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The Midlife Pleasure Gap

3 min read

Our sex drive can change a lot throughout our life. After all, so many factors can affect it, such as relationship strain, financial pressures or looking after family, stress and menopause. However, for the public health researcher and journalist Katherine Rowland, author of the book ‘The Pleasure Gap: American Women and the Unfinished Sexual Revolution‘ women can still regain control over their sex lives, no matter what their age.

In particular, Rowland considers how factors like education, bias in scientific research, social messaging, long-term monogamy, and sexual and gendered violence contribute to women’s sexual malaise. Her wide-ranging research into women’s sexuality makes it very clear that the epidemic of sexual dissatisfaction is about more than a few missing orgasms. It’s about the complex interaction between culture, biology, capitalism, history, and our shifting ideas about what is right and good and natural. It’s symptomatic of an unfinished revolution.

Pleasure is inextricable from our social status, compressed and constrained by financial factors, by safety factors, by objectification – she says-. We need to remove these barriers to experiencing sex with the full freedom, expression, range and truth that we’re endowed with.

She spent almost five years interviewing more than 120 women about their experience with declining levels of arousal, pain during sex or inability to achieve orgasm to find out that the persistent low desire was heavily associated with the idea that sex should revolve around penetration as the main course, with maybe a polite prelude of a foreplay, rather than thinking about sex as a broader universe of intimacy.

According to Rowland the ‘pleasure gap’ does not simply refer to sexual disparities between genders, but also “the separations that so often exist within ourselves: between mind and body, or behaviour and emotion, or between our external actions and our internal feelings. As sex has become so visibly on display – she says-, it’s changed the terms of the intimacy that we expect for ourselves, our relationships, and our partners”.

For the author, the female orgasm is more like riding a bicycle. You learn how to do it. How? The recipe for a successful sexual awakening might come from a mix of mindfulness, coaching, polyamory and sexological bodywork.

The first thing to do would be to stop absorbing unscientific outside knowledge. There is such a rash of faulty information out there as a result of our lack of sound science and solid education – she says-. We’ve seen this proliferation of experts pandering to the lowest common denominator. Online, you’ll find doctors who promise that by injecting more blood into the vagina, it will give it a face-lift that will bolster orgasmic potential. Or self-proclaimed ‘sexperts’ who put on female ejaculation retreats. It’s become more clamorous as our sense of sexual woe and misery has increased, and also as the state of science and education continues to decrease in quality.

In particular, she found that in terms of positive outcomes for certain women, mindfulness therapy really appeared to pay off; it provides women with tools for looking at the larger circumstances of their sensual lives and trying to understand what it is that turns them on, what makes them feel good. However, what she really considers being the most powerful intervention is sexological bodywork or somatic sexual therapy.

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This practice, which includes higher levels of interaction between the educator and student, was developed by Dr Joseph Kramer out of Taoist traditions. It’s a merge of time-tested traditions such as yoga, meditation and tantra, with cutting edge research in neuroscience, psychology and somatic learning theory. Somatic sexology aims to develop ’embodiment’, which means a deeper presence, awareness and understanding of what is going on in our body and in sex, allowing space for greater growth, choice and play.

Sexological bodywork is essentially touch-therapy and it might include touch and full stimulation of the genitals – Katherine says-. This is a tool it’s difficult to write and speak about because it’s not regulated, so there is this huge potential for major ethical violations to take place, but I will say that the practitioners that I spoke with who are operating in this realm were so morally grounded and devoted to healing. I was really moved by what I saw taking place there and by women’s accounts of working with practitioners and their feeling like this was discovering this secret key to unlock the mysteries of their persistent pain and suffering.

Although not many women would go so far, the author message is clear: ladies, time to fight for our worth. Whether that’s in the workplace or in the bedroom, it’s up to us.


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