Female sexuality

Female sexuality is a fascinating and under-researched area of human sexuality. There is plenty of excellent research coming out about female sexuality and female sexual function/dysfunction.

Every human has the potential for sexuality. Sex brings us together, for better or for worse, and spans gender identity, gender roles, sexual preference, eroticism, intimacy and reproduction. It’s bigger than just making babies; every baby born has taken an average of 100-200 sexual occasions to be brought into being.

We think about it, we dream about it, we fantasise about it. Our attitudes, beliefs, values, behaviour, roles and relationships have our sexuality as a core element.

Biological females tend to start being sexually active as teenagers, but according to research, peak orgasmic frequency is hit in the 30s. A steady level is maintained until about age 55 (at natural menopause). There is scant evidence that orgasmic function and sexual desire level off in older age. (One of the fastest populations with sexually transmitted infections is those aged 65 and over.)​1​

The World Psychiatric Association (WPA) defines sexual health as a ‘dynamic and harmonious state involving erotic and reproductive experiences and fulfilment, within a broader physical, emotional, interpersonal, social and spiritual sense of wellbeing, in a culturally informed, freely responsible chosen and ethical framework.’ The WPA goes on to say that sexual health is not simply the absence of sexual disorders.​2​

There is an enormous amount of human history before us in how we look at sexuality, especially female sexuality. We won’t go into that here, but it is important to understand that how we live today and how we think about sex is cultural and social. We didn’t invent it. We are a product of our ancestors and their ideas about sexuality.​3​

To get a rundown on anatomy, look into the clitoris and female orgasm.

Masturbating

Masturbating means to touch yourself for pleasure only. It doesn’t mean orgasming and it doesn’t necessarily have to be sexual in nature. Babies and kids play with their genitals, sometimes often, because it feels nice.

Research into women’s masturbating habits shows us that most women masturbate either regularly or sometimes, for the same reasons everyone else does. It feels good, relieves stress and resolves sexual desire (albeit temporarily).​4​

It also takes women just as long as everyone else to orgasm: a four-minute average. This number brings into question why so many women are either not orgasming at all or taking 20-30 minutes to orgasm during sex with a male sexual partner.

How the body ‘does’ sexuality

There are complex interactions between our nervous system, the endocrine (hormonal) system, the vascular (blood and circulatory) system and our anatomical structures when we experience sexuality. These systems and structures provide the means by which we can have satisfying sex, whatever that means to you.​5​

There are four main stages of the female sexual response, each with unique characteristics:​6​

  • Desire (motivation)
  • Excitement (feeling sexual excitement, lubrication, engorged structures, can be sustained)
  • Orgasm (rhythmic contractions of musculature, possible ejaculation)
  • Resolution (feeling of relaxation)

Sexual dysfunction

Sexual dysfunction means one of these four broad areas isn’t working as promised, resulting in various outcomes, such as the inability to become aroused or to orgasm.​7​

References

  1. 1.
    Sathyanarana Rao T, Nagaraj AK. Female sexuality. Indian J Psychiatry. Published online 2015:296. doi:10.4103/0019-5545.161496
  2. 2.
    Palha A. Conceptual bases of sexual health. Sexologies. Published online April 2008:S32. doi:10.1016/s1158-1360(08)72596-9
  3. 3.
    Luberti FR, Blake KR, Brooks RC. Evolutionary ecological insights into the suppression of female sexuality. Current Research in Ecological and Social Psychology. Published online 2023:100167. doi:10.1016/j.cresp.2023.100167
  4. 4.
    Wehrli FSV, Bodenmann GJ, Clemen J, Weitkamp K. Exploring the Role of Masturbation as a Coping Strategy in Women. International Journal of Sexual Health. Published online April 29, 2024:1-20. doi:10.1080/19317611.2024.2344812
  5. 5.
    Bień A, Rzońca E, Chruściel P, Łuka M, Iwanowicz-Palus G. Female sexuality at reproductive age as an indicator of satisfaction  with life – descriptive  cross-sectional survey. Ann Agric Environ Med. Published online December 22, 2020:599-604. doi:10.26444/aaem/114176
  6. 6.
    Woodard TL, Diamond MP. Physiologic measures of sexual function in women: a review. Fertility and Sterility. Published online July 2009:19-34. doi:10.1016/j.fertnstert.2008.04.041
  7. 7.
    Chen CH, Lin YC, Chiu LH, et al. Female sexual dysfunction: Definition, classification, and debates. Taiwanese Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology. Published online March 2013:3-7. doi:10.1016/j.tjog.2013.01.002



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Jessica Lloyd - Vulvovaginal Specialist Naturopathic Practitioner, BHSc(N)

Jessica is a degree-qualified naturopath (BHSc) specialising in vulvovaginal health and disease, based in Melbourne, Australia.

Jessica is the owner and lead naturopath of My Vagina, and is a member of the:

  • International Society for the Study of Vulvovaginal Disease (ISSVD)
  • International Society for the Study of Women's Sexual Health (ISSWSH)
  • National Vulvodynia Association (NVA) Australia
  • New Zealand Vulvovaginal Society (ANZVS)
  • Australian Traditional Medicine Society (ATMS)
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