In January 2009, The New York Times Magazine ran an article that caught Oprah's attention—and had readers across the country talking. "What Do Women Want?" explored what causes female arousal, and the conclusion raised eyebrows. In the article, female sex therapist Dr. Marta Meana claims that when it comes to sex, what women really want is to be wanted. "Being desired is the real orgasm," she says.
Dr. Meana, a professor of psychology at the University of Nevada at Las Vegas has been studying women and sexual desire for 20 years. She says that while moments of pleasure are great, it's the anticipation and buildup to those moments that really excite women. "I'm not knocking orgasms," she says. "But being desired is extremely arousing for women. The reason for that is that being desired means that a man doesn't just want to have sex. He wants to have sex with you."
That specificity is what women strive for, Dr. Meana says. "If you look at how women behave and what we spend our time and energy and lots of money on, it's on desire-creating behaviors rather than on trying to get sex."
One of the most common fantasies when it comes to women and sex is to be dominated by a desirable man. "They throw caution to the wind, and they're going to take a chance that you're going to be okay with it," she says. "They don't have to ask you if it's okay."
This fantasy only holds if you're attracted to the man who is dominating you, Dr. Meana says. It's not about coercion or violence. "When women talk about domination, what they're trying to communicate is 'I was so wanted by someone I wanted,'" she says.
One of the most complicated aspects of female desire, Dr. Meana says, is that women often want different things at different times. "Women are complicated, but I don't think they're confused," she says. "They want to be desired sometimes. Sometimes they also just want sex. They want a combination of things."
Some women don't want sex at all, and Dr. Meana says that doesn't necessarily mean a relationship is in jeopardy. "Bad sex happens to good couples all the time—: no sex happens to good couples," she says. "A lot of good relationships don't have good sex [because] ... we're tired, it's the end of the day. You put the kids to bed, you've done all of the things that you had to do and you don't feel like it."
Many women in long-term relationships get worried when they feel the passion start to fizzle, but Dr. Meana says that can be fixed. "Passion is dependent on novelty, discovery, desire," she says. "What happens in relationships is we fall into these old patterns, and we start thinking we've figured everything out about each other, and we really haven't."
Another sex factor that can send women into panic is when they want sex less than their husbands, Dr. Meana says. "There are gender differences in sex drive; there are individual differences in sex drive," she says "I think we all have to take a breath and not catastrophize that."
Happily married women often face a paradox when it comes to sex because the very thing that makes them happy—closeness with their partner—is what gets in the way of desire. "[In a study I conducted], the couples were in each other's lives so much that they're almost the same person at some point," Dr. Meana says. "There's no sense of otherness, no mystery, no excitement."
Dr. Meana found that accessibility to sex can also be a barrier for happy couples. "It's no longer something special that you both snuck out to do. It had become a chore," she says. "Many of [the women I studied used this phrase, and it's terrible to think of it, but they called it 'one more thing on my to-do list.'"
Dr. Meana's article struck a chord with women everywhere, and she says she's been inundated with notes. "They were very grateful, which I found really interesting, because they felt that I had said some things about the way their desire works that they were afraid to say without feeling judged," she says.