Do Women's Sex Drives Decrease With Age? These Myths About Female Sexualities Are More Problematic Than You Think
I once learned in a sexuality workshop to say “sexualities” instead of “sexuality.” It’s something I still try to do, though it’s not always logistically possible. The phrase "female sexuality” always made me cringe. It attempts to associate an entire set of desires (or lack thereof) and behaviors with a gender. And that never gets us anywhere.
Another reason the phrase bothers me is the contexts in which it’s used. We often hear that female sexuality is more passive, more receptive, less strong… basically, all the things we’re told women are. And while some women may indeed describe their sexualities this way (remember what I said about sexualities?), it is not true that all or even most do. If certain sexual behaviors are more common among women, that’s something to examine within the context of our culture, not justify as “natural.”
Somehow, even as we recognize the inherent injustice in appointing fewer women to political office or paying women less at work, many people still seem to think it’s OK for women to experience less power and less pleasure in the bedroom. This needs to stop.
Here are some things we often believe about female sexuality that are not only untrue but also highly problematic.
1. That Women Don’t Have Strong Sex Drives
Many women are either not given the chance to be sexual or forced to be sexual in very particular ways that aren’t geared toward their own pleasure, leading to the false belief that they're not interested in sex at all. But one University of Michigan study found that women were just as interested in casual sex as men when they were told they’d face no judgement and their partner would be great in bed.
Sexual desire can mean many different things. It can mean desire for our culture’s typical “wham bam thank you ma’am” sex. Or it can mean desire for deeply spiritual sex. Or desire for emotionally connective sex. Or desire for an orgasmic meditation session. Given that the type of sex considered “normal” in our society is designed to optimize male pleasure, can you blame women who don’t desire it?
Instead of assuming women just don’t desire sex, we need to ask ourselves why some women don’t feel comfortable expressing that desire. Or why they don't like the kind of sex that’s normally on the table. And we need to acknowledge that many women actually do like sex. A lot.
2. That Women Aren’t Visual
Women are often considered merely objects to be looked at, so we don’t talk a whole lot about women looking. But actually, women get just as turned on by visual stimuli as men. One study by sexologist Meredith Chivers found that women experienced blood flow to the genitals while watching pretty much every kind of porn scene, from straight to lesbian to romantic sex to sex between strangers.
“Women are watching a fair amount of porn to satisfy their visual sexual cravings — about one in three watch porn once a week,” Kenna Cook, a sex educator at O.school, tells Bustle. “Women are also being recognized as a viable consumer of visual sexual stimuli — just look at the success of Magic Mike and Magic Mike XL.”
Saying women are less visual feeds a system in which women are considered the ones there to be looked at and men are considered the ones who look. “Men are raised to objectify women,” says Cook. “This persistent message that men are fed is that women are there for consumption, which perpetuates rape culture. Women are fed the message that they are there to be consumed by men, society, the patriarchy.”
3. That Women Don’t Orgasm As Easily
Again, this isn’t so much a question of women’s biology as it is a question of the kind of sex we’re having. The problem is, only 18.4 percent of women can orgasm through penis-in-vagina intercourse, according to a recent University of Indiana study, and that’s often the kind they’re expected to have.
Activities like oral or digital sex or masturbation, though, are much more likely to lead to an orgasm. In fact, it only takes women under four minutes on average to orgasm through masturbation. Yet we tend to believe women’s bodies are just more complicated.
This belief unfortunately maintains the “orgasm gap” — the tendency for men to receive more sexual attention and therefore have more orgasms than women. “We think it's so easy to pleasure a man, but when it comes to a woman, there's this sense of, ‘ehh, why bother?’" Vanessa Marin, sex therapist and creator of Finishing School, an online orgasm course for women, tells Bustle. “Female pleasure and orgasm are no more difficult than male pleasure and orgasm.”
4. That Women’s Sex Drives Go Down As They Age
Because we as a society reduce women to sexual objects and evaluate their attractiveness based on their age, we often assume their sexuality fades as they get older. But this isn’t the case, Cosmic Sister founder Zoe Helene tells Bustle. “While some women experience a loss of sex drive as they move through life, it has been my experience that the great majority of women wish their partners were, er... up for more love-making,” she says.
In fact, there’s research showing that for women, sex gets better with age. A 2016 study in the Journal of Sexual Research found that when all else was equal, older people enjoyed sex more, largely because they started caring less about the quantity of the sex and more about the quality. Women ages 45-60 in another University of Pittsburgh study had come to enjoy sex more as they’d gotten older because they were more willing to communicate in bed. If we buy into the myth that we’re no longer sexual beings as we get older, we could miss out on these benefits.
5. That “Vaginal Orgasms” Are Better Than Clitoral Orgasms
Despite evidence to the contrary, many women are expected to experience the mythic “vaginal orgasm” — and told it’s a more intense sensation that they’re missing out on if they only orgasm clitorally.
But this isn’t a real distinction. “The internal clitoris extends into the pelvis,” Confident Lovers founder Christina Antonyan tells Bustle. “When stimulated, the erect clitoris tightens around the vagina. This means that ‘vaginal orgasms’ are actually caused by the internal clitoris, not nerves on the vaginal walls themselves. Whether brought on by penetration or external stimulation, almost most orgasms are clitoral.”
And, again, most women don't orgasm through penetration. Expecting them to can cause them to feel broken when in reality, their parts are working just fine.
6. That All Women Have Multiple Orgasms
You often hear phrases like “every woman is multiorgasmic” in an attempt at empowerment, but it really just sets up unrealistic expectations. In reality, a minority of women (47 percent by one account, 15 percent by another) have had multiple orgasms. And when they do, it’s not usually one right after the other. Most clitorises have refractory periods just like penises and require a break before the second orgasm, if there is a second one in the picture.
The belief that all women have multiple orgasms sets up a double standard where women are expected to keep going after the first one if their partner isn’t done yet, even if they’re uncomfortable. Meanwhile, after a man comes, sex is often considered to be over, whether or not his partner is satisfied.
More broadly, the myth of universal female multiple orgasms contributes to the notion that men and women are fundamentally different. “I doubt men and women are as different in this respect as popular culture has made them out to be,” sex researcher Nicole Prause, PhD, tells Bustle.
7. That Female Pleasure Is More Intense
We often hear that women are capable of more intense pleasure, but this sounds suspiciously like the stereotype that women experience more intense emotions generally. In fact, one study found that when men and women had to guess whether men or women wrote different descriptions of orgasm, they couldn’t guess accurately (not even if they were doctors). In addition, brain activity during orgasm is about the same for both genders.
But it’s understandable that people believe this when mainstream female porn stars are moaning their hearts out and male ones save all the noise for half-hearted grunts at the end. This probably goes back to the notion of female sexuality as existing for male consumption. Vocalizations are a form of performance, after all. One study in the Archives of Sexual Behavior found that 87 percent of women make noise to boost their partners’ self esteem — and that their moans were more timed with their partners’ orgasms than their own.
"It’s probably far more correct to say that some women’s orgasms are more intense than most other women’s and many men’s orgasms," Good Vibrations staff sexologist Carol Queen tells Bustle. "It’s possible that women who believe this have never been around a man having a prostate orgasm," she jokes.
8. That The Female Orgasm Is For Reproduction
There are a ton of theories out there about how the female orgasm evolved, and many assume that it helps you get pregnant. Brent Reider, an author and referee for medical and scientific peer review journals and designer of several FDA-cleared medical devices including the Yarlap, tells Bustle these theories are wrong. He believes it's more likely that the female orgasm serves to tone the pelvic floor muscles, which can help with childbirth and overall fitness. Other scientists say the female orgasm is a fortunate byproduct of the male orgasm and doesn't really serve any function (other than making us feel good).
"Numerous studies confirm stimulation of the clitoris, directly or indirectly, is the sole noncontroversial effective trigger of female orgasm," says Reider. "If the purpose of arousal is the conveyance of sperm, why is the clitoris so easily aroused from positions not intromission specific?"
The assumption that the female orgasm must aid in reproduction stems from the myth that sex should be for reproduction — and that everyone's anatomy works like male anatomy does. "Think of how an androcentric view of the orgasm keeps women from reaching their full potential, even in sports," says Reider.
These myths don’t just promote inaccurate beliefs. They all, in different ways, further gender inequality in the bedroom and outside it. And that’s why it’s so important to spread better information.