“A woman who prioritizes her sexual needs prioritizes herself.”
– Dr. Sofia Jawed-Wessel
Female sexuality has throughout time been seen as ranging from non-existent, lackluster, and underwhelming all the way to powerful, threatening, unpredictable, and something seemingly needing to be controlled. Despite this striking dichotomy intended to be a catch-all for something as seemingly varied as human, let alone women’s sexuality, for many modern women, there can be a sense of being ‘stuck’ between two poles.
One powerful tool we can begin to use to sift through narratives of feeling ‘stuck’ in regard to women and their sexuality includes being able to separate and define the terms arousal and desire. According to Healthline, desire “refers to emotionally wanting to have sex, while arousal refers to the physiological changes in your body that [may] happen when you’re sexually excited.” What this means for many women is that they may experience many, or any for that matter, of the signs of physical arousal (including but not limited to body tingles, increased heart rate, or increased lubrication or flush in their vaginal areas) without desiring or even wanting sex. On the flip side, women can anticipate, desire, and even want sex and still feel a disconnect, or even disappointment or frustration with their bodies when those anticipated signals are not happening in conjunction with wanting to be sexual.
While any sexual health issue almost always needs to first be evaluated by a medical health professional to rule out contributing factors, the question after this can sometimes be: what’s next?
For many women, working to seek alignment between what their heads and hearts want with what their bodies are telling them can begin with getting re-connected and reacquainted with their own body responses and cues. In Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire, researcher Lori Brotto explores the dilemmas facing modern women, and how the distractions, expectations, and demands faced can take them away from being in touch with their own bodies. Child-rearing, career, family, housework, errands, emotional labor, etc. capture only a cross-section of what many women are faced with balancing on a daily basis. Why pay attention to what’s happening inside when life throws out to-do lists, deadlines, make-it-or-break-it expectations, and a host of other people depending on us to some degree?
The price may be missing out on connection with our own selves, and no longer being able to notice what our bodies are trying to tell us, nor be present enough to truly enjoy pleasure in its budding form.
Brotto posits that the distractions in their daily lives can disconnect women from the sensations of truly being in their bodies, and can also interfere with them being aware of their own levels of arousal and desire. Moving the focus from ‘getting turned on’ to ‘getting turned in/tuned in’ may have the potential to better connect women with some of their own bodies’ natural responses, as well as set the stage for noticing the subtle and changing sensations that cue us and/or connect us to our desire.
For many women, being able to achieve sexual concordance (where physical and genital arousal are linked to emotionally/mentally wanting sex) is not only an important goal, but also a meaningful one! Being able to trust our bodies — particularly in a society that promotes turning to experts or the latest trend over checking in with ourselves, whilst also encouraging us to doubt, sabotage, and hate our own bodies — is in many ways revolutionary.
Taking time out to become connected to our own internal cues and signals isn’t just a mile marker to pass along the day with no bearing on our mind-body connection. Brotto found that sexual concordance, or the aligning of our physical arousal and emotional desire, was able to be dramatically increased when women were exposed to and participated in a mindfulness class series. The power of being able to cultivate attention in such a way that we tend to, acknowledge, and listen to our bodies the same way that we (often with precedence) do with the outer world has the potential to re-build what many thought was broken, and bridge a gap that may women did not think could be crossed.
Why wait? You can give yourself permission to play, notice, and tune into your own body at any moment you choose, in whatever ways feel good for you! Try a meditation or mindfulness class, download an app, go to a place that is inspiring and helps you feel connected, or even consider meeting with a sex therapist or mindfulness practitioner to pave the way towards re-building one of the most important relationships of all time: your relationship with you. You deserve it!
Brotto, L. A. (2018). Better sex through mindfulness: How women can cultivate desire. Canada: Greystone.
Healthline (2020). “Everything you need to know about female arousal. Accessed at: https://www.healthline.com/health/healthy-sex/female-arousal