American culture is more sexually liberal than ever. But compared to men, women's sexual pleasure has not grown: Up to 40 percent of American women experience the sexual malaise clinically known as low sexual desire. Between this low desire, muted pleasure, and experiencing sex in terms of labor rather than of lust, women by the millions are dissatisfied with their erotic lives.
For too long, this deficit has been explained in terms of women's biology, stress, and age. In The Pleasure Gap, Katherine Rowland rejects the idea that women should settle for diminished pleasure; instead, she argues women should take inequality in the bedroom as seriously as we take it in the workplace and understand its causes and effects. Drawing on extensive research and interviews with more than one hundred women and dozens of sexual health professionals, Rowland shows that the pleasure gap is neither medical malady nor psychological condition but rather a result of our culture's troubled relationship with women's sexual expression. This provocative exploration of modern sexuality makes a case for closing the gap for good.
Former Guernica publisher Rowland argues that the sexual revolution and women's liberation movements of the 1960s and '70s have "increased sexual quantity without improving sexual quality," in her tasteful and open-minded debut. American culture treats female sexuality as complicated and mysterious, Rowland argues, without considering "the constellation of pressures and actual inequities" that often leave women feigning desire in order to maintain harmony in their relationships. She considers factors that constrain heterosexual cisgender women's pursuit of pleasure, including a lack of definitive scientific knowledge about female sexuality; the physical and psychological effects of trauma; cultural messages that encourage women to embrace sex as a service to their partners; and the challenge of maintaining desire within long-term relationships. Exploring paths toward "sexual discovery, recovery, and healing," Rowland delves into pharmacology and sex therapy as well as practices including BDSM, consensual nonmonogamy, and "sexological bodywork," in which persistent sexual dysfunctions are treated with erotic massage. Though the book doesn't offer a definitive path guaranteed to close the "pleasure gap," Rowland skillfully synthesizes many different ideas and approaches, and encourages women to embrace a broader understanding of their own sexual desire as an ongoing process of self-discovery and self-assertion. Readers interested in feminism, women's issues, and contemporary sexual mores will find this to be an edifying and comprehensive study.