Time is a flat circle, according to Matthew McConaughey. I’ll listen to anything he says in his drawl, honestly, but that phrase in particular always stuck with me. It was the one ringing in my head this week when I found Emily Nagoski’s 2015 New York Times Op-Ed, “Nothing is Wrong with your Sex Drive.” It was written three years ago, but it's the same conversation I find myself having over and over again today.
Dr. Nagoski wrote the article in response to the news that Sprout Pharmaceuticals was resubmitting its drug Flibanserin to the FDA, a drug meant to treat low libido in women. The major problem, as she saw it? That the company was trying to treat something that isn’t a disease.
Fast forward three years. Flibanserin has gotten a millennial pink rebrand as Addyi, and is popping up on billboards all over San Francisco, and on ads in my Instagram feed. Instead of focusing on the company behind the ads, I’d rather focus on the cultural issues they’re still capitalizing on.
Think about it for a second: do you yourself buy into the cultural narrative that women are less sexual than men? There are all sorts of societal myths on how much we should want, and like, and have sex. Too many women believe that their sex drive, or their very experience of sexuality, is disordered. That they don't want sex enough, that real pleasure and orgasm are out of reach, that something's broken. Inversely, women who want and express their desire for sex frequently have to deal with the perception that this is somehow "wrong" too.
Too many women believe that their sex drive, or their very experience of sexuality, is disordered.
These pervasive beliefs, this list of “shoulds” we’re framing our sexual lives with, are leaving room for companies to sell pharmaceutical solutions to “fix it”.
So what if we took a step back and tried to tell the story another way. For millennia, male sexuality has dictated the cultural understanding of what a sex drive is, what arousal is, what orgasm is. Imagine if, instead of saying what is true for men should be true for women, we examined what other options there were.
In other words, let’s stop viewing low female libido as a disorder, but rather as a symptom. A symptom of a culture that hasn’t asked women what they really need to feel sexual. It’s simply a misconception, held by men and women alike, that female desire should work like men’s.
It's simply a misconception that female desire should work like men's.
One of the most exciting things I’ve discovered in all my reading on sexuality is an idea called responsive vs. spontaneous desire. “Spontaneous desire” is the one we’re all most familiar with: I want you, I need you, oh baby oh baby. Sudden, intense, and immediate desire that makes arousal easy.
But “Responsive desire" is what a lot of people (notably, women—but of course, not all women) actually experience. Instead of existing as a random urge, desire surfaces as a response: maybe a partner giving you a back massage. Or, if we’re being really honest, desire surfaces in response to a back massage...when the lighting is really good, and you went to the gym this morning and feel strong, and you’re also blissfully not at all stressed about work this week.
Do you get where I’m going with this? In what we’ll call “highly erotic contexts”, when things feel “just right,” most women have a much easier time unlocking their sexuality. Wonderful, important work by sexuality researchers and psychologists like Dr. Emily Nagoski means we’re coming to a new understanding—women are actually just as sexual as men, they’re just more likely to experience responsive sexual desire. That knowledge is incredibly empowering. It will help to take a lot of the shame out of the equation, and pave the way for new paradigms and solutions for women to context set, get in the flow, set the mood, get turned on, whatever you want to call it.
And guess what? That’s exactly what we’re trying to do at Dipsea.
Learn more about Responsive vs. Spontaneous Desire in Dr. Emily Nagoski’s book "Come As You Are".