Sofia Jawed-Wessel on Women’s Sexual Pleasure: What Are We So Afraid Of? (Transcript)

Here is the full transcript of sex researcher Sofia Jawed-Wessel’s TEDx Talk on Women’s Sexual Pleasure: What Are We So Afraid Of? at TEDxOmaha conference.

Listen to the MP3 Audio: Women’s sexual pleasure- What are we so afraid of by Sofia Jawed-Wessel at TEDxOmaha


Sofia Jawed-Wessel – Sex researcher

I started kindergarten already being able to read — a skill a classmate would quickly take advantage of. He whispered to me in the library one day: “Hey, Sophia! Can you look up the word ‘sex’? I want to see what it says in the dictionary.”

I had never heard of this word, so of course, I was curious. “Yeah, OK.”

My fingers slowly trailed down the page, eagerly searching for the letters s-e-x. But before I could land on the desired word, I felt a firm tap on my shoulder, and a stern gaze hovered over me.

Sat in the principal’s office, terrified, yet unsure of my crime. He leaned in close and said, gently, “Now, Sophia, why would a little girl like yourself be concerned with a word like that? I don’t think your parents would be too happy to hear of it. But since this is your first time in here, I don’t think they need to be told.”

In that simple moment, he created the first secret I would ever keep from my parents and a lifelong curiosity about this shameful word spelled s-e-x.

We’re going to share a lot of secrets today, you and I, and in doing so, I hope that we can lift some of the shame many of us feel about sex.

How many here have ever been catcalled by a stranger? Lots of women. For me, the time I remember best is when that stranger was a student of mine. He came up to me after class that night and his words confirmed what I already knew: “I am so sorry, professor. If I had known it was you, I would never have said those things.”

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I wasn’t a person to him until I was his professor. This concept, called objectification, is the foundation of sexism, and we see it reinforced through every aspect of our lives.

We see it in the government that refuses to punish men for raping women. We see it in advertisements. How many of you have seen an advertisement that uses a woman’s breast to sell an entirely unrelated product? Or movie after movie after movie that portrays women as only love interests?

These examples might seem inconsequential and harmless, but they’re insidious, slowly building into a culture that refuses to see women as people. We see this in the school that sends home a 10-year-old girl because her clothes were a distraction to boys trying to learn, or the government that refuses to punish men for raping women over and over, or the woman who is killed because she asked a man to stop grinding on her on the dance floor.

Media plays a large role in perpetuating the objectification of women. Let’s consider the classic romantic comedy. We’re typically introduced to two kinds of women in these movies, two kinds of desirable women, anyway.

The first is the sexy bombshell. This is the unbelievably gorgeous woman with the perfect body. Our leading man has no trouble identifying her and even less trouble having sex with her.

The second is our leading lady, the beautiful but demure woman our leading man falls in love with, despite not noticing her at first or not liking her if he did.

The first is the slut. She is to be consumed and forgotten. She is much too available. The second is desirable but modest, and therefore worthy of our leading man’s future babies. Marriage material.

We’re actually told that women have two roles, but these two roles have a difficult time existing within the same woman. On the rare occasion that I share with a new acquaintance that I study sex, if they don’t end the conversation right then, they’re usually pretty intrigued. “Oh. Tell me more.” So I do. “I’m really interested in studying the sexual behaviors of pregnant and postpartum couples.”

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