A Therapist Explains 3 Psychological Blocks That Kill Women's Sexual Desire
Few things can shape our sense of self as powerfully as being able to actively, consciously, and unapologetically desire. It's a vital part of having a self. But for many women, experiencing sexual desire carries with it the challenges of living in a culture saturated with disempowering messages that are hard to see and identify, not unlike the proverbial water where fish swim.
Historically, women's "lust" has been viewed as shameful, dangerous, and sinful. Men's desire, on the other hand, has typically been valued and encouraged. For centuries, these gender-distinct expectations regarding sexual desire have shaped how women's issues are represented in legislation, politics, education, business, culture, medicine, and other spheres of interest and influence. They've also created long-standing psychological blocks that have continued into the 21st century. Recognizing these blocks can lead to greater erotic agency—and more sexual desire. Here are three common blocks to women's sexual desire and how to increase the female sex drive.
Block #1: "Others define my desirability."
It's natural and normal to care what you look like, particularly when it comes to people you're attracted to, but a fixation on appearing desirable to others can block sexual desire. Undoing this often requires that women flip the script on their own cultural conditioning, changing their approach to life from "What do others want from me?" to "What do I want from others?"
There are a number of problems that arise when you focus too much on your own "desirability." First, it tends to keep you in your head—which is to say, disembodied. Living in your head more than you need to is like spending all your time playing a virtual reality video game and thinking it's real life. Thoughts can help you navigate issues and problems, but they can also become the problem unless they're balanced with other forms of knowing.
Embodied intuition is another form of knowing. It draws on a felt sense of your entire self—mood, sensations, energy—in a feedback loop with your surroundings. This "sense" of things is very different from the straight-up mental chatter, judgments, and opinions that constitute "thinking." It even incorporates the subtle (and not-so-subtle) signals from your nervous system. It's as if your body has multiple "feelers" that are always picking up on what's going on both within you and around you. When you learn to tune into your embodied intuition, you can draw on important "data" related to what you want in the here and now. And this, the "here right now"—your lived, embodied experience—is the birthplace of sexual desire.
Truth antidote: Your desirability is internally sourced.
Whether or not you agree with Freud's theory of "Eros and Thanatos"—the idea that humans are shaped by a drive toward life and a drive toward death—it's no coincidence that the Greek god of love, Eros, represents vitality and the drive to live. Eroticism and the will to live and love are intertwined. Your erotic life force is at the root of your capacity to desire—which is to say, your capacity to hunger, want, and crave something—whether a human lover, a feeling state, or an experience.
Shifting your preoccupation away from others' perception of you to your own experience of life as it's unfolding through your senses (what you see, feel, smell, hear, intuit, etc.) is a way into your erotic life force. With practice and over time, feeling what you feel, sensing what you sense, and allowing yourself to be as you are—without changing yourself to fit real or imagined externally dictated expectations of desirability—can break the grip of this common block.
Habits for redefining desirability:
- Write on a mirror you look at daily, "Your desirability is internally sourced."
- Make a list of activities that light you up—that generate feelings of energy, vitality, joy, and flow. Do one or more of these activities daily.
- When you find yourself wondering, what do they want?, flip it: What do I want? Take time to explore what you want—truly want. Get support, if necessary. Practice recognizing the ways that objects, people, or experiences you desire may already be showing up in your life in a slightly different form than you expect. Practice savoring and receiving them.
Block #2: "It's my partner's job to arouse me."
Girls continue to be raised with the expectation that their experience of sexual arousal and desire lies in the hands of another. With very little reality-based, concrete sex education to be had in schools or homes, girls, and later, women, don't always know the intricacies of their own bodies and how they work, what sensations mean or don't mean, how their sensory and physical responses (or lack of responses) connect to lust, arousal, and love, and even simply what feels good and what doesn't. If women don't know these things about themselves and their bodies, how likely is it that a partner will?
Saddling your partner with a disproportionate amount of responsibility for your arousal can limit them and disempower you. It leaves you in a position where you're dependent on another person for your own sexual engagement. I'm not saying people shouldn't strive to get to know their partner's sexuality and sexual preferences or that there's no such thing as skilled lovemaking. I am saying that expecting your partner to arouse you can set up an all-or-nothing dynamic that blocks your own sexual desire. This expectation has as its subtext, "Either you know how to arouse me, or you don't. If you don't, we're not a good match." This can lead you down the path of unrealistic hopes and erotic rescue fantasies.
Ultimately, you will grow from facing your sexual inhibitions and shame, from getting to know your own body and sexual preferences, and from learning how to communicate more directly and openly about sex with your real-life, imperfect partner.
Truth antidote: You're the ultimate orchestrator of your own arousal.
Picture yourself at the head of an orchestra, the conductor. There are different sections: violin, tenor, percussion, singers at the back. As the conductor, it helps to be familiar with the sections and instruments you're guiding, with the tonal nuances of a flute versus a trombone, the acoustic impact of a rise or drop in volume of a chorus, the lingering effect of the overall composition.
Conductors need to know each instrument well, to immerse themselves in music and sounds. When it comes to your arousal, it helps when you do your own version of this—immersing yourself in all the different parts of you that play into a sexual experience. Get to know the different "sections" of your orchestra: emotional, physical, sensory, spiritual, psychological, interpersonal, imaginal. Rather than expecting the music to happen (or fearing it won't), try participating more in the creation of the music. Be willing to look at what makes it hard to get to know any particular section of your orchestra with your partner.
Habits for increasing your own arousal:
- Repeat three times daily: "I'm the orchestrator of my own arousal."
- Look for woman-friendly sources of sexuality education and information. Podcasts such as The Trouble With Sex, hosted by Tammy Nelson, or Speaking of Sex with The Pleasure Mechanics, books such as Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski or Woman on Fire by Mary Jo Goddard, and online resources such as OMGYes.com (an explicit but tasteful interactive website [with a one-time fee] where real women reveal what types of touch arouse them) can help reduce inhibitions and shame, increase understanding, and provide support.
- Once a week, when you know you won't be disturbed, lie down and experiment with touching parts of your body you don't normally touch. You may want to play soothing music or light a scented candle first, creating a warm, inviting, sensual atmosphere that helps you relax and temporarily forget your to-do list. Touch your eyelashes, your elbows, your knees, and your toes. Allow your hand to hover over your own face or stomach. Notice the sensations evoked by different types of touch. Share your discoveries with your partner.
Block #3: "I need to be feminine."
Embracing our feminine traits can be great. The problem is the subconscious, underlying association with femininity: "It's feminine to be reserved."
Many of us think we're "smart" enough or progressive enough to not buy into this definition, yet often this message still sits just below the surface, creating a serious block to experiencing sexual desire. Sometimes, this block comes in the form of a compliment, such as "You're such a wonderful listener!" or "You have a quiet strength." Conversely, words like nasty or bossy in reference to a strong, ambitious, outspoken woman are examples of this block in insult form.
This block inhibits women sexually because it turns them against parts of themselves. It puts a lid on women's assertiveness. Anger, for example, might seem "unfeminine" if this block is active for you, leading you to disconnect from your natural, necessary, and vital feelings of anger in different situations, to the point where you're not even aware you're angry. When this block prevents women from consciously connecting with their anger, it's harder to use the important data anger provides to express needs or set boundaries.
Anytime a woman buries her authenticity—whether she's doing it to stay connected to her partner or her peers—there's a sexual cost. When you disconnect from, dismiss, judge, or avoid parts of yourself, it syphons off your life force energy (which is also your erotic energy) and channels it into tension or constriction. Energy you might naturally use to be your true self—feeling, expressing, and taking action that's in synch with your desires—gets repurposed to hide, inhibit, or numb your truth—your experience in the present moment. This block can lead a woman to judge or suppress her ambition, anger, joy, or other aspects of her passionate nature, dampening her access to vitality, authenticity, and sexual desire.
Truth antidote: You define what femininity looks like to you.
Ultimately, you get to define what femininity means to you. This can take some inner work as you sort through what you learned about being feminine in your family of origin, your peer groups, in the schools and communities you've been a part of, and in the different cultures that have influenced your views of femininity and masculinity. Importantly, know that using your voice and taking and receiving pleasure are capacities that belong to us all.
Habits for owning your feminine identity:
- Envision your own sexuality as a person and write her a love letter, beginning with, "You define what femininity looks like to you; using your voice and taking and receiving pleasure are capacities that belong to us all."
- Identify parts of yourself you've learned to judge as "unfeminine," and give these parts names. You might recognize a "Greedy Part" when your favorite food is on the table or a "Road Rage Part" when someone cuts you off in traffic. Try to see the good intentions in these parts—the ways they're trying to take care of you. Acknowledge the life force energy that's trapped within the less "socially acceptable" parts of you. Remember, bringing awareness to these parts doesn't mean you act them out—it just means you're willing to acknowledge and be curious about them rather than judging or denying them.
- When it feels right, talk to your partner about some of these parts of yourself you've previously viewed as unfeminine. What would it look like if you allowed the energy in these so-called unfeminine parts to come forward and find more overt, active expression in your sex life? For example, how would your "Greedy Part" kiss? How would your "Road Rage" part talk in bed, if she were allowed to speak her mind?
Women have a right to feel sexual desire: to feel vibrant and authentic, to connect with their partners and spouses, to enjoy their bodies, and to live a more fulfilled and fulfilling life. A sense of power and agency can be a byproduct of desiring: The more entitled you feel to claim, experience, and act in the direction of your own authentic sexuality, the more access you may be granting yourself to a self-authored identity. In other words, the freer you feel, the more you you can be. Seeing these blocks for what they are can set you on track to unblocking your sexual desire.
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