What's Your Sexual Style?

How a couple can share desire, pleasure, and satisfaction.

Finding Her Voice

Female desire, pleasure, eroticism, and satisfaction

The traditional belief used to be that women were much less sexually-oriented than men. Then came the focus on female orgasm, the new belief being if women have predictable orgasms, all would be well. In truth, neither approach reflects acceptance of the uniqueness of female sexuality.

The psychologically empowering concept is that women have the same right to desire, pleasure, eroticism, and satisfaction as men. The biggest mistake people make is to define female sexuality narrowly and mechanistically. Sex does not equal intercourse. Sexual satisfaction does not equal orgasm. The male model of easy, predictable, autonomous sexual response is not right for female sexuality. The myth is if the woman has a predictable orgasm, she will not experience inhibited sexual desire or sexual dissatisfaction.

Healthy female sexuality includes:

Desire  ̶  Anticipating being sexual and feeling you deserve sexual pleasure.

Pleasure  ̶   Receptivity and responsivity to sensual and playful touching resulting in feeling sexual open and turned-on.

Eroticism  ̶   Including letting go and allowing erotic flow to naturally culminate in orgasm.

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Satisfaction  ̶   Feeling good about yourself, your partner, and your intimate bond.

Although we are big fans of arousal and orgasm, it is clear that the essence of healthy female sexuality is desire and satisfaction.

The key to female sexual desire is that she feel responsible for herself as a sexual woman. It is not the man's role to give her desire, arousal, or orgasm. It is his role to be her intimate and erotic friend who is aware of her feelings and needs, and open to her sexual requests and guidance. Ideally, each partner values intimacy, non-demand pleasuring, and eroticism. Traditionally, our culture has not valued female sexuality, especially female eroticism. The old view was that women were not supposed to be erotic. The new view is that female eroticism is to prove to the man that she is erotically desirable. Healthy female eroticism involves her erotic feelings, preferences, scenarios, and techniques, not in comparison to her partner's, an erotic ideal, a romantic ideal, or to prove something to the man.

Self-acceptance is core to healthy female sexuality. Perfectionism, pressure, contingent sexual self-esteem, poor body image, fear of being sexually judged, shame or guilt about past sexual experiences all can inhibit sexual desire.

A key to healthy female sexuality is awareness and acceptance based on positive, realistic sexual expectations. These include valuing variable, flexible sexual response. Examples include awareness that it is normal for one of three regularly orgasmic women to never or almost never be orgasmic during intercourse;  accepting " responsive sexual desire" i.e., not feel desire until feeling emotionally connected or physically responsive to touching or being touched; approximately 70 percent of couple encounters result in female orgasm; a large number of women utilize multiple stimulation during both pleasuring and intercourse, including using erotic fantasies; satisfaction is about feeling good about sexuality and energized as a woman and couple rather than falling into the trap of orgasm as a pass-fail performance test. Perhaps most important is that female sexuality is more variable, flexible, and individualistic than male sexuality. It is different, not better or worse. Embracing her sexual voice is the challenge of healthy female and couple sexuality.

Barry W. McCarthy, Ph.D., is a tenured professor of psychology at American University and a best-selling author.

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