Women's sexual health, like men's, is important to emotional and physical well-being. But achieving a satisfying sex life takes self-reflection and candid communication with your partner. Although talking about sexuality can be difficult, it's a topic well worth addressing.
For help in talking about sex with your partner, follow this guide.
A bit about women's sexual health
Many people think that your body's physical desire for sex motivates sexual activity, which leads to sexual arousal and then orgasm. Although this might be true for most men, it's not necessarily true for most women. Different factors help many women feel aroused and desire sex, and different factors dampen desire.
For many women, particularly those who are older than 40 or who have gone through menopause, physical desire isn't the primary motivation for sex. A woman might be motivated to have sex to feel close to her partner or to show her feelings.
Sexual satisfaction differs for everyone. Many factors influence sexual response, including how you feel about your partner, how you feel about yourself, your health, and your religious and cultural upbringing. If you have concerns about your sex life, or you just want to find ways to enhance it, a good first step is talking with your partner.
Women's sexual health: Start by talking about your needs
It might not be easy for you to talk about your sexual desires, but your partner can't read your mind. Sharing your thoughts and expectations about your sexual experiences can bring you closer and help you achieve greater sexual enjoyment.
To get started:
- Admit your discomfort. If you feel anxious, say so. Opening up about your concerns might help you start the conversation. Tell your partner if you feel shy about discussing what you want, and ask for reassurance that your partner is open to the conversation.
- Start talking. Talking might help you increase your confidence and comfort level.
- Set a time limit. Avoid overwhelming each other with a lengthy talk. By devoting 15-minute conversations to the topic, you might find it easier to stay within your emotional comfort zones.
- Talk regularly. Your conversations about sex will get easier the more you talk.
- Use a book or movie. Invite your partner to read a book about women's sexual health, or recommend chapters or sections that address your questions and concerns. You might also use a movie scene as a starting point for a discussion.
Topics to address with your partner
When you're talking to your partner about your sexual needs, try to be specific. Consider addressing these topics:
- Time. Are you setting aside enough time for sexual intimacy? If not, what can you do to change things? How can you make sexual intimacy a priority? Think about how you and your partner can support each other to help create time and energy for sex.
- Your relationship. Talk about challenges between you and your partner that might be interfering with sex, and ways that you can address them.
- Romance. Do you and your partner have the same definition of romance? Is it missing? How can you reignite it? How can romance set the stage for sexual intimacy?
- Pleasure. What gives you individual and mutual enjoyment? Be open to hearing your partner's requests and coming up with compromises if one of you is uncomfortable with the other's requests. Talk about what sexual activities make you uncomfortable.
Routine. Has sex become too routine or predictable? What changes might you make? For instance, explore different times to have sex or try new techniques.
Consider more cuddling, a sensual massage, self-stimulation, oral sex or using a vibrator — depending on what interests you. Talk about what you like, what you don't like and what you'd like to try.
- Emotional intimacy. Sex is more than a physical act — it's also an opportunity for emotional connection, which builds closeness in a relationship. Try to take the pressure off of each other when it comes to having sexual intercourse or achieving orgasm. Enjoy touching each other, kissing, and feeling physically and emotionally close.
- Physical and emotional changes. Are physical changes, such as an illness, weight gain, changes after surgery or hormonal changes, affecting your sex life? Also address emotional factors that might be interfering with your enjoyment of sex, such as being stressed or depressed.
- Beliefs. Discuss your beliefs and expectations about sex. Consider whether misconceptions — such as the idea that women become less sexual after menopause — are affecting your sex life.
How to handle differing sexual needs
Sexual needs vary. Many factors can affect your sexual appetite, including stress, illness , aging and family, career and social commitments. Whatever the cause, differences in sexual desire between partners can sometimes lead to feelings of isolation, frustration, rejection or resentment.
Talk to your partner about:
- Your intimacy needs. Intimacy is more than just sexual needs. Intimacy also includes emotional, spiritual, physical and recreational needs. If your emotional intimacy needs aren't being met, you might be less interested in sex. Think about what your partner could do to enhance your emotional intimacy, and talk about it openly and honestly.
- Your differences in sexual desire. In any long-term relationship, couples might experience differing levels of sexual desire. Discuss your differences and try to explore options that will satisfy both of you.
When to talk with your doctor
If your difficulty persists, consider turning to a doctor or sex therapist for help. If you take medications that might affect your desire for sex, review your medications with your doctor. Your doctor may be able to suggest an alternative.
Likewise, if a physical sign or symptom — such as vaginal dryness — is interfering with your sexual enjoyment, ask about treatment options. For example, a lubricant or other medication can help with vaginal dryness associated with hormonal changes or other factors.