Understanding Female Sexual Desire

Many couples come into my office struggling with differences in their sexual desire in the relationship. Typically, this looks like a husband desiring to connect sexually multiple times a week while his wife is feeling like if they had sex once every six months she would be fine. Sound familiar? It’s a common story I hear, and I’m sure you’ve heard similar things. So what’s the deal? Is God playing some big cosmic trick on all of us? It might feel like that sometimes, but I don’t believe He is. I think the answer lies in better understanding how female sexual desire works and the myths that have led us astray in how we make sense of female sexuality as a culture.

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In general I find that most people approach others in the way that they would like to be approached in pretty much all contexts. For example, if I am an introvert my initial assumption about talking to a stranger at a friend’s party would be that they would probably rather be talking to someone they knew and so I won’t bother to approach them. Or, if I were an extrovert in that same situation my assumption would be that that same person would rather be engaged in conversation than be alone. I think this same principle of treating others how we want to be treated also applies in sexual relationships. Men tend to approach women sexually in the way that they want to be approached (and visa versa), but unfortunately these tactics are not going to be the most effective in setting a romantic mood in the relationship because female and male sexuality work in such different ways.

God uniquely designed men and women to be wired differently when it comes to sex. In general, men feel more emotionally connected after sex, whereas most women need emotional connection first before sexual activity sounds enticing. Again, not a mean trick, just a divine and loving God giving both parties in a marriage a mantle to pursue connection so that the relationship can be whole and balanced. We need both physical and emotional intimacy in marriage. Yes, women need physical intimacy too!

I think the problem around low female sexual desire lies in the fact that culturally we are far more comfortable talking about, normalizing and even affirming male sexuality than we are female sexuality. Because of this female sexual desire and understanding it has fallen by the wayside. There are many factors that can inhibit female sexual desire like trauma (sexual or otherwise), negative experiences or teachings around sex, or rigid religious doctrines relating to sex (Restoring the Pleasure-will this be a link?). These inhibitions are blocks, not necessarily personality traits or defects. Women are still made by God to be sexual beings just like men are; their sexuality just is unlocked and expressed in very different ways.

There is a TV show I like that has an episode where a female character invites the male character to have an evening that is only a “drumroll” to a kiss without actually having the kiss at the end of the night. They spend an incredibly romantic evening together dancing, talking and flirting but never connect sexually. The female character calls the drumroll the best part of the night. I think in general this is how women desire to be seduced. Women want the drumroll. And I think in understanding female sexual desire this is key; in order to unlock female sexual desire we can’t just skip to the kiss, we need the drumroll.
 
If a sexual encounter is happening without the appropriate “drumroll” or build up of desire, then direct sexual stimulation is actually uncomfortable or even negative (Great Sex Rescue, pg.73). What can get tricky is that both partners can feel confused or frustrated because “it’s not working” when there is direct sexual stimulation. Typically this happens because the female body needs more time to build up to the desire for intercourse or even direct stimulation. 

I hear from a lot of clients that before marriage or before intercourse they experienced a higher level of desire, or even that it was difficult to abstain from intercourse before marriage. I have a theory that this is because more time is spent in physical connection in ways that do not include intercourse! There is more of a natural creativity when we have constraints to work within! Also the time spent with those other connecting activities sexually will allow a woman’s body to get to a level of arousal where direct stimulation will feel good and desirable. Female desire is aroused through the “drumroll” of emotional connection and a slower build up to direct stimulation through other types of sexual touch and caresses. 

For women, it can be difficult to notice those signs of physical arousal purely because they are not used to noticing or paying attention to those. For women who struggle with arousal issues, I would encourage you to start by practicing being mindful of your body. Start by even just slowing down the next time you have a meal and really try to notice how it tastes and what the texture is like. It’s the same kind of principle while connecting physically with your spouse. Slow down and notice what it feels like; what do you like or what do you not like? Is there any kind of touch that needs to be adjusted or does there need to be a change in pressure? Pay attention to how you know what feels good and what does not, then communicate that to your spouse. Sometimes it can feel difficult to communicate these things in the moment, so maybe start by trying to have a conversation about the encounter the next day. 

All these things take practice to learn about yourself and about your partner! Don’t worry if it doesn’t necessarily “click” the first time. Keep trying to slow down and notice and eventually you will be able to build that muscle of learning what you like and don’t like. Be patient with yourself! Also give yourself space for your arousal patterns to be different from your spouse or even other close friends. This process is about discovering your unique God given sexuality and then learning to share that part of you with your partner. What a beautiful journey you are on!

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