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When a Woman's Libido Slows, Is It a Result of 'Disorders,' Boredom or Is It Normal?

Questioning popular assumptions about female desire.

Reviewed: Sex Drive: In Pursuit of Female Desire; What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desireby Dr. Bella Ellwood-Clayton; Daniel Bergener (Allen & Unwin; HarperCollins, 2013; $27.99; $25.99)

Female sexuality has long been viewed as something of a mystery. Women’s distinct lack of penises and threatening ability to create life resulted in centuries of undisputed ignorance. In a patriarchal society, women are placed firmly in the category of "other," as compared to the central character against which all other beings are measured: man.

Only recently have researchers begun to fight the trend, ever-popular within evolutionary psychology, of ignoring all social and cultural factors as well as the individual biases of researchers, to look beyond "caveman" as foundation for scientific study.

It is because of these uninterrogated biases that sex is so often represented as something men seek, want and "get." The role of women is, we learn, to stave off advances, as well as to satiate our husbands sufficiently to prevent him from straying.

While monogamy is something both parties traditionally commit to in a marriage, we are told it’s women who truly desire commitment and stability whereas men would opt for "philandering frat boy" if left to their own devices. This puts women in the position of being responsible not only for their behaviour, but for the behaviour of their husbands as well.

While feminists have long argued against these stereotypes, new research is catching up and disproving commonly accepted beliefs about female desire and sexuality.

The myth of the eternally robust libido

When Dr. Bella Ellwood-Clayton began to research female sexual desire, she found a commonality among women in long-term relationships -- one that many of us can surely relate to. While, initially, women’s libidos tended to match their male partners', as the relationship progressed, sex fell lower and lower on the list of priorities.

The response to this phenomenon has generally been chalked up either to a gendered difference in libido or, as of late, to a kind of "sexual dysfunction."

In her book,  Sex Drive: In Pursuit of Female Desire, Ellwood-Clayton argues that we’ve painted a rather unrealistic picture of what our sex lives should look like. A woman who, perhaps, has a full-time job, kids, financial stress or a trying home life seems fairly justified in not being "in the mood."

In other words, libidos aren’t static.

Early on, we have an influx of "love chemicals" working in our favour that don’t much care about wedding vows. That early passion tends to dissipate into what is usually a perfectly normal lowered libido, yet we’ve elected to label it as "dysfunctional" because of a recently adopted (and completely unrealistic) notion that we should always be "on," sexually.

We’ve learned that if our relationships aren’t eternally hot and sexy, there is something wrong; but after five or ten years of sleeping with the same person you’re also arguing with about bills and dishes, is it really fair to expect sexual desire to match those early months or years?

Is monogamy the problem?

In his book,  What do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, Daniel Bergner looks beyond the simplistic theory that after we lock it down, women can go back to focusing on eating chocolate and talking about their periods.

The "fairy tale" we’ve been hanging on to so tightly -- encouraged by evolutionary psychology -- that women are the sex "more suited, biologically, to faithfulness," appears to be little more than a comforting myth, Bergner says.

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