A phenomenological inquiry into the lived experience of low sexual desire in women : implications for clinical practice
It is a common phenomenon that women’s sexual desire diminishes in relationships, yet, to date, limited research has been done locally on this topic. International studies indicate that low sexual desire affects more than half of women, and that an even greater proportion of women indicate that they have sexual intercourse with their husbands without they themselves having a desire to do so. In spite of this, there is an expectation in society that couples should continue to have an active sex life. Low sexual desire may lead to distress in the individual or discord in the couple, and in this aspect the practitioner can render a service. The aim of this study was to gain a better understanding of the life-world of women with low sexual desire towards their life-partners, and the extent to which this causes her distress or impedes on her relationship. The objectives of the study thus included providing an overview of models of sexual response, an evaluation of the diagnostic criteria for sexual dysfunctions, and an exploration of factors affecting the experience of sexual desire, including the role of social scripts on sexual behaviour. The context for the study is provided by a review of relevant literature, and a qualitative study with a phenomenological interpretative approach was executed. Data gathering focused on a nonprobable purposive sample of ten participants, and used an interview schedule with open-ended questions. Seven themes emerged from the analysis of the data, namely (1) perceptions of sexual desire, (2) experience of sexual desire, (3) experience of sex life without desire, (4) the perceived impact of low desire on the individual or the relationship, (5) personal reasons for decline in desire, (6) relationship factors affecting sexual desire, and (7) the experience of low desire in the socio-cultural context. It was found that ‘desire’ is difficult to conceptualise, that women put a higher premises on the emotional component of desire, and that there is a difference between innate sexual desires and desire that is evoked by stimuli. Reasons for low sexual desire include an array of personal medial, psychological, and life context factors, and in many cases the lack of desire is specific to the present life-partner. Women are especially sensitive to a wide variety of aspects in the relationship and with regards to their partners, and it emerged that even in happy and intimate relationships low sexual desire is experienced. Women experience a loss of emotional intimacy as a result of low sexual desire but do not necessarily feel that their low desire is abnormal. The impact on the relationship is limited mostly because women concede to sex for many reasons, including a need for emotional intimacy. Many strategies, including faking orgasms, are implemented to cope with sexual relationships in the absence of desire. It also appears that social scripts have a big influence on the inception of negative perceptions on sexuality, and generate unreasonable and idealistic expectations of sexual experiences in long-term relationships. Several recommendations flowed from the findings and conclusions. The most important recommendation is that professional people should gain a deeper understanding of the complexity of the phenomenon of low desire in women, in order to render a more effective therapeutic intervention.