Interesting article on why women lose sexual interest — even in happy relationships. Karen Sims and Marta Meana conducted a qualitative (in-depth interview based) research study on 19 married women published in The Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy.
There were three main themes that emerged from their data: 1. institutionalization of the relationship, 2. over-familiarity, 3. the problem of de-sexualization. What do these things mean?
For starters, Sims and Meana agree with contention that relationship issues are at the heart of women’s loss of sexual desire. However, not in the way that most people think. The majority of their participants were perfectly happy with their partners — just not their sex lives. And most of the women mentioned many reasons why their libidos took a hike.
For many of the women, marriage itself was something of a snooze factor. Rollicking, bed-breaking premarital sex dwindled to Saturday night, missionary only encounters hurriedly sandwiched in between Junior’s soccer game and Fluffy’s deworming. Many of the women were simply bored by the routine of ever-available (and often unwanted) marital nookie. It was too sanitized and too socially sanctioned. One woman said:
“There was a lot of desire when I was dating, excitement. On the flip side, when you’re married, I know exactly how my husband is going to touch me, I know how much he loves me and I’m not embarrassed to take my clothes off. There’s a comfort there that is important to me. It’s just not as exciting . . . the desire is lost.
Familiarity Breeds Contempt
The second issue that the women complained about was over-familiarity. Many of the women lamented the loss of romance from the marital bedroom. But it was the romance of early love, the pre-relationship dating days with all of their novelty, anticipation, and uncertainty that they longed for the most. One of the biggest buzz kills of all is doing the same thing, the same way, every time. And some men (and women as well) are like Pavlov’s dog, once they learn a new trick, they repeat it — over and over again.
Many women talked about how they could predict exactly what their honey would do next, and in what order. Kind of like their husbands had a mental checklist that they were marking off on their way to the grand finale. There is a biological reason that this would be a huge turn-off. Desire is fueled by the neurotransmitter dopamine, which rises in response to novelty and anticipation. If you know exactly what is going to happen next, your brain (and other body parts), says “why bother?”.
The women were also dismayed by their husbands ability to go from watching American Idol to grabbing a boob and hoping to get some action.
This one was a no-brainer. You work a double-shift, there isn’t much left for anything else. Most of the women spoke of being absolutely depleted by their to-do list. And sex didn’t have a high priority on that list. Plus, many felt that there was an incompatibility between the role of “mom” and the role of “vixen”. After spending all day wiping noses and counter tops, transitioning into a night-time passion puss wasn’t easy to do. And some women simply didn’t have the energy after working at a job and then coming home to another one. Plus, for mothers of small children, the constant tactile demands of caring for a child left them feeling “overtouched” — on sensory overload — and not in the mood for more skin to skin contact.
The authors brought up some interesting points regarding the nature of female desire — one was the importance of novelty and transgression — contrary to popular stereotype, it’s not just about intimacy and safety. I have often thought that female desire, more so than male, is actually very contingent on a kind of arousing ambivalence — a feeling of being slightly off-kilter — but in a manageable way. As the authors pointed out, too much ambivalence and you are likely to feel too anxious, too little, and you’re bored.
I think a lot of this stems from the way that women are socialized to view sex and love. We fantasize that we are the object of some hot stud’s desire (Fifty Shades of Grey, anyone) and yet women don’t want to take a passive position.
Women are not comfortable with their anatomy, masturbate less than men, and have sex that is based on what works for men. Only 29% of women always have an orgasm during sex, in comparison to 75% of men. If more women found sex physically gratifying, they might not be so hung up on romance. And they might not regard sex as such a boring chore.
Socializing women to be passive doesn’t work in the long run. And the idea that life-long love means nonstop, smokin’ sex is probably not realistic. Maybe if we could realize that, we wouldn’t be so obsessed with trying to sex it up. If we could just lighten up about sex — see it as adult play perhaps– we would be better off. But, sadly, given all the heavy energy surrounding the whole issue of sexuality that is not an easy thing to do.
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