If you could never have sex again, would you be relieved or devastated? Probably the latter, says Karen Koffler, MD, medical director of the Miami Beach Canyon Ranch Hotel & Spa, where she developed a seminar on sensuality and sexuality. In her view, “Sex gives us more joie de vivre.” Yet 7 percent of married women in their thirties, 8 percent in their forties, 22 percent in their fifties and 38 percent in their sixties haven’t had intercourse within the past year, according to the Kinsey Institute.
Hormonal changes can certainly be a factor. At menopause, your level of libido-associated testosterone is half what it was at its peak during your twenties; also, reduced estrogen levels may increase vaginal dryness. But Koffler points to an additional culprit: mental demands. “For those of us who have the kind of work where we’re expected to perform intellectually -nonstop—eight, 10, 12 hours a day—it’s a big effort to reinsert ourselves back into our bodies. We can easily divorce ourselves from our sexuality and need for pleasure,” she explains.
This mind-body disconnect is common among women. A recent analysis published in the Archives of Sexual Behavior showed that there is not necessarily a matchup between how sexually aroused a woman feels (mentally and emotionally) and how sexually aroused her genitals are (physically). Men, on the other hand, show a much greater concordance. According to lead author Meredith L. Chivers, PhD, assistant professor of psychology at Queen’s University in Kingston, Ontario, one reason for this disparity is that women rely more than men do on external, rather than internal, cues when assessing their emotional state. For example, if you believe it is appropriate to have sex only in the dark, you might ignore your feelings of sexual arousal when you wake up in the morning light.
“Women are always taking care of others. Sex should be about taking care of yourself while fostering a connection with your partner,” says Ramani Durvasula, PhD, associate professor of psychology at California State University, Los Angeles.
Originally published in the 2011 July/August issue of More.
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