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After a plethora of failed attempts (and millions of dollars later) at making a female Viagra, one can only wonder what it is that such medication is addressing in men that it isn’t in females. Where erection-enhancing drugs assist in matching a male’s physiological response to their psychological arousal, for females, the medication would need to be the opposite. A woman can be physically aroused, even have an orgasm, but not have an interest (desire) in sex.
Being that frequency of sexual intercourse and arousal has little to do with sexual desire in females, let us further define what exactly is sexual arousal and desire:
Sexual desire (also coined ‘sex drive’ or ‘libido’), is controlled by the brain and is the innate force that makes us think about sex and act sexually.
Sexual arousal (also coined being 'turned on), is referring to physical response such as vaginal lubrication, increased blow flow to the vagina and rapid heart rate.
In the past women’s sexuality was misunderstood and unexplored until the women’s liberation encouraged a curious stance and growing awareness in the ways in which women’s sexuality differed from men’s. Still, there still are many unanswered questions to the multifaceted complexities of female arousal.
It is still neurologically unclear how desire works or what triggers it (as this varies per individual). What is easier to examine is the reason behind desire's loss or absence. As described by Esther Perel in her informative book “Mating in Captivity”, the very things that boost sexual desire, such as risk, excitement, and newness, are contradictory to what we gain in committed long term relationships, such as safety, stability, and comfort. This confirms why desire is more likely to diminish in long-term relationships, however, it has been found that for women the loss is more severe.
A sense of mystery and thrill of the unknown that is often experienced at the beginning of relationships can get lost in domestic life. With this in mind, although there may not be an exact solution, consider how a little distance can go a long way in terms of promoting desire. Spending all your time with someone is great and all but does not leave much room for lust. Sex gets easily put on the back-burner because, well, ‘you’re both tired and it’s no biggie to do it tomorrow, next week, or next month’-Get the point?
Communication is sexy and will help you and your partner better meet your sexual needs. What does desire look like to you? Is there something you want from your partner or for yourself that you are shying away discussing due to fears/anxiety regarding your partner (or societies) response? Well, you don’t know what you don’t know and until you ask, you won't know!
The infamous sex educator Betty Dodson discusses how negative consequences, such as high levels of anxiety, result in low levels of sexual desire. She writes, “When we are anxious, and concerned about our well being, sexual arousal is quiet. Anxiety turns libido off. The interesting idea here is that from the brain's perspective, individual survival is primary, and sexual survival secondary.” This is a prime example of how mental health and wellness are correlated with sexual health.
Working with a sex therapist will provide the support and encouragement to develop the tools necessary to make changes in your life, to reframe sexual dysfunction, and to improve experienced desire. A sex therapist and relationship counselor will help you to reframe the way you look at sex and desire by disputing any irrational beliefs (“I should always feel desire when I am with my partner and if I do not then I must be in the wrong relationship or something must be wrong with me”) that are hindering you from having the sex life and sexual connections you want.
During the early phase of relationships individuals may find that they are willing, even eager to, go out of their way to present heir best version of self, which for some is not being themselves at all. Instead, they suddenly take on the attitudes and belief system of the person of interest. They like hiking so, after a lifetime of disinterest in physical activity, you are enthusiastic about hiking; they enjoy spicy food so you are willing to give it a go despite knowing the stomach pains that await you later.
Let’s consider Julia Roberts role in the movie Runaway Bride. Richard Gere helps to point out this behavior in that the fleeing bride tends to adjust her likes and dislikes (what type of eggs she likes and ‘her’ hobbies) depending on her most recent fiancé. Although this movie attempts to utilize humor to highlight the barrier preventing her from walking down the aisle, a Psychologist named Murray Bowen coined this Differentiation of Self: the ability to separate thoughts and feelings.
· Poorly Differentiated Individuals: Tend to fuse with others; struggle to formulate ‘I’ thinking due to their emotionally dependency on others; emotionally reactive; dependent, avoidant or distant in relationships; concerned about what others think.
· Highly Differentiated Individuals: Feel, think and act for themselves; autonomous; in relationships they do not fear risk of losing identity in their partner rather they enjoy closeness and can bear small arguments.
Lack of differentiation in relationships can lead to enmeshment. This sort of attachment hinders individual growth and autonomy, which is a vital contributor to experienced wellness. This infatuation of sorts is not necessarily equally maintained and experienced by each partner. Although you may want to spend all your time together initially, a partner may grow comfortable and begin to desire to bring focus on additional life priorities (hobbies, friends, family, etc.). When only one partner transitions out of the enmeshed phase this often leads to confusion, feelings of loss, overbearing behavior; distance, resentment, stonewall and so forth.
It is valuable to highlight the importance of differentiation prior to even entering a relationship. In gaining an understanding of the benefits of such, when entering a partnership one will be better prepared to compromise on a balanced state of interdependence.
Working with a relationship counselor can help to work through unresolved conflict in our lives that contributed to poor differentiation. In learning how experiences of relationships from the past (including caregiver) play a significant role on how we experience others and ourselves will help to promote consciousness and prepare for positive change.
MyTherapist New York provides relationship counseling and sex therapy for individuals and couples. Are you ready for insight and change?
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