A difference in sexual desire is a problem for many couples. Often, it's the man who wants sex more frequently, although this does not mean that women don't care about sex just as much as men do.
Women do care about sex, especially in the context of a loving, committed relationship. Unfortunately for some women, and the men who love them, a variety of factors can prevent women from experiencing sexuality as a completely positive experience:
- On a very basic level, physiological differences can make it more difficult for a woman to experience a desire for sex, become aroused during lovemaking, and have an orgasm. For example, researchers have discovered that testosterone, once considered the "male" hormone, is responsible for fueling the sex drive in both sexes, although men have 10 to 20 times more testosterone than women. Other hormonal factors may also cause women to have variable levels of desire over time.
- Psychological factors can also contribute to a lower interest in sex. Women are much more likely than men to suffer from clinical depression, a symptom of which is decreased sex drive. Ironically, the medications most frequently used to treat depression do not usually raise sex drive and, in fact, may prevent you from having an orgasm. Imagine your depression lifting, finally feeling in a good mood, even wanting to have sex, and then not being able to climax. How frustrating! Women are also more likely to have been sexually abused, and while survivors of sexual abuse may desperately want to be good lovers, shame, fear, and frightening memories can hold some of them back.
- Body image is another problem women struggle with often more than men, and one that can greatly affect feelings about sexuality. One of my clients had a husband who frequently looked at Playboy magazine and compared his wife’s appearance to that of the centerfold models. Never mind that the women may have been enhanced by surgery and had their photos expertly Photoshopped; he expected his wife to be a sex kitten. Despite being extremely attractive, this woman was plagued with doubt and insecurity about her appearance, at times suffering symptoms of anorexia and bulimia. "I feel like when we make love, all he sees are my fat thighs," she said. Even women married to more understanding men may still hate their bodies. Women are given the message from early in life that they need to look good and be thin at all costs. Combine this with the traditional socialization process that teaches girls to be wary of their own sexuality, and it becomes easier to see why it might appear that some women don't care for sex.
- Fatigue can also be a major factor in the discrepancy between men's and women's desire. While studies show that men have been increasing their share over time, women still take on a disproportionate amount of housework and childcare, even if they have full-time jobs outside the home. Dr. John Gottman illustrates this point through several studies in his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail. One found that of a group of 50 men who described themselves as "liberated"—who stated that their wives' careers were just as important as their own—not a single one had ever initiated a discussion with his wife about how to divide the household chores. You may wonder how sex and housework can possibly be related, but as Gottman says, "Being the sole person in the marriage to clean the toilet is definitely not an aphrodisiac." In his extensive research on married couples, he has found that men who do more housework and childcare have better sex lives and happier relationships. How's that for an incentive.