Widely accepted ideas about the physiological side of sex have been drawn from Masters and Johnson's Human Sexual Response. There is good reason to doubt whether Masters and Johnson's descriptions capture the pattern of female sexual response, especially with respect to wives in a loving, faithful marital relationship -- virtually none of whom, by definition, would participate in a study like theirs.
Rosemary Basson, in a series of article has developed a more plausible account of female sexual response for women in long-term relationships. Here is a relatively short description of her argument:
For a longer discussion by Basson, see
The Female Sexual Response – A Different Perspective
[Rosemary] Basson has . . . constructed a new model of female sexual response that incorporates the importance of emotional intimacy, sexual stimuli, and relationship satisfaction* (see Figure 3). This model acknowledges that female sexual functioning proceeds in a more complex and circuitous manner than male sexual functioning and that female functioning is dramatically and significantly affected by numerous psychosocial issues (e.g., satisfaction with the relationship, self-image, previous negative sexual experiences).
According to Basson, women have many reasons for engaging in sexual activity other than sexual hunger or drive, as the traditional model suggests. Although many women may experience spontaneous desire and interest while in the throes of a new sexual relationship or after a long separation from a partner, most women in long-term relationships do not frequently think of sex or experience spontaneous hunger for sexual activity. In these latter cases, Basson suggests that a desire for increased emotional closeness and intimacy or overtures from a partner may predispose a woman to participate in sexual activity. From this point of sexual neutrality—where a woman is receptive to being sexual but does not initiate sexual activity—the desire for intimacy prompts her to seek ways to become sexually aroused via conversation, music, reading or . . . , or direct stimulation. Once she is aroused, sexual desire emerges and motivates her to continue the activity. On the road to satisfaction, there are many points of vulnerability that may derail or distract a woman from feeling sexually fulfilled. The Basson model clarifies that the goal of sexual activity for women is not necessarily orgasm but rather personal satisfaction, which can manifest as physical satisfaction (orgasm) and/or emotional satisfaction (a feeling of intimacy and connection with a partner).
* Rosemary Basson (2000) “The Female Sexual Response: A Different Model”, Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, 26:1, 51-65