Date of Award


Degree Type


Degree Name

Doctor of Psychology


School of Psychology and Social Science


Computing, Health and Science

First Advisor

Dr Eyal Gringart


Epidemiological research on sexual difficulties in women has reported high rates of sexual problems and dissatisfaction across the lifespan. Nevertheless, feminist scholars and social science researchers argue that an absence of research exploring women’s subjective interpretations of their sexuality and sexual difficulties exists, since prevalence studies do not address how the range of diverse socio-cultural, relational, biological and psychological processes interact to influence women’s sexuality across the lifespan. The current study aimed to narrow this research dearth by presenting an in-depth, qualitative exploration of heterosexual women’s accounts of their sexual experiences and their perceived sexuality. A phenomenological approach was utilised against the socially constructed notion of sex to understand women’s sexuality. Five core themes emerged from qualitative interviews with 18 women that were considered paramount to women’s subjective interpretations and experience of their sexuality and sexual difficulties. There were socio-cultural factors; inter-relationship factors; social roles and expectations; practices and preferences; and views on change. The current study highlights the multifaceted double standard within socio-cultural expectations of what it means to be a heterosexual woman, exemplified in the relationship between women’s sexual difficulties and idealistic sexual expectations, male-centred sexual socialisation, over-burdened social roles, unequal relationships, and inadequate sexual practices. Despite experiencing sexual difficulties with associated distress throughout the lifespan, participants did not identify with prevailing medicalised notions of sexual problems. Participants differentiated between sex as important and sex as a priority. Relationships between sexual maturity, confidence and sexual satisfaction as well as sexual knowledge and sexual agency emerged in the narratives. Clinical implications incorporating women-centred classification frameworks such as a New View of women’s sexual problems are discussed. Directions for future research are presented.