There’s this thing, this concept, called “DESIRE.” There’s this other thing called “AROUSAL.” Interesting that these things appear related but they are not always. Also, of interest is that they are linked differently depending on gender.
Recent revelations that women are turned on by visual stimuli is no secret to most women. Even though women’s more dominant sense is touch rather than visual, we still can appreciate a good-looking man, or woman, and even be physically aroused by them. There are also a lot of normal, heterosexual, women and mothers, who like to watch porn-- although I suspect they use their turn-on more for partner sex than for masturbation. (Not verified).
Having said that, Desire and Arousal are two very different experiences. Arousal is a quantifiable response to stimuli. If you’re a guy, you get an erection. A woman actually gets a clitoral enlargement equal to, proportionately, what a man gets (but we don’t see it, it’s internal).
Studies have been done to measure skin temperature, blood pressure, lubrication, etc. after a woman watches an erotic film. The measures are precise and defensible, but still women typically say they are not aroused.
What is going on? It’s just possible that the experience of arousal does not necessarily equate to interest in sex or thoughts about having sex—or doing sex.
Desire is separate from arousal. Studies have found that women need to be aroused (emotionally) before they are willing to be sexually aroused. (Rosemary Basson, PHD, Vancouver).
Still with me?
I should be careful to add here that I am not talking about casual sex but long-term relationship sex. Clearly, it’s very different to engage with a partner simply because you feel like it, have desire for it. In relationships that are in the committed mode, the deal –with- all -the stressors- together mode, day in, day out mode, it’s more difficult to stay willing and ready.
So, back to this curious subject. Marta Meana, PHD has just written a paper that complicates things even more. She says that her study confirmed that even if women were aroused, or had desire for sex, didn’t mean they Would have sex. In other words, there could be a feeling without an action. Men more typically will become aroused and look for a partner; if there’s no one there they’ll turn on the computer.
This sets the model of healthy sexual behavior on its behind.
There was a new drug ready for approval by the FDA that failed at the last moment. “Filbanserin” was a first line antidepressant but found to increase desire in women with unwanted low desire. The data did not confirm that it increased the subjects’ desire “enough” to warrant approval. Women went from 1 sexual event per month to 1.7.
That may not seem a lot but for the woman who’s interest in sex is so scant, it still seems like a good result for me.
I’m not campaigning for meds just giving a short course in where the field of sexual medicine is today and what psychologists are dealing with in the office.
If men can have Viagra to make them feel more virile and their partners more satisfied, we hope there might be something for women. At different stages of the life cycle our libido goes south. If we are upset by this, not our husband’s as much as WE are upset by this, it’s okay to take a supplement, if you will.
The problem is that so far, no pill, no study, has been able to increase women’s desire for sex. Psychotherapy has been way more impressive in this area than anything else.(although there’s no good research to support this either; its just anecdotal). The paraphernalia that is supposed to increase arousal doesn’t work easily – except to lubricate the dry parts and tease the brain into a willingness to engage.
I wish men and women in long term relationships had an opportunity to review some of the wonderful new research that I see. A lot of it just helps to know we’re normal; the rest is to learn more about this extraordinary entity we call our “Body.”