Women’s Lower Sex Drive Isn’t A Problem?

headacheResearch consistently shows that women have a lower sex drive than men.

But maybe it’s not a problem?

While 44% of US women report sexual problems, most commonly low desire, only 12% are bothered by it.

If you don’t care, what’s the problem?

Dr. Jan L. Shifren of Massachusetts General Hospital, who led the study that reveals this finding, says,

You could say that something affecting 40% is almost normative.

University of Utah School of Medicine professor, Dr. Ingrid Nygaard, adds,

What I see on a near daily basis are women of all ages who feel that because their sex drive is less than their partners’, they are inadequate and in the wrong. But what does “normal” mean? Is it a perception of how one ranks compared to others? Is there some objective measure?

Some women wonder why they are considered the problem instead of their (sex-obsessed?) husbands.

Is pop culture stirring anxiety by creating the notion that everyone else is having great sex? Dr. Ingrid Nygaard wonders.

And sex educator, Dr. Emily Nagoski, points out that for women with low desire,

Feeling judged or broken for their sexuality is exactly what they don’t need — and what will make their desire for sex genuinely shut down.

What to do? She adds:

What these women need is not medical treatment, but a thoughtful exploration of what creates desire between them and their partners. This is likely to include confidence in their bodies, feeling accepted, and (not least) explicitly erotic stimulation.

Shamed women learn to repress their feelings.

Shamed women learn to repress their feelings.

But just because low desire and difficulty enjoying pleasure is “normal” in its commonness, that does not mean that it’s okay.

Still, the women aren’t “wrong.” A sexually repressive culture is. That’s what needs to be fixed.

Why have less sexual enjoyment and satisfaction than you need to?

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About BroadBlogs

I have a Ph.D. from UCLA in sociology (emphasis: gender, social psych). I currently teach sociology and women's studies at Foothill College in Los Altos Hills, CA. I have also lectured at San Jose State. And I have blogged for Feminispire, Ms. Magazine, The Good Men Project and Daily Kos. Also been picked up by The Alternet.

Posted on April 22, 2015, in feminism, psychology, sex and sexuality, women and tagged , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 32 Comments.

  1. What’s especially troubling to me in this post is definitely the scientific community’s idea that the male version of sexuality is “normative” while this new data about female sexuality is seen as troubling or disturbing. There are absolutely factors in society that contribute to each side of the equation; media and other societal factors continue to manifest the male libido, in fact there’s an overwhelming majority of media that is specifically tailored to the male gaze. This media uses the objectification of women and unrealistic body expectations to try to lure men to consume products or services. Meanwhile on the flip side, while women are hypersexualized and made into sex objects for males, there is next to no media that provides an outlet to women to understand and really express their own sexuality in a healthy and safe way. And not only for women, but making sure that trans people and people of other sexualities have ways to express themselves honestly and safely

  2. Women are told that if they don’t give their husbands/partners what they “need” that their significant other will just get it somewhere else. We are given mixed messages about how we need to “put out” but not be a “whore.” It’s tough to navigate ones sexuality in such a conflicting culture. It can be tough for some to own their sexual being when they are told that it’s existence is only intended for others; the pleasure of our partners should give us pleasure. How can you get excited about that? How can you have an exciting a pleasurable sexual relationship when you don’t even know what you like or can’t communicate it?

    I used to work in a sex shop that was geared towards women and we would have couples come in all the time. I was always surprised at how often women would seek the approval of their partner on the various items we had despite the fact that they were all intended for her. When helping women pick out lingerie I would ask them, “what do you like?” and they would almost always respond with what their partner liked. “Yeah, but what do YOU like?” The answer to that was consistently, “I don’t know.” At 19, I found myself mediating the sex lives of middle aged couples and helping women navigate their own sexuality. It was pretty eye-opening.

    Now I am 28, married and have a 2 year old. My perspective is different and my relationship with sex is different. Dealing with the hormones and the stress takes its toll but having a supportive partner that takes a vested interest in my needs and desires (in all areas) makes all aspects of our relationship better. I think being able to see the dysfunction that is caused by the patriarchal aspects of female sexuality and romantic relationships has been a huge help and I wish more people could understand that.

  3. Nathalie Waldenryd

    One of my best friend is something people call as a nymphomaniac and she always get critic from everyone around her. On the same page i know guys who would be able to be called nymps as well if they could classify a man as it but no one critic her. What im trying to say is that society forces females to think they are wrong if they have a high sexual drive but for guys “its just something guys do”. But i think also religion is one of the driving forces behind it since all the major religion almost always oppresses females. Both the Bible and Koran states that a female should be submissive to her husband and that he basically owns her.

    • Maybe it’s partly because religions tend to be conservative. I saw some data that shows that atheists are a lot less sexually repressed then religious people. And the more conservative the religion, the more repressed.

  4. The root of this problem emanates from society culture that demands every individual to conform to a strict code of conduct and behavior. In as much as culture is necessary to guide individuals in the best way to coexist peacefully and with minimal conflicts, it has its own shortcomings. Culture prevents or limits an individual from fully exploiting their intellectual capacity, further it hinders independent thinking.
    To make matters worse, women are supposed to be submissive, mothers are limited in the role they can play in the society. Sex becomes a contentious issue because we are living in a society that is glorifying pornography and pop culture that is full of explicit and x- rated images. Men are being exposed to extreme sexual content that encourages weird sexual drives with submissive women who must fulfill their partners. This culture has a triple effect of demoralizing men who can’t perform or who are not as endowed as the artist in the media culture, while women must at all times satisfy their partners no matter their moods and readiness for sex. To counter this culture rationality women must be given space , personal performance should be respected and comprehend the fact that sex is a process of intimacy not an act.

  5. A postscript from me: I read your comments speculating why so many women report low libidos – that it has to do with a sexually repressive culture. I can understand that. But I also think it has something to do with how women are so objectified and men are trained very early to objectify. A lot of my disgust about sex right now is in reaction to the extent of my past objectification. I felt like I wasn’t seen as a person by my male partners, no matter how much they loved me or how much they tried to understand feminism and patriarchy. Right now, I refuse to be used for someone else’s sexual gratification (even by someone who loves me). I am not sure if sex without objectification is possible, but it is largely the cause of my massive ick-factor at the moment.

    • I agree with everything that you’ve said.

      In fact I have experienced a little of what you’ve talked about. In that I wasn’t interested in sexuality for a really long time, either. Luckily, the things my partners asked me to do weren’t anything I experienced as especially uncomfortable or humiliating. Just boring.

      I don’t blame the women themselves. And I don’t think that women should feel pressured to be sexual. I’m not sure if I got that point across, though.

      I put the blame on our society. And I see the root problem as sexism: sexual repression of women, objectification of women, sexual violence against women, expecting women to serve men and not have pleasure themselves.

      And I will be writing much more about this.

      I am not blaming the women. I’m blaming the culture. I think we should live in a culture that is much more sex-positive for women.

      Take a look at these posts:

      Men, Women & Internet Porn

      Does Sexual Objectification Lead to Bad Sex?

      Repression: Not What You Think It Is

      • Thanks for replying… I gathered from your comments above that you have been through something similar too. Plus I have read your blog for a few years and didn’t think you’d disagree with me, incidentally – so apologies if my post came across as accusatory! My comment was more about that the default assumption in these and similar discussions is that being sexually active is a more desirable or preferred state for everyone. The possibility of living sex-free is rarely explicitly mentioned as a legitimate option, so I wanted to make some noise about it.

        Thanks for the links, I will read them! Love your blog, by the way!

      • Hope you don’t mind if I post your response as a blog post some day.

        Thanks so much for sharing your experience and perspective. 🙂

  6. I am 40 and while I have been very sexually active in the past (from ages 18-38), I now identify as asexual and value my celibacy quite highly. I am single and while I would very much be interested in a relationship with another asexual, I know this is unlikely, and am ok with the prospect of being single the rest of my life.

    I have been in many sexual relationships previously. For the most part, the point of sex was to provide sexual satisfaction to my partners, not me. Sex was often coerced, with guilt trips, nagging or the withdrawal of intimacy or even kindness, if I didn’t participate. I have had to endure sex when sick, depressed, recovering from assault, or simply exhausted, in order to satisfy the needs of my partners. I had a couple of partners who said they “loved to give” and fetished women having orgasms, so those experiences with those partners were a little better. But I still felt I had to “perform,” and felt guilty if I could not orgasm, since I was disappointing my partner. Then finally, in the last relationship I had, my partner said he could not get off without very rough sex and humiliating acts for me. He very much perceived this as a reasonable expectation, which I think he believed due to the influence of internet porn. (“Everybody’s doing this, why are you so uptight?”) I thought I was being giving and open by indulging him, but I left that relationship feeling slightly traumatized. I have to say, Dan Savage’s narrative that good partners are “GGG” and compromise by doing new things and experimenting was NOT empowering for me – more often than not, it meant I was doing things that I really wasn’t enjoying.

    The net result of my sexual history has left me with NO desire for partnered sex and indeed a feeling of revulsion or repulsed at the thought of allowing anyone access to my body again.

    I haven’t shared this opinion with many, because so far the response I have gotten is that there is something wrong with me that I need to fix! I must get therapy for my issues and get hormones! Because I can’t possibly live a happy fulfilled life without sex! I don’t view myself like that. I get a lot of joy from my celibacy and the fact that I am finally able to care for my body and put my own needs first. I find it quite freeing to not have to objectify myself by putting so much effort into maintaining my body in an acceptable, “fuckable” state (hair removal, sexy clothes, etc).

    I write this because I would like there to be a narrative where it is ok for someone to choose not to have sex. Asexuals or the voluntarily celibate need not be pitied, or told they are missing out, or that they “deserve” to have good sex, so should be making every effort to have some. I find a lot of “sex positive” articles don’t really mention that it is ok you do not want to have sex altogether, which is a shame. People can choose a life without sex (whether temporary or lifelong) and still be happy, fulfilled, and satisfied.

    There may come a time when I would like to engage in sexual activity again. But I am not making an effort now to “get over my issues” so I can engage in sex as soon as possible, and I think way more people would benefit from hearing this message, instead of pressuring themselves to fix themselves.

  7. Yep, totally agree. The more my partner pushes, the less I want it. I don’t have a low sex drive, but it is wildly varying, dependent on hormones, tiredness, feeling loved and appreciated and all kinds of other amorphous things. Poor men 🙂

  8. Good points. I also think that it can be easy for us to forget that our sexual desires can have an ebb and flow and may not always be in rhythm with a partners- and that is totally okay. When we are single it’s not like one “has” to have sex a certain number of times or feel like it- so why must that change simply because people are now in partnership. Best for sure to get out from under the different cultural assumptions and find our own rhythms with ourselves and one another.

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  10. I believe it may be a perfectly natural reason or occurrence that makes some women not have a sex drive as high as men. The blog says that only 12 percent are bothered by it. I am not sure what method they use to find out who’s sex drive is higher but i would definitely be interested in the research process. Is it by surveying a specific age group? Where these women mother’s or women without children? Both? I completely understand this may be a fact but I am definitely interested in the research done. The article said women reported sexual problems. I am wondering were they all saying it’s due to lack of sex drive or other issues. The percentage is high which kind of makes it seem normal. I also wonder if it has to do with having children and the after effects of being pregnant.Just my thoughts.

    • A survey of 31,581 women across the U.S. ages 18 to 102 were asked if they had ever experienced any of these things:

      • Low sexual desire
      • Difficulty or inability to become aroused or maintain arousal during sexual activity
      • Persistent or recurrent difficulty in achieving orgasm after sufficient sexual arousal and ongoing stimulation
      • Pain associated with sexual stimulation or vaginal contact.

      44 percent reported having sexual problems, the most common being low desire for sex. The findings mirrored those of many other surveys

      It couldn’t just be after effects of being pregnant

      So why? We live in a hugely sexually repressive society for women. See this: Repression: Not What You Think It Is https://broadblogs.com/2014/10/27/repression-not-what-you-think-it-is/

  11. Is “a sexually repressive culture” the same as indentured servitude? The culture is rife with sexual imagery, with titillation. What I also see is that for women, the norm now is to have a full time job. Studies show that in most relationships, men have not taken up the slack in household duties. For families with children, the mom still takes on most of the childcare duties. Is she sexually repressed, or is she just exhausted?

  12. I have been saying this for years. It is normal for women to lose their sex drive after several years of marriage. No amount of romantic gestures from the husband will rekindle it ever. He can do things to help motivate her into doing it but if she really had her way she would chose not to. If the husbands of these women one day said “don’t worry honey, I’m not worried about having sex, companionship is most important to me” there would be a collective sigh of relief heard across the country. The problem is (as we see almost every week on Dr Phil), the husbands take this SO personally, they begin to feel unappreciated and often cheat on their wives as a result. Sex drives among women are high in the beginning stages of a relationship mainly driven by lust. Obviously that lust fades after a while and she is more content with companionship, sex is simply not needed. But men naturally have a higher sex drive and continue to have a physical need for it. Women place more importance on their emotional needs which can be fulfilled with companionship, sex is not required for that. And that’s where the problem begins. I would actually venture to say 40% is lower than what it actually is. But the fact that we live in such an over-sexualized society, there is shame attached to any married couple who aren’t hitting it like rabbits every night…lol. My marriage ended because of this very problem and I know I don’t ever want to be in a position again where I feel obligated to have sex more than I actually want to.

    • So sorry. What you describe is very common. I’m glad you are clear on what you want now. We shouldn’t have to behave inauthentically or do things we don’t want to do. Our sexually repressive culture plays a role in all this, dampening women’s desire, too. We dampen it and then blame women for the result.

      • “We dampen it and then blame women for the result.”

        Just who is the “we” here?

        Yes, I would agree that sexual repression has SOME role. However, I do not feel it is the primary reason, at all. I think I really is an individual desire issue with a lot of women. Specially, a lack of desire for many men, including husbands.

        We keep sweeping this issue under the rug. If you look at Italy, France, Spain and Brazil (countries that report the highest level of sexual satisfaction among BOTH men and women), your premise does not hold water. Women in those countries express sexual desire for a much much broader spectrum of men. Unlike here in the US where women have a far narrower range of sexual attraction for a smaller group of men. This is the root cause of the problem. Not patriarchy or sexual repression.

      • We’ve had this discussion before, but okay here’s my response again:

        If you look at who the men and women of OkCupid respond to, men pretty much contact only the most attractive women, whereas women contact a very broad variety of men.

        Women are generally more sexually satisfied with the relationships that men are, but that doesn’t mean that they are enjoying sex more than they are. They have lower levels of sex and the women are more satisfied with that. So just because many women in the societies you mention say they are satisfied does not mean that they are all enjoying sex a lot. In fact, while 44% of the women in this study experienced sexual dysfunction, most of them were satisfied with their sex lives. They probably weren’t having a lot of sex with their husbands, But they didn’t care.

        If you look at societies was truly high levels of sex-positivity, women have a very high level of interest in sex and very low dysfunction. The societies are also gender-equal. That’s how you know that it is a societal problem and not an individual problem.

        “We” means our patriarchal, sex-negative (for women) society.

    • “My marriage ended because of this very problem and I know I don’t ever want to be in a position again where I feel obligated to have sex more than I actually want to.”

      My marriage ended for the same reason. As a man I would say, “….and I know I don’t ever want to be in a position again where I feel obligated to have sex LESS than I actually want to.”

      I don’t have an answer for this problem. But, there is something besides patriarchy that leads to this issue with so many women. You cannot put the blame for this all on patriarchy and/or sexual repression. How can you explain robust sex BEFORE marriage and then lousy/nonexistent sex AFTER marriage. What does patriarchy have to do with this? Or even sexual repression? Nothing in my view. Sex is desire/lust driven, especially with most women.

      Personally, I am convinced it is due to women not choosing to marry the man whom they are most sexually attracted. I think there is this duality at work: women have men whom they much prefer sex. Then women have men whom they want to marry for intimate companionship with less sexual desire for these men….These men are most often mutually exclusive. Inevitably, this is more often than not going to be a disaster…

      You seem to suggest that the men should simply accept this miserable existence. I must emphatically disagree.

      Just my opinion from a male perspective.

      • Most women marry men they find attractive. And do you find this pattern among all marriages. The only place you don’t find this pattern is couples who don’t live together. And there’s some speculation as to why. Women get more of a break between sex, which keeps it more interesting to them. And they don’t just get used to their partner.

        In a patriarchal society that shames women’s sexuality, women’s sex drive is dulled because women have to get in the habit of policing their own behavior, and doing their sex drive, because they get blamed if there is sex, whereas men don’t. Afterwhile the dulled desire becomes natural. And then it takes a lot more for women to get interested.

      • I guess I am struggling with just why a married woman would feel shamed for her sexuality from her own husband?

      • It has pretty much nothing to do with her spouse. In my case, I spent many years feeling shamed about sexuality and repressed my feelings for fear of being punished. I ended up less interested in sexuality at age 20 than at age 10. Then when I got married I didn’t have any feelings. I was pretty much asexual. I was romantically interested in my husband (and prior to him to other men) but my sexual feelings had pretty much disappeared. With both my husband and any man I had been with before.

        Take another look at this post:

        Other women probably aren’t as severely harmed as I had been, but when you have nearly half of American women with sexual dysfunction, you see the effects of shaming women’s sexuality.

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