October 31, 2021

October 27, 2021

What Do Women Want? The Controversies Around Female Desire

Controversies surrounding reduced female desire hinder sexual liberation, promote objectification, and support exploitation. An acknowledgment of these is the first step in distinguishing decreased desire and recognizing a need for effective solutions.

The sex industry is illustriously built on the premise of commodifying what women want. However, the reality is far from it. Although a seemingly simple question, it has bothered many notable people, such as Freud. Even after decades of research, experts admit that they still don’t fully understand how female desire works, let alone have a consensually derived definition. 

Yet, we recognize the accumulated controversies surrounding female desire and its diverse facets. Historically, sexual women were deemed insatiable nymphomaniacs. Despite the extreme prejudice, women’s sexual revolution has not been in vain.

The Controversies Preventing Effective Treatments for HSDD

Today, researchers are finally coming to terms with the complexities of female desire, its unique manifestations and variations between and within women. However, without acknowledging the misconceptions and controversies, we cannot start decoding the determinants of decreased desire and, subsequently, the promotion of effective treatments.

Controversy 1: Is Decreased Sexual Desire for Real?

The binary nature of research on sexual desire makes it almost impossible to believe that female sexual desire disorders are real. Traditionally, the trait model of desire had scientists believe that men have more or heightened sexual desire than women. More recent research indicates that the only difference is based on how the construct is defined and consequently measured. 

The variable patterns in female desire are a complex product of biological, psychological, situational, and contextual factors. Physiologically, endocrine levels are often linked with decreased female desire. For instance, studies on menstrual cycles suggest fluctuating desire, with high levels of arousal during ovulation.

On the other hand, psychological factors such as relationship duration, satisfaction, and stress can also suppress female desire. According to McCall and Meston (2006), there are four distinct cues or triggers of female desire: 

  • emotional bonding 
  • erotic or explicit
  • visual or proximity
  • romantic or implicit cues 

It was hypothesized that a variation in any combination of these would result in diminished desire. Not surprisingly, studies confirmed that those with a sexual desire disorder diagnosis reported reduced cues in most of these domains compared to sexually healthy women.

Controversy 2: DSM Drama

The DSM criteria for diagnosing disorders and conditions are heavily reliant on the cultural, social, and political atmosphere of the era. For instance, in earlier editions, hypoactive sexual desire disorder was gender non-specific and could therefore be applied to either men or women. While some of these changes are welcomed (i.e., removal of homosexuality as a “disorder”), others are controversial. 

Only recently, the DSM-5 Sexual Dysfunction Subworkgroup cited evidence that desire and arousal could not be reliably distinguished in women. However, this has accumulated substantial controversy since many experts in the field disagree with the amalgamation of arousal and desire disorders into one diagnostic category.

Controversy 3: Is the Women’s Libido Pill Really a One-Stop-Shop Solution?

There was a time when it was believed that there was a relationship between testosterone and female desire. Today, many studies have found that there is no difference in testosterone levels between women with high desire and those without. Despite such revelations, testosterone continues to be a common treatment option.

Some argue that women’s libido pills have supported the sexual revolution and empowered women, while others criticize it for not targeting the root cause of reduced female desire. Since female desire is a complex interplay of physiological, situational, psychological, and relationship factors, the many versions of female viagra pills fail to collectively address these. For instance, Addyi was built on a narrow understanding of female desire as an imbalance of serotonin and dopamine. As a result, clinical trials of the drug revealed an increase of 0.5 to 1 in satisfying sexual encounters per month — not much better than placebo.

Controversy 4: Is Society Policing Treatment for Decreased Desire?

When controversies start arising around something so natural as women’s desire, it is often due to societal stigma and taboo. Although sexual norms and values greatly differ across regions and cultures, women are consistently socialized to build negative associations with the entire experience. In other words, we are taught that there are countless wrong ways to be a woman but no right way. 

Many TV shows including, “I Hate Suzie” and “Sex Education” adequately portray the subjugation of female desire through social norms and expectations. Vocabulary such as shamefulness and guilt are often prevalent in conversations around desire. Such indoctrination often results in lower levels of desire and arousal

What Women Want vs. What Women Get

Sexual liberation is dependent on eradicating the objectification and exploitation of female desire and sexuality, starting with acknowledging their existence. Treatment options are ineffective in silos, and addressing the underlying psychological issues driving low desire may lead to better results. 

MINDCURE’s latest research program, The Desire Project is essentially the psychedelic solution to sexual liberation. MINDCURE’s research team is analyzing the desire-enhancing properties of psychedelics such as MDMA and their potential in offering efficacious treatments for decreased female sexual desire.

Written by

Naveen Rashid