What do women want? It has been at the centre of numerous books, articles and blog posts, and no doubt the cause of countless agonised ponderings by men and women alike.
But despite decades spent trying to crack this riddle, researchers have yet to land on a unified definition of female desire, let alone come close to fully understanding how it works.
Now, scientists are increasingly beginning to realise that female desire cannot be summarised in terms of a single experience: As Beverly Whipplea professor at Rutgers University, says: But more recent evidence Women are more sexual than men that differences between the sexes may actually be more nuanced or even non-existent, depending on how you define and attempt to measure desire. Some studies have even found that men in relationships are as likely as women to be the member of the couple with the lower level of sexual desire.
View image of Credit: But when the question is revised to ask about in-the-moment feelings — the amount of desire experienced in the midst of a sexual interaction — scientists find no difference between men and women. What they have are more variable patterns. Women do not necessarily experience the same progression of excitement, plateau, orgasm and resolution that men do.
Previously, doctors had also assumed that the male sex hormone testosterone could be linked to female desire. In fact, it probably does not play a major role: Other research finds that testosterone and desire are linked only very indirectly, and that sexual activity has more of an effect on hormone levels than hormones do on whether someone actually desires sex. Sexual thoughts increase testosterone in women, as does sexual jealousy.
Even the variety of feelings during sex itself had gone unrecognised: Instead, the order is often shuffled. Sex itself can be the trigger for desire and arousal, or a first orgasm might lead to the desire for a second.
Desire, however, does not necessarily entail the wish to engage in sex with another person. Each woman and, indeed, man is different in terms of preferences, and those preferences may change at different times. Women may sometimes or always desire solitary masturbation, and some can even experience orgasm purely through thoughtwith no physical contact at all.
Others may desire sexual activity with a partner, but without penetration or without ending in orgasm. The range of turn-ons women report are extremely varied as well. Some prefer G-spot stimulation, or for their partner to suck on their toes. Others like to dominate, or simply to be held — the list goes on and on. That diversity is now reflected in porn — a relatively new development.
Though women have always been involved in the industry, until the s porn was largely geared toward a male audience. When home videos became available, however, porn — previously only shown in theatres — became more easily accessible to women as well as men. Picking up on this, female directors began creating porn marketed towards women, which often took a softer approach, with story lines lacking in violence, for instance. The Women are more sexual than men has continued to evolve, however, with porn made by and consumed by women including erotic Victorian vampire sequences, Women are more sexual than men gay porn, monster porn and more.
At the most basic, neurological level, we still have no idea how desire works or what triggers it in the first place.
If you are enjoying this story, take a look at the other pieces in our Sexual Revolutions special series, including:. Anyone who has ever been in a long-term relationship, male or female, will likely agree with the finding that desire is not static. Studies confirm that it tends to diminish in the context of long-term relationships. For women, however, the loss is often much more severepossibly because testosterone provides a buffering effect for men against things like mood, stress and fatigue.
Women, Women are more sexual than men the other hand, often feel that their relationship has lost thrill of the unknown and the sense of mystery and risk that they felt at the beginning, and that domestic life — including exhaustion, anxiety, stress and busyness — produce a smoldering effect.
It can be cultivated.
Rekindling desire, Wise says, is sometimes as simple as introducing novelty into the relationship or life in general, which could mean traveling to a foreign country together, attending a sex party or learning a new skill. Sometimes lack of desire stems from overriding issues — a Women are more sexual than men problem, a breakup, a job loss, the birth of a baby or any other stressful event. This is normal, however, and usually temporary. Many of them continue to have sex out of obligation, viewing it as another chore — albeit one that is dreaded.
When sex actually takes place, those women may experience distracted thoughts, including benign but unsexy things about work or life, or judgmental ones, such as concern about their lack of response, worry about their appearance or anxiety about their partner leaving them.
Taking a cue from programmes meant to treat depression and anxiety, over the course of eight sessions, she and her colleagues debunk myths, educate participants about their bodies and bring awareness to various erogenous zones.
Brotto and her colleagues are now performing another randomised control trial to try to identify the mechanisms by which mindfulness actually works, including whether the women are simply happier and less stressed or more aware of their bodies, or both.
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For now, most experts continue to recommend such treatments over pharmaceuticals, despite the fact that the so-called female ViagraAddyi flibanseringained US Food and Drug Administration approval last August. The comparison with Viagra, however, is less than accurate, as Viagra essentially solves a plumbing issue blood flow to the peniswhile Addyi affects the brain. But as Brotto points out, Addyi bases Women are more sexual than men on a very narrow definition of desire — one due to an imbalance of serotonin and dopamine.
Addyi only increases the number of satisfying sexual encounters by 0. Those taking Addyi also cannot drink alcohol.
Diamond suggests that addressing the underlying psychological issues driving low desire may be a more effective treatment. Not all women, however, are distressed by lack of desire. Some assume that orientation throughout life, whereas others may go through phases of asexuality.
Read our in-depth exploration of the Asexual Pride movement here. In other cases, distress over desire may be imposed by a partner who has higher levels and is making the other person in the relationship feel bad about it. If researchers know anything about desire, it is that variation is the norm.
Whether male or female, desire can manifest in a seemingly endless spectrum of forms, and it can range from high to low to nonexistent. There is no right or wrong type or degree of desire for individuals or couples.
This story is part of our Sexual Revolutions series on our evolving understanding of sex and gender.