Tuesday, May 25, 2010

The “Cure” for Low Sexual Desire

One of my guilty pleasures since forever has been reading glossy, capitalist magazines (while always careful to preserve a modicum of leftist critical distance from their overarching message that salvation lies in consumption). I used to browse Cosmo and Glamour, which were always loaded with research materials for a student of popular culture, especially sexuality. But after a million or so ultimately unsatisfying articles on “His Top Five Erogenous Zones” and “What He Really Wants In Bed,” the desire just wasn’t there anymore, and I seldom fall victim to those teaser headlines. These days my preferred trashy reading materials are health and yoga magazines. At this point in my life meditation rather than make-up seems a more appealing route to a satisfying life. While sex is not featured as loudly as it is in magazines targeted at young singles, you will find one article on improving your sex life in every other issue, and I’m finding the spin for an older audience a cultural study in itself.
For example, the May issue of body + soul, Martha Stewart Omnimedia’s health magazine (it used to be a subscription to Dr. Andrew Weil’s hippie newsletter which folded and/or sold itself to Martha so I was transferred against my will, okay?) had an article about sexual desire that actually surprised and pleased me.
The article opens, as they do, with a case study. This time the focus was a 40 year-old married woman who has low sexual desire. That means sex about once a month, even though she swears she loves her husband and their relationship is not at issue. We then get some data, something I’ve read over and over, that about one-third of adult women experience little interest in sex (the typical breakdown is one-third are “average” and one-third show great interest in sex; not surprisingly, frequency of orgasm correlates directly according to most studies).
So far, so boring, but here’s where it got my attention. A common treatment for women with low desire is testosterone therapy—and indeed I’ve always attributed my interest in the deed with a lab-verified higher-than-average amount of the horny hormone coursing through my veins. However, the researcher in question, a Dr. Lori Brotto, found that there was no relation between hormone levels and a woman’s reported interest in sex. Okay, wow, so pills aren’t the answer, as much as the search for a female Viagra inflames the imagination. Moreover (isn’t “moreover” a great word?), women who said they weren’t interested in sex still manifested the same physical responses to sexual stimuli (Dirty pictures? Warm caresses from a handsome lab assistant?). They just didn’t realize their bodies were turned on.
Dr. Brotto found that the main difference between sex-obsessed females (you know who you are) and the woman in the article is a disconnect between body and brain. Her solution? A program of mindfulness training to bring them “back into their bodies” and override the stress and other factors that ”snuff out sexy feelings.” The program involves exercises like taking twenty minutes to eat an orange and enjoying every drop of sweet juice, the moist flesh on your tongue. In order to displace negative associations with sex, she suggests you focus on and savor the positive, whether it’s the emotional closeness or the physical pleasure—“feel the sensation going into your body like a sponge”—and thus strengthen neural pathways that associate sex with fun. The woman who served as the article’s focus found it took about six months to see results, but she noticed definite improvement.
Now, the reason I’m blogging about this here at “Sex, Food, and Writing” is not just because the orange exercise sounds like fun (it can be a raisin, too, or hell, even cheesecake), but also because it struck me that being mindful and paying closer attention to your sensual and sexual experiences is exactly what we erotica writers do for our professional development. In other words, being a writer improves your sex life. Now, my sex life was pretty good before I started writing, but after I started paying very close attention to what’s going on with me and my partner, after expressing the “truth” of sex became my passion, well, the fulfillment of my marital duty benefited accordingly. I’d never really thought of this as something that could work for non-writers, just more as a perk for poor smut scribblers who don’t get many breaks in life. But hey, the results look promising for everyone. Not to mention nurturing the spirit and mind always beats a quick-fix pill in my book.
There is a certain irony to the fact this “look within because the best things in life are free” article is embedded in a blizzard of ads for therapist programs, anti-aging probiotic mints and Home Depot. But it sure as hell is a welcome change from the standard emphasis on all the externals like “new” sex positions (how do those weird handstands and office furniture contortions ever help with female pleasure anyway?), pills and potions, body-enhancing bras or porn tapes for couples.
And let’s face it, even erotica writers can use a little reminding to slow down and pay attention.
It’s as simple as that. Pay attention.
You can bet next time I eat one of the season’s plump, glossy, fresh, organic strawberries, I’m going to make it last a long time!


Craig Sorensen said...

it used to be a subscription to Dr. Andrew Weil’s hippie newsletter which folded and/or sold itself to Martha so I was transferred against my will, okay?

Forgiven... ;-)

It's all about the savoring, isn't it?

That article is indeed a refreshing change from the standard fare of new positions or dressing sexy or whatever.

Thanks for sharing it!

Emerald said...

Thanks for this, Donna. I also found it interesting indeed.

Slightly off topic, I wonder if this supposed one third of women with "low interest" in sex encompasses sex in general or sex with her husband/partner? To me, there is an enormous difference.

Anyway, this also strikes me in relation to something I have been noticing and pondering about in myself...it actually still seems so vague I hardly know how to articulate it. It has something to do with a historical tendency of me not to be in my body and also the historical tendency to repress and avoid emotion. Thus, I have been wondering if sex served historically as something to "force" me into my body (which indeed may have been why rough rather than slow/romantic sex has appealed to me far, far, far more), and lately I have been wondering if in conjunction, something in me actually felt uncomfortable with that embodiment of my body (hence its wanting it rough, perhaps, so it didn't have to slow down and experience quite so much), so that the simultaneous experiencing of emotion (which as I mentioned was/has been also historically avoided) felt like a double whammy to it -- making sex within an emotionally connected relationship and intimacy challenging for me long-term.

I'm not sure if that makes any sense right now...like I said, it has seemed at the very edges of my consciousness and something that has struck me as new as far as conscious realization. Anyway, thank you for this, which I found not only interesting but served as a reminder of my current ponderings above. :)

Donna said...

Hey Craig and Em,

I am again longing for us to be lounging around on a lazy afternoon with wine/iced tea/homemade cookies, just talking this all out into the evening hours.

I do appreciate the forgiveness, Craig. Obviously I needed to clear up any misunderstandings about the depths of my secret vice. Yoga Journal, okay. body+soul, iffy ;-).

Savoring is what it's all about indeed and writing has enabled me even to "enjoy" the "bad" stuff, so thank you, writing!

Em, as always, I feel like you open up a topic to its full breadth and depth. Actually, I just hinted at it in the post, but I think the relationship with the husband plays a much larger role in this than the article suggests. Usually the low/medium/high interest "studies" suggest that the libido issues lie within the woman herself rather than have to do with the relationship or the partner's interest in her pleasure. Now, I can see that there might be a fine relationship with a caring partner and for some reason the interest isn't there or has never been there. Some women never masturbate and never even want to. So, there's a spectrum here! More can be said on this topic, but...

This is the big one, about being in our bodies and avoiding emotion during sex. This should be a much longer discussion, but I can so relate to many things you said. I've always felt "sex as a loving act," that is, what our parents meant by having sex with your husband, to be almost repellent as a concept and I don't ever seek to have that kind of experience. I want it dirty, sinful, rebellious in some way, even if it is loving and with my husband. I feel very loving afterwards, but during doesn't seem the place for emotional engagement, although the trust is a necessary precondition. Could it be that this is an avoidance technique? I am going to have to think on this one. Let's talk more!