A remarkably high number of women claim to have low sexual desire. The figures vary, but it’s anywhere between one third and two thirds.
When a figure is this high, does the problem lie with the thing itself, or how we think about it?
The standard model of sexual desire -along with much else – derives from Masters and Johnston. That model is desire, leading to arousal, leading to sexual activity. We feel sexual desire, we become aroused, and we then act that out.
And when a man and a woman first get together, it seems to be like that for both of them. But, as the relationship matures, the woman often feels there’s something wrong: she rarely feels sexual desire anymore. And if she doesn’t feel it, she doesn’t want to do it. And that becomes a problem for both parties.
But is the real problem how we think about desire?
Rosemary Basson certainly believes that to be so. She’s the Director of Sexual Medicine at the University of British Columbia, and in her view, the problem is that the standard model is wrong.
In her model, desire is the result of arousal, not the cause. The sexual cycle starts off from choice, not from desire. A woman experiencing emotional intimacy, but who is sexually neutral, is receptive to sexual stimuli. She allows it, or looks for it. This stimuli is then processed in the limbic system of the brain. If the emotional response to the stimuli is negative – you don’t feel close, you’ve just had a row, you feel terrible about yourself – you won’t feel sexually aroused, even if bodily it appears that you are. If your response is positive, you feel arousal, desire follows, and away you go.
How does this match up with your experience?