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Why We Love Rosemary

by Dr. Barb DePree MD

Rosemary Basson's model of female sexual response

The science of human sexuality is young. For most of the last century, we assumed that men and women approach sex in roughly the same way.

I know: Crazy. But as I said, the science is young.

Older models (Masters & Johnson, Kaplan) theorized that sex for people happens in a few neat, linear stages, beginning with  desire, proceeding next to arousal, then orgasm, and finally satisfaction.

But it doesn’t always work that way, particularly for women, and especially for women over 40.

More recent researchers who focus on women’s sexuality, confirm that really, women do not experience sex in this simple, linear way. We sometimes skip phases. Our reasons to have sex are many and often complex.

We can be perfectly satisfied with sex that does not include orgasm, and we can reach orgasm without desire. We are flexible that way.

Enter Rosemary Basson, MB, FRCP, of the University of British Columbia. Basson formalized a new model of female sexuality that is now widely accepted.

She offers two key insights. First: Female sexual desire is generally more responsive than spontaneous. That is, we are more likely to respond to sexual stimuli — thoughts, sights, smells, and sounds — than we are to spark an interest in sex out of thin air (Men, on the other hand, specialize in this).

Another key insight: emotional intimacy matters to women. I know, that doesn’t sound like a news flash, but in the realm of the biological sciences, it’s news, trust me.

So Basson drew a new model – not a linear series of steps, but a circle that includes both sexual stimuli — the thoughts that trigger a woman to take an interest in sex, and emotional intimacy — the emotional payoffs of the experience that lead her to want to come back for more.

I love Basson’s model and use it every day in my practice to help my patients understand how sex really works for us.

We need to understand that it’s okay and it’s normal that we don’t always start with desire.  And as we enter menopause, and our hormone levels drop, spontaneous thoughts about sex, and responsiveness to opportunities for sex diminish for most of us. That’s natural and normal too.

If you don’t like the situation, and you want to feel more sexual, more responsive, Basson’s model gives us the hint: We need to stimulate our minds. The more sexual stimuli we receive, the more sexual we feel.

So, this is worth thinking about today, a worthy discussion to have with your partner: What makes you feel sexy? A juicy romance novel? A James Bond movie? Erotic art? Pretty underpinnings? A romantic dinner?  Having your partner empty the dishwasher?  Spend some time thinking about that. Maybe make a list. And then provide for these things. Sexy is as sexy does, friends.

And, hey, if you’d like to help a sister find some sexual motivation, use the comment field below to share. What sights, sounds, scents, scenes help you get in the mood?

Here's more:

Sex:Desire, Chicken:Egg

Why Women Have Sex


  • Hi Betsy, thanks for visiting!

    False unicorn root is an herb that is reported to contain a precursor to estrogen. Because herbal supplements do not require clinical studies, most have not been subjected to clinical investigation in the US, so I can’t speak to its effectiveness or safety. What has been your experience?

    There are very few herbal products that are felt to be of harm, and trying them yourself may be the best way to learn of any benefit. A good way to do this is to keep a symptom journal for a week or so before starting a new supplement, and then for 12 weeks after starting it, tracking number and severity of your symptoms. The accepted wisdom for herbal supplements is that 12 weeks is an adequate time to determine whether a supplement will help your symptoms or not. My experience is that herbal products are beneficial in about 20% or fewer of women.

    NAMS (the North American Menopause Society addresses nonprescription remedies for treating hot flashes and reports that isoflavones (commonly found in soy foods) have been found to reduce mild hot flashes by 15%, other studies show no effect at all.

    barbdepree on

  • Glad to see an open discussion on the joy of vibrators. Purchased mine from Babeland as well. Look forward to your store.

    I have a question about an herb called false unicorn root that is supposed to be beneficial to menopausal woman. Is it helpful? I’d like more information on it. I’m looking for relief from night sweats.


    Betsy Emdin on

  • We will, indeed! We hope to build a very active and involved community here. Are you ready to recommend a product?

    jujuridl on

  • Hi Juju. I’m very pleased that the site will feature a store with products. Perhaps you should ask for reader recommendations? So many women are shy about their first vibe. I was!

    Reka on

  • Hi Reka! Juju here. I’m one of the writers for MiddlesexMD. So glad you brought up vibrators. We couldn’t agree more with your comment, and will add that they are especially important for women in menopause who may have lost some genital sensation. Vibrators can help a lot with arousal. We are busy choosing a good selection of vibrators for the MiddlesexMD store. Stay tuned! Our next posts will address our work on the products. It’s been an adventure! And yes, Babeland is a great place to shop for these things. Our selection will be smaller than theirs, and targeted particularly to women in menopause who may be new to these devices.

    jujuridl on

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