Sunday, September 15, 2019
Home What real women say Sexual arousal The mystery of female sexual arousal

The mystery of female sexual arousal

In the film ‘True Lies’ (1994) Jamie Lee Curtis, as the dowdy housewife turned spy in the role of a prostitute, performs a sexy pole dance for her screen husband Arnold Schwarzenegger.

It seems so natural that a man’s arousal comes from admiring a woman’s body. Yet we never question why a man’s foreplay techniques do not include him using his body to provide a woman’s arousal. For example, a man’s foreplay techniques do not typically include wearing exotic underwear, clothing that accentuates his sexual attributes or moving his body provocatively.

Throughout history, a woman’s priority has been to ensure that she had a man who could protect her (and her children) rather than help her orgasm during sex. So a man’s body is not a sexual commodity to women in the way that a woman’s body can be to men.

“The truth is that, just as women have spent centuries being selected by men for their desirability as sex objects. Women have been evaluating men as success objects. By this we mean that women evaluate men both as successful protectors, particularly in violent times, and as successful providers.” (p34 Why Men don’t get enough Sex and Women don’t get enough Love 1994)

Women’s sexual arousal is not automatic

Unfortunately, there is nothing either easy or automatic about female orgasm, especially during sex with a partner. Not only do we lack men’s spontaneous sexual arousal, women are also not turned on by the sexual attributes of a lover as men are. This explains why most women do not seek to enjoy the male body through pornography, lap-dancing or pole-dancing.

Nevertheless, it is implied that female sexuality involves women achieving similar levels of sexual arousal as a man without the same natural advantages. A woman who describes herself as ‘turned on’ is more likely to indicating that she is amenable to sex than that she is close to orgasm. Female sexuality is often defined in terms of a woman’s attractiveness to men rather than her own true state of sexual arousal. It is easy to confuse women’s own sexual arousal with their ability to arouse men.

“Many men believe that if a woman excites them sexually and looks sexy, she must be experiencing sexual feelings – in other words, if she looks sexy she must feel sexy; if she’s exciting me, she must be excited, too. The man projects his own excitement onto the woman.” (p85 Why Men don’t get enough Sex and Women don’t get enough Love 1994)

Men’s sexual arousal is usually easy and, since men hope a lover will enhance their sexual arousal, women often have sex with men for reasons other than their own orgasm:

  • In the shorter term, a woman can find sex fun and even exhilarating without orgasm if she appreciates being able to excite a man sexually and if her ego is flattered by the sexual compliment;
  • In the longer term, a woman may find other life priorities (such as children) but she still needs to offer a mate enough sex to stop him wandering off with someone more amenable.

It is vital to appreciate that men need a sexually responsive partner to enjoy sex fully.

Sexually experienced women, including those who engage in casual sex, learn that they can facilitate a man’s orgasm by faking their own arousal and orgasm. This ‘responsiveness’ as a lover does not necessarily indicate that a woman knows how to achieve her own orgasm by any means.

“Most … males do not realize that it is only a select group of females, and usually the more responsive females, who will accept pre-marital or extra-marital relationships. Some … will fail to take into account the large number of females who… never become involved in the sort of non-marital relationship from which these males have acquired most of their information about females.” (p538 Sexual behavior in the human female 1953)

Some women might hope for an adventurous sex life (or even for sexual arousal and orgasm during sex) but, luckily for all of us, most women do not approach their relationships with men demanding ‘success’ in their sex life. Since women have lower sexual desire they tend to settle for companionship, love and affection, which depend on knowing and liking a person.

Excerpt from Jane’s book Ways Women Orgasm (2011)


  1. Well it has always seemed very obvious to me too. But few professionals connected with the sex industry including therapists would be willing to officially acknowledge the fact.

    Sadly there are a few women who believe for political reasons that women’s sexuality must never be acknowledged to be anything less than men’s just in case we lose out somewhere – not sure where. Personally I prefer to talk about sex from a realistic perspective and then we stand a greater chance of getting somewhere.

  2. Women are INDIVIDUALS as are their ‘sex drives’ but until people STOP generalising and stereotyping – statements such as this implying that ‘women’ have little interest in sex or even prefer to avoid it will continue to be taken as reality!

  3. How do you define ‘sex drive’? Is it a drive to be impregnated? If so, why do you think this is? Or is it a drive to achieve orgasm? If so, how do you think women achieve this? How come women never complain of sexual frustration? Reliable contraception cannot affect a true drive!

    People’s emotional beliefs caused them to reject the research findings in the 1950s. Men’s need to believe women want intercourse & women’s need to keep men happy are drives that are both as strong today as ever. But this is sexual ignorance not science.

    In over 10 years of asking women about sex & orgasm, I have found that most women refuse to comment. Perhaps you are willing to be explicit about sexual pleasuring? What erotic turn-ons & stimulation do you use for orgasm with a lover? What explicit techniques do you recommend?

  4. Ach, Jane, I fear you’re promoting a message that people have been conditioned into not wanting to hear. You’re doing a great job, though – keep it up & perhaps folk will start to admit that you’re making sense of something that drives so much frustration and misunderstanding.

  5. Thanks. I am saying that women need to back up their orgasm claims with some credible explanations. I have been treated so badly by so many women for even mentioning sex. I am suggesting we need to establish some facts & logic. Bravado is not good enough! I’m sure you understand!

  6. Men need to pay more attention to the fact that women are truly different, and women need to understand that they haven’t paid much attention to the narratives imposed on them. And that they have no idea what men mean by sex drive. It’s not just a figure of speech !

  7. That’s an important point. I think women tend to think that when men talk of their ‘sex drive’ it’s some kind of metaphor. It isn’t. It actually is a biological imperative. And men need to understand that for women it isn’t.

    There’s a reality here that we haven’t begun to explore. Jane is helping to cut an opening into what is basically an entirely unexplored jungle. Where will it lead? God knows, but we need to find out.

    Understanding that women don’t have a ‘sex drive’ is worth it for men because they can free themselves from the feeling that they, individually, are somehow ‘not up to snuff’. Women are just like that.