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Groping For More

My fiancée and I have been together for two years and living together since December, but around March, her libido took a nose dive. Otherwise, our relationship is ideal: We’re mutually respectful, affectionate, supportive, understanding, generous, and our trust is rock solid. I’m completely baffled about her sudden lack of desire for sex, and she can’t explain it either. She fears it’s a sign we aren't supposed to be together. I worry that she doesn’t want me anymore and doesn’t have the courage to say it.

--Withholding Pattern

In the movies, when two lovers fall into each other’s arms and suck face like they’re looking for lost tonsils, it’s generally because the guy’s back from prison or the war, not because he’s just come in from taking out the garbage.

You’ve probably heard warnings that living together before marriage makes for ho-hum sex. Of course, so does living together after marriage, but then you’ve already got a foot in the trap. Most conveniently, the marriage lobby never gets around to mentioning that the institution wasn’t invented so couples could have a really hot time in bed. Just a guess, but that’s why there are marriage vows, but no such thing as casual sex vows to keep people from cutting out early on no-strings-attached nude fun. And whether a couple is married or just “committed,” note that there’s a huge market for self-help manuals like “Hot Monogamy,” and none whatsoever for books titled “Sex With Anonymous Hussies Needn’t Be Dull.”

You aren’t the only couple crawling around under furniture to look for the woman’s lost libido. In a series of studies published in the Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy, sexual medicine specialist Rosemary Basson noted data showing that a third of women lack sexual interest. A third? Hmmm…could the problem be not in women, but in the expectation that desire in women works exactly like desire in men? Well, that’s what Basson found. When a relationship is new, or when women are away from their partner for days or weeks, they’re more likely to have “conscious sexual hunger,” just like men. But, once women are in long-term relationships, they tend not to have the same “spontaneous sexual neediness” men do, but they can be sexually arousable, or “triggerable.” In other words, there’s a good chance the problem isn’t with your girlfriend’s desire for sex, but in how you’re both waiting around for it like it’s a crosstown bus.

A better approach is what marriage therapist Michele Weiner Davis calls “The Nike Solution” (i.e., “just do it”) in her smart but depressingly titled book, The Sex-Starved Marriage. Jumping off from Basson’s work, Weiner Davis explains that women may not feel desire initially, but if they just start fooling around, they’re likely to get there. You should also reconsider the notion that sharing a life means sharing living quarters. Since you might have a little more sex if it’s a little less available, why not rent the apartment across the street and just do a lot of visiting? If your girlfriend’s pilot light still can’t be lit, she should have herself checked out by a specialist in female sexual medicine -- who probably won’t be the corner gynecologist. Finally, consider the unpleasant possibility that love isn’t the answer but the problem. Maybe your girlfriend never was very attracted to you, but believed the hoohah that if you love somebody, attraction will follow. Wrong. Not gonna happen. But, minus attraction, there’s still plenty of opportunity for sleeping together -- as in, lying perfectly still in flannel pajamas after you’re both spent from 20 minutes of the hottest nonstop hugging ever.

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I'm having that same problem from the female perspective and it's no fun at all. My boyfriend feels like I don't love him anymore because I have zero interest in sex, and I feel like a circus freak. Can you give a tip on how to locate a specialist in female sexual medicine? It would be nice to find a doctor who doesn't think this is normal.

Posted by: Anonymous at October 2, 2006 09:18 AM

Just out of curiousity, are you on the pill? That could be part of the problem, as it does muffle desire to a certain degree.

Another thing you may wish to explore is what you are actually doing together sexually. To be quite blunt, does he enjoy performing oral on you, and if so, is he patient with you?

Just trying to be helpful.

Posted by: Chris at October 3, 2006 06:48 AM

I'm not on the pill, thanks, but I do know the pill can be something that quashes desire, so it was one of the first things I had to rule out as a cause here. There's much more to these letters than I'm able to print, but I do go into great detail with people much of the time, back and forth via e-mail.

Posted by: Amy Alkon at October 3, 2006 06:51 AM

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