Dr J's Sex Facts

Fun sex facts and accurate information from a clinical sexologist for a hotter and more fulfilling sex life.

Friday, December 04, 2009

Dr. J’s Top 10 Couples’ Concerns, Part I: When She’s Turned Off

“I know love and lust don't always keep the same company.”
Stephenie Meyer, Twilight, 2005

The last tasty morsel of turkey has been stripped from the bone, and the crusty remnants of stuffing have been unceremoniously thrown out. Boys and girls, Dr. J is officially ready to rock and roll.

For the next few weeks, we’re going to mine the rich vein of couples’ sexual concerns. And when I say “couples,” please don’t think these are concerns just for women/men relationships. They’re universal to all of us, whether the object of our desire is male, female, transgender, intersex, or space alien. So let’s start with one of our most popular concerns: women’s sexual desire and the lessening or lack thereof.

“Desire,” Dr. J says pressing the back of her hand to her forehead and sighing. “I could write about desire for years and still not even scratch the surface.” The truth, dear readers, is that everyone has questions and concerns relating to desire. That’s because (are you ready for this?) we’re humans. That’s right; our sexual feelings don’t come factory-installed, and that’s why each of us is subject to the whims of mood, circumstance, experience and even financial concerns, to name but a few.

Here’s a composite of a letter I’ve received from many people who are partners of women. This happens to be from a man, but it could just as easily have come from a woman.

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"My wife and I have been married for many years. We have wonderful grown children and successful careers. We love each other and enjoy being together. We’re both in good physical shape. I think she's very attractive, and vice versa. There’s just one big problem: she has NO interest in sex with me, and this has been going on for 15 years or so. She avoids sex; and after about a month, I get more and more frustrated until I start pushing the issue. She’ll finally allow me to have sex with her only after lots of pleading and complaining. This happens over and over. I've told her we can’t go on like this, and I've suggested many things but she ignores them. She's been to her doctor, and there’s no physical problem. Please help! I'm desperate!"

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Dr. J’s Response:

Dear Desperate, you're asking me to help you deal with your partner's lack of desire, and I really can't change anything for her. I can offer that if this is really an important issue for her, I'm wondering why SHE isn't the one writing to me. Perhaps it’s because she's just as frightened, frustrated and upset about what’s happening as you are, but doesn't know where to turn.

Sexual desire is a very fragile and tenuous thing: it can come and go many times. You can't “change” or “fix” her unless she's unhappy with the situation too. Your first step is to ask her how she feels. Has it occurred to you that she may have some issues with your relationship as well? Perhaps she's bored, but doesn't know how to express herself or is holding back for fear of hurting your feelings (fairly common among women).

Ask yourself what changed since you first met. If she was the one writing to me, I’d ask her this: Do you think about sex—not necessarily with him, but do you think about it with anyone at all? Do you daydream about sex with celebrities, etc.? Do you self-pleasure? Have sexy dreams? If you do, that would be an indication that you’re still interested in sex, but for some reason you’re not interested in sex with your partner. This could be an indication it’s the relationship that’s problematic, not sex in and of itself. Does she trust you? Remember that violation of trust can affect women’s desire for years. If she feels you’ve lied to her, particularly about sex with someone else, you may be looking at months of sleeping on the couch. For some women, even thinking about sex with someone else is a violation of trust.

On the other hand, if she DOESN’T think about sex ever, if it’s not a priority for her, then she may be repressing sexual feelings, or she’s just not that interested in sex. Believe it or not, we all go through periods in our life when our sexual interests fluctuate—just like our interests in other aspects of life.

It may also be possible that, for some unfathomable reason, she’s no longer turned on to you. Of course, there are actually many other factors that can influence her desire. Is she content with herself? With her life? With your relationship? Is she going through any family or work crises? How’s her physical health? Unfortunately, there are numerous medical conditions that can contribute to a person’s lack of desire.

Is she anxious about something? If she’s feeling anxious or unsure of herself for any reason, it could be affecting her desire for sex. Or she may have conflicting feelings about being sexual, based on earlier issues in your life together–or issues from her own past history. She may actually be FEELING desire, but suppressing it, due to conflicted feelings she may be having. Are you aware of any reasons that might cause her to avoid sex with you? Does she feel valued by you? Is she angry about some unresolved issue?

There are other reasons she might not be turned on. She might be worried about whether she’s pleasing you, rather than just sharing and enjoying pleasure with you. This kind of performance anxiety can become a turn-off. Another possibility is that many of us receive subtle and not so subtle messages that sex is somehow dirty and wrong, unless you’re doing it for reproductive purposes. Sometimes these messages have a way of creeping into our unconscious thoughts and sabotaging any possibility of our experiencing pleasure.

And, of course, there’s the whole issue of YOUR attitudes and behaviors and whether any of those are affecting her desire. Is sex mostly about YOUR pleasure rather than hers? Could she somehow feel that sex with you is more about satisfying you rather than herself?

You’re probably thinking “I’ve really stepped in it now.” But you asked, so I’m telling you. Please realize that I’m not suggesting that you, perfect being that you are, have actually contributed in any way to the situation; I’m merely bringing up some of the many possibilities on the off chance that one or two ring a bell (ding!).

So, let’s recap: she may have negative attitudes about sex in general, or may have performance issues or be bored or frustrated or angry. Think about the issues I’ve raised and see if any resonate with you. Remember not to put pressure on her. I’m wondering what YOU think is contributing to this situation. You’ve probably got more insight than you realize.

Having said that, let me also remind you that it's fruitless to speculate about the possible cause because there are a zillion reasons why peoples' sexual desire diminishes--waaaay too many to list here (so many reasons; so little time).

OK; you've told her how you feel, and now it's time to hear from her. Sit back, relax and don't be defensive when she tells you what she’s feeling. LISTEN. If you truly love her, you’ll be willing to spend some time listening to her. She’s got to feel that she can trust you with whatever she’s getting ready to share with you, regardless of how embarrassing it might seem.

Hopefully, the two of you will be able to effectively and positively get to the bottom of this on your own. If not, a constructive step would be to see a therapist trained to help people talk about their sexual issues.

***

Tune in next time, when we’ll be discussing: When He’s Turned Off, or “I’d Rather Watch TV”

With Pleasure,

Dr. J

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