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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.

Posted by aalkon at September 13, 2006 1:36 AM

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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 9:18 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 6:48 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 6:51 AM

My wife and I experience this same sort of thing from time to time. What is good for our relationship is that my job takes me away from her from time to time so that we can build up that sexual tension.

As Ms. Alkon aludes to above, give each other some space. Don't pressure her. That was my mistake, I often placed too much on the act(s) itself and not the intimacy. At bedtime, try just snuggling up next to her and holding her without initiating sex. Even when things "Pop up" and they will, don't make a move, just hold her until she falls asleep. You may need to do this for a few days, YES I know it is hard! I've done it! Then one morning as you slip out the door before she awakes, leave her a little note(with a rose usually works) and alude to special moment that the two of you shared in which she highly enjoyed herself. Then don't call her or mention it or sex even if she calls you. Let her think about it all day, and maybe things will be better that night.

We (men) cannot expect sex daily. It is NOT realisitc and it becomes just another daily chore.

Posted by: Winston at October 18, 2006 7:52 AM

"it's a sign we aren't supposed to be together." I hate that kind of thinking. One, that there's outside forces influencing the relationship, so she's not responsible for what happens. Or, two, it's an excuse for the obvious, she doesn't want you anymore and doesn't know how to break it to you.
Having different sex drives is so hard on the person with one. It's impossible not to take it personally. I wouldn't want to live the rest of my life without sex, or with, lukewarm sex.
Winston is right on about the pressure though. Pressure can kill the other person's mood. Anger or nasty comments can kill it for weeks.
It's human nature to want what you can't have. I'd try showing no interest whatsoever, but be loving and kind in the meantime, if that doesn't rekindle the flame and you've ruled out a physical/hormonal problem then I would consider ending the relationship. I spent far to many years with a man with low to nonexistent sex drive, blaming myself. Now I have a wonderful sex life with a similar libidoed partner. I feel loved on a base level that nothing else has ever touched. Life is so short.

Posted by: chicknlady at October 29, 2006 12:13 AM

My first question would be: was she sexually abused? Sometimes if a woman (or a man) is sexually abused by a person in a position of trust, they have strong reaction to increased intimacy and trust later in life. A similar thing happened w/ my ex and myself- after we moved in together the same thing happened and, long story short, she began to remember/ realize that she had been sexually abused by her brother.

Posted by: Mike at November 20, 2006 12:08 PM

That would not be a good first question, since she had no problems having sex before, and suddenly just grew weary of it. I can appreciate that you have anecdotal evidence you believe of this "recovered memory" stuff, but Elizabeth Loftus has shown that what people generally have trouble doing is forgetting traumatic experiences (ie, Vietnam), not remembering them; that's the stuff of TV melodramas.

While I realize that your wife went through or believes she went through some stuff, and I'm sorry to hear that, how does a person FORGET! they were sexually abused by their brother?

Here's Susan Clancy with a potential explanation:


Posted by: Amy Alkon at November 20, 2006 12:32 PM

The pill is supposed to quash sexual desire? Damn, I guess I would never get out of bed if I wasn't on it! YOU feel like a circus freak? I'm on the opposite end of the spectrum, and I'm much less socially acceptable. I have lived with my boyfriend for two years, and I would only be happier if we were in bed ALL THE TIME.

Posted by: Jessica at November 20, 2006 1:10 PM

The "wait it out(and never see)" approach doesn't work! Winston's advice is worthless - "At bedtime, try just snuggling up next to her and holding her without initiating sex. Even when things "Pop up" and they will, don't make a move, just hold her until she falls asleep. You may need to do this for a few days."

Winton's non-pressure approach seems reasonable. I don't believe in pressure at all! I tried the same thing for months and it left me as bitter as a three year old carton of butter milk sitting in an abandoned refrigerator.

Posted by: Ryan at December 7, 2006 7:49 AM

I go through cycles with my sex drive. There are some weeks I feel like I'm on fire, and some weeks I feel like a wet washrag. Take into account that there's other stuff in our lives, too. Is her job really stressing her out? Has a major change taken place in your lives (how long have you been affianced?)? And is she on any new meds or anything?
I also agree with the Nike approach. On my "wet washrag" days, I always feel like I don't want to. But once we start pushing buttons and getting into it, it feels better. Other times, you may have to really ease her into it, too. And some days, she may not want to. If that's the case, then just take it in stride. Cuddle, be kissy, be loving, and no pressure.
Have fun with it. If you love her and want to be together forever, you've got to learn how to deal with the troubles. And if you guys ever have kids, then you may wind up going quite a while w/o the deed.

Posted by: CornerDemon at December 22, 2006 12:30 PM

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