Sexual Desire Problems
Our desire for sex, or libido, is not a constant throughout our lives. The hormone Testosterone is associated with libido. Testosterone levels are about 20 times higher in men than they are in women, which accounts in part for a man’s generally higher sex drive.
However it is important to remember that there is no absolute ‘right’ level of libido – every person will have expectations about what is a normal level formed by their culture and experiences. In our sex-saturated culture, even people with very typical libido can believe that they are abnormal.
Contrary to what the culture might think, having excessive desire can also be problematic for a couple. Spouses can feel inadequate and/or resentful of a sexual appetite that seems too large to satisfy. And excessive desire makes one vulnerable to sexual addictions and infidelity.
In the case of libido, ‘the more’ is not necessarily ‘the merrier’! Stress has a powerful biological impact on libido in men. Stress releases cortisol which in turn causes a decrease in testosterone, leading to a decrease in his libido. Interestingly, ‘success’, be it at work, play or in the bedroom, is associated with higher testosterone causing an increase in sex drive. One of the most constructive things a wife can do for her husband’s sense of well being is to affirm him – to let him know how successful he is in loving her and their children.
Effects of Ageing
Ageing is another aspect to consider. Physiologically, we reach our fertile and sexual prime in our early twenties. However, most don’t reach their erotic prime until their 50’s and 60’s. As we mature, we have greater capacity for emotional depth. This enables us to be more erotically present in our love making. Many couples who focus on performance put themselves out to pasture when they experience changes in their sexual functioning due to age. When we keep our focus on intimacy with our partner rather than sexual prowess, our sexual life will become increasingly meaningful and satisfying.
A number of natural fluctuations of hormones in women during the menstrual cycle, in pregnancy, during breast feeding, or at menopause, will reduce desire. A woman’s libido is closely tied to her fertility, so when her fertility is at its peak around the time of ovulation, she will often feel more interested in sex. Fertility is naturally suppressed during pregnancy and breast feeding, and many women report that their libido is also lower during these times. This is a normal response and does not require medical intervention.
Some medications will also affect libido as an unwelcome side-effect. Some anti-depressants and hormonal contraceptives such as The Pill are commonly associated with a reduced libido. It is not dysfunctional, it is normal, to have low libido when we feel sick, are infertile and as we age. This is not to say that there aren’t occasions when professional intervention is appropriate.
Another common issue is ‘Desire Discrepancy’. This has being given a lot of attention in the press and in popular self-help books in recent years. It refers to husband and wife having different levels of desire for sex.
The most typical pattern is for the wife to have a lower desire than her husband. In most cases, this is not due to a deficiency in testosterone. More often, she is emotionally malnourished. When a husband gives his wife sufficient attention, allows her to talk about her concerns, and engages with her in intimate verbal conversation, her anxiety levels are reduced. When she relaxes, her sexual interest often increases.
Sexual Response Pattern
Another common cause of Desire problems for couples is the natural differences in the pattern of sexual response. Most men experience the desire for sex first, then as foreplay commences, he becomes aroused and eventually reaches climax. So he goes from Desire, to Arousal to Climax. For many women, they do not routinely experience desire, until after lovemaking has begun. It is only once she is sexually aroused, that she feels a desire for sex. So she goes from Arousal, to Desire then to Climax.
Many women, and some men who also have this sexual response pattern, can mistakenly judge that they are abnormal because they don’t ‘feel’ like having sex as much as they think they should. This belief is fed by a sex-obsessed culture, but it is also being exploited by a number of pharmaceutical and para-pharmaceutical companies. The rush of sexual stimulants to the market, including ‘warming creams’ (which are a vasodilators that increase blood flow to the genitals when applied topically), are an attempt to capitalise on our fear of being sexual inadequate – or sexually deprived.
It is normal to have fluctuations in our desire for sex. Our feelings, our desire for sex will ebb and wane throughout the day, throughout a person’s life. The important thing for couples, is not to let one’s feelings (or lack of them) determine whether or not they make love. Get started, even if you don’t feel like making love when you begin. Chances are that your feelings will engage once you become sexually aroused.
The message is, ‘Make a choice for love’.You can choose to act in contradiction to your feelings. This applies not just to sex, but to verbal intimacy and many other areas where we experience different levels of desire or interest.