Most adults would agree that a regular pattern of sexual intercourse is one of the most important elements for a stable and satisfying romantic relationship. Research shows that couples who are physically/sexually compatible generally report higher levels of relationship satisfaction, compared to couples who have sexual difficulties.
For men, sexual contact is one of the best methods for creating and maintaining relational closeness. More directly, men will often seek sex as a way of relieving stress, expressing strong feelings, and as a preferred method for connecting. Most men will agree that they are visually stimulated, and able to become aroused quite quickly.
For women, though, sexual contact is more complex. Women experience sexual arousal in a more diffuse way than men, meaning that a woman will become aroused through a combination of thoughts, feelings, sights and sounds. This delicate interplay can mean the difference between “sorry honey, not tonight” and “sorry honey, no way”.
While all women, at some point, will decline sexual advances, the more frequent these denials, the greater the possibility that the woman is experiencing low sexual desire or low libido. Low libido, in women, is generally defined as a decreased interest or decreased desire in sexual contact, as well as difficulties becoming aroused or climaxing during sex.
As a woman’s level of sexual desire can be influenced by thoughts, feelings, sights, and sounds; it may not be surprising to note that there are multiple reasons women may experience low libido.
Some of these reasons include extreme stress, sleep deprivation, poor self image, depression & anxiety. Relationship problems and hormonal difficulties can also lead to low libido. It’s estimated that approximately 30-40 million women suffer from low libido in the United States. And it’s not unreasonable to think that every women will experience it at least once in her life, especially when faced with significant life changes (job loss, financial strain ), physical changes (menopause or weight fluctuations) or sleep deprivation (birth of child, extreme stress).
When a women fears she has low libido, she may feel inadequate or inferior. These negative feelings can be exacerbated by the media, who often portray a ready, willing, and active female as the ideal sexual partner. Decreased libido can lead to feelings of inadequacy which can lead to even further decreased sexual interest, leading to more inadequacy- and so on. This can create a vicious cycle.
Women with low libido may feel pressured or coerced into having sex with their partner, which can lead to resentment and even greater sexual avoidance. If women are feeling fat, or unattractive, they may seek to delay or prevent sexual intimacy so they do not have to feel vulnerable or uncomfortable about their looks.
Taken together, low libido can wreak havoc with an otherwise satisfying and committed relationship. So, in this situation, what is a couple to do?
The first step is to communicate about the problems. In a supportive and loving conversation, both partners should be free to express how they feel and what impact the decrease in sexual frequency is having on their relationship. It’s very important to create a climate of mutual concern and respect, and to avoid finger pointing or blaming each other for these sexual problems.
The second step may be to schedule a medical exam to rule out- or find solutions for- any medical issues which might be contributing to low libido, such as hormonal changes, medications, or physical illnesses and ailments.
The third step would be to find a place of common agreement on sexual frequency within the relationship. Each partner should recognize that, sometimes, intimacy is needed for the relationship as a whole, not just for the individual needs of each member of the couple. Think about what is best for the relationship, not just what one member would desire or prefer.
Finally, find ways to strengthen the relationship outside of the bedroom. Talk about dreams, hopes, and desires. Make plans for the future. Show affection freely, even when it may not lead to sexual intercourse. In essence, demonstrate love and caring for each other more of the time.
When both partners feel safe, nurtured, and cared for, medical conditions have been addressed, and there is ongoing conversation and mutual respect, it’s likely that, over time, sexual interest will return, and the relationship will be stronger for having survived this experience.