Around the world, the #metoo campaign has created lots of discussion about what women don’t want sexually (unwelcome open bathrobes be gone!), but we also need to talk about what women do want. In heterosexual relationships, men have a long history of seeing the female body as some great unsolvable mystery. We know what our bodies want but we may not know why. How much do you know about female sexual desire?
Different strokes for different female body parts.
First, sexual desire is incredibly individual. Our hormones are what drive the physical response of our bodies and the level of those hormones for each woman is different. And those levels vary for each woman depending on her hormonal cycle. Testosterone is the hormone that doctors think has the greatest impact on sexual desire (hence why we often think of men, the original testosterone carries, as more sexually driven even though there’s no evidence to support that).
We’re also all very different physically. Only 18 percent of American women can orgasm by vaginal penetration alone while almost 37 percent of need clitoral stimulation in order to orgasm. Some women can even come from nipple stimulation. Which basically adds up to lots of factors contributing to how a woman experiences sex and which can affect her desire for sex.
Excited and inhibited?
Since the pioneering days of sex researchers Masters and Johnson, we’ve known there are four stages of sex (Excitement, Plateau, Orgasm, Resolution). Then in the ‘90s, two researchers at another pioneering institute of sexual research, the Kinsey Institute came up with the Dual Control Model. They created a theory of not just what happens once we get aroused, but how we even get there: the Sexual Excitation System and the Sexual Inhibition System.
Sexual Excitation tells your brain and your genitals to get turned on. Or as Emily Nagoski, author of Come As You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, writes on her website: “Sexual Excitation System is the gas pedal of your sexuality.” The inhibition system is the brakes.
Women might put on the brakes because of worries about what happens after sex: from social consequences like slut-shaming to health-related ones like sexually transmitted infections or pregnancy. Just as our bodies are individual our levels of brakes and gas are too. You might be full steam ahead most of the time, letting your Sexual Excitation System have at it. Your friend might have a higher level of Sexual Inhibition, not because she’s a “prude”, but instead because it’s not just about what our bodies want. Inhibition can also be about what we’re psychologically ready for.
As we age, our sexual excitement can also shift. A study found that women in their 30s and early 40s were much more sexual than younger women. Women aged 27-45 reported having more sexual fantasies and more intense sexual fantasies than women 18-26. Those women also reported having more sex and being more open to casual sex including one-night stands. So, the twenty-year-olds may think they’re sexually liberated but they’re older sisters, mentors, and friends are actually the ones who are!
Still, there can come a time as we get even older when we lose a beat in the sexual two-step. Women from 61-89 reported having some sexual challenge, including a lack of interest in sex and vaginal dryness. Not quite the sex life of Blanche on The Golden Girls. Those women also reported depression and poor health though, which could also cause sexual dissatisfaction. For women in another study though, if they saw sex as important then they maintained a high level of sexual activity, including sex but also kissing and touching. Now that sounds more like Blanche!
Lifestyle, like health, can also factor into sex drive and desire. Unlike men, there’s no little blue pill to rev us up. In fact, the female Viagra was first used as an antidepressant because desire for us isn’t as simple as physically turned on or turned off.
Your body, your desire.