Dr Lori Brotto believes a woman’s feelings about her partner contribute more than anything else toward her levels of desire.
Yet, relationships can be one of the trickiest areas to deal with when it comes to a low libido, because its often hard to admit to ourselves where the issues lie.
Your relationship is also one of the biggest categories to explore in terms of impact on desire because there are so many factors!
It can feel easier to consider other issues that impact on our desire first, because analysing our relationship brings with it worries about the future of our partnership.
However, our relationships do have a huge impact on our desire so exploring your relationship health is crucial if you want to rebuild desire.
Esther Perel: “If the sexual experience is not something you like in and of itself, then the quality of the relationship becomes a bigger determining factor—the intimacy, the connection you feel, the closeness is a motivator to engage in sex. For those who see intrinsic value in sex, who like it in and of itself, the quality of the relationship with their partner is not the determining factor for engaging in sex”.
So- the factors that could be affecting desire within your relationship:
For many women, their desire doesn’t exist within a vacuum and (who’d have thought it?) how they feel about their partner governs how much they might like to have sex with them.
Lori Brotto found that the major predictors of sexual desire for women in a relationship are impacted by:
- how she feels about her partner
- how much she likes or admires her partner
- and what she believes about the fate of her relationship
I’ve tried to mix these up into what I believe are the six main factors at play in relationships which can negatively impact on desire…
A lack of intimacy: If our relationship is lacking intimacy, it could feel like we’re starved of warmth, friendship, kindness, compromise or physical affection. We may feel taken for granted, unloved or distant. A lack of intimacy may also be caused by a sense of not putting in the effort, or not understanding how to best help our partners feel loved and appreciated. Interestingly, for many couples they find there is a pattern- one partner wants to have sex to feel close, the other wants to feel close before having sex. So there’s often an impasse in their sex lives as neither partner feels their needs are being met. Intimacy is formed of warmth and love, communication, conflict resolution, attraction, and without these elements our feelings about our partnership can be impacted.
Unresolved conflict: a really common reason for a lack of desire is that there is unresolved conflict bubbling away in the background. We might feel a sense of anger, disappointment or resentment towards our SO- which is a surefire way to deflate desire. If things are feeling a little frosty, it’s no wonder we’re not feeling like getting hot under the collar with our partner. Conflict may exist in the relationship already and CAUSE a low libido, but often it’s also an EFFECT of a mismatch in desire in the relationship so it becomes a self-perpetuating cycle. Often our conflict styles fall into two camps- suppressing or venting.The partner that suppresses might not feel able to express themselves- either they’re unsure how to, or they feel unable to (e.g. their partner doesn’t listen, they’re frightened of their partner’s reaction). Feeling unsure or unable to express oneself about issues in the relationship or how you’re feeling can result in resentment which is a surefire way to quash any sense of desire. When one partner doesn’t speak their mind- e.g. they go silent, deny their emotions or pushes them down in order to “keep the peace”, resentment can build, which is a surefire way to erode desire. For the partner that vents, they may react quickly with anger and criticism, which closes their partner down and perpetuates damaging conflict styles. Neither strategy is useful for conflict resolution, and can leave both parties feeling unheard and isolated.
Communication issues: this is often linked closely with conflict, as mis-communication (or no communication) can lead to us feeling resentment, anxiety, misunderstanding and loneliness, which in turn fuel more conflict and less sex. Communication around the mismatch in how often you want sex can also create a gulf between you. It’s tough talking to a partner about an issue this deeply personal because the stakes are high when it comes to sex. Often these chats feel incredibly loaded because of strong emotions about the issue on both sides (shame, upset, worry, frustration, rejection, comparison, fear). For the partner with the lower libido, it seems like you are the problem in the relationship. You might feel defensive or ashamed, frightened about losing your partner but unsure how to articulate what you need. For the partner who wants more sex, they might worry about putting pressure on their partner or coercing them into doing something they don’t want to do, but feel unsure how to get their needs met, or their self-esteem is eroding because they believe they are the problem. We avoid talking about the issue, and then it can cause as many issues as it’s caused by, because of the breakdown in communication that can occur and the negative patterns that fall into place as a result.
Too much intimacy- interestingly, another issue that can arise for couples is a sense of “too much intimacy”. Here desire is stifled because there’s too much familiarity! Esther Perel is a brilliant sex therapist who writes about this concept *link to video*. She believes that at the heart of human need are two opposite factors: the need for security, predictability, safety, dependability, reliability, grounding, permanence. And the need for adventure, novelty, mystery, risk, danger, the unknown, the unexpected, surprise. They embody themselves within the emotional states of love and desire. Love is all about security, caring, responsibility, dependability, closeness- aka “having”. And it’s contradiction- desire– needs mystery, distance, intrigue and space to thrive- aka “wanting”.The more we “have” (love) someone, the less we “want” (desire) them. Because how can we want what we already have? So it makes sense that over time, the more we perceive to “have” our partner, the less we “want” (desire) them. Which is why often in long term relationships our sex drives can dip. These opposing forces govern our lives, and one of the hardest tasks within a relationship is to balance the two.
A Fear of Intimacy/being vulnerable: are we more afraid of being sexually wild the closer we get to a partner? for some women, their sex drive can suffer because we find it’s easier to show your wild side to someone you know very little than someone that you love. The idea is that the more commitment, trust and intimacy grows in your relationship, the more fear we have of intimacy. Sounds crazy, but some people don’t even realise they’re scared of intimacy. However it makes sense- the more we connect with someone, the deeper the fear we have of sexually surrendering to them and making ourselves vulnerable. Inevitably, the stakes are higher because we have more to lose if they walk away. And so, avoiding vulnerability during sex might mean we take less risks or act less wild in order to hold onto them. We fear rejection- of our partner being disgusted by us, laughing at us, or judging us. During sex we’re at our most vulnerable, and to avoid this risk of being abandoned we shut down the possibilities that could be awaiting us and instead avoid sexual authenticity. But the wildness and risks are what cultivates novelty, variety and ultimately authentic experience. It’s not necessarily about having a deep connection with who you’re having sex with but rather allowing them to see you in a state of openness and vulnerability which creates great sex.
Loss of attraction: This one probably isn’t rocket science. For many of us, sex requires attraction, and without this element we might feel like we just don’t fancy it or them. Attraction is often linked to the physical appearance of a partner, but in fact is also closely tied to our general feelings about our partner which is hugely impacted by all of the above. Also look up Coolidge effect (link that to the sex bit)