This week we’re talking about libido. And an all-too-common problem for women is, “Help! I don’t think I have a libido at all!”
Listen to this question sent in from a reader, and see if it reminds you of yourself at all:
I have been married for a little over 10 months now and I feel like sex has been the hardest thing in our marriage. I often don’t want to do it, mostly when he initiates. After I spent time fighting it, I would feel terrible for not giving in to his desires. I love my husband so much, but my first reaction was always to shut down. Now, he doesn’t really ever initiate and I don’t feel like we are making love as often as we should. I feel like I have hurt him in some way. I know sex it good and fun, but how do I convince myself I want it?
First off, I just want to say how encouraging it is that this reader DOES have healthy beliefs about sex! Even though she doesn’t want it herself, she knows that it’s good and it’s fun, so there needs to be some change. Love that!
Today, though, I’m going to let Jay Dee from Uncovering Intimacy answer this reader’s question. He’s got some great stuff to say on this!
Many women are disappointed and confused about what happened to their sex drive. Maybe that’s you. In the beginning of your relationship, your sex drive seemed higher, seems healthier. Perhaps you were more easily aroused and were able to achieve orgasm quicker.
Now, it’s a few years into your marriage. Perhaps you have children, and your sex drive seems to be … well, gone, if not severely diminished.
But it’s not even that you don’t like sex!
About 50% of the wives in one of my surveys said they’d like to have more sex. Another 45% were happy with how much they were having. It’s not that sex isn’t good enough either. About 70% report that they’re happy with the quality of sex.
So, what’s going on with your sex drive? Where did it go?
To answer that, we need to hit a few topics. This post will not be an in depth discussion of them, but rather a primer so that you can learn more. If you want more on these topics, I’ve packaged four articles on these topics into a free ebook just for readers of this post that you can download here!
What we call “sex drive” is actually a combination of many different mechanisms working together. These days I’m hesitant to use the phrase “sex drive”, because it’s so misleading. I’d much rather husbands and wives understand the parts that we call “sex drive”.
So, let’s disassemble your “sex drive” so you can understand it.
That’s the technical term for when your body’s arousal and your mental arousal don’t match up. Many women who find out about this think “I thought I was the only one!”
In women, there is, on average, about a 10% overlap between physical and mental arousal. What does this mean? Just because your body is ready for sex, doesn’t mean your mind is. Or visa-versa. Even when you’re in a sexual context, only one in ten times are your body and mind going to agree to want to have sex.
Does that sound familiar?
This happens in our marriage all the time. It’s Friday night (almost guaranteed sex night). Our five children are all asleep. My wife managed to have a nap earlier, so she’s rested. We get to bed early. Kissing ensues, then foreplay … and then my wife says “I’m not really into this tonight”.
Maybe that’s happened to you. Mentally you’re there, but nothing’s feeling right. Maybe you’re just not “wet” and you figure that means you’re not “really” into it.
The truth is, your body has just decided not to get aroused. It’s not in sync with your mental arousal. Thank you arousal non-concordance.
So, what do you do about this?
Recognize that there are two types of arousal: mental and physical. Often they don’t match up. Realize that one is not more important than the other. Our culture has spread the lie that if a woman is wet, then she’s turned on. That’s not true. Your body can self-lubricate in a lot of circumstances where you would not be mentally aroused at all.
The flip-side is true as well. Just because you don’t get wet with your husband, doesn’t mean you don’t want to have sex. It doesn’t mean you aren’t “really” aroused. It just means … arousal non-concordance.
Responsive vs spontaneous desire
Men tend to have a more spontaneous desire drive. That is, they want sex often, seemingly randomly, and are ready for it even more often. For women, that doesn’t happen as much. They tend to have more responsive desire.
What is responsive desire?
Well, it’s when something sexual is happening, and you start thinking “Do I want this to happen?” If you let it continue, most of the time your body and mind will sync up. You’ll realize “Yeah, this isn’t bad, in fact, it’s really good, I do want this!” You didn’t before, but now you do. That is responsive desire.
Unfortunately, our media doesn’t tell us about this. We’re led to believe that people are spontaneously interested in sex with each other. It just happens. We are implicitly taught that if we don’t want sex right then and there, then we don’t “really” want sex.
This is not true. In fact, 30% of women will never experience spontaneous desire. You are far more likely to experience responsive desire on a regular basis.
So, what do you do about this?
Give it time to work. Most of the time your body and mind will sync up. Not always, but most of the time. A few minutes into foreplay you may realize “That feels good. I do want sex!”
My wife is all responsive desire. In our 15 year marriage, I can count on one hand, with fingers left over, the number of times she has spontaneously wanted sex. In fact, she’s said often, “Let’s just start, I’ll catch up”. By which she means, let’s start having sex, and she’ll get aroused.
Change your expectation from thinking you need a desire to have sex, to instead having an attitude of being willing to have sex. You’ll find that your sex drive isn’t gone … it’s just not what you expected.
The dual control model
Here’s the last piece we’ll talk about today. The dual control model. There is a part of your brain, that controls when you want to have sex. It’s sort of split in half, though the ratio changes. You’ll see what I mean in a minute.
Imagine your mental arousal as a car. The two halves are sort of like the “gas” pedal and “brake” pedal. Just like in a car, if you want to go anywhere, the best way is to push the gas pedal while releasing the brake pedal. You can drive with the brake pedal on, but you aren’t going to get anywhere quickly. You may still get there, but it will be a bit frustrating.
Things that hit your gas pedal might be:
- A good relationship
- You lost 20 lbs
- You just watched a romantic comedy
- You’re celebrating your anniversary
- You’re in your bedroom alone with your husband
Or a billion other things that make you feel that sex is a good thing right now.
Things that hit the brake pedal might be:
- You have an unresolved conflict in your marriage
- Body image issues
- You’re tired
- Being in public
Or a billion other things that make you feel that sex is not a good thing right now.
Each pedal has it’s own sensitivity. Men tend to have a more sensitive gas pedal and a less sensitive brake pedal. You, as a woman, are more likely to have a more sensitive brake pedal and less sensitive gas pedal.
Then there’s stress.
Stress does an interesting thing. For about 90% of people, stress makes the brake pedal bigger and the gas pedal smaller. In fact, when you are completely stressed out, everything is a “brake” pedal trigger. Your husband hugging you might normally arouse you. If you’re stressed to the limit, it will just make you want to push him away. Everything becomes a “brake” trigger.
For the other 10% of people, stress makes everything a gas pedal. I’m like that. Sex makes me feel relaxed, so the more stressed I am, the more I want sex. My wife is part of the 90%, so you can imagine how it goes when we’re both stressed…
Our culture has fed us another lie here.
It told us that if you want to be more aroused, you need to hit the gas pedal. Look at Cosmo magazines, they’re all about hitting the gas pedal. Try it somewhere new, a new position, handcuffs, sex games, whipped cream, etc.. Don’t get me wrong, those can be fun, but if your brake pedal is on the floor, all you’re going to do is spin your tires.
For many women, the question of “Where did my sex drive go” is not a question of drive. The engine is fine … you just have the brakes on.
So, what do you do about this?
Recognize that your sex drive is just fine. You just have to start letting go of the brake. That may mean reducing stress in your life. It might mean fixing the relationship issues. It might mean cleaning the house, or at least the bedroom. It might mean dealing with some body image issues.
Whatever your brakes are, most likely that’s where you should spend your energy.
Where did your sex drive go?
It didn’t go anywhere. It’s just not what you thought it was! It’s sometimes not in sync (arousal non-concordance). It’s probably not spontaneous, but rather responsive. You also might have your foot on the brake pedal.
All these things are normal, and even healthy. You need to address the triggers that hit your brake, but having a working brake is a good and healthy thing.
Your sex drive is doing just as it should be. You just need to understand how it works to get it moving.
Jay Dee is a Christian marriage educator who has a passion for helping couples create intimacy in all areas of marriage. His blog, UncoveringIntimacy.com, is known for addressing difficult questions regarding Christian marriage, especially regarding married, sexuality from a Christian perspective.