I hear it over and over again: Many 40+ year-old women, who are in otherwise happy relationships, are desperately unhappy with their sex lives. Sometimes the couple started out this way and these women thought things would get better. Other times they conformed to the societal message that women’s sexual pleasure and satisfaction were irrelevant and so they settled. More often, however, the couple started out hot and heavy and life got in the way.
Yes, it is true that women generally reach their sexual peak after approximately 40 years of age while men reach theirs in their late teens or early twenties. It is often not until women are done caring for their kids, spouses, parents, etc., etc., that women may even begin to recognize that they have a desire for, and a right to, a good and satisfying sex life. By this point, though, many women don’t know how to ask for what they want or are afraid to do so.
Some women in my practice have gone months, if not years, in sexless relationships. Oftentimes they feel their partner is no longer attracted to them or they feel shame around asking for what they want. If this piece resonates with you, please know that you are not alone. I am also hoping to empower you by letting you know a bit about how we, as a society, got to this point and about the many benefits associated with a satisfying sex life.
Most of us know that engaging in consensual sex is great for reducing stress. Some of us even know that the hormones secreted during sex are attachment hormones and, therefore, can leave us feeling better connected with our partners. But, what many of us don’t know is that there are a lot of other benefits to sex like a decrease in eating disorders, less vaginal atrophy, diminished anxiety, and lower rates of depression.
So, why the taboo around female sexuality? There are so many reasons. In fact, during my funny and informative workshop called, “The Ridiculous History of Female Sexuality: Why it Matters,” I discuss the history of female sexuality and how it has brought us to this point. Can you believe that people once thought that a woman’s ailments were due to her uterus wandering about her body and wreaking havoc wherever it went? How about the fact that when it was discovered that the female orgasm was not necessary for procreation[i], women’s sexual pleasure became unimportant? In addition, it was as recent as 2004 that there was a law in Texas making it a crime for a woman to own more than six vibrators[ii].
Women have been socialized to accept shame regarding their bodies, their sexuality, and their sexual desire[iii]. Shame has been passed on between generations[iv] in the form of silence and the utilization of terms intended to diminish and even vilify a woman’s sexuality[v]. This is evidenced by the fact that medical drawings and medical literature from only a few years ago do not include a complete depiction or understanding of female genitalia[vi]. In addition, it was very recently that the medication Addy[vii] became available to treat female hypoactive sexual desire disorder. This was despite the fact that a medication made up of components known to increase blood flow to the female genitalia (the same mechanism of action as for the medications that treat male erectile dysfunction) had been available for quite some time[viii]. In sharp contrast, Viagra was fast-tracked to become available for men[ix].
A healthy relationship to one’s sexuality is an important aspect of wellbeing and happiness. Via workshops and in my private practice, I am passionate (pun absolutely intended) about helping women to achieve this relationship. I am certain that this will not only lead to stronger, more fulfilling relationships but this can also lead to better emotional and physical health, overall.
[i] Goldstein, I. (2005). Advances in women’s sexual health. Lecture presented at ISSWSH Annual Meeting in Marriott Hotel, Dallas, TX
Netter, F. H. (1990). Atlas of human anatomy (2nd ed.). United States: Novartis Medical Education Programme.
[ii] Omori, E. & Slick, W., (2007). Passion & Power: The Technology of Orgasm. USA
[iii] Schooler, D., Ward, L. M., Merriwether, A., & Caruthers, A. S. (2005). Cycles of shame: Menstrual shame, body shame, and sexual decision‐making. Journal of Sex Research, 42(4), 324–334. doi:10.1080/00224490509552288
[iv] Gordon, N. (2015). Bonds, binds and binaries: Women, girls, silence, sexual desire and intergenerational transmission. Psychoanalysis, Culture & Society, 20(3), 303–310. doi:10.1057/pcs.2015.21
[v] Tasca, C., Rapetti, M., Carta, M., & Fadda, B. (2012). Women and hysteria in the history of mental health. Clinical Practice & Epidemiology in Mental Health, 8(1), 110–119. doi:10.2174/1745017901208010110
[vi] Gray, H., Williams, P., Warwick, R., Dyson, M., & Bannister, L. (1989). Gray’s anatomy (37th ed.). Edinburgh: Churchill Livingstone.
[vii] Watts, V. (2015). FDA approves first treatment for sexual desire disorder in women.
[viii] Goldstein, I. (2005). Advances in women’s sexual health. Lecture presented at ISSWSH Annual Meeting in Marriott Hotel, Dallas, TX
[ix] Kimmel, M. (Ed.). (2007). The Sexual Self: The Construction of Sexual Scripts (1st ed.). Nashville, TN: Vanderbilt University Press.