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Groping For More
There's been a pretty amazing research breakthrough in "low sexual desire" in women who are married or in relationships, and it's detailed in the Advice Goddess column I just posted -- and almost nowhere else. Here's the question:

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

And here's my answer:

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 26, 2006 8:16 AM

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I've sort of run into this issue a time or two. And it makes me wish I were attracted to men. Because two gay guys want the same damned thing, at the same damned time. At the end of the day, that must really be nice.

Posted by: Joe at September 26, 2006 9:23 AM

I keep almost replying to this, and then deleting. My chief thought is, what is UP with these women?!? I just don't understand how it is that someone can NOT spend all day thinking about sex all the time, and creative ways to apply it... but then, I have a decidedly male arousal pattern.

You're probably right about some women who, in seeking a long-term mate, essentially settled for someone they weren't really sexually attracted to-- a friend for companionship. It's so important for two people to be on the same page with respect to what they want out of their relationship, yet that's so often not the case. Maybe they just don't know themselves well enough to communicate their needs to their partner. Or maybe they just assume without communicating.

I'm going to go download some porn now.

Posted by: Melissa at September 26, 2006 11:22 AM

Melissa, you're just great. A question: Do you have a high 2D 4D finger ratio? As in, if you turn your palm facing you, with your fingers flat and touching each other, is your pointer finger a bit shorter than your third finger, or about the same length?

Posted by: Amy Alkon at September 26, 2006 4:21 PM


Posted by: Crid at September 26, 2006 5:19 PM

Hee, thanks, Amy. And yes, my digits definitely reflect a high level of testosterone! (I think I found out about that study from your blog, in fact.)

Maybe that's a characteristic more men need to be on the lookout for when choosing a mate. "Baby, your fingers are so sexy!"

Posted by: Melissa at September 26, 2006 6:55 PM

So maybe that new study the lady psychologist came out with isn't so far off the mark : different brain specialization in the sexes results in ramped-up sexual desire in males at the expense of communications skills.

Posted by: opit at September 26, 2006 9:35 PM

There are thousands of variables that affect female sexual "response" or "intent", and many are psychological or environmental. Men sometimes seem to have two sexual speeds: "Fast" and "Off". You've probably seen those images of the male machine (one switch) compared with the female machine (a thousand lights, dials, switches, labels).

After years of being "in the desert", I found an oasis of sexual drive that is compelling and invigorating. Unfortunately for my current relationship, the discovery is the recognition that I'm a fucking BDSM pervert and that doesn't sit well with my husband. This discovery isn't some nifty, trendy whoop-dee-doo-- it's like a whole theater of lights going on, walls falling down, shell-shock. I can only imagine that it's similar to finally admitting to yourself that you're gay.

However! This facet of my personality isn't easily exercised for myriad reasons and my husband's desire to have complete control and say over it has squashed it nearly completely. He doesn't like it if I discuss sex with other people, for instance. He want to know every jot and tittle of my written or spoken conversations. Getting the third degree isn't foreplay, I'm afraid.
So-- I don't think about sex. It's just too much trouble.
When I do, my husband is unhappy because I want to do things he can't or won't do. I'm unhappy because I'm unfulfilled and don't get close to the kinds of things I desire. He's unhappy when I think about sex, he's unhappy when I don't.

Otherwise we get along in a stellar fashion, but we're like a couple of neutered cats most of the time. Affectionate and caring, to be sure. But not randy.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at September 27, 2006 5:17 AM

Of course, another explaination is that some people let themselves go after marriage. Really, what woman would be attracted to some overweight, bald guy in his late 30s? It happens the other way around as well but with men, the dropoff is more spectacular.

Posted by: kevin_m at September 27, 2006 5:21 AM

upon reading what I just posted, I feel I need to amend:

The spayed cat is me.

I love my husband and I really truly want him to be happy!
We have sex, not plenty of sex, but sex.
What makes him unhappy is the "not plenty".
My husband gets sex the way he likes it-- and I give him blowjobs that splatter his brains on the ceiling. I'm just thinking of the placement of the DIV tags in my most recent web design or something most of the time.

My errant sexuality causes trouble, so I suppress it.
I have a kid living at home. He doesn't deserve to have his life disrupted just because Mom is sexually frustrated! So big deal-- I suppress my dark side.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at September 27, 2006 6:14 AM

And yes, my digits definitely reflect a high level of testosterone! (I think I found out about that study from your blog, in fact.)

Good thing you live in the modern US of A, Melissa!

That fat British head-chopper Henry 8 outlawed BOTH physiognomy and palmistry when he was king. (He wasn't too keen on something else to do with irrational belief based on nonsense either.)

Amy, what's with the folk science kick re:fingers all of a sudden!?

Posted by: Jody Tresidder at September 27, 2006 7:01 AM

I'm with Melissa! I'm glad to hear I'm not the only one like that!

I think hormone levels are important, and there are 2 factors that I've noticed affect me. Being on the pill suppresses desire for sure, and being pre-menopausal has increased it through the roof (less estrogen in proportion to testosterone in the body!) Anyone else's experiences?

Deirdre, you sound like you're in lockdown in prison. Isn't there some way you can renegotiate your relationship so that you get what you want too? Seems awfully unfair that your husband gets everything his way all time. It's time for him to make some compromises!

Posted by: Chris at September 27, 2006 7:45 AM

Not palmistry, Jody-- try Googling "2d 4d ratio" and you'll find that it's based on the latest scientific study of how testosterone levels affect developing fetuses. It's very interesting stuff, and all evidence-based.

Posted by: Melissa at September 27, 2006 8:45 AM


Thanks for the kind thoughts.
Renegotiation is was brought us to where we are. I won't go into all the silly private nuts-and-boltsiness of it, but the upshot is that I don't want to disrupt my kid's life.
I'm a grownup already. He's still growing up. This part of his life will only happen once. It won't kill me to wait.

Posted by: Deirdre B. at September 27, 2006 11:38 AM

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