In addressing the issue of low sex drive recently, I told the tale of a long-ago partner who had virtually no desire for me and I suspect, for anyone else.
There was further philosophizing on the role of fatigue for many women, which is at least in part due to stress, when it comes to feeling their sexual desire wane.
Naturally, the same stress and exhaustion can impact men, with one key difference. Men have ten times more testosterone than women, so a man with an average level of testosterone who’s under stress will still have enough for a healthy sex drive.
A woman, on the other hand, is more at risk for dwindling desire as stress zaps the big T.*
Lonely Without Sex
In discussing sex with the ex, I make reference to marriage as a lonely place when sexual activity drops after walking down the aisle.
It may be more accurate to say that sexual engagement plummets. We’re into the busy and exhausting years of baby-making and physical childcare, often juggled with demanding work outside the home, all of which becomes the “new normal” for many married couples.
But aren’t we lonely without affection? A kiss, a hug, a loving caress? Isn’t sex the glue — perhaps the “crazy” glue — that lights up our special moments and solidifies attachment to the other person?
Some women (who don’t want sex) cease to be affectionate because they fear they’re giving an expectation that their touch is an overture to sex. So the gulf widens. The loneliness grows cavernous. Marriage becomes increasingly lonely – not only physically, but emotionally.
Is this a permanent mismatch of sexual desire? Physically based low light-libido that is emotionally reinforced? Can it be fixed or at least improved? Can the loneliness somehow be addressed – and without going outside the marriage to solve it?
In a recent column at The Good Men Project, Pete Beisner describes his personal experience as the husband who loved his wife, but was inadvertently condemning her to a sexless marriage.
In “I Was Asking My Wife for a Vow of Celibacy,” he writes:
The idea of sex didn’t particularly fill me with joy any more than exercise does. But like exercise, I was glad to have done it when I was through.
In retrospect, I can see where my responses must have been very painful to my wife. I didn’t just want to avoid sex; I also wanted to avoid being asked for sex.
Mr. Beisner elaborates on his wife’s feelings about being consistently rejected, and her telling him some six years into marriage that she would shelve her sexuality – for his sake. To initiate and be rebuffed was too painful to continue.
My column, “Help Me Get In The Mood (For Sex),” touches on both lifestyle and hormonal issues, directly and indirectly, that impact libido. Among these is stress, which produces cortisol, which in turn reduces testosterone.
And if your testosterone tank is on empty?
Just ask Mr. Beisner. Sex is as interesting as stale bread for breakfast.
Women need testosterone, too, though it’s only one element of a healthy hormonal balance. And these issues become trickier for women as we grow older; hormone supplements come with advantages, and they also carry frightening health risks.
So why have we yet to do more about this situation?** Why must women play Russian Roulette when it comes to our necessary hormonal mix, but so much less so – our men? Who in their right mind would choose to lose their desire for sex? Not only is it fun and pleasurable, but for many of us, it’s essential to our identity – and our relationships.
And losing it, we feel broken. If one partner feels broken, the relationship is broken. It may “hold,” but for how long?
Talk First, Then Sex? Talk… No Matter What
Generally, it’s thought that women want the intimacy of talk which will then lead to the intimacy of sex. (I personally believe that’s true, which doesn’t mean women don’t also desire sex without emotional intimacy which may operate under a different sort of “formula.”)
It is also believed that men want sex, from which talk will flow. Sexual intimacy that engenders emotional intimacy – sex as glue.
As these are very broad generalizations, what if we were to consider both communication and sex as two compounds necessary for the strongest possible glue? More specifically, sexuality that is compatible – in terms of activities and frequency – which accounts for a variety of tastes and like levels of libido.
Talk. There must be talk. Without communication, the partner who feels rejected will internalize, find ways to protect himself (or herself) – by “shelving” their sexuality, by looking outside the primary relationship, by overeating, by drinking to excess – or some other hiding place for the anguish of feeling unwanted.
Sizing the Sexless Marriage Problem
Some sources put the estimate of sexless marriages at roughly 15% and refers to couples that “had not done the deed for six months to a year.”
My gut tells me that figure is low. Discounting those with health conditions, substance issues, or psychological barriers as obstacles, just how many of us are living in the land of sexual desire mismatch? How many sexless marriages are there? How many of us, both men and women, feel shame even mentioning the possibility – especially if we’re the ones rejected?
How many women put on weight or drink too much because the pain of a husband’s turned back is too much? Doesn’t anesthesia work – at least temporarily – in the form of food, medication, a few too many drinks?
Why do we lose our marital glue – and how do we find solutions to the problem?
As for yours truly, I need to reduce my stress, though there’s no easy fix to that challenge. I also know that exercise will help, romance is always conducive to jacking up the heat, and communication is glue – just like sex. When my trajectory is headed downward, we talk about it. But may I also add that come this weekend, there will be oysters on the menu – and maybe a little candlelight?
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