I’ve been married for almost 16 years and during that time my interest in sex has totally fizzled. My husband is affectionate and caring, helps with the kids and all that good stuff. I’m not depressed or on any medication that could be causing my libido to disappear, although with the IUD I’m using, I only have a period once or twice a year. I’m more inclined to think it’s a mental issue, though. It’s been a slow decline over the years, punctuated with babies and nursing and such, so I can’t even put my finger on when it started or how long this has been going on. A long time, I’m thinking, and worse now than ever.
I want to feel “turned on” but since those feelings no longer happen spontaneously, I don’t know how to manufacture being turned on. It takes so much effort for me to convince myself to have sex that there is really no fun in it (although the sex itself is usually pleasurable.) My husband won’t make me have sex if I don’t want to, but he’s getting very discouraged that I don’t want to…like, ever. So now I’m adding guilt and pressure to my already difficult situation. I have read every sex book, marriage book, relationship book, how-to book…How can I want to have sex more? And shouldn’t it be easier than this?
Libido is a difficult thing to feel like one has any control over. And it can quickly become a Catch-22 for those who want more of it: anxiety enters the picture – which works directly against natural desire – which produces more anxiety – which continues to exacerbate the problem – and so it goes. The same can actually happen to those who want less libido. So here are some thoughts:
- There are many positive things about the information you share. You describe a positive relationship with your husband who seems in tune with your needs and feelings. You seem to understand the normal decline many women feel in their sexual desire through the childbearing years. Most importantly, you show a desire to have desire – and once within the realm of sexual experience, you report finding it pleasurable. If I were your sex therapist, I would give you a favorable prognosis due to these strengths.
- You can’t force desire. And the more you stress about it the more elusive it becomes. So rather than try and force yourself to want sex more (and experiencing the damaging guilt that comes with this approach when it ultimately fails) – I would encourage you and your husband to redefine what sexual success looks like. We put a lot of emphasis in our American culture on things like erection, orgasm, having a certain body image and sexual initiation for things to feel successful. But sexual experience can be much more than this. If you can learn to enjoy sexual experience for the mere closeness, gift-giving and touch properties (regardless of who is hard or who is having an orgasm) then you can be more naturally relaxed, enjoy receiving and giving touch, and not have some ultimate goal stressing you out if you don’t reach it.
- Often the higher libido partner is hurt that the lower libido partner isn’t initiating sex more often. Again, if we can redefine sexual success – we can make room for a time in the marriage when the higher libido partner doesn’t mind initiating because it is now understood that initiation has nothing to do with love or care – it is more a physical issue.
- I encourage different libido couples to come up with a “tool box” of sexual interactions they are both comfortable with. The higher libido partner may indicate the need for sexual intimacy. Recognizing this as a legitimate need and not wanting to hold their partners sexually hostage, the lower libido partner can then choose the sexual interaction they can currently offer. Sexual interaction can range from joint intercourse all the way to solo masturbation (there is quite a range in between that a couple can be creative with). As long as the couple has negotiated this ahead of time it falls under a “relational” umbrella (meaning sexual decisions agreed upon by both spouses). Sometimes the lower libido partner needs physical intimacy that will not turn sexual (snuggling, holding hands, massage, etc.). When this need is communicated, the higher libido partner is in a position to offer this since their sexual needs are being met. Now the couple can negotiate and be in a position where both of their needs are being taken care of within the realm of physical and sexual intimacy.
- One common pattern I see amongst my clients is that the lower libido partner will withdraw from or reject any type of physical affection because they are afraid it will lead to sexual interaction. What I describe above usually does wonders to free up non-sexual affection in a marriage.
- FYI: it usually takes men about 5 minutes to prepare their bodies for orgasm – while it takes most women about 20-30 minutes. This is why foreplay is so important.
- Psychology plays a big role in sexuality. Often, desire doesn’t come first. Many times it’s more that women decide to engage in sexual play and then find themselves developing desire along the way. If both you and your husband can understand more about anatomical and hormonal dynamics then neither one of you will be surprised, offended or feel “less than” when you hit some seeming roadblock.
- Have you considered incorporating erotica into your sexual play? Often times reading erotic poetry, listening to sultry music or reading some steamy literature can be helpful in getting you tuned into your sensual self. What denotes appropriate erotic material can differ from couple to couple so it would be up to you and your husband to find things you are comfortable with. Some quick suggestions I give to give you an idea of what I am talking about are: the movie The Notebook, poetry by Pablo Neruda, I’d be Surprisingly Good for You off the Evita soundtrack and the Outlander Series.
- How are you both at talking to each other during sexual play? Erotic talk can be quite the libido booster. And most of us don’t know how to go about this without feeling corny or silly. We’ve never been taught. The vulnerability it takes to do this well can be erotic and enticing. Some of this can include fantasy sharing. Fantasies often seem weird or even “wrong” – so often couples won’t share these very intimate thoughts. I encourage couples to share as much as they can. Just because you have a thought doesn’t mean you have to incorporate it into your sexual play – yet the sharing itself increases intimacy if each spouse is a safe place for the other to be vulnerable in this way.
- Look into sensate focus exercises.
- Since you report having read many self-help books and still not feeling like you are getting the help you need – I would recommend the next step be a professional sex therapist. This would offer a more individualized approach to your sexual history, sexual relationship and sexual hang ups if any exist. You can go to aasect.org for a therapist locator which will help you find someone in your geographical area.
- One of the potential side effects of an IUD can be mood changes – which may in turn be affecting libido. I would encourage you to discuss this further with your ob gyn just to rule it out completely.
I don’t know if you plan on having more children – but as women end their pregnancy/nursing years, they are in a good place to get better sleep for one, and to redefine their sexuality. I encourage women and their husbands to be excited about this next phase of their marriage where they can often go deeper in their physical intimacy in ways they had not previously anticipated. As long as both remain patient, loving, are willing to communicate in a vulnerable way and are willing to come up with their own definition of sexual success – the sky is the limit.
I hope you have a lot of fun on your sexual journey together.