What Do Women Want? Part II

In the first article of this series, we saw that most women look for certainty and security in a long-term relationship. Women want financial security and emotional security in order to make long term plans with a particular man. High school sweethearts may believe that “love conquers all,” but when the bills come due and can’t be paid, overly optimistic young women learn the lesson that older, more jaded women already know — love is easier to come by when the bill collectors are not knocking down your door.

But there is more to a woman’s heart than wanting security and certainty in her life. Once she has those things, a little romance and excitement would be nice.

Today we will consider the question, “Which is more important: Intimacy or climax?”

50 years ago, sex researchers Masters and Johnson devised the multi-step sexual response cycle to describe the human female sexual response:

What Masters and Johnson found was that during sexual activity, women go through the following four phases:

  • Excitement (or arousal) phase. An initial stage in which some erotic stimulus, like kissing an attractive person, starts getting the body ready for sex. This stage is accompanied by a rise in heart rate and blood pressure, erection of the nipples and increased lubrication inside the vagina.
  • Plateau phase. A stage in which the female body starts to prepare itself for imminent orgasm. The clitoris becomes sensitive, and the tissues of the outer part of the vagina begin to swell.
  • Orgasmic phase. This is characterized by immense enjoyment, and by a series of involuntary contractions in the pelvic muscles, plus cries of pleasure, and muscular spasms in various parts of the body.
  • Resolution phase. In this stage, blood pressure and heart rate fall as the woman ‘calms down’. However, if sexual stimulation continues, the resolution phase may be very short, and she may proceed to further orgasms.
  • Source

In the conventional “Masters and Johnson” sexual response cycle, orgasm is the focus of both the male and the female sexual response. Everything builds and builds to a climax, then subsides until it is ready to begin again. But is that really the way it is for most women?

Rosemary Basson, a specialist in sexual medicine at the University of British Columbia, has developed a different viewpoint which focuses on intimacy, rather than orgasm. She began with the observation that — unlike with men — women are not always ready for sexual activity at the drop of a dime or the crook of a finger.

Women’s desire, especially after the first 6-12 months in a relationship, tends to be responsive rather than spontaneous, say sex therapist Barry McCarthy & sex educator Emily Nagoski. There is nothing wrong if you have responsive sexual desire. Responsive desire means that you don’t have spontaneous desire when you’re going about your day, but once you start to interact with your partner, your desire comes as a response this interaction.

You only need to be willing to enter into a connection, even if you feel no desire. This of course depends on feeling that your relationship is satisfying & secure. Without a “good enough” relationship, you probably won’t be willing to enter into any sexual encounter. The essence of healthy sexuality is giving & receiving pleasure-oriented touch, says barry McCarthy.

Rosemary Basson’s Sexual Response Cycle

In the Basson cycle, physical and emotional intimacy are more central to a woman’s satisfaction than is actual sexual climax.

This is consistent with a poll of women taken a few decades ago, where women preferred foreplay over sex by 70% to 30%.

Most men will have a difficult time understanding this, given how alien it is from the typical male experience. For the majority of men, climax is not just the most important thing — it’s the only thing. That is a very primitive and one-dimensional viewpoint, common though it may be with men.

The simplistic male understanding of sex makes it almost impossible for most men to understand a woman’s more nuanced viewpoint of the topic. This is not to excuse men for leaving their partners in the lurch when they themselves have finished more quickly. Quite the opposite.

Al Fin has told me many times that he believes that all adolescents should be required to obtain a sexual license at about the same time they get their drivers’ license. Training for boys would necessarily last about 10 times longer than training for girls, given the different level of challenge that they face. But the end result would be fewer teen pregnancies, lower teen sexual disease transmission, and happier teen boys and girls — and in later life, happier men and women.

Honesty and healthy intimacy can make for lower levels of conflict in relationships, if they are built into the relationship from the beginning. If a couple starts at that level, they will be free to experiment with any number of exciting experiences without feeling that they are staking the future of their relationships on the “success” of any particular experiment.

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