Tuesday, January 20, 2015

Where Did My Libido Go?: Strategies for Dealing with Lack of Desire

Dear Viny,

Do you happen to know of any aphrodisiacs? My husband and I have a good relationship. We love each other. But we can go months without having sex. Part of the problem may be that we let our five-year-old sleep with us for the first three years, and I think we just got into a habit of not going there. However, the bigger problem is that my libido is totally dead at this point. It's like I'm a eunuch. For a while I thought it might be the progesterone in my IUD causing a hormonal issue, so I had it taken out. But that didn't help. I'm still not interested. I want to fix this problem, because it's becoming a stressor in my relationship with my husband. If you have any suggestions that do not involve opening up our marriage, I would love to hear them.

Wishing I Wanted It More


Dear Wishing,

You know what I wish? I wish I had the patent on some pill or magic potion that would induce sexual desire in women. No need for a retirement plan: I'd be set for life. There are a lot of ladies out there who struggle with low libido. (You know, it's really too bad that the most powerful aphrodisiacs I know of -- namely, jealousy and NRE, or new relationship energy -- are so often contraindicated. Just sayin'.)

According to Women's Health Network, "Women in long-term relationships -- even satisfying ones -- are often the most challenged by lack of baseline desire." Please note the ambiguous phrasing: are women in long-term relationships more likely to experience lack of desire, or are they simply more likely to have a problem with their lack of desire? After all, a single woman who doesn't feel like having sex is mercifully off the hooking-up hook, and can just relax and appreciate the fact that she's free to focus on other pursuits. A partnered woman who doesn't feel like having sex, on the other hand, probably has a pissed-off partner.

So I would like to suggest that the first thing you do, Wishing, is try to determine whether your lack of desire is actually a problem for you, or whether it's only a problem for you because it's a problem for your partner. In other words, would you still be unhappy about your lackluster libido if your husband were totally happy without sex?

If you're really okay with where your libido is right now – on possibly perma-vacay, somewhere without cell reception or reliable mail delivery – but you are worried that lack of sexual intimacy is having a negative effect on your relationship, here is my advice: Tell your husband the truth about how you feel. Sexual intimacy, like every other form of intimacy, requires authenticity. You're going to have to 'fess up about the fact that not only are you feeling fine without sex, you're feeling fine without desire. You and your husband will then have to decide how you want to proceed based on this baseline truth about you. It's possible that you are asexual or demisexual; I recommend researching these terms to see if they resonate with you. But no matter how you choose to describe yourself, please remember that your sexuality is not the problem. The problem is that a sexual mismatch exists between you and your partner. Fortunately, there are many strategies for dealing with this kind of mismatch. Unfortunately, none of them will be successful unless you and your partner can first come to a place of acceptance and understanding. You may want to consult a trained sex therapist or couples counselor.

If, on the other hand, you just don't feel like yourself these days, if you keep looking in the mirror going, “Who are you, and what the fuck have you done with my libido?!”, then you actually have a more easily-solved problem: all you have to do is locate your somnambulating sex drive, and gently coax her back to bed, where she belongs – that is, whenever she's not getting steamy in the shower, or luxuriating in the bath, or sitting pretty on the sofa, or rolling around on the floor in front of the fireplace, or yodeling from the topmost branches of the cherry tree in your neighbor's back yard, etc.

Yeah, right, you're thinking. Easy-peasy, pie & cheesy.

It may seem like I'm making light of your situation, Wishing, and it's true that I'm teasing you, just a little. But I'm actually trying to demonstrate something I feel is important: a light touch may be exactly what's called for here. When you take your troubles too seriously, spending all your emotional energy trying to ferret out causes and contributing factors, dwelling on the negative, feeling inadequate and defensive and resentful and anxious, you don't have any juice left over for juiciness. Desire doesn't stand a chance when stress and distress are hogging all your attention.

No, I'm not saying you should ignore the issue and pretend everything's fine. What I'm saying is that you can't force desire. You have to tease it back into your life, little by little. Your challenge, should you choose to accept it, is to seduce yourself.

Here's my specially patented, step-by-step guide, in case you need help with the how-to part:

Step 1: Read some books about sex. Given your particular situation, I highly recommend Bonk: The Curious Coupling of Science and Sex, by Mary Roach; The Erotic Mind, by Jack Morin; and Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, by Esther Perel. I learned a lot about myself and my sexuality by reading these books, and my hope is that you will, too.

Step 2: Watch sexy movies. If porn seems at all interesting or appealing to you, then go for it, obviously – but I'm guessing that right now you'll get more bang for your buck from films with less banging and bucking. I don't know what sights would be most likely to get you shifting in your seat, but here are a few random movies with scenes that I personally found very, um, memorable: Sex, Lies, and Videotape; Brokeback Mountain; Secretary; Blue Is the Warmest Color; The Piano; Under the Sun; and Bliss.

Step 3: After reading books about sex and watching sexy movies, try watching movies about sex and reading sexy books. Attend a sexy dance performance. Go to an exhibition of erotic art. Write about sex, talk about sex, think about sex – you get the point.

Step 4: Notice what comes up for you, now that you are actively engaging with the topic in ways that are meant to be purely informative and/or entertaining. If you experience a lot of psychological resistance during steps 1-3, then you may need professional help: please take care of yourself, and see a therapist. If you don't experience any emotional or psychological blocks that make it difficult to think about sex, at least in the abstract, but everything you used to find sexy now fails to elicit even the tiniest twinge or tingle of possible arousal, then you may need medical attention: please take care of yourself, and see a doctor. If steps 1-3 are mostly enjoyable for you, and seem to be reviving your interest, at least somewhat, then your libido is not dead: please move right on to step number five, and congratulations on a successful seduction!

Step 5: Develop a good relationship with your libido. Be sweet. Don't immediately saddle her up with a lot of heavy duties and obligations (“Okay, now that you've perked up a bit, it's time to make up for five months of spousal neglect!”). Let go of any guilt you may have around self-pleasuring. Give yourself permission to be a sexual being, even when no one else but you gets to benefit. Have faith that the good vibes will spill over into your relationship eventually. Give yourself the time you need, and feel your way back slowly (Omg, doesn't that sound so delish? Hmmm, maybe I need to take a little break from writing!...).

Step 6: Experiment, experiment, experiment! Buy one of those cheesy books with suggestions for revving up your lagging love life, and read it out loud to your partner in a cheesy accent while you both eat cheese puffs in bed. Play a game in which you and your husband each have to get yourself off secretly, at some point during a given day, and then at the end of the day, the other person has to guess when and where the deed took place. Make it a rule that for the next two months, you can only have sex in the coat closet while wearing fake fur and faux diamonds, on weekdays, at precisely 11:17 p.m. The exact design of the experiment doesn't matter. Don't stress over the details. Just try some new things, and make a note of what you find out. Sometimes, what you find out is that the experiment was a total failure – and that's okay! (Here's an example of a failed sexperiment from the annals of my own life: once, a few years into our marriage, dutifully following the instructions in some sexpert's book, my husband and I each placed three strips of clear tape in various places on our own body; the other person was supposed to find the pieces of tape by touch alone. We performed this exercise with the utmost solemnity, even though we both felt ridiculous during the whole rigamarole. Not sexy. Oh, well.)

Step 7: Reflect on what you've learned by doing steps 1-6.

Okay, luscious lady, it's time for you to start getting busy on getting just a little bit busier! Do let me know how it goes: I'll expect a detailed report in, oh, six months or so.... ;-) 
Saffron and Spice,

1 comment:

  1. I heard this and thought of this post.