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What is normal sexual behavior?

Much of what we understand about normal sexual function is based on the work of Masters and Johnson, who are credited with characterizing the physiologic changes that comprise the sexual response. Normative, or normal, sexual behavior is difficult to define because each unique individual ultimately describes his or her own level of sexual functioning. For example, many couples enjoy twice-weekly sex; others are once-a-week. Both may be equally satisfying. On average, most couples have sexual intercourse two to three times a week, but these numbers are definitely affected by a variety of factors such as stress, children, financial pressures, illness, and marital conflicts.

According to a 2003 cover story in Newsweek magazine, sexless marriages are on the rise, and it is estimated that 10-15% of couples have sex no more than 10 times per year. It can be difficult to decide what is in fact normal for you as an individual because we are constantly bombarded with sexually voracious Sex and the City personalities, Renaissance nudes of ideal nakedness, and movies that depict sex and sensual couples constantly engaged in satisfying sexual activity. In fact, in a 2004 article in the Journal of Sex Research, a Canadian study states that 1% of adults are asexual or utterly uninterested in sexual activity. It is also important to understand that normative values of sexual function are defined by the society and culture in which you live. Some traditional cultures are sexually open and expression is permitted, whereas other cultures do not advocate an open expression of sexuality.

Whether you have sex once a week, twice weekly, monthly, or once a year, you and your partner should define normal sexual intimacy as a couple. Deciding on your normative level of sexual interest and activity is an individual journey and often a challenge.

It is important to understand-that sexuality is fluid.

Raye comments:

Normal sexual behavior is hard to define; it is different for everybody. How do you define normal? There are many contributing factors, such as one's upbringing, religion, sexual preferences, ethnicity, culture, and morals. I think everyone has their own definition of what is normal sexual behavior. What I might find normal someone else might find is taboo! What is good for one is bad for another. I also learned that treatment is like ingredients: the healthcare provider can provide a lot of suggestions, and then suggest a recipe, which is perfect for me. I appreciated the individualized approach.

What are common sexual complaints?

According to the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders, 4th edition, there are many categories of female sexual complaints. Classification includes disorders in desire (affecting motivation to engage in sexual activity or thoughts about sexual intimacy), arousal (affecting psychological and physiologic excitation in response to sexual stimulation), orgasm (diminished, delayed, or absent peak intensity of sexual pleasure), and pain (genital or pelvic pain that occurs before, during, or after sexual activity).

Hypoactive sexual desire disorder is the persistent or recurring deficient or absent sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity that causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty. (Most commonly, women say, "My libido[1] is low" or "My sexual desire is low." Sexual desire is often called mojo, a term that encompasses more than just sexuality and includes an overall joi de vivre as well.)

Female sexual arousal disorder is the persistent or recurrent inability to attain or to maintain until completion of sexual activity an adequate amount of genital lubrication or a swelling response of sexual excitement. This disorder causes interpersonal difficulty or marked distress. This disorder has many facets, including subjective arousal disorder (diminished feelings of sexual arousal, excitement, or sexual pleasure; vaginal lubrication does occur), genital arousal disorder (seen in women with nerve damage or estrogen deficiency, where there is minimal vulvar swelling or vaginal lubrication and reduced sexual sensation from caressing the genitals; subjective excitement does occur), and combined arousal disorder (the most common type where both facets of arousal are affected).

Female sexual orgasmic disorders are persistent or recurrent difficulty in, delay in, or absence of attaining orgasm after sufficient sexual stimulation and arousal. These, too, include personal distress or interpersonal difficulty.

Female sexual pain syndromes include dyspareunia[2], vaginismus[3], and other pain disorders. Vaginismus is defined as the persistent or recurrent involuntary spasm of the outer third of the vagina that interferes with intercourse. Dyspareunia is a broader term that is often used to describe genital pain associated with interpersonal difficulty. Pain syndromes can be complicated and complex with respect to etiology and treatment plans.

Sexual disorder may be situational (occurs in one situation) or generalized (occurs in all situations), lifelong or acquired, and may have multifactorial components in its etiology.

Raye comments:

The most common sexual complaint is one partner wants sex more than the other person. It is sometimes difficult to be on that same intimate level as your partner and have the same sexual responses and desires as your partner. Most men complain they don't have sex enough, and most women complain that their partner wants to have sex too much. They are also overlapping. After discussion, I realized that I not only had one issue, but that it affected other aspects of my sense of womanhood and sensuality. It all relates together.

  • [1] Sexual interest or desire.
  • [2] Pain with sexual intercourse.
  • [3] An involuntary tightening of the vaginal muscles when the vagina is penetrated. The action can cause significant distress and pain.
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