Shame Or Empowerment? The Complicated Reality Of Female High Libido

Illustrated by Patni Twisha.
Content warning: This article discusses sexual assault and may be distressing to some readers. 
Damned if you do, damned if you don’t. It’s a phrase women are all too familiar with. When it comes to matters of the boudoir, this sentiment is inescapable. Why, when, how and who we have sex with has become increasingly politicised. 
It’s believed around 70% of women have low libido, so what is it like being one of the 30% of women who self-identify as having a high sex drive? Despite the rise of sex positivity, is the reality of living with high libido what it’s chalked up to be?
For 22-year-old Melbourne-based writer Cynthia*, her high libido contributed to the breakup of her last relationship. She describes her libido as being “tenfold” of her partner’s, which led her to feel “incredibly guilty” when voicing her desires. “Sex was something we did when he felt like it, even if my heart wasn't 100% in the moment,” she tells Refinery29 Australia. “I knew if I didn't engage in the rare occasion he was interested, I would just not be having any sex.”
Cynthia isn’t alone. 37-year-old Melbourne brand strategist Anucia De Boer shares how her previous partner made her feel “really shameful for wanting to have sex”. It’s not uncommon to hear stories like this where men in hetero-facing relationships foster a sense of guilt for women who voice their sexual desires.
In fact, Aditi*, a 27-year-old master’s student living in Melbourne for the last two years, tells us a man recently called her “demanding” for expressing what she liked in bed. “Back [home] in India, I've had instances when… a few people commented on [my high libido],” she explains, adding that it’s made her “insecure” in the past. Currently, she’s embracing the casual sex scene in Australia, where she’s experienced positive and accepting sexual partners.
Aditi speaks with pride in her voice, and rightfully so. A few years back, she was sexually assaulted. “It took me time to start enjoying all the aspects of sex… Now I can do it [on] my terms instead of the other way around."
There’s no set definition for what ‘high’ libido is because there’s no ‘normal’ for sexual desire. Aditi and Cynthia both aim for an orgasm a day, while Anucia shares her libido has changed since entering her mid-to-late-thirties, now valuing “quality over quantity” and appreciating other forms of intimacy rather than only penetration
For Bec, a 25-year-old Melbourne youth worker, her libido fluctuates but remains consistently high. “I'll go through periods where I 'forget' about sexuality, and then there [are] phases where it's always on my mind,” she shares, adding that being recently single has changed her sex drive too. 
Libidos naturally shift throughout our lives, though internal and external factors can guide it in either direction. Medication and chronic illness are some of those factors. Amy*, a 25-year-old Australian lawyer, has pre-menstrual dysphoric disorder (PMDD) and has been on medication for the last three years. “[It’s] made navigating my libido quite difficult… as I otherwise think of myself as someone who is raring to go.”
Though she’s having less sex with her current partner than at any other sexually active time in her life, Amy says she’s happier than ever. “I don't wish that we were having more sex, I think it's just right,” she says. 
Despite wanting to orgasm every day, Cynthia says her libido “is like a rollercoaster” because of her polycystic ovary syndrome (PCOS) and endometriosis. “Flares in chronic pain mean that my sex drive can be really high for two weeks of the month and then plummet for the other two weeks as pain is centralised around my menstrual cycle.” She finds orgasming a way to alleviate some of her pain, so she masturbates often and is content with sex once or twice a week with a long-term partner.
The past hurt caused by her previous relationship still lingers, though. “I feel so much shame because I see sex as such a big part of a relationship,” Cynthia shares. “There is so much stigma around women sleeping with guys on the first date or choosing to have a night in to have sex instead of going out on dates. The 'post-modern feminist revolution' and sexual liberation has really only led to more creative ways to slut shame.”
It seems that one of the biggest differences between whether a woman experiences shame or feels empowered by their high libido is how their sexual partner responds to it. Anucia has been with her husband since they were 21 years old and the pair have worked through their fair share of sex-related issues. 
“I definitely have a higher libido than my partner and because he's a man, it's also weird for him because he's always been told he's meant to have this ravenous libido. It’s like this weird dynamic where we've kind of switched roles,” she confides. Earlier in the relationship, Anucia found herself always being the one to initiate sex and her partner was always the one to reject her. It amplified her feelings of shame and caused periods when the couple stopped having sex.  
With open and honest communication and effort, the pair’s sexual relationship is now in a healthier and more balanced place. Having conversations about what intimacy looks like and challenging each other’s expectations has been helpful for the two of them. “Men tend to think that if you're initiating, it's like, ‘I want to go to full sex,’ but for me, I might just want to make out and like, be like a teenager on the couch for an hour.”
A woman’s high libido should be celebrated, or at the very least, respected. In Bec’s personal sexual experiences, her sex drive has garnered positive reactions. “I think there's definitely something extra attractive about a person who is comfortable with their libido and sexuality more broadly,” she says. 
Similarly, Cynthia is someone who prides herself on how her sex drive influences the way she carries herself. “When I do feel comfortable in my body, I feel really sexual and that usually also comes across in my general self-confidence and the way I take more effort in how I present myself.” For Anucia, it’s simple: “Women who love having sex — stop being ashamed of it.”
*Names have been changed to protect identities.
If you or anyone you know has experienced sexual or domestic violence and is in need of support, please call 1800RESPECT (1800 737 732), the National Sexual Assault Domestic Family Violence Service.
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