There are countless people in my therapy practice who tell me they have lost their libido.
Sometimes they have a medical condition that truly derails their sexual interest, or they are suffering from sexual side effects from prescribed medication. More often, though, their libido has shifted in a way that it’s hard to access or recognize. Understanding that shift can help you uncover your sex drive again.
People experience sexual desire in two ways – proactive and reactive
Proactive desire is what is associated with libido or sex drive. If you experience proactive desire, you feel a strong desire for sex on a frequent basis. You feel horny, you fantasize about sex, and you want to have it. You find ways to do it. You may think this is the right way to be, and something is wrong if you or your partner is not on the same page.
Conversely, if you have the reactive desire, you don’t strongly desire sex.
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You may not get naturally aroused at all, or at least rarely. If you are asked if you want sex in any given moment, in all likelihood, you would decline.
But your sexual interest is not non-existent. If you get started, if you get kissed, touched, or stimulated, your body often responds. You start getting aroused. The engine turns over! You get turned on. And then you desire sex.
That reactive desire for sex sparked by a stimulus is essential for you.
In my experience, a significant population experiences reactive desire. And no, it’s not just women!
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Some of you have always been like this. Some of you flip in and out of the reactive desire based on life circumstances. We all tend to move toward a more reactive desire as we get older. The relevant part is that your desire (and your partners) is normal and valid.
Reactive desire isn’t a problem that needs to be fixed
You and your partner both need to understand that nothing is broken, even if you may need to grieve the loss associated with not having those strong feelings of lust anymore. Once you know you’re dealing with reactive desire in your sex life, recognize that it requires an opportunity to arise.
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You must be open to the idea of entering into a sexual encounter and see what unravels. No promises, no high bar of expectations, but just the willingness to getting turned on and wanting sex.
Stop having a yes or no response to sex
I recommend that you stop having a black and white, yes or no response to sex and enter the grey area of maybe.
You can let your partner know that you weren’t really thinking about sex, but that you’re willing to give it a try and see what happens.
Perhaps your motor will turn over, perhaps not. Willingness to enter a sexual space together and to explore, in this context, is not an agreement to end up doing any specific thing, like intercourse.
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And because it isn’t, there can be room to say maybe.
Creating more opportunity to get aroused will likely lead to more sex, but there will still be times where your motor doesn’t turn over. One reason you may struggle with maybe is the concern about what will happen if you want to stop partway through.
Let go of the fear of disappointing your partner
The fear of disappointing or frustrating your partner can prevent you from even starting to be sexual. I encourage you to develop “other endings” that work for both of you in case one of you is really aroused and the other isn’t.
You can choose to participate in a sexual activity while still deciding how involved you can be and still feel good about it. You have options ranging from you bringing your partner to orgasm to your partner masturbating while you are present with them, or anything in between.
Once you both realize that there is more than one outcome that feels like a success, the easier it’s going to be to dive in and see what happens.
Reactive desire is a reality for many people.
That means it’s okay to start a sexual encounter with no arousal. It’s normal to have to build up your interest and to evoke your desire. Practice flexibility by having any number of ways to share sexual interaction. This reduces the pressure and creates the opportunity for your sexual relationship to thrive.
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If you feel disconnected or frustrated about the state of your marriage but want to avoid separation and/or divorce, the marriage.com course meant for married couples is an excellent resource to help you overcome the most challenging aspects of being married.
More by Jessa Zimmerman