There is no shortage of in-your-face sexuality in American culture. Yet as Patricia Cohen notes in a piece for the New York Times, much of that sexual culture, including the marketing of female sexuality, is still driven by men.
Cohen notes that men still have control over the sexual attitudes of the country, as "the mostly male-run film and television industries, as well as the profit-driven medical and pharmaceutical establishment, can aggressively promote their own self-interested standards of beauty, sexiness and normality." Firmly in control of the images and "breakthroughs" coming out of both Hollywood and the pharmaceutical industry, men are able to project a male-centric view of female sexuality on viewers and consumers, who then internalize such messages to the point where, as Cohen points out, women are so painfully aware of their perceived "flaws" and sexual inadequacies that they go so far as to schedule "vaginal rejuvenation" surgeries in order to ensure that their genitals are up to speed with the genitals of their peers.
Women's views on the aging process, and all that comes with it, is also somewhat controlled by men, Cohen argues, as "normal signs of the passing years are erased, so that anyone over 35 still has a whipped-cream complexion and an ice-cream-stick figure. Because viewers are so unaccustomed to seeing faithful renditions of older women, when they do appear, people assume that the characters are older than they really are." Photoshop, digital "enhancing," and the notion that every woman should look 25 or younger to please men, is a running theme with older actresses in Hollywood—not so for older men, as Cohen notes, with May-December couples like Jeff Bridges and Maggie Gyllenhaal being matched up as romantic leads.
It's a frustrating piece in that everything Cohen writes is painfully true, and yet nothing entirely surprising. As Cohen herself notes, men have been attempting to "cure" such things as "female hysteria" and even menopause from an outsider's perspective for years, trying to make excuses or diagnostic criteria for the changes women go through as they age, physically, emotionally, and sexy. It isn't hard to look around and see Cohen's piece in action: with a pop-culture landscape filled with overblown Victoria's Secret fashion shows, television programs about "cougars," and endless commercials on how to stay sexy via "age-reversing" technology, it's clear that women are still being bombarded with the message that they must stay young and obtain the sexual skills of a porn star in order to remain desirable in today's society.
It is a message that is hard to dismiss, as years and years of such imagery has led to the internalization of the "male view," and it's going to be nearly impossible to drown those messages out until women finally, finally get a chance to take control of how that imagery is being created.