Lack of sexual interest

A few people experience very little sexual drive, even in new romantic relationships. But most of us are obsessed with sex in the early infatuation stages of a relationship. We eagerly spend hours every day touching, kissing, holding, fondling, and sexually arousing our new love. Yet, after a few years, the burning interest wanes. Sex becomes routine. Why? We don’t understand it, but it happens to all of us to some extent, e.g. the frequency of intercourse declines from once a day (for a short while) to once a week years later. It is an expected transformation. The change is so gradual we hardly notice it. Suddenly we realize that the person who once drove us crazy can undress in front of us and we hardly notice. Some people go for weeks without wanting sex, some reject their partner’s advances.

Part of the problem is that many of us think everyone else (except our parents and the other “old folks”) is having hot sex every night, and probably “getting some” on the side as well. Thinking that way, we may feel we are not as sexual as others. However, a recent objective survey (Michael, Gagnon, Laumann & Kolata, 1994) found that less than 8% of us are having sex more than four times a week. Two thirds of us have sex “a few times” per month or less. The remaining 30% of us have sex only a few times a year or less. So, Americans aren’t as sexually obsessed as we may think.

Inhibited sexual desire is the most common sexual problem, about 50% of all long-term relationships have a partner who lacks interest. In 15-20% of the cases of serious loss of interest there are physical causes, so check this out with a medical specialist. For instance, in menopausal women the lack of androgens causes a loss of sex drive so estrogen-androgen therapy is needed. Also, when men have trouble getting or keeping an erection, which could certainly cause a lack of interest, almost half the time there is a physical health factor or cause. If sex is not enjoyable because a climax can not be reached (see later discussion), intercourse may be avoided. Much of the time, however, the simple lack of interest is caused by psychological factors: depression, feeling up tight, fear of pregnancy, stress at work, feeling unattractive, fear of intimacy, anger towards the partner, a power struggle with the partner, old beliefs about sex being dirty, traumatic experiences, guilt about extramarital interests, a fear of not being able to perform sexually or, most commonly, “feeling tired” (Knox, 1984; Masters, Johnson & Kolodny, 1985). Several sex therapists have described ways of solving the problem of low sex drive or “inhibited sexual desire” (Kaplan, 1995–rather clinical and treatment oriented; Covington, 1992; Knopf & Seiler, 1991; Williams, 1988). Here is a summary of the suggestions.

If sex has just become boring, spice it up and make a production out of it. Once a week go out to dinner, go dancing, go to a comedy club, with the clearly stated intention of being seductively romantic and then coming home with plenty of time to make love. At other times when you are just at home, get showered and dressed in sexy outfits before going to bed–and spend some time smooching before intercourse. Try having sex in different places or at different times, perhaps in the morning or right after exercising. Give each other a bath and/or full body massages. Read together a book about sexual techniques, then talk, as needed, about how your sexual enjoyment can be increased. Look at each other during sex play and tell your partner how wonderful it feels and looks as you are making love and climaxing. Talk, talk, talk, until someone says “let’s not talk so much” and kisses you. Learn to enjoy this fantastic “gift” of life.

Obviously, some of the time, a personal-interpersonal problem will have to be solved before the sexual juices can flow naturally. If there is friction between two people, usually the sex drive immediately drops but it will automatically reappear as soon as the conflicts are resolved. Talk to each other about minor irritations as well as major problems. It has been shown that relationship therapy can improve a couple’s sex life and sex therapy can improve their relationship. See the discussion above for improving the marriage.

When a couple are miffed at each other, males and females often have differing notions about how to get emotionally back together (Bergner & Bergner, 1990). 35% of males think making love is the best way to make up (65% of women strongly disagree). This disagreement reflects, in part, how the sexes view intercourse. Males see sex as a way to establish a positive love relationship, e.g. early in a courtship the male will say, “don’t just tell me you love me, show me by having sex!” Sex proves to him that she likes him. A female knows sex doesn’t prove he loves her, so she wants to be chosen, valued, wooed, and loved first, usually by talking, touching, and doing things together, before having sex which to her only confirms an already established love. Otherwise, she may feel sexually “used” (“he’s only interested in sex”). So, after being miffed, the wife may reject her husband’s sexual advances (his way of making up), resulting in his seeing her as asexual, cold, and sexually manipulative (“you have to be nice to me first”). They are at an impasse unless they see what is going on and both give in, namely, he should verbally and in non-sexual ways express his affection and willingness to “straighten things out.” She should try to understand and accept his interest in sex as a sign that he wants to re-establish a warm, loving relationship.

Hajcak and Garwood (1987) believe that sex is frequently undertaken (without conscious awareness) to satisfy some other need, such as loneliness (“no matter how many people I go to bed with, I still feel lonely”), affection, intimate sharing of feelings, reassurance of being loved, escape from sadness or boredom, and maybe even to express anger. If sex doesn’t meet those other needs, then for such people, sex isn’t achieving its purpose and they come to believe their sexual relations are poor. These authors try to help people meet the other needs in more appropriate ways–or at least get the other needs out of the bedroom. Good sex only meets our sexual needs, not curiosity or achievement needs and perhaps not even loneliness or intimacy needs. We have to discover and deal with the underlying extraneous needs we are trying to meet by having sex .

Other interpersonal reasons why sexual interest is low include this kind of thinking: “he/she has more (or fewer) sexual needs than I have, so I’ll let him/her decide when we’ll have sex,” “he/she turned me down last time, I didn’t like that, so I’ll just wait,” or “I’m tense and not very horny, I don’t want to give him/her the impression I’m interested.” When these kinds of inhibitions have been openly disclosed and discussed, the sexual drive–of moderate strength–will probably return.

Probably the most common device for increasing sexual zest is the VCR and adult films. This is apparently effective and enjoyable stimulation for many people. But some people prefer their partner become interested in and sexually excited by watching (and interacting with) them rather than someone else on tape. Moreover, if a person is already unhappy with his/her body or insecure about his/her love making, watching beautiful, well endowed people making (or faking) wildly passionate love, could increase his/her self-criticism and inhibition. Each person has to figure out what turns him/her on; then compromises have to be made with the partner.

Besides improving the relationship, having stimulating sexual thoughts, and reducing the negative emotions, the self-helper with a low sex drive should concentrate on re-learning how to enjoy sex, so he/she will have an increased interest in sex. Usually a method called “sensate focus” is used by sex therapists. This involves getting undressed with your partner, which can be sexy itself, but refraining from touching his/her genitals or breasts, thus, removing the pressure to perform sexually. While nude, each person lovingly touches and is touched, savoring the sensations (note: you aren’t attempting to sexually arouse the partner). In fact, sex isn’t permitted during the first few sessions of this exercise. In the next phase (a few hours or sessions later), the breasts and genitals are included and touched. Each partner must show the other what feels good by guiding their partner’s hands. Intercourse is still prohibited. In the final stage, the massaging and fondling leads up to the woman getting on top and playing with the penis, guiding it to, around, and away from her clitoris and vagina. The idea is to focus on and enjoy the sexual sensations but remain comfortable and without any pressure to perform. Eventually, intercourse occurs naturally.

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