A couple of months ago, I came across a Twitter thread that candidly unpacked some of the factors that pushed women off sex. I found myself nodding as I read, especially the part that expressed how we often shied away from having such conversations as “girls” and with our partners, leaving us to deal with our sex anxiety, or loss of sexual drive and desire, alone. The thought of these factors often left the narrator sexually tense and scared.
This left me questioning how many of us just pushed through, forcing our minds and bodies to be sexually active even though the desire and drive has been killed by the many layers that have turned this pleasurable deed into an activity of discomfort or no interest.
The female sex agenda
For most women, according to clinical psychologist Anele Siswana, sex is not just sex. “There is a dominant social construct that suggests that men place no emotional attachment to sex. This is not to say that there aren’t women who fall within the cracks of sex with no emotion,” Siswana says. “However, concerning women’s meaning and relationship with sex, studies suggest that a significant number find it to be the ultimate expression of love and connection. Women consider sex to be a holistic process, not just a hit and run. Rather, it’s a very sensational, spiritually moving, and amazing moment in the here and now.”
READ MORE | Does what you wear to bed really matter?
Dr Emily Nagoski, author of Come as You Are: The Surprising New Science That Will Transform Your Sex Life, says it is important to understand that sex happens in a context for women. So, all the complications of everyday life influence the context surrounding your arousal, desire and orgasm. She says to create and sustain a fulfilling sex life, it is not what you do in bed or how you do it, but rather how you feel about it. Being desired, according to sex researcher Meredith Chivers, is the best sexual orgasm for women.
In her research, Chivers explains that it all goes down to attraction, desirability and affirmation. “For women, the beautiful feeling of sexual pleasure and interest is knowing that their partner deeply longs for them. Fact is, women are sexual-oriented beings, extremely powerful, and have a lot of control when it comes to their intimate moments.”
Losing the drive
“Because of higher levels of testosterone, men have a spontaneous sexual desire. Women, on the other hand, have a responsive sexual desire,” explains Dr Jireh Serfontein, who specialises in sexual medicine. In her article titled Low Libido in Women, she explains that your desire to have sex is only triggered in response to stimulation.
- Failing to initiate sex.
- Not responding when your partner initiates it.
- Absent or reduced interest in sexual activity
- Absent or reduced sexual excitement or pleasure during most sexual activity.
“The sexual desire of a majority of women mostly manifests in sexual arousal. To get aroused, they need sexual stimulation in an appropriate context,” she adds. “And, for this stimulation to lead to arousal, certain psychological and biological factors need to be in place.” As also explained by Dr Nagoski, this means the female sexual function is a complex subject – layered and influenced by a myriad of factors.
The narrator agrees in her thread, saying physical discomfort and medicinal factors continue to be the bane of her sexual anxiety. She talks about the physical discomfort she often endures during and post intercourse, effect of contraceptives on her weight and how these push her off the idea of sex.
“Yes, there are several factors that lead to a decrease in libido for women,” adds psychologist and sexologist Dr Marelize Swart.
“Biologically, side effects from medication, hormonal imbalances and chronic diseases can play a great role in the loss of desire. It is also important to understand how emotional strain, which is often a partner or relationship problem, can also inhibit your sexual drive.”Dr Swart adds that sometimes, loss of desire could be the result of no longer being attracted to your partner. “Sex, after all, is a physical expression of what’s going on in a relationship. If you have a lot of anger, resentment, bitterness or feel manipulated or pressured to have sex, your lack of desire is then partner- specific. The loss in your drive then becomes an eloquent expression of how you feel about your relationship.”
Biological time bomb?
Many women worry about their biological clock, how fast it’s ticking and the effect that age will have on sexual interest. Now, is it natural for sexual desire to decline with age, and can menopause inhibit our drive? “Yes, women tend to have a decline in sexual interest when they reach menopause,” Dr Swart says.
She adds that it is also not uncommon to discover your sexuality and sexual power in your 30s and 40s as at this age, you rediscover your sexual needs, and are more settled in your career and family lives. She has also seen women starting to show a lot more interest again after 65.
“They have more time for quality couple and sexual interactions. The children have left the house, they feel more comfortable with their bodies and are interested in quality sensual experiences,” she says. However, for those in their menopause years and experiencing sexual fatigue and discomfort, there is medical help to assist with the lack of libido. “See your gynae, physician or sex therapist if you experience sexual issues,” she advises.
Bringing sexy back
So, how can you coax your sex drive out of hiding? “Women are not just complaining about one plumbing problem, so we have to be more thoughtful in our approach of treating their lack of or loss of sexual desire,” says Dr Jan Shifren, assistant professor at Harvard Medical School in the articles titled Why do Women Lose Their Sexual Desire? and For women, sexuality changes with age but doesn’t disappear.
Dr Shifren says treatment can be clinical, and involves lifestyle changes. Clinical treatment: Using lubricant or low dosage vaginal oestrogen for dryness and pain. Swapping one medication with negative side effects for another. Hormone therapy for decreased libido or sex therapy for inability to climax. Lifestyle changes: Quitting smoking will improve blood flow, and help to stave off menopause for a few years.
Moderate drinking: Alcohol can dampen sexual reflexes. Healthy eating: This can help prevent heart disease and diabetes, that may cause a decline in your sex drive.
“I cannot stop overemphasising the importance of women to regularly visit their physicians – especially if experiencing issues such as low sex drive or painful sex. These can often cause strain on your relationship and sex life, but they’re treatable,” Dr Swart concludes.