A well-functioning female sex life is a mixture of biological/physical functioning, plus mental wellbeing plus relationship connections.
There was a time when women were believed (at least by male doctors) to have no sexual feelings. How times change! Now it seems every women’s website or magazine has graphic articles on orgasms, sexual positions or techniques. Many women are frank about how much they value their sex lives and the role sex plays for them in enhancing intimacy with partners.
For other women, this is all a bit of a mystery, sometimes to their – or their partner’s – distress.
As a generalisation, women’s sexual responses, libido and sexual interest tend to be more variable than men’s. This tends to be true from day-to-day, week-to-week, and over the life cycle. Contributing factors are known to include: hormones, stress, sleep (or lack thereof!), mental health, fertility issues, pregnancy, breastfeeding, nutritional status, relationship issues, family values, cultural teachings and expectations, self-image, past sexual or trauma history, age, pain, physical health, and general wellbeing.
That’s a long list, so when women (or their partners) compare with the media reports of radiant post-orgasmic bliss, it can seem as though “there must be something wrong with me”. In reality, there is a wide range of sexuality and sexual behaviour in humans. In women especially, sexual feelings and interest tend to fluctuate, as that long list above makes its influence felt from day-to-day. For example, it is a well-researched fact that for many women, a new baby causes a disruption to their previous sexual interest and libido and that takes time to return to baseline.
A well-functioning female sex life is a mixture of biological/physical functioning, plus mental wellbeing plus relationship connections. Sex therapists call it the “bio-psycho-social model”. (And no, “psycho” is not shorthand for “crazy”!)
For example, the “bio”(logical) bit. The vaginal area is sensitive to changes in estrogen so pain and dryness during intercourse may be an early sign of menopause. A trip to the doctor may lead to solutions which make intercourse pleasurable again.
Or, the “psycho”(logical) bit: sometimes libido difficulties are the direct result of sexual assault or abuse. Uncovering the past may be the key to connect more comfortably with the present.
Or the “social” bit: it’s important to feel comfortable with one’s body and how you fit within society. Until you feel comfortable with who you are, it’s unlikely you will feel entirely comfortable with others and this often inhibits intimate connections. Again, often conflict and anger within an important romantic relationship affect libido and arousal.
Very often, any particular situation turns out to be a bit of all three components and sex therapy can often be very helpful in finding clarity and a way forward.
- General lack of sexual interest, asexuality
- Difficulties with arousal, or little sexual response during wanted sexual activity
- Orgasmic problems, such as never or rarely reaching orgasm with a reasonable amount of stimulation, anorgasmia
- Sexual anxiety, fear of intercourse or fear of “letting go”
- Difficulties during intercourse such as vaginismus, sexual pain, no lubrication, lack of or loss of sensation
- Low desire, high desire, libido, mismatched libidos
- Persistent genital arousal
- Sexual orientation, bisexuality, pansexuality
- Sex during and after pregnancy, sex lives with small children
- Sex during and after menopause
- Maintaining sexual enjoyment in the light of physical illness or pain
- Sexual assault and abuse