The Frigid Woman in the Cold War PtII
When it came to sex, just how happy was the proverbial happy homemaker?
Not so much.
An epidemic was ravishing cold war America …frigidity. According to the medical community the mid-century American woman was as frosty and frigid as the polar vortex.
Doctors and gynecologists joined forces with psychiatrists and put the bedroom under the microscope with alarming results.
The Big Chill
A big chill had crept into the well-appointed bedrooms all across the nation and it would appear that the American housewife’s libido was in the deep freeze.
Regardless of her enjoyment of sex, frigidity was defined by a wifes inability to experience the requisite “mature” vaginal climax, the only AMA approved climax. Cast as a neurotic with “deep rooted psychological problems” a housewife’s only hope of a cure was with counseling and psychiatrists.
Can’t Get No Satisfaction
Which was how in the fall of 1960 suburban housewife Betsy Bland found herself sitting nervously in the waiting room of a West End Avenue psychiatrist.
The dour faced doctor did not overlook the awkward manner in which the anxious faced brunette with the soft Toni Home Perm, slid gingerly into the chair facing him.
He made no comment.
Betsy was an up to date mid-century American housewife and helpmate, pretty and perky dressed in a becoming Bobbie Brookes tailored suit and a fresh coat of pretty in pink lipstick.
Gently Dr Otto Hesse spoke, asking what brought her here, though he knew only too well.
The only unanswered question facing the good doctor was the precise nature of the problem, the forces that would convert a good wife into a troubled one.
All the x-rays and thyroid pills and sex manuals in the world that this unhappy woman had been prescribed had no power to exorcise so subtle a disease, he thought to himself.
Betsy’s voice broke and she reached in her bag for a hankie. Offering her a cigarette, the doctor lit one for himself. She sighed contently exhaling the smoke.
Dr Hesse had stressed that completeness and frankness was the first rule.
Biting hard on her freshly painted lips, she tried to explain.
Speaking as softly as a child, the attractive housewife confessed that she did not feel overpowering desire in response to her husbands advances admitting that she sometimes needed stimulation to be made to be excited.
With tears welling up in her eyes, Betsy concluded with the question, “Is something the matter with me doctor ?
The doctor grew thoughtful and removed his glasses. He came right to the point.
His answer was an unequivocal “Yes”.
If he’d heard this story once he’d heard it a thousand times.
The portly psychiatrist informed her that she was suffering from frigidity an affliction affecting millions of American women. “No other health problem of our time even approaches this magnitude,” he explained somberly.
And who was to blame for this epidemic? For once it was something that could not be blamed on the Russians. Or an inept husband. The blame was the modern woman herself.
Medical experts were convinced that America was suffering from an epidemic of “unwomanliness” the root cause of their sexual dysfunction.
Conventional wisdom placed the blame for the frigid woman squarely on her own immaturity: “ the normal woman accepts the “passive” receptivity of the vagina.”
“The neurotic woman suffering from an inability to experience vaginal orgasms finds a typical scapegoat-man.” stated sex experts Edmund Bergler & Kroger from their 1954 book Kinseys Myth of Female Sexuality.
“Ignorant of the fact that her own neurotic difficulties is responsible for her frigidity, she places the blame on mans technique…(But) a healthy and experienced man is helpless when confronted with a frigid woman. The frigid woman’s scapegoat theory is by no means harmless. It poisons a marriage and frequently leads to extramarital affairs and divorce.”
Always Ask a Man
Dr Hesse knew it all boiled down to the basic question….was Betsy Blane rejecting her femininity?
Pulling a well-thumbed through book down from the shelf, he began reading a passage out loud from “Psychoanalysis and Female Sexuality.” In the introduction to the anthology a Dr Hendrik Ruitenbeek’s stated:
“There were too many women who want to do or to get something for themselves rather than merely reflect the achievement of their husbands. These women show their resistance to their lot in their inability to have vaginal orgasms.”
Betsy blushed deeply
The path to healthy adult femininity, Doctor Hesse explained, “was paved with sacrifices”. For women sex was to be an exercise in happy self-denial.
Psychoanalytic theory presented the necessary steps to achieve true womanliness.
“First as she outgrew her girlhood a woman had to renounce the pleasures of the clitoris in an attempt to transfer feelings to the more “womanly” vagina. When a woman accomplished that task of abandoning the clitoris she symbolically set aside all masculine striving and accepted a life of passivity.”
Frigidity was a symptom of a bigger social problem-modern woman’s rejection of her femininity.
Along with the media, psychiatrists were steering women toward appropriate fulfillment by reminding them of the joy of subservient home life. “Women with other ambitions, “ the doctor continued “were likely malcontents and neurotic in her inability to accept her passive role.”
“You all know women who lack warmth tenderness delicacy and sweetness…” one psychiatrist advised a NY lecture audience. “They do not want to be homemakers they do not want to be mothers. They want to become presiding judges of the Supreme Court…’” Such women could suffer “total sexual frigidity or homosexuality,” he cautioned, and even worse than that, this psychosis could result in a woman “separating herself from all that is considered womanly such as cooking, making a home…”
“The greatest Casanova is helpless against frigidity,” Dr Hesse concluded smiling. “It is not to be cured by tricks or special art of lovemaking.”
An acceptance of the inherent passivity of woman was key to a happy marriage.
The best advise for the frigid woman was to put her ambitions in the deep freeze.
With that acceptance, the doctor reassured Betsy she would soon be back home reveling in her job as wife and mother. Snug within the warmth of a good man’s love she would once again glory in the laughter of her healthy children and glow with pride with every acquisition.”
So Betsy along with millions of other frustrated housewives took matters into her own hand. Learning how to “self defrost”- that’s what would make the happy homemaker happy once and for all.
© Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream, 2014. Unauthorized use and/or duplication of this material without express and written permission from this blog’s author and/or owner is strictly prohibited. Excerpts and links may be used, provided that full and clear credit is given to Sally Edelstein and Envisioning The American Dream with appropriate and specific direction to the original content.