A Typology of Women with Low Sexual Desire

Abstract

Low sexual desire is the most common sexual issue reported by women and research suggests that the presentation and experience of low sexual desire may vary considerably between women. This study explored whether women with low desire differ qualitatively from one another based on several key contextual factors theoretically associated with low desire. We collected data from women in long-term relationships (N = 508) using an online platform. Using latent profile analysis, we explored whether women could be distinguished from one another based on several contextual variables (sexual and relationship satisfaction, life stress, sexual communication). Results supported a 3-profile solution, with two distinct profiles emerging for women with low sexual desire. The first profile consisted of women with low desire who were dissatisfied with the sexual and nonsexual aspects of their relationships (Globally Distressed Group: 8%). The second profile consisted of women with low desire who were sexually, but not relationally, dissatisfied (Sexually Dissatisfied Group: 24%). In addition, a third profile emerged that consisted of generally satisfied women with average desire (Average Desire Group: 67%). t-tests revealed that the two low desire groups shared similar mean levels of sexual desire, but that their overall presentations were conceptually distinct. This research supports a categorical conceptualization of low sexual desire in women and suggests that evaluating category membership for women with low desire can provide valuable information about women’s sexual experiences beyond assessing mean levels of sexual desire alone.

This is a preview of subscription content, access via your institution.

Fig. 1

References

  1. Apt, C. V., & Hurlbert, D. F. (1992). Motherhood and female sexuality beyond one year postpartum: A study of military wives. Journal of Sex Education & Therapy, 18(2), 104–114.

    Google Scholar 

  2. Basson, R. (2000). The female sexual response: A different model. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 26(1), 51–65.

    Google Scholar 

  3. Basson, R. (2001). Using a different model for female sexual response to address women’s problematic low sexual desire. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 27(5), 395–403.

    Google Scholar 

  4. Basson, R. (2008). Women’s sexual desire and arousal disorders. Primary Psychiatry, 15(9), 72–81.

    Google Scholar 

  5. Baumeister, R. F. (2000). Gender differences in erotic plasticity: The female sex drive as socially flexible and responsive. Psychological Bulletin, 126(3), 347–374.

    Google Scholar 

  6. Birnbaum, G. E., Mikulincer, M., & Austerlitz, M. (2013). A fiery conflict: Attachment orientations and the effects of relational conflict on sexual motivation. Personal Relationships, 20(2), 294–310.

    Google Scholar 

  7. Birnbaum, G. E., Reis, H. T., Mizrahi, M., Kanat-Maymon, Y., Sass, O., & Granovski-Milner, C. (2016). Intimately connected: The importance of partner responsiveness for experiencing sexual desire. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 111(4), 530–546.

    Google Scholar 

  8. Bodenmann, G., Ledermann, T., Blattner, D., & Galluzzo, C. (2006). Associations among everyday stress, critical life events, and sexual problems. Journal of Nervous and Mental Disease, 194(7), 494–501.

    Google Scholar 

  9. Bolck, A., Croon, M., & Hagenaars, J. (2004). Estimating latent structure models with categorical variables: One-step versus three-step estimators. Political Analysis, 12(1), 3–27.

    Google Scholar 

  10. Bradbury, T. N., & Fincham, F. D. (1992). Attributions and behavior in marital interaction. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 63(4), 613–628.

    Google Scholar 

  11. Brezsnyak, M., & Whisman, M. A. (2004). Sexual desire and relationship functioning: The effects of marital satisfaction and power. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 30(3), 199–217.

    Google Scholar 

  12. Bridges, S. K., & Horne, S. G. (2007). Sexual satisfaction and desire discrepancy in same sex women’s relationships. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 33(1), 41–53.

    Google Scholar 

  13. Brotto, L. A. (2017). Evidence based treatments for low sexual desire in women. Frontiers in Neuroendocrinology, 45, 11–17.

    Google Scholar 

  14. Carvalho, J., & Nobre, P. (2011). Gender differences in sexual desire: How do emotional and relationship factors determine sexual desire according to gender? Sexologies, 20(4), 207–211.

    Google Scholar 

  15. Catania, J. (1986). Help-seeking: An avenue for adult sexual development. Unpublished doctoral dissertation. University of California, San Francisco.

  16. Chao, J.-K., Lin, Y.-C., Ma, M.-C., Lai, C.-J., Ku, Y.-C., Kuo, W.-H., & Chao, I.-C. (2011). Relationship among sexual desire, sexual satisfaction, and quality of life in middle-aged and older adults. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 37(5), 386–403.

    Google Scholar 

  17. Conaglen, H. M., & Evans, I. M. (2006). Pictorial cues and sexual desire: An experimental approach. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 35(2), 201–216.

    Google Scholar 

  18. Cupach, W. R., & Comstock, J. (1990). Satisfaction with sexual communication in marriage: Links to sexual satisfaction and dyadic adjustment. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 7(2), 179–186.

    Google Scholar 

  19. Dawson, S. J., & Chivers, M. L. (2014). Gender differences and similarities in sexual desire. Current Sexual Health Reports, 6(4), 211–219.

    Google Scholar 

  20. Dosch, A., Rochat, L., Ghisletta, P., Favez, N., & Van der Linden, M. (2016). Psychological factors involved in sexual desire, sexual activity, and sexual satisfaction: A multi-factorial perspective. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 45(8), 2029–2045.

    Google Scholar 

  21. Ferenidou, F., Kapoteli, V., Moisidis, K., Koutsogiannis, I., Giakoumelos, A., & Hatzichristou, D. (2008). Presence of a sexual problem may not affect women’s satisfaction from their sexual function. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 5(3), 631–639.

    Google Scholar 

  22. Galesic, M., & Bosnjak, M. (2009). Effects of questionnaire length on participation and indicators of response quality in a web survey. Public Opinion Quarterly, 73(2), 349–360.

    Google Scholar 

  23. Gerst, M. S., Grant, I., Yager, J., & Sweetwood, H. (1978). The reliability of the social readjustment rating scale: Moderate and long-term stability. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 22(6), 519–523.

    Google Scholar 

  24. Graham, S. (1991). A review of attribution theory in achievement contexts. Educational Psychology Review, 3(1), 5–39.

    Google Scholar 

  25. Herbenick, D., Mullinax, M., & Mark, K. (2014). Sexual desire discrepancy as a feature, not a bug, of long-term relationships: Women’s self-reported strategies for modulating sexual desire. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 11, 2196–2206.

    Google Scholar 

  26. Holmes, T. H., & Rahe, R. H. (1967). The social readjustment rating scale. Journal of Psychosomatic Research, 11(2), 213–218.

    Google Scholar 

  27. Horne, R. M., Johnson, M. D., Galambos, N. L., & Krahn, H. J. (2018). Time, money, or gender? Predictors of the division of household labour across life stages. Sex Roles, 11, 731–743.

    Google Scholar 

  28. Hurlbert, D. F., Apt, C., Hurlbert, M. K., & Pierce, A. P. (2000). Sexual compatibility and the sexual desire-motivation relation in females with hypoactive sexual desire disorder. Behavior Modification, 24(3), 325–347.

    Google Scholar 

  29. Jodoin, M., Bergeron, S., Khalifé, S., Dupuis, M., Desrochers, G., & Leclerc, B. (2011). Attributions about pain as predictors of psychological symptomatology, sexual function, and dyadic adjustment in women with vestibulodynia. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 40(1), 87–97.

    Google Scholar 

  30. Kinderman, P., & Bentall, R. P. (1996). A new measure of causal locus: The internal, personal and situational attributions questionnaire. Personality and Individual Differences, 20, 261–264.

    Google Scholar 

  31. Klein, D. C., Fencil-Morse, E., & Seligman, M. E. (1976). Learned helplessness, depression, and the attribution of failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 33(5), 508–516.

    Google Scholar 

  32. Laumann, E. O., Nicolosi, A., Glasser, D. B., Paik, A., Gingell, C., Moreira, E., ... GSSAB Investigators’ Group. (2005). Sexual problems among women and men aged 40–80 y: Prevalence and correlates identified in the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors. International Journal of Impotence Research, 17, 39–57.

  33. Laumann, E. O., Paik, A., & Rosen, R. C. (1999). Sexual dysfunction in the United States: Prevalence and predictors. Journal of the American Medical Association, 281(6), 537–544.

    Google Scholar 

  34. Lawrance, K. A., & Byers, E. S. (1995). Sexual satisfaction in long-term heterosexual relationships: The interpersonal exchange model of sexual satisfaction. Personal Relationships, 2(4), 267–285.

    Google Scholar 

  35. Leavitt, C. E., Leonhardt, N. D., & Busby, D. M. (2019). Different ways to get there: Evidence of a variable female sexual response cycle. Journal of Sex Research, 56(7), 899–912.

    Google Scholar 

  36. MacPhee, D. C., Johnson, S. M., & van der Veer, M. M. C. (1995). Low sexual desire in women: The effects of marital therapy. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 21(3), 159–182.

    Google Scholar 

  37. Mark, K. P. (2012). The relative impact of individual sexual desire and couple desire discrepancy on satisfaction in heterosexual couples. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 27, 133–146.

    Google Scholar 

  38. Mark, K., Herbenick, D., Fortenberry, D., Sanders, S., & Reece, M. (2014). The object of sexual desire: Examining the “what” in “what do you desire?”. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 11(11), 2709–2719.

    Google Scholar 

  39. Mark, K. P., & Lasslo, J. A. (2018). Maintaining sexual desire in long-term relationships: A systematic review and conceptual model. Journal of Sex Research, 55(4–5), 563–581.

    Google Scholar 

  40. Mark, K. P., & Murray, S. H. (2012). Gender differences in desire discrepancy as a predictor of sexual and relationship satisfaction in a college sample of heterosexual romantic relationships. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 38, 198–215.

    Google Scholar 

  41. McFarland, C., & Ross, M. (1982). Impact of causal attributions on affective reactions to success and failure. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, 43(5), 937–946.

    Google Scholar 

  42. Mintz, L. B., Balzer, A. M., Zhao, X., & Bush, H. E. (2012). Bibliotherapy for low sexual desire: Evidence for effectiveness. Journal of Counseling Psychology, 59(3), 471–478.

    Google Scholar 

  43. Murray, S. H., & Milhausen, R. R. (2012). Sexual desire and relationship duration in young men and women. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 38(1), 28–40.

    Google Scholar 

  44. Muthén, L. K., & Muthén, B. O. (2011). Mplus: Statistical analysis with latent variables, user’s guide (7th ed.). Los Angeles: Muthén & Muthén.

    Google Scholar 

  45. Norton, R. (1983). Measuring marital quality: A critical look at the dependent variable. Journal of Marriage and the Family, 45(1), 141–151.

    Google Scholar 

  46. Raftery, A. E. (1995). Bayesian model selection in social research. Sociological Methodology, 25, 111–164.

    Google Scholar 

  47. Rahe, R. H. (1974). The pathway between subjects’ recent life changes and their near-future illness reports: Representative results and methodological issues. In B. S. Dohrenwend & B. P. Dohrenwend (Eds.), Stressful life events: Their nature and effects (pp. 73–86). Oxford, England: Wiley.

    Google Scholar 

  48. Rehman, U. S., Fallis, E., & Byers, E. S. (2013). Sexual satisfaction in heterosexual women. In D. Castaneda (Ed.), An essential handbook of women’s sexuality (Vol. 1, pp. 25–46). Santa Barbara, CA: Praeger Publishers.

    Google Scholar 

  49. Rehman, U. S., Rellini, A. H., & Fallis, E. (2011). The importance of sexual self-disclosure to sexual satisfaction and functioning in committed relationships. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 8(11), 3108–3115.

    Google Scholar 

  50. Rosen, N. O., Dubé, J. P., Corsini-Munt, S., & Muise, A. (2019). Partners experience consequences, too: A comparison of the sexual, relational, and psychological adjustment of women with sexual Interest/arousal disorder and their partners to control couples. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 16(1), 83–95.

    Google Scholar 

  51. Rosen, R. C., Shifren, J. L., Monz, B. U., Odom, D. M., Russo, P. A., & Johannes, C. B. (2009). Correlates of sexually related personal distress in women with low sexual desire. Journal of Sexual Medicine, 6(6), 1549–1560.

    Google Scholar 

  52. Štulhofer, A., Ferreira, L. C., & Landripet, I. (2014). Emotional intimacy, sexual desire, and sexual satisfaction among partnered heterosexual men. Sexual and Relationship Therapy, 29(2), 229–244.

    Google Scholar 

  53. Sutherland, S., & Rehman, U. S. (2018). Viewing sexual desire as stable versus fluid: The impact of implicit beliefs on women’s coping with sexual desire problems. Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy, 44(4), 410–420.

    Google Scholar 

  54. Sutherland, S. E., Rehman, U. S., Fallis, E. E., & Goodnight, J. A. (2015). Understanding the phenomenon of sexual desire discrepancy in couples. Canadian Journal of Human Sexuality, 24(2), 141–150.

    Google Scholar 

  55. Vannier, S. A., Adare, K. E., & Rosen, N. O. (2018). Is it me or you? First-time mothers’ attributions for postpartum sexual concerns are associated with sexual and relationship satisfaction in the transition to parenthood. Journal of Social and Personal Relationships, 35(4), 577–599.

    Google Scholar 

  56. Vermunt, J. K. (2010). Latent class modeling with covariates: Two improved three-step approaches. Political Analysis, 18, 450–469.

    Google Scholar 

  57. Weiner, B. (1985). An attributional theory of achievement motivation and emotion. Psychological Review, 92(4), 548–573.

    Google Scholar 

  58. Willoughby, B. J., & Vitas, J. (2012). Sexual desire discrepancy: The effect of individual differences in desired and actual sexual frequency on dating couples. Archives of Sexual Behavior, 41, 477–486.

    Google Scholar 

Download references

Funding

This research was supported by a grant from the Social Sciences and Humanities Research Council of Canada awarded to Uzma Rehman (435-2017-0311) and a Vanier scholarship awarded to Siobhan Sutherland.

Author information

Affiliations

Authors

Corresponding author

Correspondence to Siobhan E. Sutherland.

Ethics declarations

Conflict of interest

The authors declare that they have no conflict of interest.

Ethical Approval

This study was performed in line with the principles of the Declaration of Helsinki. Approval was granted by a University of Waterloo Research Ethics Committee (#41380).

Informed Consent

Informed consent was obtained from all individual participants included in the study.

Additional information

Publisher's Note

Springer Nature remains neutral with regard to jurisdictional claims in published maps and institutional affiliations.

Rights and permissions

Reprints and Permissions

About this article

Verify currency and authenticity via CrossMark

Cite this article

Sutherland, S.E., Rehman, U.S. & Goodnight, J.A. A Typology of Women with Low Sexual Desire. Arch Sex Behav 49, 2893–2905 (2020). https://doi.org/10.1007/s10508-020-01805-9

Download citation

Keywords

  • Low sexual desire
  • Women’s sexuality
  • Typology
  • Romantic relationships
  • DSM-5