Reclaiming Our Sexual Desire, Part I

The source of desire in women may be quite different from that in men and arises from not only the innate hormonal drive, but more likely from feelings that are not explicitly sexual.”  Bennett & Holczer, “Finding and Revealing Your Sexual Self: A Guide to Communicating about Sex.”

A few years back, I read a local humorist’s essay in weekly newspaper proclaiming that one of the benefits of menopause was that women had a ready excuse to stop having sex. She went on to boast about the virtues of long evenings with a good book, a cup of tea and lots of chocolate—and how that surpassed having sex any day. Having just started feeling really good about reclaiming my own positive, embodied sexuality, I felt sad when I read her words.

Her essay was intended to be funny and like most humor, it was the grain of truth embedded in the humor that evoked my reaction of “oh, that’s sad,” where others surely thought: “that’s really funny—how true!”

While the hormone decline that accompanies menopause certainly can affect a woman’s desire and her sexual response cycle (as aging also does in men), it need not derail an active, healthy sex life. Joan Price’s wonderful book, “Naked at Our Age: Talking Out Loud About Senior Sex” provides ample evidence that there are plenty of post-menopausal women enjoying hot, connective, and regular sex! So, why are some women so willing to play the menopause card to avoid sex, when sex can be such a lovely way to connect and to experience our humanity, our vitality?

There are many reasons why some women simply are done with sex by the time they reach menopause. Female desire is sensitive and many factors affect it: hormones, unresolved power struggles/relationship issues, an unskilled sexual partner, the inability to experience orgasm with a partner, body image issues, painful sex—the list goes on. If a woman does not associate sex with some form of pleasure, whether that means experiencing intimacy, connection, feeling loved, or having an orgasm, she isn’t going to be terribly interested in having sex. And where the experience of sex is downright negative, her aversion to sex will only increase over time.

For the next few weeks, my blogs will explore various factors that affect female desire and how a woman who wants to continue being sexual can address the issues that concern her. To kick off the series, in next week’s blog, I will make the case for masturbation as a starting point to stoking female desire. It is a path to empowerment and sexual satisfaction regardless of whether a woman is sexually fulfilled with a partner, dissatisfied in any way with her current sexual relationship or not currently in a relationship. Masturbation enables a woman to understand her sexual responses, to become comfortable feeling and being sexual, and to give herself pleasure through orgasm. In taking charge of her own sexuality—whether at age 50, 65 or 18, she will become sexually proficient, independent, confident and empowered. From this platform of self-knowledge, she can more effectively identify, ask for—and get what she wants, or be assured that she can meet her own needs!