Read an Excerpt
Part One: The Sexual Facts
The "Why" of desire:
What make us want sex? Is it only that we, like other animals, possess a primitive need to mate and propagate? Or are our sexual urges, like ourselves, more highly evolved? What is libido? Is it purely physical attraction, or is it fed by fantasy -- those wonderful day (and night) dreams that make us feel aroused? What prompts us to engage in sexual stimulation? Must we have a partner? Need it be someone we know, or can it be an idealized model in formal attire at the Academy Awards or, better yet, in a bathing suit in the Bahamas?
The answer to these questions is yes...yes...and, oh yes! (And we haven't yet even gotten to the subject of orgasm.) Libido is a product of our psychological, social and physical development. It is where our bodies meet up with our culture, our instincts -- and what our parents and teachers taught us.
All these libidinous issues have kept the psychologists and sociologists very busy. But what about the biologists? Our sexual urges start in ancient centers in our brain that are fundamental to the propagation of our species. Hidden in the recesses of our hypothalamus and limbic system are intricate hormone receptors that bind with and are turned on by estrogen, progesterone, male hormones, prolactin, endorphins and possibly pheromones. These and other brain cells don't get their information just from hormones but also from chemicals called neurotransmitters, which form our link with the outside world.
Alas, our need for sex is not as simple as our need for chocolate (although the latter is sometimes as important to our mood and sense of well-being). We can't forget that our sexual appetite, like our pre-menstrual cocoa craving, is driven by fluctuations of our hormones. And if they neither fluctuate nor are present, our sexual brain centers are deadened and our appetites are dulled.
Our stages of sexual response:
Most of us would consider libido to be synonymous with desire, but this is just part of the larger picture of sexual response. When scientists do their necessary categorization of sexuality (and let's face it, you can't have science without charts, tables and categories), they talk about sex in terms of stages: desire, arousal and orgasm (climax), followed by physical and mental relaxation, also known as resolution. So in the interest of science, let's follow this outline.
Desire, or at least an overwhelming interest in sex, begins at puberty. This transition is governed by our hormones and we'll explore it in greater detail in Chapter 3. Suffice it to say that sweet little girls become boy-crazed adolescents thanks to the same male hormones that convert little boys (and politicians) into sexually driven beings. Even in the midst of this pubescent male-hormone surge, psychological factors play a critical role. Studies have shown that whether girls act on their fantasies and begin to have intercourse depends on their peer group -- who they hang out with -- and their religious background. (Unfortunately for parents, their influence is less important.)
Copyright (c) 1998 by Judith Reichman