Texas Tech University

25th Annual All-University Conference for the Advancement of Women in Higher Education

Conference Award for Best Paper

Erin D. Murphy, M.A. Department of Marriage and Family Therapy

Throughout the last few decades, researchers have worked to define and study treatment options for Female Sexual Dysfunction (FSD). While the term is becoming more widely known, it remains a highly medicalized term, often used to indicate abnormal sexual behavior according to culturally accepted norms. This quickly serves to label females as sexually non-functional, unhealthy, etc. This language frequently used resorts in a rather mechanistic and emotionless focus on sexuality as scientific and physical- detached from the healthy, sexual female. It also serves to promote sexual dysfunction in a way that cooperates with the generic masculine nature of semantics used to describe a female experience. As a result, many of these diagnosed women tend to approach their diagnosis with fault and blame, based on their perceived ‘relational duties.' Sexual script theory and gender roles are explored in this paper as factors that contribute to the overall cultural meaning attached to FSD, as well as the felt pressure by women to conform to ‘normalized sexual behavior.' Due to the importance placed on language and meaning in our society, a strong case can be made for creating and utilizing a more collaborative and feminist approach in FSD discourse. Current research fails to address how women define and assess their own sexuality and the role it plays in relationships and self-concept. The argument is made that this should done by modifying the current language, so as to create a new perspective in diagnosing and treating FSD with a more collaborative-feminist approach. This would then change the language from one of dysfunction to sexual function. By allowing a new voice, perhaps providing a new forum for discourse to occur, it is believed that the defining language females would use to describe their own sexuality would be quite different than the existing diagnostic criteria.

This presentation would include a brief literature review of what extant literature exists on female sexuality discourse, how this has changed over the last few decades (current language being used, the introduction of feminist theory, and a brief overview of FSD). The author would also discuss the academic and clinical implications for language reformation surrounding female sexuality and the cultural movements made thus far. Future directions and research would be presented and time for discussion and questions regarding the presented material would be left for the end of the session.

I thought that the paper was both sympathetic to its subject matter AND sophisticated about the ways in which our perceptions of what count as medical or psychological "facts" are linguistically constructed, and (very importantly) linguistically gendered. I was very impressed with Murphy's combination of theoretical interpretation of FSD, and practical applications for changing how FSD is defined, approached, and treated. - juror Jennifer Snead PhD, Assistant Professor Department of English


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