Dr. Rosemary Basson’s non-linear model of responsive female sexual desire (or, why your wife wife never want’s to have sex with you)…

Posted by: on Oct 25, 2013 | 2 Comments

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That a woman should actually want to have sex before she has it is a simple enough assumption. Indeed, most twentieth century sexological research is based on a linear response path which suggests that that sexual desire comes first and it leads, sequentially, to arousal, plateau and finally orgasm.

In the early stages of a new relationship, sex does tend to follow through these stages: girl meets boy, fancies boy, fools around with boy, has sex with boy and bingo, they share a pot-coital fag.  Fast forward a decade or two though, and they are married, middle aged, ten pounds heavier than they’d like to be, and there are two kids tucked up in the second bedroom. The boy is now a husband and he still wants sex. The girl is now a wife and she doesn’t.

Her husband tries to initiate sex but she is so seldom in the mood that he usually backs off, but he can’t help taking it personally. They both recognise that something is wrong, but Rosemary Basson, Director of Sexual Medicine at the University of British Columbia believes the wife’s response pattern is completely normal and when it comes to long- term relationships, it is the linear ‘desire precedes arousal’ response model that is wrong.

Basson believes that for women, sexual desire is not the ‘cause’ of lovemaking, but rather, it is the ‘result’. She calls ther theory ‘responsive’ or ‘triggered’ desire and it begins as a decision to have sex, rather than a drive to do so. If, a man makes sexual overtures and a woman allows herself to experience the sensations of her partner’s touch, she subsequently begins to feel some awareness of arousal building up. Only at this point does her desire become responsive. She begins to feel increasing levels of arousal and ultimately, the physical and emotional payoff.

In Basson’s circular model of female sexual desire, emotional intimacy, sexual stimuli, and relationship satisfaction are equally significant in determining whether a woman will respond to sex, so for example, a woman who is fighting with her partner won’t respond. Nor will a woman who is struggling with psychosocial issues such as negative body image or difficult past sexual experiences.

Basically, unless a woman feels secure, happy and loved, she won’t engage in sex, which makes sense. In fact Basson’s theory pretty much confirms what most women know instinctively, which is that sex makes them feel more intimately connected to their partner, but that they have to feel intimately connected to engage in sex in the first place.

The trouble with this approach is that for men, intimacy is often synonymous with sex and this has the potential to create all sorts of misunderstandings. For example, when our man climbs into bed with his wife, instead of gradually warming her to the idea of sex, he reaches over, hoiks up her nightie and makes a loving play for her boobs. All Wrong. She pushes him away with a furious hiss, making it absolutely clear that he has more chance of a Kate and Pippa sex sandwich than he has of getting to first base with her.

According to Basson’s model, if he had been willing to whisper sweet nothings in her ear and then give her a slow, selfless, sensual massage she would eventually have arrived at the point where her arousal would have begun to flicker. But is that a realistic scenario? I don’t think so. After, two kids, ten years of marriage and a whole heap of sexual rejection, her husband is understandably reluctant to expend that level of energy and affection on a woman who keeps saying no to the one thing he really wants.

It is a simplification to say that for women, intimacy is the route to sex and for men, sex is the route to intimacy, but there is no doubt that both partners are seeking, however circuitously, to get both those needs met. It is also said, far too frequently, that men find communication much more difficult than women, however when biological anthropologist Dr Helen Fischer asked nearly 4,876 members of the Dating site Chemistry.com to rate the activities that they felt cultivated intimacy in their relationships, 95% of all participants agreed with the statement “talking heart-to-heart with your partner about your relationship”.

Perhaps then, the question sexologists should be asking is not how men can learn to coax the female libido out of its shell, but how couples can learn to take joint responsibility for emotional intimacy so that  physical intimacy can flourish.

2 Comments

  1. yarpy
    March 12, 2015

    “According to Basson’s model, if he had been willing to whisper sweet nothings in her ear and then give her a slow, selfless, sensual massage she would eventually have arrived at the point where her arousal would have begun to flicker.”

    Um, no. The point is that the woman would sometimes have to begin the sex act itself before she becomes aroused.

  2. Robert Andres
    February 28, 2017

    I have just read the above article and nothing works.I’ve tried everything from suggesting we have sex,massages,cuddling and even trying to talk about why we’re not having sex and the same answer keeps coming back,my wife has no sexual interest in me.I’m at a loose end, which leaves me feeling frustrated and rejected.Do you have the answer for us.

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