“It’s been a long time. I’m embarrassed to say it, but …maybe two years? I’m not sure what happened…it seemed like we just connected less and less in that way… we had kids, I was tired, and then later I got sick …but that was months ago. Lately, it just never seems to feel right. It bothers me sometimes, but life just seems to keep going on… We get along and I know we love each other, but sometimes it feels like we’re just roommates.”*
How much sex is enough sex? Ask any couple and you will often get two very different answers.
When we got married, my husband and I had both been raised in religious communities which advocated for celibacy before marriage. This was a huge challenge for us throughout our dating and engagement and meant that our pre-marital counselling consisted primarily of learning ways to avoid sex, not how we were going to enjoy it. On our honeymoon and for a long time afterwards sex was often painful and we feared that we were going to become one of the many, many couples we knew who did not enjoy their sex life. 17 years later, things are much better. We’ve done a lot of work deconstructing the ideas and values related to sex and sexuality that we received from our religious background. These messages, combined with the contradictory message of society, topped off by lack of experience, lack of information and some physical issues that required medical attention, needed to be addressed in order for us to have a ‘sex positive’ relationship.
What causes low libido? It’s complicated.
FAMILY/CULTURE/RELIGION/and SOCIAL INFLUENCES
A major complication in the area of sex and libido, is the endless amounts of conflicting messages about sex and sexual desire, that we get from our families of origin, our religious influences, our culture, and our society. All of these try to tell us what is normal and ideal. These tend to range from the message that we need to be completely a-sexual in order to be a moral person to the message that if you are not hypersexual, you are abnormal. Deciding what works for you, in whatever relational context you’re in, is more important than figuring out what is “normal.” One of my favourite little ‘sex talks’ is one on TED talks called, “The ‘Pizza’ Metaphor” by Al Vernacchio.
Al talks about ‘sexual appetite’ or libido as being connected to more than just intercourse and that variation in levels of sexual desire, or interest, are completely normal. Here are some areas to consider, if you and your partner are struggling with mismatched libido:
If you are unsure as to what might be going on, especially if you’ve had any other physical health problems, or your libido seemed to drop off suddenly with no clear influence, it’s worth talking to your doctor. They may check into your iron levels, or check if you have some kind of infection. If you have had interrupted or poor sleep for any length of time, libido will be the first thing to go. (Believe it or not, sex is not essential to living, but sleep is). New additions to the family are huge libido stealers as many new parents can attest. There are also many medications that can interfere with libido. Ask your doctor if you suspect a medication of interfering with your libido. Chronic pain is another obvious libido stealer.
Conflict between partners can often get in the way of connecting sexually. Depending on the intensity of the conflict (infidelity being one of the biggest ones – more on this in future posts), this can be difficult to restore. If your conflict feels insurmountable, it is worth talking to a counsellor before making any major decisions about your relationship. Grief and loss can also be libido inhibitors. If you are feeling stuck in grief, talking to a counsellor may be beneficial.
If you are stressed, anxious, or depressed, you can usually say good-bye to libido. It is worth learning methods to deal with, and to treat anxiety and depression, regardless of their impact on your libido (I’ll talk more about these in future posts) If your anxiety is impacting your sleep severely, or if you are experiencing thoughts to harm yourself or anyone else, call a crisis line or speak to your doctor ASAP). Even when a ‘libido-interfering’ situation gets resolved, couples can sometimes have difficulty becoming intimate again. For those who have experienced sexual trauma, and suspect that this may be inferring with your ability to be intimate I recommend consulting with a counsellor.
There is no ‘normal’ or ‘right amount’ of sexual desire or sex to have or to be having with your partner. The goal is to find a way of connecting that works both of you.
*Please note that all “client stories” are fictionalized, based on compilations, and not intended to represent any one person or couple.
For more on relationships and intimacy see Staying Together, after Kids
For more on sexual connection see Increasing Erotic Connection
For more on marriage/coupling and partnership see Mating in Captivity