Keeping the spice alive in long-term relationships is something we’ll never stop trying to wrap our heads around. But according to new research, it’s less about mixing things up, and more about establishing equitable relations outside the boudoir, particularly when it comes to stimulating desire in women.
Female desire is multidimensional. And, as previous work by Eugenia Cherkasskaya and Margaret Rosario lays out, it consists of two main factors: solitary sexual desire, an internally driven desire to achieve specific sexual needs for gratification and address sexual frustration, and dyadic sexual desire, defined as a desire reflecting a want for emotional closeness or intimacy with another person.
To explore the role that relationship that equity plays in female desire, the Centre for Mental Health at Swinburne University of Technology set out to understand the link between the two. In a study of almost 300 women, all aged between 18 to 39 and all in relationships, researchers had participants complete measures of solitary and dyadic facets of sexual desire, reporting on perceptions of relationship equity and their overall relationship satisfaction.
Looking at the data, the team found that those that reported equal relationships, were more likely to experience higher levels of both solitary and dyadic sexual desire, and they were more satisfied in their relationships. As expected, equality in relationships predicted relationship satisfaction, which related to higher levels of dyadic sexual desire — suggesting that female sexual desire is not only biological and cognitive, but also responsive to relational contexts. Basically, as much as Hollywood says otherwise, it's not just the forbidden connections that get our engines going, but the ones built on mutual respect and support.
According to Dr. Simone Buzwell, an academic at the university, these results are telling. "While a lack of desire is not an issue for all women, a lack of sexual desire does cause significant distress for many women and their intimate partners," she says. But if these results tell us anything, it's that the stress may be mis-channelled.
As Buzwell notes, this is ultimately a positive finding: that desire is something that can be worked on, as opposed to the erroneous ideas sold to us by rom-coms. “Low female sexual desire is likely to be a problem that both people in the relationship can solve together,” she says, adding that it really does take two to tango. “It is not the 'fault' of one individual and it would be useful to consider factors beyond the sexual realm that may be contributing.”
So the next time you're splitting hairs over your sex life — or lack thereof — keep in mind that there are many factors that contribute to desire. And remember, for the most part, fairer sex is better sex!