Where Did My Libido Go?
When you want to want him, but at the end of the day you just don’t.
Female sexual desire is a slippery sucker. Just when you think you have a secure grip on what lights you up, you don’t.
Research shows between 31% and 43% of women aged between 18 and 71 experience lack of or diminished sexual interest, defined as a period of several months in the last year.
The stats aren’t surprising if you pay attention to dinner conversation with friends, the sniping brittleness of exchanged words, the countless jokes and memes about sex (or lack of) after marriage.
So, are more than a third of us doomed to dodgy desire?
Philosopher Alain de Botton says that in principle everyone wants sex. In principle. Just not when I flop into bed at 10 pm after a day of work, kid wrangling, and household running. Expecting to be turned on at this point is like expecting your children to get dressed the first time you ask. It’s not going to happen. I have nothing left to give.
He goes on to say that if we don’t want sex, it’s because the conditions for sex haven’t been met or communicated. This leaves me wondering, is the way we set up our lives stifling the strongest force in human nature?
I’ve been deep in the psychology of female desire for years now. I’ve learnt that the idea of sex germinates long before his hands touch my body, and that a plot to coax me away from the washing basket and the workplace is useful.
I know that how I feel about my body, my effort towards personal grooming, and being able to mentally switch from ‘mother’ to ‘lover’ determines how responsive I am to intimacy.
Feeling available and present during sexual experiences is Desire 101.
Desire can be as picky as a two-year old at the dinner table but there’s one thing we can do to boost our languishing libido: set goals.
We’re used to goal-setting in other life areas and it’s time we did the same for our relationship and sex lives, beyond the scheduled date night.
A 2009 study by Finkel determined there were six types of sexual goals:
Enhancement — I have sex because it feels good
Intimacy — I have sex to feel emotionally close to my partner
Self-Affirmation — I have sex to reassure myself that I’m attractive or desirable
Coping — I have sex to help me deal with disappointments in my life
Partner Approval — I have sex to appease my partner
Peer Approval — I have sex because all my friends are
The study showed that women are more likely than men to engage in sex to enhance commitment and express love. This means we’re naturally geared towards taking advantage of goals one and two.
As far as the others go, goals three and four might feel good during a particularly low moment, or as a boost to your self esteem during casual encounters (hello I’ve been there after my divorce and I won’t lie, it felt validating and soothing), but they have zero impact on desire in long term relationships. Especially if your partner is the source of your disappointment and frustration, and then you’re not going there to absolve those feelings!
Goal five is well known and loved by women around the world. How many times have you heard ‘if I don’t have sex he’ll go elsewhere’? I lamented this very thing back in 2012 to my now ex-husband. I wanted to want, so desperately. As I leaned against the ensuite door frame while he dressed for work, I longed for desire to spontaneously combust. I looked to him to solve this ‘problem’ and reassure me our marriage was secure. My worst fears weren’t enough to incite excitement and the threat to our marriage from leaving him dissatisfied and starving was real.
Goals five and six have a negative impact on desire, snuffing out the remaining flicker of desire. They are a powerful antidote to desire because they tie sex to a sense of duty. Thus, intimacy becomes another task added to the bottom of our to-do list. When you have this mindset, his bids for intimacyfeel like they’re taking from you, rather than giving to you, and this just feels like work. We no longer see it as something for us. Over time, we may think engaging in sex to keep him faithful is positive, but it’s actually strengthening the neural link in our brain between sex and obligation, and turning us all the way off. Making it more and more difficult to tap into the positive psychology of goals one and two.
Only the first two goals are effective in boosting receptivity to intimacy because they encompass a healthy appetite to pursue one’s own pleasure, and a reveling in the closeness of sharing something private, pleasurable and meaningful with another human.