We review the theory and research on women’s sexual desire and present a theory that incorporates internalized representations of relational and bodily experiences into our understanding of the full range of desire in women. To this end, we move away from the current tendency to focus on low sexual desire in women and instead consider desire on a spectrum or continuum from absent or diminished to high desire across multiple sexual orientations, including heterosexual, bisexual, and lesbian. We review definitions of sexual desire, as well as the epidemiology and etiology of hypoactive sexual desire, the most prevalent sexual complaint in women, including the biological, psychological, and relationship correlates of inhibited sexual desire. Subsequently, we examine the research on highly sexual women, who tend to experience high levels of sexual desire, sexual agency, and sexual esteem, and distinguish between high sexual desire and hypersexuality. We introduce two important constructs that are integrated into the Relational and Bodily Experiences Theory (RBET) of sexual desire in women: attachment and sexual body self-representations, suggesting that women’s internalized representations of self and other that stem from childhood and their capacity to embody their sexual bodies are integral to our understanding of the phenomenology of sexual desire in women. RBET calls for further research into the links between attachment, sexual body self-representations, and desire, and suggests that clinical interventions for sexual desire difficulties in women should emphasize internalized working models of relationships (i.e., attachment) and integrate bodily based approaches.
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This article was supported by the Far Fund, a private foundation in New York, NY. The content is solely the responsibility of the authors and does not necessarily represent the official views of the Far Fund.
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The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.
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Cherkasskaya, E., Rosario, M. The Relational and Bodily Experiences Theory of Sexual Desire in Women. Arch Sex Behav 48, 1659–1681 (2019). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-018-1212-9
- Women’s sexual desire
- Sexual subjectivity
- Genital self-image