Sexual desire woman
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Female sexual desire ebbs and flows

Do you think a woman’s sex drive stays the same throughout her life or changes over time? If you’re worried about low libido, your answer to this question could make a big difference, Canadian research shows.

Lately, you haven’t been in the mood for sex. At first you weren’t all that bothered by your low libido. But it’s been going on for months now and you’re starting to wish it would come back. You’re also wondering why it hasn’t.

Do you think:

(a) Help, my sex life is over! I’m doomed to a life of low desire!


(b) Hey, it’s just a phase I’m going through, because I’m so stressed out at the moment. Once I’ve finished my exams/started my new job/moved house, I’ll soon be feeling horny again

You're not alone...

When it comes to sexual desire, some women may fall into the first group. They believe their libido is stable and won’t change much throughout their life. They might say to themselves, ‘If I experience low desire, it’s going to be low forever – there’s no solution,’ Canadian researcher Siobhan Sutherland told Love Matters at the 2016 International Association for Relationship Research (IARR) conference.

Other women fall into a second group. They may think that desire is fluid and ebbs and flows. ‘So if they’re experiencing low desire at any given time, that could change. There’s some improvement that could be made.’

A low sex drive is a pretty common problem for women, and many experience it at some point in their lives. Sutherland and her colleague Dr Uzma Rehman got to wondering what might make it easier for some women to deal with the problem. Research in other fields provided a clue: maybe a woman’s beliefs about whether her sex drive stays the same or changes throughout life could affect how she copes, they reasoned.

Fake science

To test out their theory, they did two studies with just over 780 women. First, they had the women read fake scientific articles. One version of the article said sexual desire is stable over a woman’s life. The other said the opposite: that desire is fluid and changes based on things like how your relationship is going or if you’re under stress at work or college.

After the women had finished the ‘scientific’ articles, the researchers checked in to see if they really believed what they’d read. Sure enough, they found the women had swallowed the ruse. Then they asked the women if they felt sexual desire would be a problem for them in the future. Sutherland and Rehman also wanted to know what strategies women would use (including both helpful ones and harmful ones) to deal with it if they ever had zero interest in sex. Would women who’d read that desire was static respond to problems differently than those who’d been told it was normal for libido to change throughout life?

The two groups of women would cope differently if they ever had problems with their sex drives, the researchers learned. The important difference was among women who thought they were likely to have libido trouble in future. In this group, the ones who’d read that desire was static were more likely to deal with it in unhealthy ways, for example by believing there’s nothing they could do and flat out giving up. This wasn’t the case for women who’d been told that desire ebbed and flowed.

Never give up on lust

The women had only read a one-minute article, Sutherland points out, so the study’s findings are promising for anyone who’s felt that a low libido has been a problem – or who worries it might be. ‘The cool thing is that this is just an idea, and the idea is that powerful in terms of how people cope with different types of issues.’

It’s important that women know ‘this isn’t a problem you have to give up on,’ she says. ‘It’s not a problem that requires medication necessarily. It’s something that can be changed through changes in your relationship or your environment as well.’

Poster at the IARR conference 2016: Viewing sexual desire as stable vs. malleable: How implicit theories can influence how women cope with sexual desire difficulties
Interview with Siobhan Sutherland

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