Sex and the Happy Homemaker

Vntage photo 1950s houswife in bed

Vintage Photo from Simmons Mattress Ad 1951

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

vintage photo 1950s marrried couple in seperate beds

Vintage Advertisement Beauty Rest Mattress 1948

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

Vintage Magazine Medical Confessions 1960

Vintage Magazine 1960 “Medical Confessions”

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.

vintage illustrations couple in bed and frost in freezer

The plight of the frigid housewife

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.

photos man and woman in Kitchen ice cubes Servel refrigerator

Vintage ad Servel Refrigerator Freezer 1955

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.

vintage ads woman and housewife serving coffee

An acceptance of the inherent passivity of woman was key to a happy marriage.
“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.”

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

Vintage book cover lways Ask a Man Key to Femininity by Arlene Dah picture of Arlene Dahl l

Hollywood’s glamorous Arlene Dahl, “internationally known film star and one of the worlds loveliest women” spills the secrets of developing your femininity, in her 1965 book “Always Ask a Man Arlene Dahl’s Key to Femininity”

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.”

Deep Freeze

sexist ad wife, daughter and husband

Along with the media, psychiatrists were steering women toward appropriate fulfillment by reminding them of the joy of subservient home life.
Vintage image from Honewell heating Ad 1951

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.”

housewife happy  self defrost

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.

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  1. Adagio

    (in a ‘tongue-in-cheek’ manner) And here, all this time, I’ve been blaming it on the bloody “Puritans” at Plymouth Rock – for importing the diseased mindset of some European cult to our shores many years ago. Having been in Europe myself I noticed that normal Europeans were a lot more open about sex. Returning to USA was a crushing experience when I realized that in this country sex was condemned as evil and in ‘polite’ circles when it was mentioned at all it was spoken about in hushed tones and euphemistic metaphors.

    Liked by 1 person

  2. sdaven5191

    I had to absolutely laugh out loud by the time I got done reading about all the innane twaddle that delusional men were spouting to otherwise perfectly healthy, but terribly uneducated women who were being shamed into believing this was a real problem that was all their fault. And then, I got very sad for the women who were being psychologically abused with this stuff. Heaven knows it couldn’t possibly be the responsibility of inept men who were actually equally uneducated about the anatomy of sex. The absolute gall those psychiatrists possessed in not only developing but actually believing such nonsense, and using it to shame women into believing that they were mentally damaged by not rejecting what was actually perfectly normal is absolutely appalling. The enormous amount of uncalculable time, energy, effort, money and psychological abuse that resulted from women being told by such “experts” that they must pursue the unreachable is mind boggling.
    Thank heavens we as a nation did not have to rely on women who were being directed simultaneously to chase down their passive sweetness and warmth, their feminine acceptance of being simple reflectors of their husbands’ pursuits and achievements while working in the Military and the massive Industrial Complexes 24/7 that won us World War II! Had that been the case, we would be speaking German/Japanese now. And not enjoying it either.

    Liked by 1 person

    • It is mind boggling indeed. Though it makes for a great laugh, it is heartbreaking that we could have been so accepting and susceptible to “experts advice”. A word of caution, don’t think it still isn’t happening- only the advice and the message has changed.

      Liked by 1 person

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