Academic journal article
By McCabe, Marita P.; Goldhammer, Denisa L.
The Journal of Sex Research , Vol. 49, No. 1
Our current understanding of psychological and relationship factors that influence the nature and intensity of sexual desire in women is limited. This study was designed to include both psychological and a range of relationship variables in a single study, and examine the differential impact of these variables on a number of dimensions of desire.
In relation to psychological variables, body image and mood have been suggested as playing a role in levels of sexual desire. Low sexual desire has been associated with negative thoughts that women hold about themselves, including concerns with physical appearance and body image (Trudel et al., 2001). The impact of body image perceptions and dissatisfaction among women has recently received consideration as a mediating factor in the development of sexual dysfunction (McCabe & Giles, in press). Sanchez and Kiefer (2007) reported that women were more likely to report appearance concerns than men in both sexual and nonsexual contexts, and these appearance concerns were related to the level of sexual problems. Hartmann, Heiser, Ruffer-Hesse, and Kloth (2002) found a correlation between desire complaints and both guilt about sexual behavior and low self-image among women. Specific to sexual desire, higher body esteem was demonstrated to be related to higher levels of desire among non-clinical college students (Seal, Bradford, & Meston, 2009). Further, Woo, Brotto, and Gorzalka (2011) also found that both Caucasian and East Asian women who exhibited more sex guilt also reported lower sexual desire. Andersen and LeGrand (1991) reported that women aged 22 to 65 with a more negative body image had significantly lower levels of sexual desire compared to women who had a positive body image. Koch, Mansfield, Thurau, and Carey (2005) also reported that a poorer body image was associated with significantly reduced sexual desire in middle-aged women.
There is a substantial body of literature that demonstrates a relationship between depression and low sexual desire (Williams & Reynolds, 2006). Although Clayton (2007) suggested that most depressed patients would fail to meet Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (4th ed., text revision [DSM-IV-TR]; American Psychiatric Association [APA], 2000) criteria for hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) due to a lack of distress associated with their lack of sexual interest, Shifren, Monz, Russo, Segretti, and Johannes (2008) reported that depressed women were twice as likely as non-depressed women to report distressing sexual desire problems.
It would appear that many women hold the view that women's sexuality changes with age, such that a natural consequence of getting older is that they will experience sexual problems (Vares, Potts, Gavey, & Grace, 2007). This view of age-related reductions in sexual desire is particularly seen to apply after menopause (Nobre & Pinto-Gouveia, 2006). However, Koch et al. (2005) found that, among midlife women, it was age and not menopausal status that was related to perceived attractiveness. Similarly, Deeks and McCabe (2001) reported that women going through the menopause transition had not changed their intercourse frequency. In contrast, Mansfield, Voda, and Koch (1995) found a reduction in sexual response among women over the midlife period. Clearly, more research needs to be conducted to determine the reactive role of age and menopause stage on women's sexual response.
Relationship factors are also strongly associated with sexual dysfunction (McCabe, 1991; Oberg & Fugl-Meyer, 2005; Witting et al., 2008). Although the availability of a partner clearly influences sexual expression, Trudel (2002) noted that research on women's sexual desire has only recently started exploring interpersonal factors. It has been shown that, in general, women place greater emphasis on relationships as a context for sexual feelings and behaviors than do men (Peplau, 2003), and relationship factors have been found to be more strongly associated with sexual dysfunction for women than men (McCabe & Cobain, 1998). …