Walking down the strip in South Beach on one Saturday night, we passed a woman in her late 30's dressed up for the evening, sporting a frilly, very low-cut blouse. I asked my husband, "What do you think she has in mind?" He didn't skip a beat in answering, "Finding someone to have sex with tonight."
Although that's a possibility, a likely intention I attributed to her was that she was looking to attract someone with whom she'd like to have sex with at some point, and perhaps a relationship. However, looking through my husband's lens, his thought was logical, just as if he was wearing a fig leaf would signal "looking for sex . . . now."
Female sexuality is a subject matter that has been widely misunderstood. There is no one version of female sexuality, as it has its complexities.
Here are six myths about female sexuality that will help clear up some common misunderstandings:
Myth #1: If a woman doesn't have an orgasm, it means her partner isn't a good lover.
Orgasms for women are rarely just about stimulating an erogenous zone long enough for an explosion to occur. You've heard that the largest sex organ is what's between your ears. Well, this fact couldn't be more true for women.
Factors such as fatigue, stress, worry, conflict in her relationship are decisive in a woman's openness to engage in sexual activity, much less have an orgasm. Some women don't relax easily, which is a prerequisite for allowing orgasm to happen. They might find relaxing difficult because they're preoccupied with a problem needed to solve, or they have something stressful going on. It may be that they're generally anxious, and relaxation is a hard state to find.
Some women have negative feelings about their body, and this leads to feeling tense. Some don't find it easy to inhabit the sensations in their body - they're more stuck in their heads. Some women haven't yet found their physical path of increasing sensations that lead to orgasm.
Many women need time to develop trust in their partner to orgasm. Climaxing can be a very vulnerable state for many women, so feeling safe and secure is paramount.
Myth #2: Women lose interest in sex after they've been married for a few years.
It's not that women lose interest in sex, although it can look that way when peering through an uninformed lens. According to Emily Nagoski, Ph.D., a well-known researcher in female sexuality, a majority of women fall into the category of having responsive sexual desire.
In contrast, only about 15% of women have spontaneous sexual desire. Spontaneous types are those who experience desire intrinsically, and other factors are ... Well, just factors. The majority of men are in this category. For responsive desire folks, context is everything. Responsive women and their partners need to team up to create a context in which a woman will enjoy sex. Fatigue, stress, and conflict are decisive in whether these women are going to enjoy sex.
A man (spontaneous type) may approach his female partner for sex several hours after they've quarreled, and she looks at him as if he'd sprouted a horn and a look that says, "Are you (insert your favorite four-letter word) kidding me? I'm still furious with you!" That means "no."
If fatigue is an inhibiting factor, creating a context might be, "Hey, I'll wash the dishes and put the kids to bed. And then we can go to bed early?" along with a warm bear hug and a wandering hand. Or, "Let's send the kids out with a babysitter for the afternoon on Saturday and spend some naked time together."
Perhaps a better way to resolve conflict is needed, so there's not simmering resentment in the air. Maybe she needs a listening ear to help her let go of a problem at work. Perhaps she needs a conversation to problem-solve household and childcare responsibilities. Women respond to being courted, attended to, flirted with even.
For sex to happen on Saturday, foreplay should start days earlier. What is foreplay? Foreplay is showing interest, being attentive, being emotionally responsive, and affectionate. For women to be able to focus on themselves and pleasure, they need some release from their caretaking duties. Without this understanding, the myth prevails that women lose interest in sex.
They do lose interest in the kind of sex they've been expected to enjoy – late at night when they're ready to go to sleep, regardless of what else is going on for them. Despite the predominance of this style, it's not the stuff of movies, porn, or what the media promotes. Sadly, this truth for women is mostly unknown by our sexually undereducated culture.
Myth #3: Vaginal lubrication is equivalent to an erection.
What this myth suggests is that if women are tuned on, their vagina lubricates. Wrong. Sometimes it does, and sometimes it doesn't. This situation is called a non-concordance. This myth must be dispelled.
I've known men who disdainfully tell their female partner, "You don't know your own body, you say you're turned on, but your vagina isn't wet." A woman's subjective experience is the one to pay attention to - so you must ask!
Myth #4: Women are less sexually adventurous than men.
Some women are less adventurous than some men, but this isn't a hard-wired gender trait. It may be generations to come, if ever before we know the full answer to this question. There are also influential cultural factors at play in inhibiting sexual behavior.
Women receive so many negative messages about their sexuality from their families, religion, media and peers. These messages are powerful and long-standing. The message to women is delivered via words, looks, and innuendo. An example of a nonverbal message conveying negativity about sex would be when a mother walks out of the room when a couple is kissing on the television.
Perhaps, those women were taught that sex before marriage was wrong and concluded that sex was dangerous, creating inhibitions and sometimes actual sexual dysfunctions. Plenty of men aren't sexually adventurous - just sayin’.
Myth #5: As the relationship becomes more serious, women become more sexually inhibited.
The period of infatuation is fun, exciting and mysterious in its unique effect on us. It's the time when sex is most frequent, regardless of being sleep-deprived or risk being late for work. It's the time when uninhibited sex is at its height. Its life is time-limited though, usually about 6 to 18 months. When infatuation begins to wane, inhibitions start to appear. What's happened is that those negative messages about sexuality or one's body took a vacation during the infatuation phase.
Even the long-lasting impact of earlier trauma took that same vacation. When infatuation wanes, these inhibitions come out of hibernation.
Myth #6: Women don't like sex as much as men do.
This myth couldn't be further from the truth. Women should be congratulated for liking sex at all! The negative messages that girls are bombarded with since they found out they were girls have created enormous barriers to feeling sexually comfortable.
There is an astounding number of "good girls don't. . . ." messages, all designed to modulate what might come naturally:
The boys won't like you if ...
Don't be too loud/expressive.
Don't sit that way in a chair.
Don't be "too much."
Don't get pregnant (which translates to 'sex is dangerous')
Have you ever heard a cliché of "girls will be girls," the way you hear, "boys will be boys?" No way! A consequence for many women growing up is that sexuality didn't become about themselves and their pleasure.
With inadequate information about sex, young women are often left to apply to themselves what they learn from their experiences with males. If males just dive into erogenous zones at the outset of a physical encounter, then that's what must be the way to have sex. Women often aren't exposed to what is more typical of female sexual response, especially beyond the infatuation phase of a relationship.
What is portrayed in novels and on the screen is, unfortunately, a significant source of information about sexuality. And, that information is limited to sexuality typical of the spontaneous desire, and the majority (young), male crowd.
If you're struggling with female sexuality in your relationship, we're here to help. Check out our Imago Relationship Workshops and Imago Relationship Therapy.
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This blog post was written by Deborah Fox, LICSW.
Deborah is a clinical social worker with over thirty-five years of experience in private practice in Washington, DC. She is an AASECT Certified Sex therapist and a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist, providing individual, couple and group psychotherapy, as well as clinical consultation.
Deborah has lectured on sex therapy and couples therapy at The Washington School of Psychiatry, The Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, and the Integrative Sex Therapy Institute in Washington, DC. She conducts seminars and consultation groups on couples therapy and sex therapy. She is passionate about integrating sex therapy and couples therapy and enabling couples to experience greater intimacy, both emotionally and sexually.
Visit Deborah at her website too!