The Real Reason (Some) Women Lose Their Desire for Sex

Are you a woman with a “distressing low desire” for sex? Pharmaceutical company Sprout is trying to get FDA approval for flibanserin (dubbed “the female Viagra”) even though it’s already been rejected twice over concerns that it doesn’t work. But perhaps the problem is not that the pill doesn’t do anything; maybe the problem is that it’s treating the wrong issue.

Because, alas, there’s no pill that will make more men interested in foreplay, abandon whatever bad habits they picked up from online porn or make them decide that they’re willing to really try that thing women like that absolutely terrifies them. There’s no pill that will reverse what several studies show is a distinct correlation between the time a woman’s been with a man and how much she still wants to have sex with him (which is more distinct in women than men).

No little pink pill will magically make individual men better – or at least less lazy – at sex. 

Science should be investigating women’s serious loss of desire and researching the physiological problems that can cause women painful or unpleasurable intercourse, as Amanda Marcotte noted in Slate, but female disinterest in sex seems not so much a problem with sex itself as it is a disinterest in a particular partner.

Sexual boredom, when it contributes to decreased desire, may even be somewhat normal in a longterm relationship – and there’s plenty of science showing that sexual monogamy is unnatural. As Natalie Angier once wrote in The New York Times, “Sexual promiscuity is rampant throughout nature, and true faithfulness a fond fantasy.”

But beyond that, part of the issue for women who sleep with men seems to be that sexuality – the way we’ve been taught to think about it and the way we’ve been taught to desire – is distinctly male-centered. As Marcotte wrote:

For straight people in our society, sex is frequently built largely around male tastes and desires. Even the way we dress tends to reflect this, with women choosing clothes that are about highlighting their looks and sexuality more than men do. Male-centric porn is ubiquitous, but women have to dig around.

Even the term “female Viagra” denotes the idea that female sexuality is something that can be tacked on to what already works for men – and that, like male erectile dysfunction, loss of desire (which can be multi-focal) can be reduced to a pill. But erectile dysfunction isn’t a loss of desire, and not all losses of desire are the woman’s dysfunction. 

But how would we even know the difference, when so many of us are taught that “wanting” sex is something we gift to men? Without female-friendly sexuality taught in schools, or female-centered desire portrayed in media (and when not-wanting sex is seen as a problem for a man, for the woman to solve) it’s easy to see why so many people would want to believe that taking a pill will fix the problem.

I want women to feel more desire – a lot of desire! But medicalizing what seems to be an overwhelmingly social rather than physical problem because it’s easier than dealing with the messy, complicated world of authentic female sexuality, the normalization of male-centered sexuality and how sexism works within both ... well, there’s just no pill for that one. It requires good, old-fashioned work. (Some of it even the fun kind.)

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