… when sex is part of love.
By Laurie J Watson LMFT, LPC
Many women find sex to be the deepest form of love and connection, and many women are very sexually oriented. While his orgasm may be quicker, hers is often more powerful and her incredible capacity for pleasure could include multiple orgasms. But the ways that women experience and express their sexuality are often very different from their male partners. (See “How Men Really Feel about Sex.“) Here are some of the most common ways that women may differ from men:
- Sex begins in the mind.
Men are often disappointed that she doesn’t crave it in her body as much as he does. But her body is very different hormonally. Testosterone does cause physiological desire in both genders, but to differing degrees — proportionately, male hormonal drive is a loud scream, and hers is a whisper. For her, it’s the fantasizing, remembering, and imagining hot sex that revs her engine. So, in times of infatuation or falling in love — when she is constantly thinking about being together — her sexual appetite is high, and arousal is easy.
- Sex is about being desired.
Sex researcher Meredith Chivers says “being desired is the orgasm” for women. While seeing an attractive man might cause a small spike of excitement in a woman — some women are more visual than others — it’s the thought of his reaction to her (“I wonder if he thinks I’m hot?”) that hits her brain like a lightning bolt. Knowing that her man is hungry for her engages her imagination and ignites sexy thoughts in the brain. Just as men often expect abundant sex after marriage, women have expectations of lots of continuing romance that assures her of her sexual desirability.
- Sex is a mixed bag.
Most women do love sex, but desire can easily be derailed by tiredness, resentment, or the physiological problems of pain or menopause. In fact, without the physiological driver of testosterone, a main task for women is to turn off the inner “brakes,” says sex therapist Emily Nagoski — the distractibility of the laundry, children, and work, or the inhibiting voices inside that tell her no because of her history or religion. Women often come to bed willing to have a good experience, but not really wanting or craving sex until aroused. And sometimes getting to the peak of arousal can be a bumpy climb; for many women, it may take up 45 minutes. Experiencing regular orgasms is not as easy for women as it is for men, but it is necessary for continued desire. So, while men love variety, women may prefer a tried and true position or routine, because there is more guarantee of her pleasure, which allows her to relax in the moment.
- Sex is contextual.
While many women do learn orgasm through self-stimulation, a large proportion begin their sexual lives within a relationship or hook-up. The first time they are touched intimately may be by another person, whereas nearly all men start their sexual lives with masturbation. Feeling sexual desire is, at its core, the rawest form of vulnerability — to want our lover to touch us and bring us pleasure is to experience need. Often, relationship ups and downs cause women to withdraw desire and protect their heart in a way that men don’t or can’t, given their biological drive. Her need to feel emotionally safe before the sexual moment cannot be overstated. Romance and seduction are ways that both men and women can co-create a context for sex that helps her separate from the cares of her day and her mental checklist of things to do, and brings her to a place of vulnerability.
- Sex is an aspect of love.
Sex, talking, hanging out, working together, managing a home and family as a team, feeling appreciated, celebrating holidays, giving and receiving gifts, and affection may all comprise love for a woman; sex is part of the whole, not the defining factor. Making love may flow from the warmth she feels in the relationship, but it’s not necessarily the source of the heat.
- Sex is a way she gives love.
I am absolutely not implying that women are obliged to give sex when they don’t want to, but sometimes, she may recognize her partner’s need for sex and, despite her own lack of inclination, she may want to meet his need. If there is relational warmth and good will, this offering can be a real gift of love. It can frustrate her efforts when her partner insists, “But I want you to want it!” because he discounts her motive of love, insisting that sex drive should be her real, if only, impetus. But because she often feels desire after arousal, she often also finds herself glad that she started making love. Some women find deep satisfaction in sexual intercourse, even if it comes without her orgasm. While most of the time we want to feel like we’re on the same page with our partner before having sex, sometimes it’s having sex that gets us on that same page.
Men and women both need to feel deeply attached to their partner for happiness. But our starting place is often different. Emotional intimacy combined with sexual intimacy is the combination that creates a passionate marriage or partnership.