When you consider that the study of sex and sexuality is relatively in its infancy, it doesn’t come as a surprise that some of our understandings and narratives about sexual desire may feel a bit stuck. The researchers to break the mould were called Masters & Johnson who starting conducted pioneering research into sexual functioning in the late 1950’s hugely developing our understanding of human sexual responses.
So, when it comes to female sexual desire we are still developing a narrative that is considered and normalising, rather than one that makes women feel that there is something ‘faulty’ with them or wrong in how they function. Most importantly we are moving forward from this idea of sex drive just being that we are spontaneously and instantly turned on.
We describe desire as responsive. We know that it is multi layered, and not necessarily linear. It is a combination of physiology, psychology and emotion and shows that we need more than just our bodies saying yes to get turned on.
From a knowledge perspective it’s also important to consider that alongside desire sits the connected but separated process of arousal, the role of which is preparing your body to be ready for sex. This sexual response cycle goes through the 4 stages – arousal or excitement,
plateau, orgasm and then resolution.In 2001 Dr Rosemary Basson constructed a new model of female response which importantly acknowledges individual factors such as response to sexual stimuli, emotional intimacy and relationship satisfaction, concluding that although arousal is the biological component, desire often responds and is our motivation to continue.
So if we desire something, then we want it. In the rest of our lives those wants and choices are impacted by many things, our environment, who we’re with, how we’re feeling, stress, self-esteem, and more; and sex is no different.
Physical responses can be triggered through the automatic nervous system through for example touch, even if this is unwanted, which can explain why some women may experience vaginal lubrication, and some men erections when they are victims of assault. What this points to is how central to our understanding the ‘why’ rather than the ‘what’ is. Our subjective experience plays a huge role in our sexuality & sexual behaviours.
So this is why it’s important to be informed about how your desire works. We can be open to sexual experiences and understand that the goal may not always be orgasm or pleasure but physical as well as emotional satisfaction. Many women report a lack of sexual desire or wanting to have sex, and this feels straight forward, we’ve lost sight of those feelings temporarily, and so we don’t encourage ourselves to do it again. Think of it in terms of food, if we have a delicious meal we are more likely to want it again soon; and if it’s bad we are going to feel a bit put off or avoid that food for a while. This is why it’s crucial to our sex lives to create time and space for opportunity. To encourage desire, whether that is on our own or with a partner. In the words of Woody Allen, ‘ don’t knock masturbation. It’ sex with someone I love’.
Educating ourselves about sex is about knowing ourselves as individuals.
So think about what turns you on. Not how your partner turns you on, or what they need to do to get you in the mood for sex; but what for you makes you feel desire. Your wants, physical, psychological and emotional are yours and if you know yourself what those are it will create a better understanding of your sexual self.
Sexual & Relationship Psychotherapist Accredited by COSRT & Registered by UKCP