What is the true nature of female sexuality? When it comes to women’s priorities, why, once in a secure relationship, is sex no longer on top? Exploring what defines women’s libido and why it becomes depleted, I investigate whether we have unrealistic expectations about our sex drive, who defines what is normal and abnormal, and if ‘low libido’ is in fact the natural order of things. I also provide concrete ways women can work toward defining their own jouissance—a personalized female sexuality that can lead to a more sensual, vibrant life.
1. Don’t believe the hype: our sexuality is culturally relative. Sexuality is shaped by culture and history. For example, a hundred years ago a woman who loved sex could be regarded as being mentally disturbed, whereas today if you don’t love sex you could end up being diagnosed as dysfunctional. With this in mind, it pays to be skeptical of labels that pathologize sexual difference.
2. Our desire to appear desirable exceeds desire itself.
It is well known that media and advertising can have a devastating effect on women’s self-esteem—but it affects our sexual self-esteem too. Feeling like we don’t live up to the physical ideal, women often grow to view themselves, and even their genitalia, as undesirable.
Rather than having sex, many women simply want to look like they are having sex. We are too busy chasing beautiful to want to kiss beautifully. Too busy chasing the veneer of desirability, to desire. Our animal instincts have become inverted: time devoted to preening overrides time devoted to mating and sexual pleasure.
3. Ditch the rom-com storyline. Passionate monogamy, the goal for most, promises lust-ever-after. But we have unrealistic expectations about relationships. In actual fact, it is natural for sexual intensity to decline over the duration of a relationship, as we age, due to life pressures and when we have children. Although lust may dampen, it is possible to maintain love and connection, and increase our chances of desire showing up too.
4. Actually, low female desire is ‘normal.’ Women have been made to feel that having a low libido means something is wrong with them. Currently women with chronic low libido are pathologized as having a type of female sexual dysfunction called hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). The trouble is, many of the researchers who have come up its nebulous definition have financial ties to pharmaceutical companies.
I argue that in a long-term monogamous relationship it is extremely common to have a lukewarm interest in sex and rarely initiate it. Far from being a disorder, low libido is just the natural state of affairs for many women.
5. The so-called sexless marriage. Consider the current definition of a ‘sexless marriage’—a relationship in which the couple has sex ten times a year or less. Really? So couples that have been together for a decade and are going through the highs and lows of life, have sex nearly once a month. Rather than brandishing a negative label, good for them, I say.
6.The hand that rocks the cradle doesn’t rock the bedroom. Research indicates that one-third of couples experience significant sexual loss upon having children. For instance, across ninety studies, parents had lower marital satisfaction than non-parents, and a strong correlation was found between marital dissatisfaction and greater number of children. For women, it is increasingly difficult to carve out the duel identity of mother and sensual lover. Plus, there is a rival for her affections—children.Subscribe to The Morning Email.Wake up to the day’s most important news.
7. There is more than one type of sexual prime. As we age, women often experience less desire due to many factors, including illness (their partners’ and their own), and issues associated with self-image. However, although many of us are familiar with the notion of sexual prime in relation to the physical—body, genitals, and hormones—it is not the full picture. An emotional prime also exists, related to spirit, maturity, and fluidity with life. Physical and emotional factors are intertwined and interact in unpredictable and exciting ways. Many women experience a sexual renaissance in their later years. Fortunately, sexual prime can peak at any age.
8. Pursuit of pink Viagra. Drug companies have been busy trying to undress the complexities of human sexuality in a race to create a “pink Viagra” – a global sex drug for women. A plethora of drugs targeting the female libido are steadily being researched. Such drugs, whether creams, patches, sprays or pills, target genital blood flow, hormones, or brain chemistry.
Female sex drugs are not yet on sale at your local pharmacy. Many are currently being trialed – for the second or third time – while most have been flat-out rejected by the FDA because they haven’t been considered safe or effective enough for public consumption. This hasn’t stopped doctors from prescribing such drugs ‘off-label:’ using legal drugs for unapproved purposes. Describing this, one big league researcher says an “uncontrolled clinical trial of the safety of testosterone is already happening in the community.”
9. Free range sexuality. In many ways female sexuality is still mysterious. And since scientists can’t agree about what women’s sexual response is, what constitutes female sexual dysfunction, or if women have a definitive sexual peak, it is unrealistic to expect us to have a similar sex drive. For women who no longer care for sex, or for those who never did, refuge may be found in this inability to prove what is ‘normal.’ Perhaps we can use this to free ourselves from comparing our sexuality to the sexuality of others and instead manifest our own sexual path.
Moreover, there has never been a culture where women have been encouraged to explore and experiment with their sensuality without censure. We don’t understand the full potential of female sexuality, free range.
10. Getting sexy back. In pursuit of our full sex drive, if we are so inclined, we can explore a wide range of techniques and practices. Some engage in mindfulness or stillness exercises. Another novel approach is to create distance – particularly important as couples are spending more time together than ever before. For those seeking intensity, there are ways to manufacture a sense of danger, proven biochemically to heighten sexual interest. For many of us who are leading busy lives, our libido can be rechanneled from other projects. But whatever road we choose, let us work toward defining our own jouissance: personalized female sexuality. This process, as described in my book Sex Drive: In Pursuit of Female Desire (Allen & Unwin), is not only possible but also liberating, leading to more sensual life.