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What factors affect a person's sexuality?

Jan L. Shifren, MD
Reproductive Endocrinology
Your sexuality is a natural drive that's with you from birth, but your family, your culture, your religious background, the media, and your peers shape your attitudes toward sex. As you become an adult, your own experiences further influence your sexuality. The result for many is a healthy enjoyment of sex, but others may have more mixed feelings.

For example, women -- particularly those who came of age before the so-called sexual revolution in the '60s -- may cling to the notion that it is improper for "nice girls" to initiate and enjoy sex too enthusiastically. This belief can be damaging for both partners. The woman may feel uncomfortable seeking pleasure, and her partner may interpret this lack of enthusiasm as a reflection of her feelings about him or her.

Inexperience and embarrassment over discussing sexual matters may hamper people from fully expressing themselves sexually. For example, intercourse alone without direct clitoral stimulation does not give many women the kind of stimulation they need for fulfilling sex, and uneasiness about discussing the problem prevents some couples from developing techniques that could offer greater pleasure. Compounding the problem, childhood taboos against masturbation may prevent a woman from discovering this means to her sexual pleasure, leaving her unable to direct her partner in this regard. A woman may find it easier to forgo her own pleasure than to confront these matters.

Alternately, a man may feel his self-worth depends on his ability to please his partner. His focus during sex, therefore, is on performing rather than experiencing his own pleasure. If his partner doesn't immediately respond to his efforts, feelings of inadequacy can pervade the relationship, eroding the couple's bond and leading to performance anxiety.

During the early years of a couple's relationship, such missed connections are often masked by priorities outside the bedroom, such as building a marriage, raising a family, and launching a career. However, midlife may be a turning point. Upon reaching menopause, the long-unsatisfied woman might greet the physical changes in her body as a sign that her sexual "duties" are fulfilled. If her partner is still interested in sex, a conflict is likely to erupt.

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Important: This content reflects information from various individuals and organizations and may offer alternative or opposing points of view. It should not be used for medical advice, diagnosis or treatment. As always, you should consult with your healthcare provider about your specific health needs.