It’s not rocket science, but it’s amazing how easily we forget that “to remain interested, sex has to remain interesting” (Esther Perel).
Too often the reasons for a low sex drive are medicalised, or seen as the individual woman’s responsibility. We’re taught to look at our hormone levels, our diets, our body image, our contraceptives….
We’re also told it’s normal for women to have a low sex drive! Have you ever heard the idea that women don’t like sex as much as men, and/or that we lose interest as a relationship grows older?
So little attention is given to the role of sex itself in our levels of desire.
Low desire is a healthy response to lackluster sex- Katherine Rowland
There are many and varied reasons why sex might not feel as pleasurable as we’d like it to be….
Here’s all the reasons you don’t want sex (which makes perfect sense, when you think about it)…
You don’t know what feels good, what you want or how to ask for it, so sex constantly ends up about your partners pleasure not your own.
Your partner doesn’t know how to turn you on, or what women want from sex
When we don’t get anything out of it– Sex can provide us many things- closeness, affection, connection, pleasure, relaxation, control, submission, stress-relief, love, excitement… the list goes on. Our sex drives are based on a motivational system- we desire sex based on the reward it gives us during/afterwards. However, if sex feels more hassle than its worth, if it takes more than it provides or leaves you feeling depleted in a bad sense, something is amiss and our motivation to do it wanes.
The duration is too long/short
Sex hurts or feels uncomfortable. Sexual intimacy can be painful for plenty of reasons, including:
If you struggle to get wet (this could be because you’re not feeling aroused, you are dehydrated, because of hormone levels associated with something like the menopause, being frightened of or preempting pain e.g. the first sex after surgery- the list goes on!)
Sex is focused around penetration, and/or you “put up” with it even when it hurts or feels uncomfortable because you feel like you should or that’s the dominant idea of what sex should be
If you’re experiencing something like vaginismus, where your internal muscles tense up and penetration becomes difficult
Your partner is being too rough, isn’t listening or hasn’t checked in how things are feeling
You have an STD/STI or similar
After surgery or childbirth
If the sex is non-consensual or forced
There’s no build up– it might be that seduction is rare, non-existent, or inappropriate. Partly this could be due to a lack of understanding about what we need to turn us on. It could also be what Wednesday Martin calls “crude seductions”- an assumption on our partners behalf that turning us on is like flicking on a light switch- there’s no need for preamble and effort, and that every woman wants the same. Perhaps there’s just a lack of effort in making sex special. We stop trying, as we think we know what our partner wants so we do the same old thing, which takes away any sense of intrigue or excitement (which many women need to get them horny!).
Sex has become stressful– stressful sex sounds a weird one doesn’t it, but it might become stressful/uncomfortable because you can’t “stay present”, relax and focus on the task at hand. This might be because of:
Anxious/intrusive thoughts. These could be about anything- general life, body image, work deadlines… You might be trying your hardest to relax into sex but if you feel stressed, worried, detached or struggling to stay present, you stay inside your own head and miss the signs of arousal going on in your body (arousal non-concordance). .
Performance anxiety: you might have specific worries about how you’re going to perform sexually. Especially if you have experienced general worries coming into your head, it might have caused you to become worried about how you’re responding (or not) to your partners advances. You might worry about whether you’ll be wet enough to have sex? Will you be able to relax enough to enjoy it? Are they enjoying it? Do you look OK? Will you be able to orgasm? What have you got for dinner tonight? What was it I needed to get from the Post Office? Women describe feeling stuck in their own head, overthinking, being a spectator to their own experience, self-judgement, and an inability to become aroused.
A trauma history might also mean its difficult to tune in to sex or to your own body.
This can lead to women feeling stuck in a vicious cycle in which you can’t orgasm because you’re so stressed by not feeling like you’re going to orgasm. Capeche? This inability to relax over time can also extend to the build up to sex, so that anxiety about sex becomes triggered every time you think about it or your partner tries to initiate it. It can get to the point where sex (even the thought of it!) can feel stressful (the sexual avoidance cycle). When sex becomes a battle to stay in the zone, to “perform”, or to function, the prospect of doing it again doesn’t exactly seem appealing!
There’s too much familiarity- things have become a bit stale, routine, monotonous. There’s no danger, passion or intrigue as you’re always having sex in the same place/position/process (e.g from naked, in bed, at the end of the day etc) mean there’s no excitement, and nothing to look forwards to! Or sex always follows the same old heterosexual narrative of a bit of a fumble then ends with penis in vagina sex. It’s a bit boring, and you feel sexually unfulfilled. Some call this the Coolidge Effect…..
You’re frightened of intimacy during sex- of letting yourself go, surrendering, losing control and making ourselves vulnerable. Societal messages and/or past experiences may have left us unable to let go and be wild in bed with our partners.
You believe harmful myths about sex- e.g. thinking that sex “just happens”, sex is always about a penis in a vagina, should be spontaneous, and that foreplay comes before sex.
However, as women further described their malaise, their dwindling desire seemed less the result of faulty biology than evidence of sound judgment. It was a consequence of clumsy partners, perfunctory routines, incomplete education, boredom and the chafe of overfamiliarity.
In short, it was the quality of the sex they were having that left them underwhelmed. As one woman put it: “If it’s not about your pleasure, it makes sense you wouldn’t want it.”- Katherine Rowland
We’re just “giving in” to please our partner: “Giving in” or having sex that we don’t really want is one of the quickest ways we give up our sexual power. Katherine Rowlands in her book “The Pleasure Gap” wrote that instead of having sex because they desire it women act “out of obligation, generosity or simply to keep the peace.” Many women find they feel guilty rejecting their partners advances, they worry saying “no” again will cause an argument, and are concerned they might reinforce their partners feelings of rejection. Or they “give in”, when they really don’t fancy sex at all, leading to resentment, anger or loss of self-esteem. When you’re “giving in” to sex constantly there’s a sense of pressure, which for some women can totally turn off their desire. Being hounded for sex is one of the least sexy patterns to be stuck in. You feel pursued, which leaves little to no room to build desire, or to have ownership of your own sexuality.
Sex becomes associated with expectation, rejection, guilt and/or pressure- this is REALLY common in relationships with mismatched sex drives and not spoken about enough. Over time, for the partner with the lower sex drive, constantly avoiding sex or bowing to pressure to perform, means they’ve lost all control over their sex life and may feel powerless. She might end up dreading any kind of sign of initiation of sex. Feeling sexy often involves feeling empowered, and this is one of the most dis-empowering cycles to be stuck in. Any touch, look or movement becomes loaded as a possible sexual initiation, and we can close down completely any desire to be close to our partners.
Physical affection only happens in the build up to sex- if the only time you kiss, touch, fondle is when one partner initiates sex, it creates all kinds of issues around losing the joy of touching for touching’s sake, and also can tie into sexual pressure (above). This may turn into a pattern where the lower libido partner starts avoiding kisses/touch/undressing in front of the other in case this leads to something more.