Many couples regardless of how many years they are married, complain about reduced sexual desire and the lack of expressed sexual interest in their relationship. While the old stereotypes of men and women used to perpetuate the assumption that it was man complaining about the woman’s lack of interest, it seems that a dampening of sexual interest can be something that partners of either sex struggle with.
No One is Speaking About Sex
Too often, the resentment, criticism and impatience that partners have about many issues in their life cover the rejection and shame associated with the belief that they are no longer sexually desired or desirable.
Whereas couple therapists have long maintained that a couple’s sexual problems are actually a reflection of problems in other areas, the reverse is also true. Many couples will fight about anything rather than face what is not happening in the bedroom.
What Partners Often Misunderstand
What is often misunderstood by partners is how much the lack of their own or their partner’s sexual desire is a result of many things including: negative self-judgment, presumed rejection, lack of understanding of what men and women want, lack of understanding of what men and women need, lack of understanding of what men and women fear, lack of understanding of what makes men and women feel desirable and avoidance of even talking about sexual connection.
Updated List – Mini Descriptions of Major Findings about Sexual Desire
Books, research and blog posts offer findings and suggestions that may invite a discussion and even “bring back that loving feeling.”
Male and Female Differences
- Generally men have more sexual desire than women both in frequency and intensity.
- Women actually vary more as a group and even individually in sexual desire as a function of monthly cycles, hormones, and life roles.
- There is more connection for men in thinking about sex and being sexually aroused. Men take their cues from their bodies.
- For women sexual desire and response is a function of many other factors including context, beliefs, attitudes, feeling desired, feeling accepted and open communication in a relationship.
Female Sexual Desire
- Sexual researcher Rosemary Basson suggests that even if a woman is very interested in her partner, she may not initiate sex because for many women sexual desire does not precede sexual arousal. Many women enter into sex feeling neutral and it is the sexual experience that stirs the sexual desire.
- According to Dr. Lori Brotto, Executive Director of the Women’s Health Research Institute of BC and the UBC Sexual Health Laboratory, for women the sexual response is related to the mind being in sync with the body.
- Dr. Brotto, author of Better Sex Through Mindfulness, reports increases in sexual desire and functioning when women are guided to use mindfulness to attend to and identify triggers, context and the kind of stimuli that elicits sexual desire and arousal for them.
- Although relational factors are important to women, Sims and Meana, report that stable, even caring relationships are necessary but not sufficient for sexual desire. Women want to feel the romance. Like men they want someone to think they are “HOT.”
The Problem of Expectations and Self-judgments
Men and women can be their own best enhancer or detractor when it comes to sexual desire. What dampens sexual desire most in both men and women are self-expectations and self-judgments.
Male Performance Expectations
- Men want to be admired in the bedroom. Their concern about sexual performance is a major one. Often their avoidance of their partner is an avoidance of failed performance- even just once.
- Many women have told men in my office – “Please trust that I love you- we will figure it out together.” But that’s only after she finds out that he’s rejecting himself for not living up to his own sexual expectations – not hers.
- The fact that this is an age of Viagra and similar drugs, has certainly helped many men: but as Abraham Morgentaler, author of The Viagra Myth explains- medication is far from a cure all. The refill rate for Viagra is less than 50% not because it doesn’t work but because it does very little for young men who think using it will turn them into the stud on Sex in the City or for married men who expect that it will replace talking to and understanding a partner and her needs.
- Reporting on his experience with men and sexual issues over many years, Morgentaler agrees that men worry about performance well beyond what women expect; but the notion that sex is simply a primitive urge for men is false. Most men want to take Viagra to please their partner with whom they want to feel a connection.
Men and the Increasing Problem of Porn Addiction
- In the last ten years Porn Addiction adds more complication to men’s performance. The current cultural environment provides massive amounts of graphic porn freely accessed on any device.
- In The Brain on Porn, Gary Wilson makes it clear that men of all ages often fail to make the connection between their erectile dysfunction, sexual performance and lack of interest in real partners and the addictive use of porn. Younger men are often sidelined by addiction before they have had experience with partners. Older men who worry about performance may turn to easily accessed porn as an alternative. Sadly in some cases the anxiety about functioning often perpetuates their involvement with porn which may actually increase difficulty with and avoidance of their partner.
Perceptions of Desirability
- According to Ethel Perel and Marta Meana one very important thing that makes women feel desired is being the “chosen one.” They suggest that when being courted a woman’s sexual desire is raised by the thought “He is choosing me from among others.” Once married, they misinterpret advances as a wish for sex not as a signal of unique desirability.
- Women’s misperceptions of their partners’ desires are very often a result of their own negative feelings about themselves physically and emotionally.
- A woman’s vision of herself as sexy, hot, and desirable is, in some ways, even more important than her partner’s vision of her.
- In her article “Learning to Lust,” Elton quotes research suggesting that what too many women don’t realize is that men don’t need perfection. When a man is in the throes of ecstasy – he is not evaluating her legs – why is she? The rejection of self for whatever reason equates to a rejection of a partner who loves you.
Self-Care and Desirability
- Even the first steps toward exercise, self-care or a self-enhancing experience can improve either partner’s sense of his or her own self-value and sexuality. As discussed in the blog “True Love Means- Looks Still Matter” – self-care is sexually attractive.
- Given both men and women want to feel desirable, both partners might consider how to communicate “ You are the one!” to their partner of 4 or 40 years – Wowing about the hot person on TV and then expecting your partner to be sexually interested is not likely to work.
- According to Sims and Meana, both women and men, regardless of the dampening of desire in a long term relationship, believe that their sexual desire would be stirred by novelty, mystery and the idea of a new partner thinking they were sexy.
Becoming New Sexual Partners to Each Other
- Stephen Mitchell’s Book, Can Love Last?, Perel’s Mating in Captivity as well as Healing Together all speak to the issue of igniting dampened sexual desire by becoming “ new and unexpected partners” to each other.
The overall message is that new sexual interest is stirred between partners when they are:
Separate enough to be less predictable… Positive enough to assume the best about self and partner… Grateful enough to taking nothing for granted… Interested enough to risk talking about sex… Daring enough to put the world on hold and reach for each other.
Listen in to Dr. Lori Brotto “Understanding and Increasing Female Sexual Desire” on Psych Up Live