When you desire sex, do you feel woo-hoo-stoked about that? Or do you sometimes feel ashamed, as though you’re wanting too much?
As humans, we have many appetites. We hunger for food, for sleep, for knowledge, for TLC, for happiness, for companionship. Unless we’re asexual, we also hunger for sex. Just as many factors can tinker with our food appetites, from myths perpetuated by the weight loss industry to illness, so too can an array of factors influence our sexual desire. And because we live in a largely sex-negative culture, it’s all-too-easy to experience shame around libido issues.
Last year, I answered the below question for a Girl Boner® reader over on The Good Men Project. Because I still routinely hear from women struggling in this way, I thought I’d share the Q and my response (slightly updated) here.
*While I used largely cis-gendered, heterosexual lingo in my response, the messages can apply to all genders and orientations.
This is awkward for me to talk about, but here goes. My boyfriend of two years has a lower sex drive than I do. When we’ve tried to talk about it, things have gotten tense. He feels foolish and I feel needy and annoying. I’d like him to initiate more often, and am not sure he ever will. I’m scared to start things half the time for fear of rejection or making him feel bad.
But that’s not exactly why I’m writing to you.
Here’s what he doesn’t know: I’ve had a higher sex drive than most of my boyfriends. (I told a therapist this once and she asked if I’d been abused as a kid. The answer is no.) I’m embarrassed to tell him and I’m not even sure why. I know that doing so might make him feel less awkward.
Am I a horrible person? Or a freak of nature for wanting sex so much? I’m not addicted, I swear. I just really crave and enjoy it.
I loved my high drive when I was in a relationship with a guy whose matched, but now I sometimes wish it would go away.
—Too Turned On
Hey Perfectly Normal,
(I promise, you are!)
It’s fascinating, and frustrating, to me that the masses assume that women desire sex less than men. Where does that “fact” come from? Various studies show that men report having more sexual thoughts and partners than women—but research also shows that men tend to exaggerate their sexual traits and history whereas women are more likely to round them down, if they’re willing to discuss them at all.
Recent research conducted by Meredith Chivers, PhD, of Queen’s University indicates that women are naturally as desiring of sex as men and more easily bored by monogamy. (That’s not to say we should choose non-monogamy if that’s not our thing, but cultivating a sense of adventure can help.) You may find Daniel Bergner’s research-based book featuring Chivers’ work, What Do Women Want?, reassuring.
When I’ve discussed these issues before, people have said, “But what about testosterone?” Testosterone is important, yes, but there’s also this gorgeous thing called estrogen, deficiency of which causes low sex drive in all genders, including men. Even if testosterone were the only sex drive hormone, emotions play a significant role for many women. Stress, sexual shame, poor body image, depression, anxiety and exhaustion—issues particularly prevalent in women—are major libido tankers.
We’re taught in manifold ways that women are either “sluts” or “prudes,” and that while “good girls” don’t embrace sex, we should make like porn-stars in the bedroom. These mixed and untrue messages hurt everyone. On top of that, what we believe about sex can be self-fulfilling. So if it seems women as a whole are less sexually inclined, here lie some of the reasons.
Healthy women who embrace their sexuality tend to desire and enjoy sex more readily and, more importantly, lead happier, more gratifying lives. That said, how often we experience or desire sex says nothing of our worth. It’s completely normal to want sex once every few months, daily, rarely if ever or somewhere in between.
The aside in your letter about your therapist says a lot. It sounds to me as though you’re fearful that your guy will assume there’s something wrong with you, because she suggested that only traumatized women have a robust sex drive. (Sexual trauma can lead to acting out sexually or fear of intimacy, neither of which seem relevant here.)
When Dr. Megan Fleming discussed this issue on Girl Boner® Radio, she said that men shouldn’t be expected to morph into superheroes in the bedroom. So true! Similarly, women shouldn’t be expected to be less-sexual damsels. Our sexuality is unique and worth expressing in whatever ways we wish.
Explore your own beliefs about sex and gender roles. Have a heart-to-heart with your boyfriend as well—not to discuss your history, per say, but your emotions surrounding these issues. Do you resent him on some level? If so, kick that to the curb. Resentment festers, deepening divide. Instead, allow yourself to be vulnerable, alone with your own thoughts and feelings, and with your partner.
The more honesty and emotional intimacy you cultivate in your relationship, the stronger your physical bond will be. Will you have sex more often as a result? Maybe. But I can almost guarantee that the sex you do have will be more wondrous.
Lastly, remember that your sexuality is a gift to embrace and then share, if/as desired. Don’t expect your guy to fulfill your every sexual need. (There’s huge value in solo play and fantasy.) Respect both of your needs and preferences, knowing that sexual want and quantity aren’t what make us spectacular people and partners. Care and authenticity do.
Cheering for you,
Have you struggled with libido differences, higher-than-your-partner’s drive or shame around either? Any thoughts or questions you’d like to add to the mix? I love hearing from you. To write me privately, click here.