“Some prominent social scientists, physicians, and health care providers…have gone on record to say they think female sexual dysfunction (FSD) is, at least in part, a disease conjured up by Big Pharma to generate sales.” The Return of Desire, A Guide to Rediscovering Your Sexual Passion.” Dr. Gina Ogden
As I wrote last week, sexual intercourse has long been the reference point for cultural norms around sex: if you are not having intercourse and orgasms through intercourse, Mother Culture—speaking through social media, talk show hosts, women’s magazines, doctors, Big Pharma—is going to tell you that there’s something wrong with you. For the woman who does not experience orgasm with intercourse, this kind of sex may not be wholly satisfying; for the man who wants to pleasure his partner and is perplexed by her inability to climax during intercourse, he may wonder what’s wrong with his technique. The answer may be: nothing! With misinformation coming at us from so many sources, is it any wonder that people are confused about what normal sexual response is for them?
There are a lot of problems with using intercourse as a cultural reference point to gauge your “normal” for sexual expression and response. In this blog, I’ll highlight one of the more insidious. Defining “sex” as intercourse and measuring “performance” creates dysfunction where none exists:
· The American Psychiatric Association’s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM) creates “desire disorders” based on low interest in penis-in-vagina intercourse; it does not consider sexual behaviors outside of intercourse, such as oral sex or use of sex toys; thus, a couple could have a rich, pleasurable and healthy sex life without intercourse and find themselves labeled with “desire disorder;”
· 75% of women do not experience orgasm through intercourse alone. Most women need direct clitoral stimulation to experience orgasm, enjoying oral sex, hand stimulation or vibrators as effective methods to elicit orgasm; thus, the DSM would label a woman who does not have an orgasm during intercourse as dysfunctional, even if she regularly experiences orgasm via another method; under the DSM, just about every lesbian couple could be labeled with “desire disorder!”
· According to Dr. Gina Odgen in “The Return of Desire: A Guide to Rediscovering Your Sexual Passion,” ”at least two generations of sex researchers have consistently reported that some three-quarters of women are not actually satisfied by intercourse. “ (Emphasis mine.) Dr. Ogden posits: “Even if women are highly motivated by sexual activities that don’t include intercourse…they can be diagnosed by the book as dysfunctional….So this is dysfunction? Or is the DSM dysfunctional?” Great question!
Don’t get me wrong—intercourse is a lovely way to connect with a partner—for deep intimacy, mutual pleasure, fun, randy lust! But it may not be the best way for a woman to experience orgasm—there are so many additional satisfying ways to accomplish orgasm and connect. And when we become overly focused on intercourse as “sex”—spinning out in the “shoulds” of Mother Culture—we lose sight of what I think is one of the most important aspects of sex: deep intimacy, profound connectivity. When sex/intercourse isn’t satisfying, and a couple does not have a repertoire of other practices that support and build intimacy, it is easy to see how connectivity can fade over time. Who wants to repeatedly do something that elicits a sense of failure—or can seem like it’s all about one getting sexual pleasure while the other is left wanting?
Given this information, isn’t it time we stop measuring the health of our sexual response by a standard that doesn’t even apply to most women? If we can broaden our definition of “sex” beyond what culture or the DSM says it is, we’ll begin feeling far more normal about our own sexual expression, response and choices. More importantly, we may actually find ways of relating that result in increased sexual satisfaction and intimacy. Oh, the possibilities!
Next week: Rebuilding intimacy through sensual touch