HealthLawProf Blog

Editor: Katharine Van Tassel
Concordia University School of Law

Tuesday, February 27, 2007

The Mystery of Women's Sex Lives

Just to wake up everyone up a bit - the Chicago Tribune reports on a recent gathering of scientists who are perplexed about women's sex lives.  The article states,

To get an idea of just how much remains unknown about an area that directly affects most people's lives, you need to drop in on the International Society for the Study of Women 's Sexual Health.

Researchers presenting their findings at the society's sixth annual meeting are still trying to figure out which hormones and neurotransmitters make sexual arousal possible, where in the brain orgasm takes place, and which nerves control the genital organs. Much of their work is being done in rats.

Now we're sticking needles into different parts of the brain," said Dr. Irwin Goldstein, the Boston urologist who founded the multidisciplinary group. "Whatever pharmaceuticals are proven to help ... most likely will work in the central nervous system."

Clinicians, frustrated by the slow pace of sexual science, want effective treatments for patients brave enough to seek help--a small minority.

Although social scientists have been studying women's sexuality for decades, medical science did not become interested until the advent of Viagra in the late 1990s raised the possibility that female sexual problems might be treated by medication.

Viagra, which treats erectile dysfunction by increasing blood flow to the genitals, does not appear to work in women.

In fact, no drug has been approved in the U.S. for the disorder doctors call female sexual dysfunction. That may be understandable, given that experts aren't sure what female sexual dysfunction is--or even if it exists. . . . .

Since the 1960s, researchers have operated under a variation of the simple model proposed by William Masters and Virginia Johnson that says the human sexual response starts with desire, progresses through excitement or arousal and ends with orgasm. But experts argued that notion might reflect the experience of men more than women, many of whom don't see orgasm as a goal.

In recent years the field has moved toward a more complicated model based on the observation that many women go into a sexual encounter without being in the mood--perhaps they're seeking intimacy or hoping to please their partner--and may not really want sex until after they become aroused.

But it wasn't until very recently that anyone thought to test those theories by asking women.

Sand, who was awarded a prize for his innovative research, found that 57 percent of women felt a straightforward model best described their sexual experience. The 29 percent who endorsed the more complicated model were more likely to have sexual problems.

That made sense, Sand said, because Masters and Johnson recruited couples who liked sex a lot, while the more complicated model was based on the experiences of women with sexual complaints.

`We need to go back to the drawing board and come up with models that explain why some women have different sexual experiences, find out which models fit which women, so we can serve women more effectively when they have sexual concerns," Sand said.

It is great that scientists are taking women's sexual health seriously - I do have some concern that this interest is apparently fueled by the prospect of some pharmaceutical cure that could bring in lots of money.  Thanks for Feministe for the link.

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