Tag Archives: low sexual desire

Sexual Desire Differences: What If There’s Nothing Going Wrong?

Corey Allan

Corey Allan, Ph.D.
Simple Marriage

Today I am launching a series of guest posts from the male perspective with Corey Allan of Simple Marriage. I’ve followed Corey’s blog for several months and listened to his Sexy Marriage podcast with another marriage and sexuality blogger, Gina Parris. Here is Corey’s take on sexual desire differences.

Are you the high desire or the low desire spouse when it comes to sex?

Have desire differences created problems in your marriage?

Sooner or later, most couples experience problems in this area. Desire problems are the most common sexual complaint for couples.

But what about (cue the dramatic music) if you’re the wife who has higher desire for sex than your husband?!?

It’s natural to feel bad about having sexual desire differences, especially if you believe that sex is a natural function. Most people believe that love automatically creates sexual desire in healthy people. And at first glance, this makes a lot of sense.

But if you buy into the belief that sexual desire comes “naturally,” you’re in for a load of problems. You’ll feel pressured to create something that just isn’t there. You’ll get defensive and despondent when problems surface in your sex life. You may even begin to feel defective or screwed up. In turn, it’s less likely that you’ll address these sexual desire problems and even less likely you’ll succeed if you do. Add to this the seemingly taboo-ness of a man with low sexual desire (not as uncommon as you’d think).

When you believe that sex is a natural function, it sucks to be the low desire spouse. You may see yourself as the one with the problem . . . plus it’s likely that your spouse (the high desire spouse) sees you that way too.

The other big problem with approaching sexual desire as a natural biological function is it actually helps create low sexual desire because it makes sexual desire impersonal. It’s hard to desire sex when it feels like your spouse just wants to relieve their physical or emotional needs.

Know this: There’s always a low desire spouse and there’s always a high desire spouse — and there’s one of each in every marriage.

Arrows - up and down

There’s a low desire spouse and a high desire spouse on virtually every issue and decision in marriage. One of you wants to do something the other doesn’t, or wants to less than you. And even if you both want the same thing, one of you will want it more than the other. Plus, no one is the low desire, or high desire on everything. Positions shift on different issues throughout the marriage.

Desire differences are going to happen. And the positions you take (low or high desire) are simply points on a continuum.

The most freeing point of this view, neither the high desire position or the low desire position is right or wrong. They’re simply differences.

Let’s say you want to have sex every day, you’d likely think that would make you the high desire spouse. But if you’re married to a person that wants sex two times per day, you’re the low desire spouse. Desire isn’t either high or low due to biological drive, past history, or even how much you like sex — it results from some standard of comparison, usually this is your spouse.

If you buy into this idea it will help you stop the arguments over how much sexual desire is normal or healthy.

Let me state it this way — I really like sex.

I also really like chocolate — but not every day.

When my wife and I have attempted to have sex every day for a certain number of days in a row, it becomes burdensome and impersonal. But does that mean the couples who have sex more often than us are better or healthier than us? Nope.

Same for those that are less frequent. This is that comparison devil rearing its head again.

Differences are going to happen in marriage.

Especially when it comes to sexual desire.

Why?

Because this is how relationships are designed to operate. There’s more going on than “happily ever after.”

When it comes to marriage, the relationship is driven by more than just feelings, and it helps to realize that feelings aren’t always accurate. Feelings are open to interpretations. And our feelings can lead us to believe that when your spouse isn’t interested in sex like you are there must be something wrong.

Well, things going wrong and things not going the way you want are two different things.

And, if you can see that there’s actually nothing going wrong, it’s more likely you can turn things around and make them more to your liking.

The beauty of seeing desire differences (regardless of gender) as points on a continuum is it reframes the “problem.” Couples have often sought ways around this problem. Or more aptly stated, high desire spouses have sought ways to increase their spouse’s desire.

But, inevitably, the low desire spouse will control sex.

Here’s how this works:

The high desire spouse makes most, if not all, of the overtures and initiations for sex.

The low desire spouse decides which of the sexual overtures he or she will respond to.

Which determines when sex happens. Giving the low desire spouse de facto control of sex — whether he or she wants it or not.

When you look at it this way it seems simple.

The key is — how you experience this, and handle this, will say a lot about you regardless whether you’re the high or the low desire spouse.

The fact that you experience desire differences doesn’t necessarily mean there is something going wrong — and shifting your perspective could change everything.

It could open the door to you both using your sexual desire differences more productively. Desire problems can be useful to people and relationships — they push you to become more solid within yourself.

Being in a committed relationship brings two life forces front and center. The drive for togetherness and the drive for separateness. The desire to connect and share experiences with another person and the refusal to submit to another person’s tyranny.

When it comes to sexual desire, the low desire spouse understands tyranny. He or she feels oppressed, pressured to want sex and have sex, thanks to the badgering by their spouse’s higher desire. BUT, the high desire spouse understands tyranny too. He or she will feel the pressure to have sex when and how it’s available since opportunities may be few and far between. They must settle for “getting lucky” rather than feeling wanted. And on top of all this, they usually must act grateful for mediocre sex.

Sex is a common gridlock issue. And gridlock in marriage is inevitable . . . but also resolvable.

When it comes to sex, sure, the low desire spouse can stop having it, but there’s usually a limit to how far you can play that card if you want to stay married — particularly happily married.

So what can you do?

"You must realize..." pull-out quote

You must realize that what we’re talking about here is not just sex. There’s a whole lot more going on.

Most of the time, sex is approached from an other-validation stance (also called a reflected sense of self).

Take intimacy for example. Other-validated intimacy involves one spouse disclosing feelings, perceptions, doubts, fears, and inner truths and the other spouse 1)accepting, validating, and empathizing, and/or 2) disclosing in kind.

Other-validation hinges on reciprocity.

In sex this plays out as I’ll do you then you do me.

What this actually does is boosts or shores up your reflected sense of self.

Here’s something you must get straight in your mind: Being intimate with your spouse doesn’t mean you get the response you want.

Marriage is an interdependent relationship — its resilience lies in both spouse’s ability to function independently.

The balance between your reflected sense of self and your solid flexible self has a dramatic effect on your level of sexual desire and passion — and whether or not you miss it when they’re non-existent.

You may be a good person with fine values and good intent, but if your anxieties drive you to avoid things or act impulsively, you’ll do things that violate your integrity, ideals and goals, and diminish your self-worth. You’ll react harshly to other family members when your anxiety is high, which may go against your ideal of being a good solid parent, which then makes you feel guilty, thus your self-worth takes another hit.

When it comes to sex, like I stated before, there’s more going on than just sex.

Look at it this way — I’m the high desire spouse in my marriage and I’ve learned there are many things I can do to get my wife to have sex with me. I can woo her, set up a romantic date, get her several drinks, manipulate, beg, persuade, plus many other things that may work. But, none of these tactics make her want me.

That’s something I can’t control.

When it comes to being wanted . . . all I can do is present something worth wanting.

And something worth wanting develops best when you confront yourself, challenge yourself to do what’s right, and earn your own self respect.

A scary proposition, yes. But it’s the way a marriage fully alive really works.

Source: Schnarch, D. (2009) Intimacy and desire. Beaufort Books: New York

Dr. Corey Allan is a really smart guy who writes at Simple Marriage and counsels people on how to have better relationships. He’ll teach you how to get along with others, play nice, get more of what you want and enjoy giving back. He might even help you get more sex out of the deal, too!

Thanks so much to Corey for enlightening us on sexual desire differences!

For Wives: When You Don’t Desire Sex

Q&AI combed my archives thinking that surely I had addressed the topic of low sex drive in wives but couldn’t find a single post on the subject. Today’s question deals with that issue, so here it is:

This may have been discussed in the past (I’ve been subscribing to your blog for about 6 months), but my husband and I waited until we were married to have sex (been married about 3 years) and because we never had sex with each other or anyone else prior to marriage, we came into our marriage not knowing ‘how’ to have good sex or, for me, how to enjoy it. He is all for sex and enjoys it, but I’ve struggled so much the past few years trying to learn how to enjoy sex and desire it. I sort of feel like I could go without it and be fine, which I know is wrong. It’s not that I don’t want it, but I don’t have much of a desire for it either. It seems of more like a chore to me. Which I know is not how it should be, we are in our prime and should be all for it! Is there anyone else out there struggling with this issue?

First, I have to give kudos to this wife! Plenty of wives get into marriage, conclude they don’t enjoy or desire sex much, and simply decide not to engage often. Instead, this wife is trying to learn how to desire and enjoy sexuality for her husband’s sake and for her own. Good for you for continuing to seek what God wants you to have–a marriage that is intimate in many areas, including sexual.

Second, I wish I had more details. If this wife and I were chatting at a coffee shop (in the corner and with low tones, of course), I’d ask questions about what the problem might be. Low drive can emanate from several factors, and it’s of little use to tell my friend to train her senses if she has experienced sexual abuse in her past or her hormones are wildly out of whack. The solution or treatment should address the actual problem.

However, since the question is general, I can run through the checklist–for her and for the rest of the wives out there who may have a low sex drive. How can you turn that libido switch on?

Your physiology is messed up. The first thing to do is to check with your doctor. God designed us to be sexual beings who desire intimate contact with the one we love. While we may differ in our desire for frequency, having no desire at all indicates something else is going on. The first place to check is your body.

Get an appointment with your primary care physician or gynecologist and explain your lack of libido. Don’t have a gynecologist? I give tips on choosing one HERE. Get tested for hormone levels and vitamin deficiencies. Make sure you are not suffering from major depression which can cause a drop in libido. (Ironically, anti-depressants can also cause a drop in libido, but this is case-by-case.) Are you on birth control? The Marriage Bed reported on intriguing research showing a link between oral contraception and lack of desire. Check out this excellent article HERE. Get a check-up and make sure your body will cooperate.

You have negative sexual occurrences in your past. Anything in your past that causes you to consider sex a negative activity can impact how you approach your spouse and marital intimacy now. Were you sexually abused as a child? Were you harassed? Did you blossom early and receive taunting? Were you raped? Were you told that sex was dirty? Did you engage in promiscuous behavior that left you with guilt? Was your first time a disappointment or painful? Have you struggled with pornography?

Imagine this with food: Even if you know logically that your grandmother thoroughly washed and cooked the shrimp, if you got food poisoning the last time you ate shrimp, you are not eager to pop a shellfish into your mouth because the physiological and emotional responses of that prior negative occurrence are imprinted on you. Anything that happened in your past with sexual overtones that left you with that bad taste in your mouth can make you reluctant to take another bite.

What to do? First, deal with your past. Acknowledge what happened and how you were affected. Work through how it hurt you and how you can change the way you view that time. Psychologists often suggest writing a letter to someone involved or even to yourself to air out your full feelings and get perspective (not to be sent). See a quality Christian counselor if you need to. Second, rewrite the script, which is exactly what I said a couple of weeks ago. Essentially, the way to see marital intimacy as a positive thing is to have positive marital intimacy. Make your intimacy so much better than that negative past so that your brain and heart can change direction and see how it really is a blessing from God in this context.

You’re not in touch with your body. To enjoy sex, you need to be able to relax and remain aware of the sensations of your body. If you have difficulty letting go, you may not be sensitive enough to arousal to enjoy the experience. Train your body to notice how your body feels with different touches and textures. Try a set of satin sheets; take bubble baths and notice the way the water feels on your skin; invite your spouse to apply lotion or oil to your body. You can train yourself to focus and be more cognizant of how your body is feeling in various ways. In turn, that will make you more open to arousal during physical intimacy.

You’re not great lovers. I hate to put it that way, but sometimes when a wife tells me she has hated sex for twenty years, I admit to wondering, What’s her husband doing wrong? I’m sure that’s not fair to her husband. And I actually don’t think technique is the end-all, be-all of sexuality. It most definitely is not. However, if your mate doesn’t know how to turn you on, or you don’t know how to help yourself get there, the sex may not feel that good.

Some couples have wonderful relationships, great attitudes, and a desire to connect, but what they need is a little skills-training. Now before you hire a coach to come into your bedroom — God forbid — let me say that all you need to know, you can learn from books, blogs, communication, trial-and-error, and trial-and-success. And more importantly, you can communicate with your mate. Help your hubby know how to touch you in a way that feels good; talk about the places you want to be touched, how you want to be kissed, and how much pressure to apply. Take time to explore each other and how you become aroused.

You have a poor self-image. God has made women beautiful, and consequently we have a desire to be and feel beautiful. Yet, we ladies have way too much pressure to look at certain way. If you dislike your own body, it’s not easy to share that body with your spouse. You don’t want to be naked, you don’t want to be touched, you tense up when your body is exposed. However, beauty comes in all shapes and sizes. Having heard from many men on this subject, let me assure the wives out there that you are beautiful to your hubby. Even if magazine models seem to put you to shame (and even those beautiful models are airbrushed so they don’t look like that either), you can confidently enter your own bedroom and know that your husband appreciates the way you look. Believe God’s assertion that you are beautiful and believe your husband when he says that he desires you. Julie Sibert of Intimacy in Marriage had a wonderful post on this subject at Sheila Gregoire’s site: Love the Skin You’re In.

Your relationship is having difficulties. If your relationship outside the bedroom is in distress, it’s hard to want to make love with your husband. It’s been said that men have sex to feel loved, and women have to feel loved to have sex. Wives want to have a sense of security and value in the marriage to be able to open up in the bedroom. Address relationship issues as they arise in as non-combative a way as possible. Seek counseling if the issues are big or persistent. Wives should not withhold sex, however, unless there are severe issues that call for that extreme measure. Continuing to connect physically can help to weather storms in marriage, and husbands in particular are more motivated to work on the relationship if they are happy with their wife in the bedroom.

Stress is sucking the life out of your libido. Stress comes from many places and shows up in various forms. You may be stressed from work demands, household responsibilities, child care, family issues, bouts of illness, etc. It may manifest as sadness, anger, escapism, sleep deprivation, fatigue, etc. Stress is a mood killer all around.

While I recognize that sex can relieve stress, for women it can be very difficult to shift into enjoyment of sex when stress still has its grip on you. Husbands are usually better able to let everything else go and focus on the moment, although stress can certainly affect their libido as well. Yet wives need to be able to relax and surrender to the physical sensations they are having to become aroused and engaged. If stress is overwhelming your life, you may not realize that it’s taking a toll on your sex life.

What do do about stress? It depends on the kind, but in general here are some tips. Prioritize your life. Say no to things you don’t need to take on. Eat healthy and exercise as a wonderful way to care for yourself and as an outlet for stress. Make sure you have someone to talk to. Don’t dump everything on your spouse. But talk about what’s bugging you to your mate, a best friend, a family member, a counselor, or a mentor so that stress isn’t just building inside you. Meditate. Meditation has been shown to relieve tension. Find a quiet spot for reflection and follow the psalmist’s example, “I meditate on your precepts and consider your ways” (119:15, but the whole chapter is full of references to meditation).  Pray. Dump your heart on God. The Bible is full of examples of godly people laying all of their troubles before Him, and Jesus said, “Come to me, all you who are weary and burdened, and I will give you rest” (Matthew 11:28).

Without a detailed interview on my virtual therapy couch*, I don’t know what the specific issue is.

Larry the Cucumber on therapy couch

Hopefully, I’ve hit on something here. I also recommend taking a look The Marriage’s Bed article on Lack of Desire, and Gina Parris of Winning at Romance frequently addresses the subject of low sexual desire.

May God lead you to the right answer and a fulfilling life of marital intimacy!

*No, I’m not a therapist by profession. I just love that Silly Song with Larry.