Travis Sky Ingersoll, PH.D., MSW, M.ED.
Your Cart is Empty
There was an error with PayPalClick here to try again
Thank you for your business!You should be receiving an order confirmation from Paypal shortly.Exit Shopping Cart
|Posted on January 26, 2016 at 4:25 PM||comments (0)|
Intimate partner violence is a significant problem in the United States of America. Each year an estimated 5.3 million women experience some form of abuse by their intimate partner; nearly 1 million are violently assaulted (National Domestic Violence Hotline, 2007), and more tragically, 1,232 are murdered (American Institute on Domestic Violence, 2007). Widespread public awareness of domestic violence was brought to the forefront during the 1970s. In conjunction with the feminist rights movement, a grassroots effort to combat domestic violence, spearheaded by domestic violence victims, called attention to the injustices suffered by women at the hands of their male companions. As the awareness and education regarding domestic violence spread, the practice of men controlling women through aggressive force was subject to public scrutiny. As a result, many domestic violence agencies held very suspicious attitudes toward male involvement during the early years of the domestic violence movement (Hatashita, Hirao, Brykczynski & Anderson, 2006).
However, in recent years it has been recognized that intimate partner violence not only transcends socioeconomic stratification, it is also not bound by gender or sexual orientation. Statistics reveal that men are also victims of violence within intimate partnerships. In 1998, the Bureau of Justice Statistics (2007) conveyed that 157,330 reported cases of intimate partner violence against men were filed. With regards to sexual orientation, from 1993-2004, an average of 12% of male victims of intimate partner violence reported that the offender was another male, while 2% of female victims reported that the offender was another female (Bureau of Justice Statistics, 2007).
In a report presented by LAMBDA (2004), a nonprofit agency dedicated to reducing inequality and homophobia in the Lesbian, Gay and Bisexual (LGB) community, reports indicated that between 25% and 33% of LGB individuals suffer abuse at the hands of their partners. Prevalence rates of intimate partner violence (IPV) among LGB individuals are comparable to reported IPV rates among heterosexual relationships (Greenwood, Relf, Huang, Pollack, Canchola, & Catania, 2002; McKenry, Serovich, Mason, & Mosack, 2006; National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs, 2005).
It is important to emphasize that these statistics regarding domestic violence only reflect “reported cases.” The actual amount of intimate partner violence, regardless of gender or sexual orientation is likely much higher. With current research highlighting the diversity of domestic abuse victims, one may wonder if the staff/volunteers within domestic violence agencies are beginning to reflect such diversity.
Although research indicates that most men do not accept violence against women (Berkowitz, 2003), very few men work in the field of domestic violence treatment and prevention (Flood, 2004; Gillingham, 2006). Theoretical explanations point to the U.S.’s adherence to hegemonic masculinity, and strictly enforced dichotomous gender roles (Berkowitz, 2003; Blackburn, Browne, Brooks & Jarman, 2002; Gillingham, 2006; Robinson, 2003), which may also account for the overall lack of male representation in social service professions in general (Christie, 2001; Lloyd & Degenhardt, 1996). However, a complete understanding of why there is so little male involvement in domestic abuse work is unknown (Ringstad, 2005; Robinson, 2003).
What is known is that there is a great need for male involvement in the fight against domestic violence. Research highlights the possible benefits of male involvement in domestic violence work to include: providing positive male role models, enhancing diversity within agencies, creating a safe environment for male victims, and perhaps most importantly, sending the message that domestic violence is not only a woman’s issue.
American Institute on Domestic Violence. (2007). Domestic violence in the workplace
statistics, 2001. Retrieved December 7, 2007 from http://www.aidv-
Berkowitz, A. D. (2003). The social norms approach to violence prevention. Family
violence prevention fund. Retrieved December 5, 2007 from
Blackburn, R. M., Browne, J., Brooks, B., & Jarman, J. (2002). Explaining gender
segregation. British Journal of Sociology, 53(4), 513-536.
Christie, A. (2001). Men and social work; theories and practice. Basingstoke: Palgrave.
Flood, M. (2004). Changing men: Best practice in sexual violence education. Paper
presented at Home truths conference: Stop sexual assault and domestic violence: A
national challenge. Melbourne, Australia, 15-17, 2004.
Gillingham, P. (2006). Male social workers in child and family welfare: New directions
for research. Social Work, 51(1), 83-85.
Greenwood, G. L., Relf, M. V., Huang, B., Pollack, L. M., Canchola, J. A., & Catania, J.
(2002). Battering victimization among a probability-based sample of men who have
sex with men. American Journal of Public Health, 92, 1964-1969.
Hatashita, H., Hirao, K., Brykczynski, K. A., & Anderson, E. T. (2006). Grassroots
efforts of Japanese women to promote services for abused women. Nursing and
Health Sciences, 8, 169-171.
LAMBDA. (2004). Anti-violence project. Retrieved September 22, 2011, from
Lloyd, S., & Degenhardt, D. (1996). Challenges in working with male social work
students (ch.4), p. 45-63 in the book: Working With Men: Feminism and Social Work.
Cavanagh, K., & Cree, V. E. (Eds.). New York, NY:Routledge.
McKenry, P. C., Serovich, J. M., Mason, T. L., & Mosack, K. (2006). Perpetration of
gay and lesbian partner violence: A disempowerment perspective. Journal of Family
Violence, 21, 233-243.
National Coalition of Anti-Violence Programs. (2005). The prevalence of LGBT
domestic violence [electronic version]. Retrieved September 22, 2011, from
National Domestic Violence Hotline (2007). Abuse in America. Retrieved December 5,
2007 from: http://www.ndvh.org/educate/abuse_in_america.html
Ringstad, R. (2005). Conflict in the workplace: Social workers as victims and
perpetrators. Social Work, 50(4), 305-313.
Robinson, G. E. (2003). Violence against women in North America. Archives of
Women’s Mental Health, 6, 185-191.
|Posted on July 22, 2015 at 9:38 PM||comments (0)|
|Posted on June 30, 2015 at 4:35 PM||comments (1)|
A comprehensive framework for understanding human sexuality
Sexuality is an essential aspect of being human and contributes to the development of our identity throughout our lives. As a construct, sexuality is not easily defined. What do you think when you hearthe word sex? If “intercourse” is the first thing you think of, congratulations, you’re among the norm. Human sexuality, however, is far more than simply a physical thing. Although it canbe physical, it is also mental, emotional, relational, biological, spiritual,cultural, and psychological. According to the World Health Organization (WHO,2015), sexuality encompasses sex, gender identities and roles, sexual orientation, eroticism, pleasure, intimacy and reproduction. Sexuality is experienced and expressed through thoughts, desires, fantasies, beliefs, attitudes, values, behaviors, practices, roles and relationships. Another way to understand human sexuality is through the Circles of Sexuality model, created by Dennis Dailey (1981). The Circles model utilizes a series ofoverlapping circles to exemplify the unique and organic nature of the various facets of human sexuality. Each component presented in the “circles ofsexuality” model has the ability to interact and affect any/all of the others.
The Circles of Sexuality
As mentioned above, sexuality is much more than just sexual intimacy or sexual behavior. Human sexuality is a significant part of what it means to be human. It includes our identities, our bodilysensations, our experiences, our relationships, our behaviors, our health, ourpleasure, and many more aspects of oneself. The Circles present a comprehensive approach to human sexuality that includes: Sensuality, Intimacy,Sexual Identity, Sexual Health and Reproduction, and Sexualization (Advocatesfor Youth, 2007). A final circle,Values, was not in the original model but was introduced by Satterly and Dyson (2010). The “Values” Circle highlights the importance of examining how our personal values affect our relationship with the different circles; it is the lens by which a person perceives, interpretsand understands all of the Circles of Sexuality.
The Circle of Sensuality is the “body-touch-feel” of sexuality. Sensualityi s our awareness of our bodies and the bodies of others. It incorporates both how we feel about our body and allows us to connect with our own physical and sexual attractions and pleasures. The concepts in this circle include: BodyImage, Pleasure, Skin Hunger, Attraction Templates, Human Sexual Response Cycles, and Fantasy.
The Circle of Intimacy is all about interpersonal connectedness. Sexual intimacy is the capacity to emotionally connect with another person – to feel close to them– and allow for the closeness to be returned (Advocates for Youth, 2007). Included in this circle are the concepts of sharing, caring, liking or loving another person, emotional risk-taking, and vulnerability.
The Circle of Sexual Identity helps people explore who they are assexual beings. Sexual identity refers to how an individual understands who they actually are as a sexual being, including their sexual orientation and gender. It involves various “intersecting components” that, together, influence how people view themselves (Advocates for Youth, 2007). Included inthis circle are one’s biological sex, core gender, gender role, genderidentity, and sexual orientation.
The Circle of Reproduction and Sexual Healthrefers to an individual’s ability (or inability) to reproduce and function sexually. It also includes the attitudes and behaviors leading toward healthy and pleasurable sexual relationships (Advocates for Youth, 2007). According to the WHO (2015), sexual health is “…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence ofdisease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. In order for sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled” (WHO, 2006a, para. 4). Included in this circle is factual information about reproduction, sexual intercourse, reproductive and sexual anatomy, sexual reproduction, and our feelings and attitudes regarding all the above.
The Circle of Sexualization refers to all the ways in which we use our sexuality. Sexualization includes the various ways in which we can use our sexuality in order to control, influence or manipulate others. Such behaviors vary considerably, ranging from flirting and seduction to abuse and rape. No one has the right to sexually exploit others. Included in this circle are behaviors such as flirting, seduction, sexual harassment, rape and incest. Some of the behaviors just mentioned, particularly “flirting” and “seduction” can have a positive or negative impact depending on the intention of the person engaging in such behavior, as well asthe way in which the person on the receiving end interprets the behavior.
The Circle of Values puts the focus on how we, as individuals, perceive, interpret, and understand all the other circles (Satterly & Dyson, 2010). Schwartz (1996) defines values as the “guiding principles in people’s lives” (p. 2) that influence an individual’s perception of right and wrong, and their subsequent and related behaviors. However, an individual’s values may differ from what is considered mainstream values. Forexample, the “culture wars” that permeate Western societies around the world regarding sexuality issues such as homosexuality or abortion, are rife with disparate claims of right and wrong. An individual may view homosexuality as anormative and natural variation of sexual orientation; conversely, some cultural messages may assert that homosexuality is evil and must be punished. Such conflicting viewpoints can create significant tensions in public debates around social policies, as well as the ways in which people experience their own sexual orientation (Satterly & Ingersoll, 2015).
As theprevious examples have demonstrated, human sexuality is a multidimensional construct encompassing far more than just penetrative sex. Sexuality has many different elements, and can mean different things to different people. For older adults, sexuality can be as much about intimate touch and kissing, cuddling, masturbation or sexual intercourseas it can be about looking and feeling one’s best, companionship, engaging insexually explicit communication (i.e., “talking dirty” or “pillow talk”), and enjoying erotically-charged literature and movies (Bauer, McAuliffe, & Nay,2007; Nay, 2004). However the unfortunate reality is that in many cultures around the world, there exists an oppressive cloud of negativity and judgment surrounding any and all manifestations of older adult sexuality.
(*This is from an upcoming chapter I am writing in a Nursing textbook due to be released in Australia in 2016. The chapter focusses on Intimacy in Older Adulthood)
Bauer, M., McAuliffe, L., & Nay, R. (2007). Sexuality, health care and the older person:An overview of the literature. International Journal of Older PeopleNursing, 2, 63-68.
Dailey, D. (1981). Sexualexpression and ageing. In F. Berghorn & D. Schafer (Eds.), The dynamics of
ageing: Original essays onthe process and experiences of growing old (pp. 311-330). Boulder, CO:
Nay, R. (2004). Sexuality and older people. In NursingOlder People: Issues and Innovations, 2 ed. (Nay
R. & GarrattS. eds.). Elsevier, Marrickville, NSW, p. 276-288.
Satterly, B. A., & Dyson, D. A. (2010). Social work practice with gay, lesbian,bisexual, and transgendered
persons. In J.Poulin (Ed.), Collaborative social work:Strengths-based generalist practice (3 ed.).
Satterly, B., & Ingersoll, T. (2015). Sexuality Concepts for Social Workers. SanFrancisco, CA: Cognella
Schwartz, S. H. (1996). Value priorities and behavior: Applying a theory of integrated valuesystems. In
. Seligman, J.M. Olson, & M. P. Zanna (Eds.), Thepsychology of values: The Ontario Symposium (Vol.
8, p. 1-24). Mahwah, NJ: Erlbaum.
World Health Organization (WHO).(2015). Sexual and reproductive health. RetrievedJune 18, 2015,
from the WHO Web site:
|Posted on December 1, 2014 at 11:59 AM||comments (0)|
|Posted on July 13, 2014 at 7:41 PM||comments (0)|
A good sexuality policy for retirement and assisted living facilities espouses the ideal that all people, of all ages, deserve and are entitled to a superior quality of life. Creation of a sexuality policy which gives sanction to sexual expression, while taking into consideration the realities of residents with different levels of cognitive and physical impairment, would achieve such an ideal. In our society sex and desire are falsely believed to be solely the realm of the young and able. A common, yet incorrect assumption is that older people are asexual, over-sexual (primarily due to mental illness), and heterosexual by default. For the benefit of our aging population’s well-being, such outdated belief systems need to be challenged and changed. There is a long and on-going history of sexual oppression within the United States (and around the world). For many generations people have primarily associated sexuality with physical attractiveness, procreation and marriage. Sex outside of marriage, and for reasons other than breeding, have historically been criticized on moral grounds.
Even though attitudes in America are moving toward a more positive and healthy outlook on sexual development throughout the lifespan, there still exists a pervasive air of negativity surrounding elderly sexuality. These oppressive attitudes toward elderly sexuality are commonly demonstrated by administrative policies, children of residents, and by staff of residential communities and nursing homes. However, societal attitudes toward elderly sexuality are are evidently beginning to change. Recent studies indicate that older Americans increasingly view sexual expression to be a positive, pleasurable, and healthy aspect of their lives.
A lack of understanding from health professionals about older adult sexuality may foster an environment that attempts to coerce the elderly to conform to society’s oppressive expectations, particularly so for older women. With the current population of elderly living in nursing homes to be around 1.6 million and rising, geriatric care will have to adapt to the ever changing characteristics of the people it serves. The new generation of people entering long-term care facilities will likely demand more from their service providers, especially with regards to personal privacy. We will also likely have more residents coming to geriatric residential facilities for which cohabitation was a suitable prelude or option to marriage, and for whom sexual relationships outside of marriage is more acceptable. In addition there is a growing need for residential facilities to recognize and accommodate the needs of gay, lesbian, bisexual, transgender, and intersex clients. The challenge will be for residential care facilities to properly educate their employees about elderly sexuality in all its forms, and to have policies in place which will ensure optimum sexual, physical and spiritual health for their residents.
We owe it to our aging population to provide them with a sense of comfort and peace in their final years. The last days of our aging population, who have built the foundations on which we all stand, should be free from oppression of any kind. It is our duty to put aside our moralistic judgments about sexuality, as well as our adherence to negative ageism, and to think about what’s best for the aging people which we serve. The research has demonstrated time and time again, what our elderly have consistently communicated to us is that sexuality continues throughout the lifespan and is an important part of human health and well-being. It’s time we all began to listen.
P.S. If you have a device that uses apps, go to https://flipboard.com/ and download the FREE App. After it's been downloaded to your device, type in "Travis Sky Ingersoll" in the search box and you'll find three magazines I've created designed to be of interest and use to Social Work Educators, social worker students, and human service professionals. The magazine I've spent the most time working on, and am the proudest of, is the "Sexuality and Social Work" magazine. It's packed with useful resources and articles! Check it out and put it to good use! :)
- Dr. Ingersoll
Aizenberg, D., Weizman, A., and Barak, Y. (2002). Attitudes toward sexuality among
nursing home residents. Sexuality and Disability, 20, 3, 185-189.
Bach, L. E., Mortimer, J. A., VandeWeerd, C., & Corvin, J. (2013). The association of physical and mental health with sexual activity in older adults in a retirement community. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 10(11), 2671-2678.
Benbow, S., and Jagus, C. (2002). Sexuality in older women with mental health
problems. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 17(3), 261-270.
Brown, L. (1989). Is there sexual freedom for our aging population in long care
institutions? Journal of Gerontological Social Work, 13, 750-793.
Callan, M. R. (2006). Providing aged care services for the gay and lesbian
community. Australian Nursing Journal, 14, 4, 20-20.
Clements, M. (1996). Sex after 65. Parade Magazine, 7, 4-5.
Mayers, K. S., and McBride, D. (1998). Sexuality training for caretakers of geriatric
residents in long term care facilities. Sexuality and Disability, 16, 3, 227-236.
Reingold, J. et.al. (1995). Creation of a training program regarding residents
sexuality. Paper Presented at the Eleventh Annual International International
Reingold, D., and Burros, N. (2004). Sexuality in the nursing home. Journal of
Gerontological Social Work, 43(2/3), 175-186.
Conference of the Alzheimer’s Disease, International, Buenos Aires, Argentina.
Richardson, J. P., and Lazur, A. (1995). Sexuality in the nursing home patient.
American Family Physician, 51, 1, 121-124.
Schick, V., Herbenick, M. P. H., Reece, M., Sanders, S. A., Dodge, B., Middlestadt, S. E., & Fortenberry, J. D. (2010). Sexual behaviors, condom use, and sexual health of Americans over 50: Implications for sexual health promotion for older adults. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7(5), 315-329.
Q: I just learned a little about Native American two-spirited people. Is being transgender and being a two-spirit the same thing?
|Posted on February 24, 2013 at 8:32 PM||comments (1)|
A: What we know about trans-related (i.e., transgender, transsexual, intersex) topics has grown significantly over recent years. However, individuals who identify as being neither “male” nor “female” or of being something entirely different, a third gender if you will, is a human reality depicted in our earliest writings and artworks. Before getting to the answer, I feel it’s necessary to provide a brief historical background of indigenous American Two-Spirit people.
Throughout North and South America, many of the native population’s creation myths
appear to have led to the establishment of egalitarian gender roles within their societies.
Where western ideologies, based primarily on Christianity, emphasized a singular male
god, most indigenous North and South American cultures emphasized the importance of both male and female deities. Under the moral authority of western religion, women were considered inferior, whereas with most Native American cultures women were viewed as equals to men (Bonvillain, 1989; Picchi, 2003; Tannahil, 1982).
In Eskimo culture the most powerful deity was called Sedna. She was responsible for
ensuring the survival of the Eskimo people through the yearly creation of the sea-life on which they depended. Navajo people stressed the importance of women’s fertility, and of the spiritual bond between mother and child. Many Navajo mythical stories involve
mother figures, such as the “Changing Woman,” who came when early humans lost their
ability to reproduce. She mated with the Sun, producing twins, who eventually gave birth
to all Navajo clans. Among the Iroquois, symbolism of female fertility and power was
also expressed through their creation myths. According to Iroquois legend the female
figure, “Aataensic,” was responsible for creating all life and is honored for being the
caretaker of human souls (Bonvillain, 1989).
Although some Native American religions talk of great female deities responsible for
giving and sustaining life, many stress that the great spiritual beings were neither male
nor female, but a combination of both (Powers, 2000; Williams, 1983). This way of thinking about gender has been documented in over 155 American Indian tribes that revered the Two-Spirits. Within the two-spirited person, the creators are said to have instilled the spirit of both man and woman, creating a third gender, who act as intermediaries between the polarities of male and female. The Two-Spirits were said to have been created for the purpose of improving society through their creative ingenuity, their spiritual power, and their ability to act as go-betweens for addressing relationship issues between men and women (Williams, 1983).
There were many tales of women engaged in tribal warfare and who married other women, as there were men who married other men. Such individuals were often viewed as a third and fourth gender, and in almost all cultures they were honored and revered. Two-spirit people were often the healers, the visionaries, the medicine people, the care-givers and the nannies of orphans. They were respected as fundamental components of their cultures and societies (Roscoe, 1988).
Around the 16th century, the egalitarianism of most Native American peoples would
come under attack with the arrival of foreigners upon their shores. The European
emphasis on Christianity and male dominance would permanently alter the lives of most
indigenous Americans. When the Spanish explorers arrived in South America they
quickly began to push their agenda of male supremacy and sexual oppression, which had
a disastrous effect on the status of South American women (Picchi, 2003; Powers, 2000;
Under the Spanish colonial regime, women would become stripped of their autonomy,
and the gender-parallelism that governed the Inca society would be left in ruins. The
Spanish, being a patriarchal war-like society, was built upon a foundation of Christian
evangelicalism. The Spanish soldiers and missionaries would not tolerate women
holding power economically, politically and/or religiously. As a result, women began to
lose their status on all levels. Their matrilineal access to resources was obliterated, being
replaced by male-centered organizations. Although women did put up resistance, and
used whatever means were at their disposal, over time the Inca men would come to internalize the male-centered ideologies of their conquerors, which led to a pervasive
atmosphere of male-superiority (Powers, 2000).
On the continents of North and South America, the constant stream of incoming colonizers would also significantly alter the gender roles of the indigenous populations. Christian missionaries, like those in South America, preached of strict gender roles and the
subjugation of women. Within this atmosphere of sexual suppression there was no place
for the Two-Spirits, who through western eyes were nothing more than sinful sodomites
(Williams, 1986). Two-spirited people were viewed as an abomination, which was just the kind of justification the colonizers used when ordering the torture and killing of two-spirited people. In fact, all expressions of gender variance were oppressively
Just as with the invasion of South America, the patriarchal ideologies of North
American colonizers persistently eroded the status of Native American women. Male
dominance was preached and even forced upon the indigenous peoples through
government-funded re-education programs. This pressured assimilation eventually
resulted in Native American rejection of cross-gender roles (i.e. a third gender/two-spirited), and the adoption of the male-centered ideologies of the colonists. Over time, as western colonization spread, the traditional gender-allocated system of reciprocal labor would be replaced by a market in which the demand for male-labor dominated. So not only was the spiritual role of women depreciated through the emphasis of a supreme male God, but women’s means of contributing equally to their people’s livelihood was also stripped away (Bonvillain, 1989; Williams, 1986).
Now that you know a little about the history of Native American two-spirited people, let’s examine the definition of transgender. The word “transgender” means different things depending on whom you ask. At its most basic level, “transgender” is a word that applies to anyone who doesn’t fit within society’s standards of how a man or a woman is expected to look or act. The term “transgender” may be used to describe an individual assigned the sex of female at birth, but later in life realizes that label doesn’t exactly reflect who they feel they are inside. Such an individual may now live their life as a man, or they may feel that their gender identity cannot be accurately summed up by either of the two strictly defined gender options available (male or female). They may feel like they’re in between those two options (both male and female), or that they’re outside of the dichotomous two-gender system. In other words, they may neither feel male nor female, but something completely different.
So, back to the question. Is being transgender and being two-spirited the same thing? I’d have to say yes, being two-spirited is one form of being transgender. Transgender people have been with us from the beginning, and will be until the end, regardless of the mechanisms of social oppression aimed at enforcing the dichotomized, heterosexist, homophobic and sexist gender ideologies pushed upon us through educational, political, and religious institutions. Now you know:)
Bonvillain, N. (1989). Gender relations in native North America. American Indian
Culture and Research Journal, 13:2, 1-28.
Picchi, D. (2003). Unlikely Amazons: Brazilian indigenous gender constructs in a
modern context. History and Anthropology, 14:1, 23-39.
Powers, K. V. (2000). Andeans and Spaniards in the contact zone. American Indian
Quarterly, 24, 511-536.
Roscoe, W. [Editor] (1988). Living the spirit: A gay American Indian anthology. St.
Martin: St. Martin’s Press.
Tannahill, R. (1982) Sex in history. Briarcliff Manor, New York: Stein and Day
Williams, W. (1986). The spirit and the flesh: Sexual diversity in American Indian
culture. Boston: Beacon Press.
|Posted on January 12, 2013 at 9:14 PM||comments (0)|
What exactly is premenstrual syndrome? A syndrome is a group of symptoms that
occur together, and in the case of PMS those symptoms are in relation to the female
menstrual cycle. With PMS, physical symptoms may include cramps, dizziness,
backache, fatigue, nausea, a tingling in the extremities, abdominal bloating, breast
tenderness, breast swelling, change in appetite, thirst, edema, and increased body weight.
Psychoemotional symptoms may include anxiety, tension, irritability, depression, mood
swings, crying spells, decreased interest, insomnia, feeling out of control, and an
inability to concentrate (Backstrom et al., 2003; Hatcher, 2004; Jones & Lopez, 2006).
For women whose PMS symptoms have a significant, negative impact on their daily life,
a diagnosis of premenstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) could be made according to the
criteria set by the American Psychiatric Association’s DSM-IV (1994).
How many women suffer from premenstrual syndrome? According to Jones and
Lopez (2006) around 70% - 90% of U.S. women suffer from some kind of physical and/or
emotional symptoms associated with their menstrual cycle. Around 20% to 30%
experience moderate to severe PMS, while another 1% - 10% are debilitated by the
severity of their symptoms (Hatcher et al., 2004).
What mechanisms cause premenstrual syndrome? The truth of the matter is that
nobody really knows what the exact mechanisms underlying many of the symptoms
associated with PMS are. However there are a number of researched-backed theories
which offer some insight on this physiological/psychoemotional phenomenon. PMS is
understood as a result of various neurochemical and physiological interactions that take
place due to the cyclic dispersal of gonadotropins. Due to the interactions between the
brain and secreted hormones, it is generally agreed that the ovaries, and in particular the
corpus luteum, are at the root of PMS (Backstrom et al., 2003; Freeman et al., 2001;
Jones & Lopez, 2006).
The corpus luteum forms in the follicular cavity left by the expelled egg during
ovulation. This process occurs during the second half of the menstrual cycle. Lutenizing
hormone (LH) peaks during ovulation and is understood to be the primary compound
responsible for the formation and function of the corpus luteum, which is to secrete
progesterone and estradiol (Jones & Lopez, 2006). The hormones secreted prime the
uterus for the possible implantation of a fertilized ovum. If the egg is not fertilized the
corpus luteum disintegrates, during which time PMS symptoms also disappear (Freeman
et al., 2001). If however, fertilization does occur, the corpus luteum continues producing
progesterone and estradiol until the developing embryo takes over the process of
hormone secretion. Research has found that during anovulatory cycles, such as those
induced by the use of some oral contraceptives, or for any other reason, the corpus
luteum is not formed and PMS symptoms are either improved or absent (Hamarback &
Backstom, 1988; Mortola, Girton, & Fisher, 1991).
Estradiol, progesterone and progesterone metabolites appear to be the primary
catalysts for experiencing PMS in susceptible women. I mention PMS susceptibility
due to the fact that not every woman will ever experience PMS, and research has shown
no difference in progesterone and estradiol levels between women who suffer from PMS
and those who do not (Backstrom et al., 2003). With regard to PMS, levels of estradiol
and progestogens appear to affect the GABA and serotonin systems, but also have been
shown to influence norepinephrine and endorphin production (Jones & Lopez, 2006).
How this gonadotropin influence on the GABA system and serotonin levels works to
produce symptoms of PMS is not completely understood yet. However, when women
suffering from PMS are given selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), a
significant decrease in PMS symptoms is produced (Kouri, E. M. & Halbreich, U., 1997).
What treatment options are available for PMS? As was mentioned, SSRIs have
been shown to be effective in treating the psychoemotional symptoms of PMS, and have
been shown to improve some women’s physical symptoms as well (Hatcher et al., 2004).
Of course the specific kind of SSRI used, such as fluoxetine (Prozac), alprazolam
(Xanax), or sertraline, would impact the specific symptoms alleviated. With regard to
dosage, SSRIs have been found to be effective when taken continuously, but also can be
taken in a cyclic manner, such as only during the last 14 days of the menstrual cycle (Backstrom et al., 2003; Hatcher et al., 2004). However, one of the most common side
effects of using SSRIs is sexual dysfunction.
Another route in the treatment of PMS is administering high doses of gonadotrophinreleasing hormone (GnRH) agonists (Jones & Lopez, 2006). The use of GnRH agonists result in extremely low progesterone and estrogen blood serum levels, thereby causing a reduction in the secretion of follicle-stimulating hormone (FSH) and LH by the pituitary gland (Freeman et al., 2001). Due to the reduction of FSH and LH, anovulation and amenorrhoea result. Anovulation means not ovulating, while amenorrhoea refers to a cease of menstruation. Both physiological and psychoemotional symptoms are alleviated using this method of treatment. The primary drawbacks of using GnRH agonists in the treatment of PMS are a loss of bone density, possible impairment in cognitive
functioning, and postmenopausal symptoms (Backstrom et al., 2003).
Surgical oophorectomy is yet another option. Performing an oophorectomy means that
the ovaries are completely removed. Although this treatment method for PMS is drastic
and should only be used when all other options have been exhausted, substantial
reduction of symptoms have been documented (Backstom et al., 2003).
It should be mentioned that many of the treatment options being reviewed are intended
to treat severe forms of PMS, there are many less-drastic options available as well.
Exercise and dietary manipulations have also been shown to reduce symptoms for those
experiencing mild forms of PMS. Minimizing consumables such as alcohol, caffeine,
sugar and salt have been found to help (Jones & Lopez, 2006). Vitamin therapy has also
shown promise. In particular, vitamin B6 has shown to produce significant improvement
in PMS symptoms (Abraham & Hargrove, 1980). However, other studies have indicated
no such improvement using vitamin B6 (London & Bradley, 1991). Of course there’s
In addition there has also been research pointing to the effectiveness of an extract of
the chaste tree or chasteberry. In a randomized, placebo controlled study by Schellenberg
(2001), 178 women who experience PMS were either given a chasteberry tablet or a
placebo pill once daily. Participants taking the chasteberry tablets communicated a
significant improvement in PMS symptoms on 5 of the 6 self-assessment items.
Alleviated symptoms included irritability, anger, mood-alteration, headache and breast
swelling. The only symptom not relieved was bloating (Huddleston & Jackson, 2001).
To begin to answer the question posed at the beginning of this paper, we will now
review the use of oral contraceptives in the treatment of PMS. Theoretically, oral
contraceptives should decrease PMS symptoms since they inhibit ovulation. This is
accomplished by giving the female body a constant, and somewhat elevated, dose of
estrogen, progesterone, or a combination of both (Jones & Lopez, 2006). Estrogen
inhibits ovulation, while progesterone thins the endometrium and thickens cervical
mucous (Hatcher et al., 2004). However, simply inhibiting ovulation does not appear to
be the cure-all for PMS sufferers.
Research has found that oral contraceptives containing estrogen are often effective in
alleviating physical symptoms, but not psychoemotional symptoms, and add insult to
injury by decreasing sexual interest (Backstrom et al., 2003; Graham & Sherwin, 1992).
Progesterone-only contraceptives all seem to result in negative mood changes and
physical symptoms (Backstrom et al., 2003). In general various treatments using
estrogens and progestogens have produced inconsistent results with regard to alleviating
PMS symptoms (Bancroft & Rennie, 1993; Hatcher et al., 2004; Jones & Lopez, 2006).
What role do oral contraceptives play in the experience of PMS? Evidence from
studies examining the effects of postmenopausal, or post-oophorectomy hormone
replacement therapy (HRT), point to a primarily neurochemical basis for PMS
(Backstrom et al., 2003; Casper et al., 1990). Literature indicates an interaction between
hormones and the brain’s response systems. Women with a history of PMS, who had
undergone both a surgical oophorectomy and a hysterectomy, could be safely be given
estrogen-only replacement therapy without experiencing a reoccurrence of symptoms
(Feeman et al., 2001).
With regard to GnRH agonist therapy, women whose symptoms improved
significantly all suffered a re-occurrence of PMS when estrogen and progesterone replacement therapy was administered (Mortola, Girton, & Fischer, 1991; Mezrow et al., 1994). It is the combination of estrogen and progestin that appears responsible for the experience of symptoms associated with PMS. Estrogen alone does not appear to create PMS symptoms. The question then is, why not just use estrogen only pills? There is, in fact, a very good reason not to. Due to the strong correlation between estrogen replacement
therapy (ERT) and endometrial cancer, adding progestogen is advised due to studies
indicating that its addition significantly decreases the risk for such cancers (Jones &
In conclusion, PMS symptoms are not solely the result of hormonal fluctuations due to
a woman’s menstrual cycle. This is why women with a history of PMS still experience
symptoms even when their hormonal systems are kept in contraceptive-based homeostasis and they are not ovulating. The mechanisms producing PMS are much more complex than that. The experience of PMS is due to the way in which certain women’s bodies process
neurochemical agents, in particular a combination of estrogen and progesterone.
However there does seem to be a degree of psychosomatic influence indicated by high
placebo response rates in many studies on the treatment of PMS and PMDD (Freeman &
Rickels, 1999; Freeman et al., 2001; Yonkers, Clark & Trivedi, 1997).
Is the end of menstruation and PMS in the foreseeable future? With recent
advances in oral contraceptive technology, such a possibility may already be a reality. As
far as eliminating menstruation, there are already a few products on the market such as
Seasonale that can be taken for 84 consecutive days. After the 84 days of taking the pill,
seven days of placebo pills are given to promote a progesterone cycle withdrawal bleed.
Even in the light of side effects such as spotting, in 2004 sales for Seasonale were around
$87 million (George, 2005).
Two new oral contraceptives, Anya and Belara both promise to give women complete
choice over menstruation. Both can be taken 365 days a year without the need for
placebos. Unless the user wants to experience a withdrawal bleed, which they could for a
variety of reasons, they do not have to (Bitzer, 2005; George, 2005). Although both Anya
and Belara claim to lessen, or even eliminate symptoms associated with PMS, further
research is needed to ascertain whether both forms of contraceptive can actually live up
to that claim. As we have learned, simply producing a state of anovulation and
amenorrhea does not necessarily translate into an absence of PMS. Although our
understanding of PMS continues to advance, it is evident that we still have a lot to learn.
Abraham, G. E., & Hargrove, J. T. (1980). Effect of vitamin B6 on premenstrual
symptomatology in women with premenstrual tension syndrome: A double-blind
crossover study. Infertility, 3, 155-165.
American Psychiatric Association (1994). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental
disorders (4th ed.), 714-718, Washington, DC: American Psychiatric Association.
Backstrom, T., Andreen, L., Birzniece, V., Bjorn, I., Johansson, I., Nordenstam-Haghjo,
M., Nyberg, S., Sundstrom-Poromaa, Wahlstrom, G., Wang, M., & Zhu, D. (2003).
The role of hormones and hormonal treatments in premenstrual syndrome. CNS
Drugs, 17, 5, 325-342.
Bancroft, J., Rennie, D. (1993). The impact of oral contraceptives on the experience of
perimenstrual mood, clumsiness, food craving and other symptoms. Journal of
Psychosomatic Research, 37, 195-202.
Bitzer, J. (2005). Belara - proven benefits in daily practice. The European Journal of
Contraception and Reproductive Health Care, 10(supplement 1), 19-25.
Casper, R. F., Hearn, M. T. (1990). The effect of hysterectomy and bilateral
oophorectomy in women with severe premenstrual syndrome. American Journal of
Obstetrics and Gynecology, 162, 105-109.
Freeman, E. W., Kroll, R., Rapkin, A., Pearstein, T., Brown, C., Parsey, K., Zhang, P.,
Patel, H., & Foegh, M. (2001). Evaluation of a unique oral contraceptive in the
treatment of premenstrual dysphoric disorder. Journal of Women’s Health & Gender
Based Medicine, 10, 6, 561-569.
George, L, (2005). The end of menstruation. Maclean’s, 118, 50, 40-46.
Graham, C. A., & Sherwin, B. B. (1992). A prospective treatment study of premenstrual
symptoms using a triphasic oral contraceptive. Journal of Psychosomatic Research,
Hamarback, S., & Backstrom, T. (1988). Induced anovulation as treatment of
premenstrual tension syndrome: A double-blind cross-over study with GnRH-agonist
versus placebo. Acta Obstet Gynecol Scandinavia, 67, 159-166.
Hatcher, R. A. (2004). Contraceptive technology (18th ed.) San Francisco, CA:Ardent
Huddleston, M., & Jackson, E. A. (2001). Is an extract of the fruit of agnus castus
(chaste tree or chasteberry) effective for prevention of symptoms of premenstrual
syndrome (PMS)? The Journal of Family Practice, 50, 4, 298-298.
Jones, R. E., & Lopez, K. H. (2006). Human reproductive biology (3rd ed.) San Diego,
CA: Academic Press.
Kouri, E. M., Halbreich, U. (1997). State and trait serotonergic abnormalities in women
with dysphoric premenstrual syndromes. Psychopharmacological Bulletin, 33, 767
London, R. S., & Bradley, L. (1991). Effect of a nutritional supplement on premenstrual
symptomatology in women with premenstrual syndrome: A double-blind longitudinal
study. Journal of the American College of Nutrition, 10, 494-494.
Mezrow, G., Shoupe, D., Spicer, D., Lobo, R., Leung, R., & Pike, M. (1994). Depot
leuprolide acetate with estrogen and progestin add-back for long-term treatment of
premenstrual syndrome. Fertility and Sterility, 62, 932-932.
Mortola, J. F., Girton, L., & Fischer, U. (1991). Successful treatment of severe
premenstrual syndrome by combined use of gonadotropin-releasing hormone agonist
and estrogen/progestin. Journal of Clinical Endocrinol Metab, 72, 252 A-F.
Schellenberg, R. (2001). Treatment for the premenstrual syndrome with agnus castus fruit
extract: Prospective, randomized, placebo controlled study. BMJ, 322, 134-137.
Sveinsdottir, H., & Backstrom, T. (2000). Menstrual cycle symptom variation in a
community sample of women using and not using oral contraceptives. Acta
Obstetricia et Gynecologica Scandinavica, 79, 9, 757-764.
|Posted on September 24, 2012 at 7:29 PM||comments (0)|
Question: Is Frigidity Real?
A little background about the word “FRIGID”
Before I get into whether the condition of frigidity is real or not, it’s important to inform that the word “frigidity” is an outdated, sexist term. There was a time in most world societies (not that long ago to be honest) that women were more likely to be seen as domestic livestock, as being voiceless, powerless and inherently inferior to men. Their husbands and boyfriends expected them to demonstrate their appreciation for everything a man provided for them, by enthusiastically, passionately having sex with them whenever it was required. Now, if for some unknown mysterious reason, women did not actually feel like providing their men with the sexual release those men felt entitled to, they would be labeled as FRIGID, a clinical diagnosis that equated a woman’s lack of sexual desire for her provider (her husband or boyfriend) to a disorder of character. Calling a woman FRIGID was (and is) not a compliment; it’s a pejorative term communicating that a woman is emotionally cold, has low libido, or simply does not respond “appropriately” to her partner’s sexual advances.
It is also important to understand that only women could be labeled “Frigid” since it was also believed that the nature of men made it impossible for them to NOT want to engage in sexual activity whenever they could. This outdated and completely un-evolved social norm equates a couple’s relationship to that of a business transaction; where one person makes the money and puts food on the table, while the other takes care of the children, domestic chores, and most importantly, provides sexual services regardless of sexual desire. Unfortunately, such gender-role based beliefs are still commonplace throughout the world. Not that I’m saying there doesn’t need to be a balance of contribution to a couple’s financial and domestic efforts; I’m just saying that sexual activity should never be an expected component of any romantic relationship’s accounting system (aka, the relationship LEDGER).
Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder
These days, a lack or absence of sexual desire and/or sexual fantasies, which causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulties (and cannot be better accounted for by another mental disorder, a drug, or some other medical condition) is called Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD), not FRIGIDITY. HSDD is listed in the DSM-IV under “Sexual and Gender Identity Disorders”. HSDD can have a variety of emotional and physical causes for men, women and trans-identified individuals. It is extremely important to understand that in order to be diagnosed with HSDD, your lack or absence of sexual desire and/or fantasies has to cause YOU significant personal distress and interpersonal difficulties.
If your lack of sexual desire doesn’t bother you at all, maybe you’re simply Asexual. Asexuality is a sexual orientation characterized by an overall lack of sexual desire and/or sexual fantasies. And although Asexual individuals may be emotionally attracted to others, they simply have no desire to engage in sexual activity with them. Let’s say that we’ve ruled out Asexuality as being the root of a person’s lack of sexual desire, as previously stated, HSDD can have a variety of emotional and physical roots.
Examples of emotional causes of HSDD:
- Low self-esteem, negative body image, lack of confidence
- Fear of pregnancy or sexually transmitted diseases
- Situational factors such as parents sleeping in the next room, an intoxicated partner,
or lack of adequate privacy
- Emotions such as depression, guilt, anxiety, or boredom in the relationship
- Physical/sexual intimacy inhibitions linked to religious or personal taboos
- Communication problems, an argument or an unresolved emotional issue in the
- Feeling emotionally distant from a partner
- Past traumatic sexual experience such as rape, incest, or sexual assault
Examples of Physical Causes of HSDD:
- Pain or discomfort during sexual intercourse (dyspareunia)
- Vaginal dryness
- Lack of adequate foreplay
- Poor sexual performance from one’s partner
- Fatigue or exhaustion
- Side effects of prescription medications
- Side effects of alcohol or substance abuse
- Changes related to menopause or hormonal imbalance
- Damage to nerves as a result of trauma or surgery (ex., hysterectomy, prostate
- General infections, sexually transmitted infections
- Gynecological problems and erection difficulties
In addition to the variety of emotional and physical causes of Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder listed above, a lack of sexual desire may also be linked to low levels of testosterone in males, females and trans-identified individuals. Testosterone levels and one’s sex drive go hand in hand. The more testosterone one has in one’s blood stream, the more likely they are to have a high sex drive (libido). However, even high levels of testosterone can be negated if a person is dealing with one or more of the physical and/or emotional causes of HSDD. This brings me to another important point to make; you don’t necessarily have HSDD simply because you are experiencing a lack of sexual desire. Having a lack of sexual desire from time to time is completely normal, regardless of your gender. Stress, painful skin conditions, lack of sleep, lack of reciprocity from your partner, and body image issues are all common reasons why people periodically have no interest in sex. There is really no such thing as a “normal” sex drive. Sex drives are as individually based as physical attraction templates; it’s all about what is “normal” for each individual.
How do you treat low libido or HSDD?
First off, it’s important to differentiate HSDD from normal, periodic decreases in libido, or a lack of sexual desire. It’s really only a diagnosable problem if it’s causing serious and persistent personal and/or interpersonal distress. Once you’ve ruled out any physical/medical cause (ex., pharmaceutical side effect, blood pressure/blood flow issues, etc.), it is important to investigate for possible emotional/relational roots to the problem. This is typically achieved through individual and couples counseling and/or sexual therapy. One of the initial areas of a person’s life that gets a lot of attention is their relationship, intimacy, and communication issues. Healthy, honest, and open communication patterns are vital for any happy relationship, sexual or not.
In a romantic relationship, non-sexual intimacy and sexuality education is almost always a primary component in the treatment for low sexual desire or HSDD. Sometimes the problem is rooted in unrealistic perceptions of what defines a “normal” sexual experience, with people feeling that either their partner is not living up what they think is normal, or feeling that they, themselves, are unable to live up to their own expectations of what constitutes an ideal sexual performance. This performance anxiety around sexual activity is often linked to something called “spectatoring,” in which the person isn’t completely within them-self experiencing the sexual act. Instead they are partly outside of themselves, critically judging their performance based upon internalized sexual norms; norms that often come from pornographic material such as videos and magazine articles. The problem with judging one’s sexual “performance” based on porn has two major problems, 1) Porn sex is not realistic and often completely sexist and misogynistic, and 2) When you are outside of yourself, judging your performance, you are not in the present, actually enjoying the sex you are having!
If a clinician thinks that part of the problem is a result of stress, stress-reduction techniques will often be taught. If it’s a self-esteem problem or a body image distortion, such issues will likely be addressed before tackling a person’s sexual dissatisfaction. If however, as is often the case with heterosexual couples, the problem appears to be rooted in a sense of gender inequality, or due to the way each person in a couple attaches meaning to sexual activity, then couple’s counseling/therapy will need to focus on those issues. Treating low sexual desire or HSDD can incorporate individual and/or couple therapy, hormonal testing and treatment, and/or addressing other medically based causes.
I chose to equate Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder with the outdated concept of “Frigidity” for a couple of reasons. Frigidity was almost always associated with a lack of sexual desire, and although it was primarily used to label women who did not want to have sex with the men they were in relationships with, HSDD addresses this lack of wanting for all genders. I also chose HSDD because others “problems” of sexuality like premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, anorgasmia, dyspareunia, and sexual aversion disorder are sometimes the root of HSDD, but are also issues/conditions that can be unrelated to sexual desire and deserve their own time in the spotlight.
So, to answer the question posed by one of my students, “is frigidity real”, I’d have to say NO and YES. No, frigidity is not real in that it is a value-laden sexist term that basically summarized the frustration of misogynistic men who felt entitled to their female partner’s body and sexuality whenever they wanted it. And yes, low sexual drive is very real. However, its origins can be rooted in a complex web of relational, physiological and emotional factors. My advice to any man, or woman, or trans-identified individual who has a partner that doesn’t seem to be interested in having sex with them, is to communicate. Ask them what is going on. Let them know you are willing to do whatever it takes to be a part of the solution. If that means couples therapy, do it! If it means being there for your partner as they work through emotional/physical trauma, do it! If it means widening your sexual repertoire to include new positions, new ways of communicating and/or expressing your sexuality, do it! If it means honoring a request to brush your teeth or to take a shower before having sex, do it! And most importantly, if it means redefining what you expect of your partner and yourself, regarding rigid, oversimplified and often sexist gender role ideologies, for goodness sakes, do it. I guarantee that the more you are willing to care about your partner’s sexual and emotional health, the better your sex life will become:)
American Psychiatric Association. (2000). Diagnostic and statistical manual of mental disorders (4 ed., text revision). Washington, DC: Author.
Hall, K. (2004). Reclaiming your sexual self: How you can bring desire back into your life. Hoboken, NJ: Wiley.
Lazarus, A. A. (1963). The treatment of chronic frigidity by systematic desensitization. The Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 136(3), 272-280.
Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. E. (1966). Human sexual response. Boston: Little, Brown.
Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. E. (1970). Human sexual inadequacy. Boston: Little, Brown.
Masters, W. H., & Johnson, V. E. (1974). The pleasure bond. Boston: Little, Brown.
Masters, W. H., Johnson, V., & Kolodny, R. C. (1992). Human sexuality (3 ed.). New York: Harper Collins.
McCarthy, B., & McCarthy, E. (2003). Rekindling desire: A step-by-step program to help low-sex and no-sex marriages. New York: Brunner/Routledge.
How could a man want to have sex with a man, but doesn’t love him? And why would a man say he loves a woman, but doesn’t want to have sex with her? Why could this happen?
|Posted on June 28, 2012 at 10:20 AM||comments (0)|
There may be many paths toward the possible truth in answering this series of questions. However, I feel it is important to offer some concrete possibilities. It is possible for both men and women to have sex with people that they don’t love. One-night stands and occasional hook-ups are a reality for many sexually active people throughout the world. I’m not endorsing such behavior, rather I’m simply acknowledging that it happens. I believe that the best sexual experiences involve intimacy, trust, open communication and spiritual connection; all of which are difficult to obtain in a one-night stand.
The second question could have multiple answers. Perhaps the man is Asexual, or in other words, he has no sexual drive and/or attractions. People who are Asexual are completely capable of being in love, however, they simply don’t want to have sex with anyone. Another possibility involves the interpretation of the world “love.” There are many kinds of love. There is the love one feels for one’s family members or children. There is love people feel toward close friends. There is the love people feel toward those they find inspiring. And there is even the love people feel for their pets.
Although I’m simply guessing, the student who posed this series of questions may have had an experience where the man she was attracted to, or loved, was in fact either gay or bisexual. If he was gay, then he may have a great deal of love for her, but since he isn’t sexually attracted to women, would not want to have sex with her. If he was a bisexual man, he may have sexual attractions to both men and women, but not specifically towards her. The man in question may simply feel companionate love toward her, which can be very powerful and intimate, just not sexual.
Why do so many girls call their female friends “my wife”, ”Honey”, etc, but boys think it’s sick. What make girls do that? Does it mean they changed their sexual orientation?
|Posted on June 22, 2012 at 3:45 PM||comments (0)|
Why many girls call their female friends “my wife”, ”Honey”, etc, but boys think it’s sick.
What make girls do that? Does it mean they changed their sexual orientation?
What makes girls do that? Doesn’t it mean they changed their sexual orientation? I find these to be interesting questions. All stereotypical “male” and “female” behavior has to do with socially-constructed gender roles and gender-based ideologies. There’s absolutely nothing wrong with a female calling her female friends “my wife” or “honey”. Just as there is nothing wrong with males calling their male friends a “man crush” or saying that they love each other. However, we live in a very sexist, homophobic world where people automatically assign a sexual orientation label to people depending on how much they conform to the dictated rules and roles assigned to their gender.
When the term “homophobia” was first coined in the 1970s, it was described as a mental disorder, a condition relating to the irrational fear of homosexuality or homosexual people. Over the decades, this definition of homophobia has evolved to include all of the negative feelings and attitudes that people have about being gay or bisexual. Although common among both sexes, men and women have been found to experience homophobia for slightly different reasons. According to Basow and Johnson (2008), women who scored high on homophobia tended to disagree with sex role egalitarianism, held authoritarian attitudes, and perceived stereotypical feminine attributes as being of great importance to their personal sense of femininity. Homophobia among men, on the other hand, is mostly related to the cultural expectations of masculinity. Homophobia plays a significant role in maintaining patriarchal power structures.
In U.S. culture (and in cultures throughout the world including China), the social construction of masculinity and femininity has been formulated and promulgated in a way that highly values “masculine traits,” while devaluing “feminine traits.” To be masculine is often seen as being strong, powerful, dominating, unemotional and violent, whereas being feminine is often viewed as being sensitive, maternal, submissive, passive, and weak. American males are pushed to separate themselves from all that is feminine in order to prove their “manliness”. This societal pressure often manifests into violence against women, gay-bashing and homophobia. In fact, being homophobic and participating in gay-bashing is often viewed as a rite of passage into “manhood” by many young males. Because male homosexuality is often erroneously associated with femininity, it violates the strict gender norms of traditional masculinity. Homophobic bullying destroys lives. Avoiding discussions of homophobia, homosexuality, and sexist gender ideologies can help foster a culture of intolerance and non-acceptance, thereby allowing violence against non-heterosexuals and women to flourish.
So, NO, females calling females “my wife” or “sweetie” or saying “I love you” doesn’t necessarily have any connection to sexual orientation. I mean it could have, but just as likely may not have. And NO, people don’t change their sexual orientation; their decision to hide or show their sexual orientation is often based on how safe they feel they are in doing so. Heterosexual females often express such “terms of endearment” to other heterosexual females, but so do homosexual and bisexual females. In both Chinese and North American societies, same sex affection is often something tolerated among women, however, same sex affection among men, regardless of their sexual orientation is rarely tolerated, and is often attacked.
It’s sad to me that people, especially men, are forced into tiny, oppressive, and extremely limited gender boxes. In my opinion, it robs men of their freedom to be who they truly are. Women are imprisoned by their gender boxes as well, however, they are often given more freedom to be affectionate with other women, or even to be sexual with other women. But of course, that’s often for the sole benefit of a man's sexual fantasies.
Basow, S. A., & Johnson, K. (2000). Predictors of homophobia in female college
students. Sex Roles, 42(5/6), 391-404.
Claassen, C. (2000). Homophobia and women archaeologists. World Archaeology, 32(2),
Finlay, B. & Walther, C. S. (2003). The relation of religious affiliation, service
attendance, and other factors to homophobic attitudes among university students.
Review of Religious Research, 44(4), 370-393.
Kimmel, M. (1996). Manhood in America: A cultural history. New York: Free Press.
Mills, M. (1996). ‘Homophobia kills’: A disruptive moment in the educational politics of
legitimation. British Journal of Sociology of Education, 17(3), 315-326.
O’Neil, J. M. (1981). Patterns of role conflict and strain: Sexism and fear of femininity
in men’s lives. Personnel & Guidance Journal, 60(4), 203-210.
Szymanski, D. M., & Carr, E. R. (2008). The roles of gender role conflict and
internalized heterosexism in gay and bisexual men’s psychological distress: Testing
two mediation models. Psychology of Men & Masculinity, 1, 40-54.
Van Der Meer, T., & Herdt, G. (2003). Homophobia and anti-gay violence:
Contemporary perspectives (editorial introduction). Culture, Health & Sexuality, 5(2),
Wickberg, D. (2000). Homophobia: On the cultural history of an idea. Critical Inquiry,