images and messages on internet, social media, newspapers, music videos, movies, television programs, and advertisements. There is a general trend of portraying women as sexy and attractive. Women’s body has been objectified to attract men. According to recent survey, 80% of the pictures on the internet are of naked women. Men mostly appear to be dominant and leading whereas females were depicted as passive objects of desire. Music videos and movies capture the young audiences effectively and they are being targeted with these sexualized images which have long lasting impact on their developing identities and sexuality. The impact of sexually explicit content in mass media is pervasive and uncontrolled as they tend to get subliminally registered in the subconscious mind without one’s awareness.
Overall, there are differences between the sexual fantasy, sexual arousal, and expression of sexuality between men and women. These differences are based on various biological, psychological, social, cultural, and developmental factors. These differences are exacerbated and reinforced by the mass media that has long lasting impact on psyche of the audiences. People form sexual beliefs and attitudes subconsciously and unquestionably. This can positively or negatively impact their sexual expectations from oneself or from their partners. These implicit attitudes can have strong impact on relationship satisfaction between couples. When each individual in a relationship becomes aware of one’s beliefs related to sexuality, only then one will be able to become more comfortable with one’s own sexuality and truly respect their partner’s choices.
There are certain myths in each society about gender specific roles and sexuality. Here are some stereotypes that are commonly observed in our culture and the possible effects of adhering to such gender scripts.
- Women do not engage in pre-marital sex. In India, there is a huge power differential between the sexes and high restrictive standards for women’s sexuality. Indian culture restricts women to experience sex before marriage. Women who adhere to such gender specific sexual norm are more likely to perceive sex for reproductive function and not as a source for pleasure. They may run the risk of not having much awareness about their own sexuality which can have consequences for their later marital satisfaction. Women who do not adhere to such gender norms may feel more ashamed or guilty for engaging in premarital sex. Also, they may also feel that there are double standards in the society about sexuality for men and women and may feel the need to rebel against those standards and use sex as a medium for empowerment and liberation.
- Men are dominant and women are submissive in sex. Men and women who adhere to these gender scripts are more likely to engage in heterosexual relationships with power imbalance. Such couples are also more likely to prefer having sex in missionary pose. Men and women who do not adhere to such gender script are more likely to experiment with their sexuality. They may engage in trying different sexual positions, different partners, and use more sexual tools to enhance their experience. Men who do not like to be in dominant role may be judgmentally perceived as more feminine and women who like being in dominant role may be perceived as more masculine. This may impact their sexual preferences and sexual satisfaction.
- Men are sexually overactive and women are undersexed. This is the most common assumption about gender specific sexuality. It is portrayed in media and internet all around the world. Men who tend to adhere to this assumption are more likely to have multiple relationships and may have difficulties in committing to monogamous relationships. Men who may not adhere to that assumption are more likely to run the risk of being perceived as sexually impotent by their partners. Also, women who may like to have sex frequently may be perceived as more sexually promiscuous. Women may have a hard time asking one’s own partner to have sex. In couples, where both man and woman adhere to such gender specific stereotypes, are not likely to achieve satisfactory sexual intimacy as the woman in the relationship may not feel the need for sex due to repression. Also, the woman in such relationship is more likely to accept the extramarital affairs of her partner.
Hence, it is important to note that these gender scripts can have long-lasting impact on an individual’s sexual life. The cognitive-social theory contends that gender-specific norms are reinforced or internalized at a very young age. Boys and girls get rewarded or punished based on their selection of gender specific behaviors and attitudes. Boys are taught to engage in competitive sports or other physical activities early on, whereas girls are taught to focus on emotions and care-taking of others. Girls learn to be submissive at an early age and are also prohibited to have sex before marriage. So, the girls are more likely to fantasize more emotionally about sex and have more submissive themes in their fantasy.
One way of transcending these rigid gender specific role attitudes and behaviors is to integrate both feminine and masculine aspects in each individual. Androgyny is the term that is used to describe an individual with masculine and feminine characteristics. Androgynous individuals who tend to integrate both masculine and feminine aspects of behavior are free to choose attitudes and behaviors that are not predetermined by the larger socio-cultural gender scripts. They are more likely to be comfortable with their own sexuality and can be respectful of other people’s choices. There is an emotional and a physical aspect to sexual intimacy. Androgynous individuals are comfortable in balancing both as they do not inhibit one aspect of oneself and allow full expression of their individuality and sexuality.
Crooks, R. & Baur, K. (2011). Our Sexuality (11th Ed.). Belmont, CA: Thompson Wadsworth.