Sexual Desire

Female sexual desire.

sexual desire kiss | Dr. Jason Winters | Sex Therapy | Blogging on Squarespace

As a follow-up to the last post on female orgasm, another fantastic article from the BBC, this one reviewing the most cutting-edge research on female desire.

The piece challenges some long-held assumptions and stereotypes, citing research that shows:

  • females may desire sex as much as males, but there seems to be more variability in their desire (especially over the menstrual cycle)
  • testosterone is almost entirely unrelated to sexual desire in females
  • sexual desire doesn't always mean a desire for penetrative sex with a partner
  • women are increasingly using porn, and there is now much more porn produced by women for women
  • low sexual desire doesn't typically reflect physiological changes; it's more often situational
  • females are as prone to sexual boredom in their relationships as males, and maybe even more so

From the BBC:

The Enduring Enigma of Female Sexual Desire
Why have scientists been slow to understand women’s sexuality, asks Rachel Nuwer.
What do women want? It’s a question that’s stymied the likes of Sigmund Freud to Mel Gibson. It has been at the centre of numerous books, articles and blog posts, and no doubt the cause of countless agonised ponderings by men and women alike. But despite decades spent trying to crack this riddle, researchers have yet to land on a unified definition of female desire, let alone come close to fully understanding how it works.
Still, we’ve come a long way from past notions on the subject, which ran the gamut of women being insatiable, sex-hungry nymphomaniacs to having no desire at all. Now, scientists are increasingly beginning to realise that female desire cannot be summarised in terms of a single experience: it varies both between women and within individuals, and it spans a highly diverse spectrum of manifestations. As Beverly Whipple, a professor at Rutgers University, says: “Every woman wants something different.”

Read the rest here: link.

Stephen Colbert on the drug flibanserin.

Last year, the drug flibanserin, trade name Addyi, was approved by the US Federal Drug and Administration, the regulatory body overseeing the approval of medical drugs (among other things). The drug is intended to treat low sexual desire in females, once other concerns are ruled out (i.e., relationship problems, anxiety, etc.).

The approval was met with major criticism, as the effectiveness appeared low and the side effects can be significant. Also, many clinicians (and researchers) argue that there are more effective, non-medication ways to treat low sexual desire.

Although there isn't good data available yet, it seems like it's not been that successful - in other words, very few prescriptions have been written for the drug.

In this clip from last fall, Colbert takes a swipe at the drug, and many would likely agree.

What Google searches tell us about peoples' sex lives.

Google makes all of its search data publicly available. According to Google, 100 billion searches are done each month. That means a lot of data. And because sex is something that is searched often, there is a treasure trove of sex-related search data for the taking. 

This piece in the New York Times by economist Seth Stephens-Davidowitz digs deep into the Google search data to tell us about our anxieties and the states of our relationships. There are a couple of nifty infographics that summarize his findings. The piece is worth a read - it's fun and informative.

From the New York Times

Searching for Sex
ARE you confused by sex? I certainly am.
One of the many reasons sex is puzzling is that we lack reliable data. People lie to friends, lovers, doctors, surveys and themselves.
Three years ago, when I was a graduate student in economics, I began to write about how new data, particularly Google searches, could give us fresh insights into socially sensitive topics. Since then, many people have asked me to write about sex.
I was wary because I wanted to do more research. Now I’m finally ready to report. Call it everything you always wanted to know about sex, but didn’t have the data to ask.
Let’s start with the basics. How much sex are we having? Traditional surveys are no good at answering this question.
I analyzed data from the General Social Survey, a classic source. Heterosexual men 18 and over say that they average 63 sex acts per year, using a condom in 23 percent of them. This adds up to more than 1.6 billion heterosexual condom uses per year.

And one of the infographics: 

Google sex searches marriage sexual behavior | Dr. Jason Winters | Sex Therapy | Blogging on Squarespace

Read the rest here: link.

 

The goods on hypersexuality (i.e., sex and porn addiction).

The media and many health professionals give the impression that sex (and porn) addiction is one disorder that looks the same across people, and a clinically/scientifically valid diagnosis. Neither is the case. Having said that, many people do struggle with sexual behaviours that are out of their control. This can very much feel like an addiction.

There are diverse pathways to what we call out of control sexual behaviour (OCSB), or hypersexuality (what's known as sex/porn addiction). That's to say, there is no such thing a prototypical sex or porn addict.

OCSB is most often the symptom of some other underlying problem. If treatment addresses that issue (often in conjunction with behaviour management), OCSB typically decreases.

This piece emanates from one of the best labs and clinics working with OCSB patients. It does a great job outlining the diverse nature and presentation of OCSB.

From the Independent:

Sex Addiction: What it Means to be Hypersexual
by Deborah Soh
It is not much about sex itself, but that sex is distracting, and offers an enjoyable outlet for frustrations in life, a sort of escapism. If you think you might be hypersexual, ask yourself if your sexual behaviours cause you harm or distress, or impairment in your day-to-day functioning
Whenever we hear about hypersexuality, it is usually in the context of celebrities who have gotten themselves into trouble and are seeking therapy to remedy their ways. However, most people would be surprised to learn that the root cause of hypersexuality, or so-called “sex addiction,” is hardly ever related to sex.
“Why am I like this?” is the most common question I encounter, as a sex researcher working with hypersexual men. Problems with pornography and cheating have had severely detrimental effects on their lives and they are desperate for a solution. After ruling out bipolar disorder or borderline personality disorder as the underlying condition (as high-frequency sexual behaviour is a common symptom of these disorders), this is what I have found.

Read the rest here.

Gender equality within relationships a sex killer?

This article was published a while back in the New York Times. It's a great, thought-provoking (and controversial) read about changing gender power dynamics within opposite sex relationships, and its impact on sex and sexual satisfaction. It's a long read, but worth it. The comments are really interesting, too, with some alternate perspectives and explanations represented. Someone I spoke with also suggested that the phenomenon described could be better accounted for by differences between women's and men's sexual desire. Especially in long-term relationships, women's sexual desire tends to be more reactive than spontaneous (this is central to Basson's female sexual desire model). So in an egalitarian relationship, in which responsibility for initiating sex is shared, you would expect to see a decline in sex compared to a relationship in which the male partner decides when sex happens.

From the NY Times:

Does a More Equal Marriage Mean Less Sex? By Lori Gottlieb

[…]

A study called “Egalitarianism, Housework and Sexual Frequency in Marriage,” which appeared in The American Sociological Review last year, surprised many, precisely because it went against the logical assumption that as marriages improve by becoming more equal, the sex in these marriages will improve, too. Instead, it found that when men did certain kinds of chores around the house, couples had less sex. Specifically, if men did all of what the researchers characterized as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking or vacuuming — the kinds of things many women say they want their husbands to do — then couples had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than those with husbands who did what were considered masculine chores, like taking out the trash or fixing the car. It wasn’t just the frequency that was affected, either — at least for the wives. The more traditional the division of labor, meaning the greater the husband’s share of masculine chores compared with feminine ones, the greater his wife’s reported sexual satisfaction.

[…]

Brines believes the quandary many couples find themselves in comes down to this: “The less gender differentiation, the less sexual desire.” In other words, in an attempt to be gender-neutral, we may have become gender-neutered. It’s interesting to note that when I asked Justin Garcia, a research scientist at the Kinsey Institute, whether lack of gender differentiation affects the sex lives of gay couples, he said that male couples, who have more sex than lesbian couples, tend to differentiate by choosing partners sexually unlike themselves — who, say, want to be in the more submissive sexual position — and that lesbians don’t follow as much of a pattern of seeking their sexual opposites. I posed the same question to Pepper Schwartz, a sociology professor at the University of Washington who coined the term “lesbian bed death,” and she pointed out that gay male couples differentiate from each other in other ways, too. For gay men, she said, “the initial filter is erotic, so they’re more likely to end up with somebody who’s very different in terms of education or social class.” But, she continued, “a gay woman thinks like the heterosexual woman who asks: ‘Do we share common goals? Do we like to do things together? Is he smart?’ ” She believes that lesbian and heterosexual couples share sexual challenges because both relationships involve women who tend to seek similar mates. As she put it, most men, regardless of sexual orientation, prioritize the erotic, but “heterosexual men have to deal with heterosexual women.”

[…]

When I asked Esther Perel, a couples therapist whose book, “Mating in Captivity,” addresses the issue of desire in marriage, about the role sexual scripts play in egalitarian partnerships, she explained it like this: “Egalitarian marriage takes the values of a good social system — consensus-building and consent — and assumes you can bring these rules into the bedroom. But the values that make for good social relationships are not necessarily the same ones that drive lust.” In fact, she continued, “most of us get turned on at night by the very things that we’ll demonstrate against during the day.”

[…]

One woman in her late 30s, for instance, who has been in a peer marriage for 10 years, said during couples therapy that when she asked her husband to be more forceful, “rougher,” in bed, the result was comical.

“He was trying to do what I wanted,” she explained, “but he was so . . . careful. I don’t want him to ask, ‘Are you O.K.?’ I want him not to care if I’m O.K., to just, you know, not be the good husband and take charge.” And yet, she said, his caring and his concern that she’s O.K. with what he’s doing are what she loves so much about him in every other area of their marriage, ranging from which brand of toilet paper to buy to what to feed their children to where their money is spent and which nights each of them can stay late at work. “I don’t want him to take charge like that with anything else!” she said.

I mentioned this situation to Dan Savage, the sex columnist, who told me that he sees similar themes in the letters he receives and the questions he fields at personal appearances. At a recent talk, for instance, one woman asked him if a certain sex act was “loving or degrading?”

“My reply was, ‘Yes,’ ” he told me. “Why can’t it be both?” He continued: “People have to learn to compartmentalize. We all want to be objectified by the person we love at times. We all want to be with somebody who can flip the switch and see you as an object for an hour. Sometimes sex is an expression of anger or a struggle for power and dominance. They work in concert. People need to learn how to harness those impulses playfully in ways that are acceptable in equal relationships.”

Go read the rest here.

Touching men's boxer shorts fires up women's reward system.

From the Huffington Post and Scientific America:

Touching Men's Sexy Boxer Shorts Activates Brain's Reward System In Women, Study Suggests by Kathleen D

It is often said that women and men are more different than similar. That’s not even mostly true; women and men are pretty similar. But there are a few spheres in which there are strong gender differences. One of them is sex.

Men want sex more than women do. (While I am sure that you can think of people who don’t fit this pattern, my colleagues and I have arrived at this conclusion after reviewing hundreds of findings. It is, on average, a very robust finding.) This difference is due in part to the fact that men, compared to women, focus on the rewards of sex. Women tend to focus on its costs because having sex presents them with bigger potential downsides, from physical (the toll of bearing a child) to social (stigma).

Accordingly, the average man’s sexual system gets activated fairly easily. When it does, it trips off a whole system in the brain focused on rewards. In fact, merely seeing a bra can propel men into reward mode, seeking immediate satisfaction in their decisions.

Most of the evidence suggests that women are different, that a sexy object would not cause them to shift into reward mode. This goes back to the notion that sex is rife with potential costs for women. Yet, at a basic biological level, the sexual system is directly tied to the reward system (through pleasure-giving dopaminergic reactions). This would seem to suggest a contrasting hypothesis that perhaps women will also shift into reward mode when their sexual system is activated.

Anouk Festjens, Sabrina Bruyneel, and Siegfried Dewitte, researchers in Belgium, wanted to test this idea. But first they needed to find a way to activate women’s sex drive. Women, more than men, connect sex to emotions. Festjens and colleagues therefore used a subtle, emotional cue to initiate sexual motivation – touch. Across three experiments, Festjens and colleagues found that women who touched sexy male clothing items, compared to nonsexual clothing items, showed evidence of being in reward mode.

Read the rest here.

Young people in Japan losing interest in sex?

From the Guardian:

Why have young people in Japan stopped having sex? What happens to a country when its young people stop having sex? Japan is finding out… Abigail Haworth investigates.

Ai Aoyama is a sex and relationship counsellor who works out of her narrow three-storey home on a Tokyo back street. Her first name means "love" in Japanese, and is a keepsake from her earlier days as a professional dominatrix. Back then, about 15 years ago, she was Queen Ai, or Queen Love, and she did "all the usual things" like tying people up and dripping hot wax on their nipples. Her work today, she says, is far more challenging. Aoyama, 52, is trying to cure what Japan's media callssekkusu shinai shokogun, or "celibacy syndrome".

Japan's under-40s appear to be losing interest in conventional relationships. Millions aren't even dating, and increasing numbers can't be bothered with sex. For their government, "celibacy syndrome" is part of a looming national catastrophe. Japan already has one of the world's lowest birth rates. Its population of 126 million, which has been shrinking for the past decade, is projected to plunge a further one-third by 2060. Aoyama believes the country is experiencing "a flight from human intimacy" – and it's partly the government's fault.

The sign outside her building says "Clinic". She greets me in yoga pants and fluffy animal slippers, cradling a Pekingese dog whom she introduces as Marilyn Monroe. In her business pamphlet, she offers up the gloriously random confidence that she visited North Korea in the 1990s and squeezed the testicles of a top army general. It doesn't say whether she was invited there specifically for that purpose, but the message to her clients is clear: she doesn't judge.

Inside, she takes me upstairs to her "relaxation room" – a bedroom with no furniture except a double futon. "It will be quiet in here," she says. Aoyama's first task with most of her clients is encouraging them "to stop apologising for their own physical existence".

The number of single people has reached a record high. A survey in 2011 found that 61% of unmarried men and 49% of women aged 18-34were not in any kind of romantic relationship, a rise of almost 10% from five years earlier. Another study found that a third of people under 30had never dated at all. (There are no figures for same-sex relationships.) Although there has long been a pragmatic separation of love and sex in Japan – a country mostly free of religious morals – sex fares no better. A survey earlier this year by the Japan Family Planning Association (JFPA) found that 45% of women aged 16-24 "were not interested in or despised sexual contact". More than a quarter of men felt the same way.

Read the rest here.

Changing perspectives on women's sexual desire.

This is a follow-up to the post from last week about recent research comparing men's and women's sexual behaviour. It's a brief review of a new book, What Do Women Want, by Daniel Bergner. The book has received piles of press attention. From The Atlantic:

How Strong Is the Female Sex Drive After All?

Women may be more sexually omnivorous than men, but that doesn't necessarily mean they're as hungry.

Daniel Bergner, a journalist and contributing editor to the New York Times Magazine, knows what women want--and it's not monogamy. His new book, which chronicles his "adventures in the science of female desire," has made quite a splash for apparently exploding the myth that female sexual desire is any less ravenous than male sexual desire. The book, What Do Women Want, is based on a 2009 article, which received a lot of buzz for detailing, among other things, that women get turned on when they watch monkeys having sex and gay men having sex, a pattern of arousal not seen in otherwise lusty heterosexual men.

That women can be turned on by such a variety of sexual scenes indicates, Bergner argues, how truly libidinous they are. This apparently puts the lie to our socially manufactured assumption that women are inherently more sexually restrained than men--and therefore better suited to monogamy.

But does it really?

Detailing the results of a study about sexual arousal, Bergner says: "No matter what their self-proclaimed sexual orientation, [women] showed, on the whole, strong and swift genital arousal when the screen offered men with men, women with women and women with men. They responded objectively much more to the exercising woman than to the strolling man, and their blood flow rose quickly--and markedly, though to a lesser degree than during all the human scenes except the footage of the ambling, strapping man--as they watched the apes."

Read the rest here.

Women's sexuality.

Recent research has challenged some of the long-held stereotypes about the sexes and how vastly different men and women are. This isn't to say that sex differences aren't real - it's just that men and women are actually more similar than they are different. Part of the difficulty in doing research on sex differences in sexuality is the bias that manifests itself in self-report data. Women are much more likely to underreport all aspects of sexuality, and men are more likely to overreport. How much this effects research on sex differences isn't entirely clear.

The New York Times recently published an excellent piece (despite some minor problems) about women's sexuality, in particular sexual desire. The piece is adapted from the book, What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire.. It's long, but worth reading, and it mentions much of the stuff we discussed in class.

Unexcited? There May Be a Pill for That

Linneah sat at a desk at the Center for Sexual Medicine at Sheppard Pratt in the suburbs of Baltimore and filled out a questionnaire. She read briskly, making swift checks beside her selected answers, and when she was finished, she handed the pages across the desk to Martina Miller, who gave her a round of pills.

The pills were either a placebo or a new drug called Lybrido, created to stoke sexual desire in women. Checking her computer, Miller pointed out gently that Linneah hadn’t been doing her duty as a study participant. Over the past eight weeks, she took the tablets before she planned to have sex, and for every time she put a pill on her tongue, she was supposed to make an entry in her online diary about her level of lust.

“I know, I know,” Linneah said. She is a 44-year-old part-time elementary-school teacher, and that day she wore red pants and a canary yellow scarf. (She asked that only a nickname be used to protect her privacy.) “It’s a mess. I keep forgetting.”

Miller, a study coordinator, began a short interview, typing Linneah’s replies into a database that the medication’s Dutch inventor, Adriaan Tuiten, will present to the Food and Drug Administration this summer or fall as part of his campaign to win the agency’s approval and begin marketing what might become the first female-desire drug in America. “Thinking about your desire now,” Miller said, “would you say it is absent, very low, low, reasonable or present?”

“Low.” This was no different from Linneah’s reply at the trial’s outset two months before.

“When your partner initiated sexual activity over the past eight weeks, did you show avoidance behavior?”

“Yes.”

“Like earlier to bed?”

“Yes.” Linneah’s voice lurched louder; she laughed; it was a relief to talk bluntly.

“Do you have pleasant feelings when you’re touched?”

“Yes.”

Later, after her appointment, she told me that in fact she has orgasms pretty much every time she and her husband have sex — that wasn’t the problem. “There’s something that’s stopping me from wanting it,” she said. “I don’t know what it is. I can’t tell you what it is.”

Go read the rest here.

Some interesting commentary from Jezebel (link here).

Sex on the male brain: Every seven seconds?

Reported at Livescience:

Men think about sex every seven seconds, right? Not according to a new study that finds men ponder sleep and food as much as they do sex.
The median number of thoughts about sex by college-age men was 18 times a day to women's 10 times a day, the study found. But the men also thought about food and sleep proportionately more.
"In other words, there was nothing special about sexual thoughts," study researcher Terri Fisher, a psychologist at The Ohio State University, Mansfield, told LiveScience. "Males thought more about any of the health-related thoughts compared to females, not just thoughts about sex."
The "men think about sex every seven seconds" axiom is an urban legend, Fisher said. But there is little reliable research on how often men and women really do have sexual thoughts. Most studies have asked people to think back across their day or week and try to remember how many sex thoughts they had -- a method that doesn't always provide reliable results.
[...]
"The stereotype is that men think about sex constantly and women rarely [think about it]," Fisher said. But that's not what she and her colleagues found. There was a broad range in the number of sex thoughts, from several participants who recorded one thought a day, to a male participant who recorded 388 thoughts in a day. Factoring in the participant's sleep time, his 388 thoughts broke down to having a sexual thought every 158 seconds, Fisher said, still far fewer than the "every seven seconds" legend would suggest.

Read the rest of the article here.