Craving better intimacy? Both physical and emotional? Research shows:
For millions of women, sexual pleasure, connection and intimacy are elusive. Surveys and studies show that female sexual dysfunction is extremely common, and a landmark study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (JAMA) found that 43% of women experienced ‘sexual dysfunction’ in the prior year. Sexual difficulties take a toll on women physically, emotionally and negatively impact their relationships. (This article describes the complaints and causes, in 6 upcoming articles, I'll describe solutions I use as an intimacy counselor, so standby!)
Low desire, or loss of libido, is the most common complaint, affecting up to half of women at some point in their lives, and approximately 30% on a consistent basis.
The inability to reach orgasm and ‘not finding sex pleasurable” are the next common complaints, particularly among younger women .
Pain during sex affected one in every five women, and performance anxiety was common among younger women.
Similar large studies, including an international study done by Pfizer, the drug-giant maker of Viagra, and the multiphased National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles carried out three times in Britain found similar and even higher levels of sexual dysfunction, with a third of women claiming low interest in sex and 51% reporting at least one sexual concern lasting three months or longer in the past year.
In addition, as an intimacy counselor, in speaking with and/or surveying hundreds of women, I find that a lack of ‘emotional connection’ or intimacy in the romantic relationship is a major source of distress, and is linked in a cause-and-effect circle to low desire and pleasure.
Health and mental health specialists know that physical causes such as hormone imbalance alone are rarely the cause of low libido, let alone low desire and arousal, which have roots in emotions, past experiences, mindset, and the relationship.
Reasons behind low desire and satisfaction vary greatly but stress, and relatedly the inability to get ‘out of her head’ and being distracted by thoughts is most cited. Low desire may also simply be a normal response to having repeated unsatisfying experiences.
It seems women have learned to live with low levels of sexual pleasure, and men and women are adjusting to rapidly dwindling frequency in their sex lives. The British NATSAL study documented a freefall in the frequency of sex: from 6.3 events per month in 2001, down to just 4.8 in 2012. It’s fallen further in the age of quarantine. This time frame incidentally or relatedly coincides with high-speed internet porn becoming widely available, and doesn’t even reflect pornography becoming free a few years ago or the impact of quarantines.
Biomedical solutions for low desire (such as a female Viagra) are not currently effective, because women’s sexuality is complex and highly individual, with biology being just one aspect.
Other factors include trauma, negative societal conditioning, shame and guilt, body image, stress levels, partner disconnection, inexperience, distraction, boredom; many of these are the subject of this paper.
This is unfortunate because a satisfying, connected sex life is key to emotional health and well-being, as well as a healthy relationship. A disappointing or mismatched-libido sex life is a leading cause of family dissolution, which is often damaging to children.
Surveys show that approximately 20% of marriages are now ‘sexless,’ which is defined as less than 12 times per year, and a significant majority of the sexless state is driven by the woman.
While it’s more often the woman who loses desire in a long-term relationship, there is growing evidence that low desire is increasingly a male issue.
Male loss of desire overall, or specifically in the relationship, also has complex causes, not limited to a lowering of testosterone, overuse of porn, aging and erectile dysfunction, boredom, or turn-off due to relationship frustrations.
Some professionals estimate that three in ten sex-starved marriages now have a willing woman and an uninterested man. I’ve written an article addressing this; Why Doesn’t My Man Desire Me? found in my blog.
Regardless of its cause, untold heartache for men and women can be avoided when female sexuality is understood, deshamified, explored and celebrated. This will be the subject of upcoming emails, excerpted from an academic paper I wrote on the subject.
I'm an intimacy counselor for women, helping them create and receive more intimacy in their relationship, both physical and emotional. I invite women to set up a complementary call with me to explore your goals and challenges and see if intimacy counseling is a fit. Here's a link to my calendar:
Debbie Marielle Elzea
Intimacy Counselor for women, Colorado Psychotherapist