Sexuality may arouse interest, sex may sell, and 'lovemaking' may be a beautiful word,  but few subjects are as difficult to address as the intimate behaviour of human beings.

There is no certificate, license or proficiency badge for relationships, and anyone who claims to find  coupledom easy is lying. Much has been gained as women have obtained greater  freedom, power and control over their lives, but there have been unforeseen strains on both females and males. The fear of Aids has been a far more powerful factor in encouraging people towards monogamy than loyalty, say, or the notion that people 'mate for life'.

And even after the century of Freud, the Pill, the lifting of censorship, sexual reports, the woman's movement,  an American President getting away with adultery, and many thousands of books, magazines, chatrooms, websites and soul-bearing TV shows, there is still a very great deal that we don't know about those precious, naked  moments when we are supposed to keep the species going. Or, to put it in another way, when we express love at its noblest and its most spiritual, or at least give one or more other people some really good feelings especially where they have particularly  sensitive skin.

It is time, now, to herald a new era in sexual experimentation, and not before time. It is not taking place in the boudoir, although some innovation and spontaneity - especially between couples who have been together for a long time - would not go amiss.

No, this new age of sexual discovery has begun in laboratories. It has been prodded into action by the enormous success of  Viagra.

But now it's the turn of the women.

Of course, the research cannot stay in the laboratory. If any subject involved multi-disciplinary thinking it is female sexuality. Pharmaceutical companies are stampeding to work out formulae for compounds which will help the millions of women in the world who experience some form of sexual dissatisfaction. It is said that as many as 40% of American women suffer from some kind of sexual dysfunction, and where America women go, the rest of the planet's females are unlikely to be far behind.  Naturally, though, the dissatisfaction is not likely to be addressed at all, nor will it ever be dealt with or cured, unless all the elements bearing down upon a woman with today's problems in today's world are considered. These have to do with worries, stresses and strains, duties and schedules; they have to do with the fact that women still do many hours more housework, organizing, planning   and generally  keeping their family unit - however it is composed - ticking over.

All these factors affect a woman very deeply, not least in simply making her tired. If she doesn't feel valued in her home, in her job, or in society at large, that, too will affect her well-being and her ability to take  pleasure in bed; that appears to be true no matter how much she truly loves her partner. Up until now, research into sexuality, however careful, can now be seen to have been far too male-oriented, even when the researchers have been feminists. In fairness, male and female writers and therapists have always paid lip service to a woman's  simple physical, emotional and psychological need for affection - for hugs and cuddles. But the whole subject has been dabbed at, flailed at, and stashed away. Throughout history the whole subject   has made people uneasy. Freud, the nineteenth century man,  called female sexuality the 'Dark Continent'.

Since Freud's time there has unquestionably been a greater degree of openness - some would say too much openness. Every now and then, though, someone is brave enough to bring a 'best-kept secret' out into the open.

For almost two years now, on Oprah Winfrey's  show, on Larry King Live, and a host of other prime-time main stream TV programmes, women have been  talking about desire. One of the catalysts was a book by a well-known American television actress, Cristina Ferrare  entitled  "Okay, So I Don't Have a Headache: What I Learned (And What All Women Need to Know) About Hormones, PMS, Stress, Diet, Menopause - And Sex," .  A more professional volume came out at the same time. Dr. Judith Reichman, a gynaecologist at Cedars Sinai Hospital and medical correspondent for the Today how, published: 'I'm Not in the Mood: What Every Woman Should Know About Improving Her Libido'.

Dr. Reichman stated  that 43-56% of  women will have a problem with their  sexual functioning. The problem, she says, is actually quite common and traceable to one of several causes ranging from emotional issues to physical illness. And  childbirth.  If you are a woman and you have had a baby, she says, "Your hormones plummet."  Dr. Reichman also points of course to changes in lifestyle, in the  marriage or relationship, issues of breast feeding, body image, weight gain - all of these " have a tremendous impact on a woman's libido."

As they learn about the body, scientists are also rethinking the types and roots of dysfunction.
They have identified four main sexual  problem areas:

  • low sex drive or aversion to sex,
  • difficulty becoming aroused,
  • inability to reach orgasm,
  • pain during sex.

Healthy women  might experience any of these on occasion.
They rise to the level of dysfunction only when  they are persistent or recurring, and most important when they cause personal distress.

  • Root causes can be:
  • physical (diabetes, obesity or other strain on the circulatory system),
  • emotional (stress, fatigue or depression) or
  • an interplay between the two.

It is one of the cruellest ironies that many drugs used to fight depression also dampen libido.
For women now in middle age, the biggest threat to their sexual satisfaction may be social: latest statistics show that after 60 half of all women are without a partner.

The floodgates of discussion about these issues have now gushed wide.