Many “happy couples” portrayed on social media are living with a troubling secret: little or no sexual intimacy. This, in particular, is a major hidden problem for women. And amid all of life’s demands and the white noise that comes with them, relatively few talk about it.
My female clients tell me that lessened or completely lost sexual desire is an increasing challenge for them. Researcher Sheryl Kingsberg explains that sexual drive is the biological component of desire, which is reflected as spontaneous sexual interest including sexual thoughts, erotic fantasies, and daydreams.
While men are generally more readily physiologically aroused than women, low sexual desire occurs in men as well. Low sexual desire is not restricted to gender, sexual orientation, race, or any other demographic. Non-binary individuals clearly can struggle with lowered sexual desire as well. Lowered sexual desire can cause strain in both heterosexual and gay relationships. In this post, however, we will focus on low sexual desire in women.
Points to Keep In Mind
- If you want to have sex less often than your partner does, neither one of you may necessarily lie outside the norm for people at your stage in life — although your frequency preference differences may cause relationship issues.
- At the same time, even if your sex drive is weaker than it once was, your relationship may be stronger than ever.
- There is no magic frequency that defines low sex drive. It varies from person to person.
The Symptoms of Low Sex Drive in Women
- Having no interest in any type of sexual activity, including masturbation.
- Never or only seldom having sexual fantasies or thoughts.
- Being concerned by your lack of sexual activity or fantasies.
Causes of Lowered Sexual Desire in Women
The desire for sex is complex, as it is multifaceted and based on the interaction of several factors affecting intimacy including physical and emotional well-being, experiences, beliefs, lifestyle, and one’s current relationship status. If you’re experiencing a problem in any of these areas, it can affect your desire for sexual intimacy. Following are three common causes of low sexual desire in women.
1. Physical causes
A wide range of illnesses, physical changes, and medications can cause a low sex drive, including:
- Certain prescription drugs, especially the antidepressant category known as called selective serotonin re-uptake inhibitors (SSRI), are known to lower the sex drive. (It is noted that some relatively newer drugs do not have this side effect, or at least have it to a lower extent.)
- Lifestyle habits. Being chronically sleep deprived crushes sexual desire. Exhaustion from caring for young children or aging parents are frequent culprits in such fatigue. Fatigue from illness or surgery may also play a role in low sex drive. And while a glass of wine may relax you and put you in the mood, too much alcohol can adversely affect your sex drive. The same is true of other recreational drugs.
- Health issues. Changes in your hormone levels may alter your desire for sex. This can occur during menopause as estrogen levels drop potentially causing dry vaginal tissue and painful or uncomfortable sex. Although many women still have satisfying sex during menopause and beyond, some experience a lagging libido during this hormonal change. Hormone changes during pregnancy, just after having a baby, and during breastfeeding can also put a damper on sex drive. Many nonsexual diseases can also affect sex drive, including arthritis, cancer, diabetes, high blood pressure, coronary artery disease, and neurological disorders.
- Sexual discomfort. If you have pain during sex or can’t orgasm, it can reduce your desire for sex.
2. Internal Emotional Causes
Your emotional state can affect your sexual desire. There are many psychological causes of low sex drive. Stress from work and/or family pressures can wipe out sexual desire. In a culture that encourages having a “perfect” body, negative perceptions resulting from feeling like you are defective or physically inadequate can squash desire as well. The same goes for those struggling with post-traumatic stress, anxiety, or depression.
Anger and resentment are other strong emotions that lower sexual desire. My book, Why Can’t You Read My Mind?, describes nine toxic thinking patterns that get in the way of loving relationships. In this earlier post, I address how to manage these inner toxic thoughts that lead to frustration, anger, and resentment, which can destroy yearnings for intimacy.
For example, toxic thoughts such as “You’re selfish!” or “You never think of anyone by yourself!” lead to distraction, distance, and disconnection, which I refer to as the 3D Effect. These toxic thoughts breed angry feelings that deplete empathy, the emotional glue that nourishes relationships and holds them together. This lack of mutual understanding can lead to negative feelings, which inhibit sexual desire.
3. Relationship Struggles
It’s hard to feel intimately connected when you feel emotionally disconnected because of a dysfunctional pattern of interaction with your partner. The communication dynamics between you and your partner can lead to relationship strain and problems. Sexual intimacy often falls prey to relationship struggles such as unresolved conflicts and fights, trust issues, and poor communication of sexual needs and preferences.
What Can You Do to Increase Sexual Desire?
- Get a checkup with your health-care provider to rule out any medical or physical causes that could be influencing your low interest in sexual intimacy. The solution could involve changing a medication you are taking.
- Manage stress in your life by engaging in a healthy lifestyle that includes taking breaks, engaging in exercise, seeking quiet time, and gaining emotional support from those you trust.
- Don’t pressure yourself to be more sexual; rather, gently explore within yourself if you’re concerned by your low desire for sex. If so, talk to a mental health care provider.
- Don’t accept a “new normal” of limited or no sexual desire, no matter how long it’s been occurring. Many couples in my practice have cherished sexual re-connection even after long stints of disconnection.
- Address any relationship issues with your partner that may be coming out sideways in the form of your shutting down as it relates to intimacy and sexual connectivity.
- Seek a relationship counselor if you and your partner feel unable to explore, communicate, and problem-solve what is going on between you.
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