When we talk about men and women's sex drives, we too often default to using narrow, stereotypical categories. That is, we talk about men as having high desire and wanting sex all the time, and women as having lower, less intense sexual libidos.
Research that explores anything counter to these stereotypical categories is lacking. I've written previously about my latest research findings, which have started to challenge norms about men's sexual desire always being high, constant, and simple. But the research on women who have high sex drives is still small. Instead, research on women's sexual desire tends to focus on the complexities of women's experiences or women who have problematically low sexual desire (clinically referred to as Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder and previously known as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder).
However, women's sexual desire varies greatly, and some women describe having very high levels of sexual interest. Below follows an overview of the small body of research which has explored the experiences of highly sexual women.
Highly Sexual Women
In one of the first studies on highly sexual women published in the Journal of Sex Research in 2002, researchers interviewed 44 women (20-82 years old) who self-identified as being highly sexual about their experiences.
The women in the study described their sexuality as a core part of who they were and something that had a strong influence on the way they lived their lives. Specifically, women indicated that their feelings of sexual desire and sexual excitement were intense urges that could not be ignored. Women described how their motivation to seek out sexual stimuli and sexual satisfaction (i.e., through finding sexual partners, masturbating, etc.) made up a considerable portion of how they organized their time and energy.
Despite women's strong desire to seek out sexual stimulation, women in the study also indicated that they felt society holds a negative view of highly sexual women. As such, women reported experiencing struggles and challenges in most area of their lives because of their sexuality. This included sometimes doubting how they felt about themselves, worrying about how their sexual urges might impact their relationships with partners, and feeling concerned that they might be judged by their female friends and acquaintances.1
Differentiating Highly Sexual From Less Sexual Women
What differentiates women who identify as highly sexual from women who have lower levels of desire? A 2009 study published in the Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality holds some answers.
Researchers recruited 932 heterosexual women to answer questions about a number of factors they hypothesized might be related to women's experiences of sexual desire. Then they looked to see what separated the most sexual women in the data set from the women who reported lower desire and created a profile to describe women who were highly sexual.
The authors, not surprisingly, found that highly sexual women reported having higher sex drives. But they also reported engaging in more sexual communication, having more sexual thoughts and fantasies, and they considered themselves to be more sexually adventurous. Highly sexual women also reported having higher levels of sexual self-esteem and better body image. Further, women in this group described holding more positive attitudes of the following: engaging in casual sex, watching sexually explicit material (i.e., pornography), masturbating, and wearing "sexy" clothing. 2
Women Who Continue to Feel Desire in Long-Term Relationships
While research has found that women tend to have a decrease in sexual desire over the course of a relationship, not all women report having this experience. It may be that women with higher levels of sexual desire are able to experience stronger sexual urges even in the context of longer-term relationships.
In a qualitative study of young women (age 18-29) in long-term relationships, my colleagues and I looked to see whether there might be any differences between women who experienced a decrease in desire and those who maintained a higher level of passion over time. Similar to the previously described study, the two groups were then compared to see if there were any notable differences.
Some factors that separated the two groups were related to things that were partner related (i.e., women with higher desire reported having partners who made them feel sexually desirable and engaged in effective sexual initiation), or were relational (i.e., women with higher desire reported being in relationships with more sexual communication and higher emotional intimacy).
However, there were also some notable individual-level factors that differentiated the two groups. Women who continued to experience higher levels of desire described an ability to stay mentally present during sexual encounters, having lower sexual particularity (that is, being more open and flexible to sexual experiences), valuing sex as an important part of their relationship, and interpreting monotony and routine as positive experiences that allowed them to learn more about their sexual likes and dislikes versus something that dampened their sexual experiences.3
Highly sexual women have received little attention in the research to date. It may be because women who identify as highly sexual go against the grain of what many of us typically think of when it comes to women's sexual desire being lower or less intense. However, not only are all women's sexual experiences varied and worthy of exploration, understanding the experiences of women with higher sex drives may help give women who are looking to increase their sexual desire some ideas of what to try. Based on the research, women who want to increase their sexual desire might consider practicing increased mental presence during sex (a.k.a., mindfulness), increasing their sexual communication, and embracing their sexual thoughts and fantasies.
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1. Eric S. Blumberg (2003) The lives and voices of highly sexual women, The Journal of Sex Research, 40:2, 146-157, DOI: 10.1080/00224490309552176
2. Wentland, Jocelyn J., et al. "Differentiating highly sexual women from less sexual women." The Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, vol. 18, no. 4, 2009, p. 169+. Academic OneFile, Accessed 30 Mar. 2019.
3.Murray, S. H., Milhausen, R. R. & Sutherland, O. (2014). A qualitative comparison of young women’s maintained versus decreased sexual desire in longer-term relationships. Women & Therapy, 37, 319-41.