So this scenario went viral recently: This guy kept getting sick of his wife shooting him down when he tried to initiate sex, so naturally, he made a spreadsheet of all her “excuses,” and sent it to her in an angry email.
Interesting solution. I can see his pain and frustration. After this stunt though, I can also see him sleeping on the couch for the duration of the summer.
Unfortunately, this almost-sexless couple is not alone. Almost one in five married couples are having sex less than once every six months. Of couples under forty, one in ten only have sex a few times a year.
If you are one of these statistics, don’t even finish reading this article before you have first gone to your doctor or endocrinologist to rule out hormonal imbalances, med side effects, or other physical reasons for diminished libido. Treatment for that type of problem is not the topic of this article, however. This article will discuss the psychological, personal, and relationship barriers to libido since that is not something that can be medically managed.
Medical reasons notwithstanding, one of the major culprits of this issue is the well-documented diminishing sex-drive/response in women in monogamous relationships. Almost HALF of all adult women in relationships report some sort of sexual dysfunction, the most common being lack of sex drive, lack of sexual response, and lack of orgasm. Hence, mental spreadsheets popping up in men’s minds around the world.
(Of the nearly 1/3 of all adult men who report sexual dysfunction, almost all of them are reporting either premature ejaculation or erectile dysfunction… But these are topics for another day.)
Why? What is going on, and what can we do about it? All the usual suspects of stress and lack of sleep and hectic schedules are partly to blame. And let’s not forget about psychological, emotional, physical, biological, and relationship factors that kill a sex life. Yes, this is a very complicated issue, but the solutions don’t have to be.
(And maybe if this dude started couples therapy or investigated some of his wife’s/the relationship’s underlying issues on his own, he wouldn’t be sleeping on the couch for the rest of the summer…)
Here are the top issues that lead up to a woman complaining “I have a headache” or “I ate too much” and their practical solutions:
Problem #1: Biology.
Apparently anthropologists and evolutionary psychologists observed that across cultures and ages, couples break up consistently after the 4-year mark of monogamy. Some experts in this field suggest that people are not wired (men and women alike) for lifelong sexual monogamy.
Also, research psychologists discovered a 10% decrease in sex drive for every month that a women remains in a long-term relationship. Other researchers found that when women are hooked up to a machine that measures sexual response, they show significantly lower response to their monogamous partners compared to strangers or even animals (despite verbally reporting that their partners turned them on.) Women sexually respond to “being desired” and “novelty” above-all (the drive to propagate the species demands this.), and they cannot sustain the illusion that their monogamous partners (who they know very well) put them on a pedestal of sexual desire. Also, the whole novelty thing gets thrown out the window when it is the same partner for years and years.
Problem #2: Environmental factors/stress killing libido.
The facts are in and the research has replicated the facts: Stress of any kind (from real trauma to an overwhelming work deadline) crushes sex drive and sexual response. Wanna know another literally depressing tidbit? Sex drive (and life zest in general) gets zapped when even observing or hearing about the stresses of others (“vicarious traumatization:” A good reason for therapists to enter therapy themselves.)
Problem #3: Feeling insecure and/or just not feeling sexy.
Remember how women actually feel sexual desire by being desired themselves? (Yes, we women can be a narcissistic bunch in this regard.) Well, this means that in order to feel sexual desire, women have to actually find their own sexual desirability BELIEVABLE.
What gets in the way of a woman believing it is possibly that she is sexually desirable? The top two are: 1) Body insecurity and 2) Adapting a totally unsexy identity (i.e. letting the fact that you changed fifty diapers and baby-talked all day make you lose track of the part of you that is a sexual being.)
Problem #4: relationship issues.
Sex is a vulnerable and intimate experience. Since we are taking about monogamous relationships and not casual hook-ups, the fact is, in order for a woman to desire to share this experience with her partner, there has to be emotional safety and lack of resentment in her relationship.
Emotional safety means feeling “safe” to expose her thoughts and feelings without expecting defensiveness, criticism, contempt, or being ignored.
If her emotional needs are not met, it is scary for a woman to constructively ask for her other needs to be met, and suddenly the husband becomes the unsupportive , unhelpful enemy. (For example, a woman expects defensiveness or ignoring if she were to ask her husband to help wake up with the baby, so she doesn’t ask for help, but harbors growing resentment.)
A lot of times this lack of emotional safety and consequent growing resentment is not even consciously identified. But it is still there, and it is an instant way to make a woman feign a headache when the lights go off.
Some might even call this sexual rejection due to resentment “passive aggressive,” and they would be correct, although it is typically not an intentional process.)
Problem #5: Lack of sexual communication.
This goes along with number 4, because in order for sexual communication to occur, spouses need to feel comfortable openly discussing some pretty vulnerable topics. I was going to label number five:: “bad sexual technique” (no, not really, but that was a split second thought that occurred to me), but the truth is no one has “bad” sexual technique, just a partner that has not properly instructed him or her on their specific desires. Also note that good sexual communication can’t happen if both partners (and in this article we are talking about the woman) don’t KNOW her sexual preferences.
In order for sex to be optimally enjoyable, a woman has to know and explain to her partner her preferences for initiation, foreplay, and intercourse CLEARLY and SPECifICALlY, and not just expect her man to “get it” an then huff because he, in fact, is not a mind reader..
1) Make a choice.
Acknowledge biology, personal resistances, environmental stress, and relationship factors, and make a choice. Are you going to rise above biology and fear and comfort-zone-compulsion and make a commitment to improving and continuing your monogamous sexual relationship? Or are you going to give up just and become complacent just because it is not automatic and easy? Seriously, that is a real and literal question to ask yourself.
2) Negotiate and manage environmental factors.
So maybe you can’t quit your job or get rid of your kids, but there are things you an do to mitigate and manage stress in your life. Get enough sleep, delegate duties, do some yoga and concentrate on the serenity prayer, get a babysitter. Whatever it takes to not let your stress overcome you. Just make it a priority, if not for your sex life, for your quality of life in general.
I know a guy who started exercising, decreased his work- load, stopped his 12-hour a week visitation to his sick relative, and negotiated mandatory weekend me-time with his wife , and he is a DRAMATIcaLLy calmer, less angry person for it. This may not have much application in the sex department since, for men, sex is often a way to ReliEVE stress, not something that causes sex to go by the wayside. But it is a great example of how negotiating and managing one’s stress (instead of medicating with Prozac or alcohol on many cases) can be powerful.
3) Address personal hesitations such as unsexy mindset/identity and body image issues.
This is probably the easiest to fix, but requires a great deal of willingness, and a commitment on the part of the woman to put one foot in front of the other and actually do these things.
Suggestions for women: – Ask yourself what activities you may have previously enjoyed while you were in your “sexy” stage of life (maybe before kids, before your 60 hour a week job, before marriage?) that made you feel vibrant, alive, and sensual. Maybe it is taking a Zumba class, listening to Beyonce really loud before a date (okay, that one may have been a specific personal example.), painting, running, singing in the shower, reading mindless, humorous, fiction. Figure it out and incorporate a little of that into your life. I sometimes observe women behind the wheels of minivans, and think about how those women who are singing with reckless abandon to Kid Bop Radio are probably actually having sex, while the ones with stressed, annoyed faces are probably not.
– Don’t let your sexual side slip away. Assume the mentality all day long and before sex. Shave your legs, wear a cute undies set, send a flirty text, read Cosmo for fun. Not every second of every day, but intentionally regularly. Then right before sex, take a couple minutes to visualize and concentrate on (one might call this meditation) the thought of you and your partner going at it. Maybe even set your intention for sex before-hand and share it with your husband. Do you want to just reach climax? Just concentrate on him? Make eye contact and feel more emotionally connected? Let loose and go wild? Setting different intentions is a good way to get your head in the game AND ensure variety.
– Side-note: After working with many couples who have become more disconnected due to pornography, I’m NOT recommend that you, by yourself, download Sister Sleepover as a way to boost your sexual mindset. Studies have shown that pornography viewed WITH your partner, on the other hand, do tend to enhance your sexual relationship. That being said, of you view porn together, keep a watchful eye out for you or your partner developing unrealistic expectations, habituation to certain kinds of stimulation- like when masturbation to a woman in a dress made of licorice becomes the only thing that will bring a guy to climax- and emotional/sexual insecurities emerging.
– Exercise. Have no time? No gym membership? Jog around the neighborhood for 15 minutes a day. Women who exercise experience higher libidos for a number of reasons. One of the biggest reasons is that even if they don’t actually lose weight, they FEEL sexier. Yes, exercise increases sex drive even if you don’t adapt the body of a supermodel. Really don’t wanna take fifteen minutes out of your day ? See #1 under solutions.
4) Address relationship issues that may be contributing to diminished libido and sexual response.
Often times women unintentionally (or intentionally) pull away from their partner intimately because they are holding onto anger and resentment. Sometimes women even consciously or unconsciously deny sex as a way to “punish” their offending partners.
Ask yourself: “Am I angry at my partner for anything? Even if it something I don’t feel like I have a right to be angry about; even if it is something from a long time ago, might I be unconsciously acting on anger?”
If you’re really stuck for an answer to the first question, ask, “Is he living up to my expectations of what a partner would be?”
Also ask, “Do I feel ‘emotionally safe’ with my partner? Do I feel like he hears me and considers my needs and perspectives? Is he open, constructive kn conflict or is he defensive and annoyed and sarcastic and diminishing?” This is a big one, because feeling emotional danger causes women to pull away sexually AND not feel safe enough to vulnerably address and solve the problem.
If you harbor resentment or don’t feel “emotional safe” with your partner, you could try discussing it with him using intentional dialogue (you make an I-statement, he validates and empathizes with you; and you make a direct request of specific and realistic behaviors he could do in the future.)…
Oh wait- what’s that you say? You don’t go around using “intentional dialogue” or don’t think your husband would actually follow through on his validation, listening , and following through thing? This is where I plug couples therapy. Yes, couples therapy is a wonderful thing.
5) Express yourself.
Figure out your needs and preferences (emotionally and sexually) and think very carefully about some very specific ways that your husband could meet these needs and preferences. Tell him where, how, and for how long you would like to be touched, specifically how to best initiate sex, and also how to best be a supportive, emotionally safe partner outside of the bedroom. Be solution-focused, offering him the roadmap and tool box to what it is that you want and need.
Women, remember that being vague or thinking that your partner should “just get it” is the worst thing you could do for the relationship. You will remain feeling frustrated and not considered, and he will remain feeling frustrated and inadequate. (And when a man feels frustrated and inadequate, he stops even trying to initiate and before you know it , you have a sexless marriage.)
Side-note: Research and evolutionary psychology says that women’s sexual desire increases in response to “dominance.” This is confusing because domesticated, sweet men are good for our relationships and good for our society, but they are bad for our libido (“Desire” is not very smart or politically correct, as evidenced by all the women who flock to “bad boys” that mistreat them.). Knowing that dominance is an aphrodisiac, maybe you want to ask your husband to “Make all the plans for a date, and arrange the babysitter, and pick out what I’m going to wear, and order for me,” or “Work on the car with his shirt off this weekend.” Haha, just trying to illustrate that while direct requests for supportive behaviors are fabulous for the relationship, incorporating masculine behaviors may appeal to the libido 🙂 (And I also wanted to provide examples of specific direct requests.)
If you don’t feel comfortable making such direct requests of your partner, see solution #4.
I should add that I am by no means a certified sex therapist, but in working with couples this is a topic that comes up all too commonly. Unfortunately, infrequent sexual intimacy is an issue that threatens the strength of many relationships, and as-such, it is a topic that I am obligated to pay attention and investigate.
Hope this provides a little insight and direction for any couples out there that need a little help in this department (There are too many of you out there.)
Note: if you have come across this blog post, it is currently unedited since I lack a computer and have a hard time getting my sausage fingers in the right place to make edits in my phone . 🙂