No one wants to believe that their sex drive will one day not be as hot and reliable as it is in the early years of their relationship, but it does happen to all of us. A reduction in desire, frequency, and satisfaction in one’s sex life is as not unusual as one might think. It can be helpful to view this as a normal trajectory in a long-term relationship. There is a natural ebb and flow to our sexual urges and this up and down is usually nothing to worry about. However, it may become a concern if the downs last longer than the ups, or if one of the partners finds themselves completely uninterested in maintaining a sizzling sex life. The loving balance of a couple may be upset if one of the partner’s sexual needs are not being met so it is essential to pay attention to this if you find yourself in this situation. The overall health of your relationship is at stake.
Often it is the wife who is affected by a drop in libido. The causes can be varied. Typical contributors to a diminished libido are aging, with the natural reduction in testosterone and estrogen hormones that regulate our sexual urges; physical or mental health challenges and the concurrent medications that affect libido; repressed or expressed anger towards one’s partner with the interpersonal factors; attention-demanding outside variables such as parents, children, or work, and–the most difficult to accept one of all–boredom in the bedroom.
Let’s unpack these situations and examine each one separately to see how they can be identified and what solutions are out there to mitigate their negative effects on your relationship,
Female aging and its effect on sex drive
Both sexes experience the effects of aging in the bedroom, but research shows us that men’s interest in sex remains a constant throughout their lives, even if physically their performance capabilities diminish. Starting at midlife, men’s erections are not as strong or frequent as during their younger years. But in general, men continue to think about sex and respond to visual imagery such as erotica and pornography throughout the entirety of their lives. Women, on the other hand, are two to three times more likely to experience a reduction in desire as they enter midlife.
Women are less visually stimulated (although plenty of women enjoy pornography, especially erotica produced for the female market). Their sexual response is much more complex and environmentally-dependent than men’s. This means that the “setting” has an enormous impact on women’s sexual desires. If she has had a bad day, or a fight with her husband, if there are unresolved issues in the marriage, or—and this is a big one for many women—if her partner does little or nothing to warm her up emotionally prior to initiating sex, the turn-on response is not going to be automatic. And that applies to all stages of a woman’s life—from the prime years for a sexual response, to the senior years when response needs to be cultivated in a more direct way.
But back to female aging and the expectation that libido will drop. Yes, desire usually, but not always, wanes with age. But as the menopause expert Dr. Christiane Northrup writes in her book The Wisdom of Menopause, menopause does not have to be a death knell to women’s libido. With the proper medical and emotional support during this time, the female libido can survive intact and can, in fact, become enhanced.
Solutions to the effects of aging
If you are in the peri-, menopausal or post-menopausal years, and you are experiencing issues with your sex drive, here are some solutions you might wish to try:
1. See your doctor
This can be your regular doctor or a gynecologist who has expertise in the menopausal process. Either can assess your symptoms and make recommendations for HRT, or Hormonal Replacement Therapy. This is a medical solution that eases your passage through the menopausal years and can help regulate the effects of your shifting hormones. Do inform yourself about the risks and benefits of HRT before embarking on any medical treatment.
2. Make an appointment with a sex therapist
Talking about your sexual challenges with a licensed, experience sex therapist can be extremely helpful as she can provide you with proven tips and guidance as you sort out what is going on sexually. She will be able to help identify if your issues are uniquely medical (in which case you will want to see a doctor) or if there is an emotional component to your lack of desire. If it is the latter, working on this with your therapist and perhaps bringing your partner into these sessions will help you get things back on a satisfying track.
3. Be open with your partner about what you are experiencing
Remember: good marriages are built on good communication. Talk to your partner. “I’m sorry that I’m not feeling sexy as much anymore, and I know you are wondering what is going on” can be a great conversation-starter for you both. You are telling him that you recognize that your sex life is not what it used to be and that you are concerned about it. This brings him into your circle of trust.
Physical or mental health challenges
Dealing with a physical or mental health challenge can have a direct consequence on your libido. Physical or mental pain is all-encompassing, leaving some women with little bandwidth for experiencing pleasure in the bedroom. Let’s first look at physical health issues and how they might affect sex drive.
Illness, short-term or chronic
Think about the last time you had the flu. The only thing you could think about was your bed, right? But not in that sexy way. No, you needed rest. The last thing on your mind was lovemaking. Just the idea of using your body for anything other than physical recovery was repugnant.
This is what illness does. It forces you to pay attention to it, and only it. That is your body’s way of signaling that you need to take care of whatever is plaguing you.
With a chronic illness, such as cancer, MS, or other auto-immune diseases, this is a particular challenge, more so than something short-lived like a cold or flu. The illness itself can rob you of sexual desire, and the necessary medications, such as chemotherapy, will have a direct effect on your sex drive.
For a short-term, limited illness, you and your partner will need to recognize that patience is a virtue. Your partner will have to put his needs on hold until you are feeling back to your old self. This is not difficult to do in a committed relationship, and if he is pestering you to take care of his sexual needs while you are still under the weather, this is a red flag that something else is off in your relationship, so you should address that when you are well.
For a chronic illness, the solution is not as simple. The wedding vow “In sickness and in health” is going to be put to the test in these situations. Some techniques that couples have used to help the healthy partner is an acceptance of self-pleasuring and perhaps use of pornographic materials, or even allowing the partner to have a partner exterior to the marriage who can meet his sexual needs such as a sex worker or extra-marital partner. All of this should be thoroughly discussed between the two of you, bringing in a therapist or experienced caring doctor to help you through the discussion and various options.
Mental health challenges
Mental health issues, such as anxiety, depression, eating disorders, bipolar disease and other can produce an impact on women’s sex drive, especially if the mental health issue is being treated pharmaceutically. SSRIs for depression, anti-anxiety medications such as Xanax, and medication that helps bipolar sufferers remain stable can all render women anorgasmic, or with an inability to reach orgasm. There will often be a complete lack of desire linked to the use of these medications. It is important to talk with your healthcare provider and weigh the pros and cons or dosage, usage and perhaps an occasional break from treatment (if possible) so you and your partner can have a satisfying sex life, if sporadic. If this isn’t possible, a discussion of alternate ways your partner can be satisfied sexually, through a sex worker, or self-stimulation, is called for.
Anger towards your partner
One of the biggest factors contributing to a lack of sexual desire towards one’s partner is anger, both repressed and expressed. It is difficult if not impossible to feel emotionally connected to a partner that you dislike. That emotional connection is a key component in a woman’s sexual desire so if that is being compromised because she is harboring some resentment, it is no surprise that her willingness to fully enjoy lovemaking is absent. This applies to hidden anger, where the woman keeps all of her dissatisfaction inside of her (indicating some communication issues) or overt anger, where the fighting and conflict happens continually in the relationship but never meets a healthy resolution.
Anger is a symptom of communication issues between you and your partner. The real issue to work on under the guidance of a skilled therapist is the communication style you and your partner have developed. You will be happily surprised to find that if you take the time to integrate healthy communication techniques into your relationship, you will see a benefit in the bedroom department as well. Good communication will bring you both closer, with a natural consequence of an enhanced libido and closeness in the emotional and sexual areas of your marriage. Women’s happiness with their overall relationship with their partner has an important effect on desire.
Your attention is being pulled elsewhere
All the variables that women are faced with when raising a family, working, and trying to do everything to keep the household running can impact their sexual desire. Who can muster up the will to have some sexy times when you’ve still got a million things to cross off your To-Do list and it is 10:00 pm on a Sunday night? And, for those women with young children, it is nearly impossible to enjoy an arousing session between the sheets when you know that everything is going to be interrupted by the cry of a child wanting one more goodnight kiss or another recheck under their bed to make sure no monsters are lurking there.
This is one of the easier dilemmas to solve. It involves reaching out to a support system to call in for extra help. This can be your husband, your parents, your in-laws, or, if you are financially able, paid help in the form of housecleaners, a nanny and other external sources that can help you cut down on your To-Do items and focus on your and your partner’s needs in the marriage.
So many couples underestimate the need to place the physical and emotional health of their marriage at the forefront of everything. They move through these challenging periods thinking that it is normal to be pulled every which way, that’s just life, and they neglect to give each other the radiance of attention that was there in the early days of the relationship, pre-children, demanding jobs, and financial responsibilities. This is a huge error and the root cause of so many divorces taking place in midlife. Ask any divorcing couple the reason behind the breakup, and they will report that “things changed,” or they “just lost each other.” This is not an inevitable consequence of moving through life’s different stages. You owe it to each other to be mindful of this trap and to put into place a structure that allows you both to devote significant amounts of time and attention to each other.
Boredom in the bedroom
Lastly, let us address an issue that can come up in long-term relationships: boredom in the bedroom. Your sexual life may have fallen into a pattern of routine. You know what turns him on, he knows what turns you on, and in the “interest” of expediency, you hit all those benchmarks because you want satisfaction and you want it quickly.
This is not an ideal situation, as boredom will lead to a lack of interest in one’s partner, perhaps a straying eye, and a reduction in desire.
Boredom and routine sex are two life-challenges that can be easily treated. It may be helpful to visit a sex therapist who can advise the two of you on some best practices to bring back the spice to your sex life. But you don’t need to enter into therapy to get good results. There are plenty of web-based resources that can provide you and your partner with some expert tips on breaking the cycle of boring sex. From role-playing to including sex toys, erotica and fantasy into your lovemaking, shaking up your sex life has never been easier. The goal is to get your libido back in gear, so be open about expressing your needs and what you think might be effective at revving up this most-essential part of your married life.