Whether it is you or your partner who has lost interest in physical intimacy, this is a very distressing place to be.
Loss of, or lowered desire, in one partner is the main reason couples seek out sex therapy, and a major contributor to break up and divorce. A recent study into sexual health published by the British Medical Journal showed that 15% of men and 34% of women report that they’re not really interested in sex.
Your sex drive is a highly personal and sometimes transitory thing, it can ebb and flow in your life and can be found or lost so easily according to many complicated factors. The fact that our intimate lives are so unique to us and so very unpredictable can also make them very hard to talk about. Sex can be powerful enough to make you love someone, bring you together, and help you to repair a relationship. So it is not surprising that when sex or desire falters for one or both of you it can feel very destructive and damaging.
Depending on which side of the desire gap you are on you will feel: either hurt, rejected, under-confident and fearful that you are undesirable, or; anxious, guilty and pressured to want more sex for fear of losing your loved one. But the amount of desire you or your partner feels at any given time is unlikely to be anything to do with your looks or to the strength of your relationship. You can have low desire and still be madly in love and wildly attracted to your partner. In the BMJ study quoted above it was found that the biggest factor, which had an impact on libido was health — physical or mental.
If this is happening to you it is really important to understand what is going on so that you can set up good communication between you, and you can begin to work together on the underlying causes. That way neither one of you has to feel shut out, bewildered or rejected by this change.
Here are some approaches that might be helpful:
Talk, talk, talk.
If you have noticed that your partner isn’t as interested in sex as they once were, find a way to ask them about it in an open way. So rather than saying something that could be construed as criticism, such as: ‘We never have sex any more and I am upset’. Say something that sounds more like an invitation to talk: ‘I feel like we’re being less intimate with each other now. Is there anything going on with you? Or anything you need from me?’
Keep on topic
And that topic is communication, intimacy and closeness rather than sex. The subject of not having sex can become so fraught that you cannot actually have the conversation and need to rethink how to talk about it. Sex between couples that have known each for a relatively long time is so much more than simply sex — it is communication, touch, intimacy, connection, relaxation, etc. Try to talk about it in terms of the aspects of it you miss or long for rather than naming it all the time. This way you can keep those elements alive without it being so loaded and potentially accusatory.
Get in the zzzzs
Feeling rested and having enough sleep is one of the most important pre-conditions of a sustained longterm sexual relationship. So if you have trouble sleeping try to improve this pattern.
Avoid the xxx
Many couples struggle with how to deal with pornography in a relationship. Some use it to enhance their sex life while others feel very resentful that one partner uses it alone. In 2016, a study conducted by the NHS reported an increase in erectile dysfunction among healthy young men, and they made a connection to the increase in porn use among young men. The NHS expert said, ‘These young men do not have organic disease [so] one of the first assessment questions we would ask now is about pornography and masturbatory habit, because that can be the cause of their issues about maintaining an erection with a partner’.
Swear off sex temporarily and take some time to reflect and assess what you think is missing in your relationship. Are you spending enough time just relaxing together or are you constantly worried about the kids/getting to work/ or who needs to order the shopping or get some DIY done? When you do have down time together do you feel really heard? Do you have any simmering resentments about the way he/she has treated you in the past which might be blocking desire now? Try to tune in to all the underlying issues between you and work out a good way to clear the air and have a real conversation about this.
Get out of your comfort zone
The bestselling author and renowned sex therapist, Esther Perel, talks about ‘Mating in captivity,’ and how we all potentially could get a little bored and boring in a long-term relationship. As you may remember from the early ‘honeymoon’ days of your relationship, sex thrives on newness and learning things about each other. So try to shake up your routines and do different things together so you can begin to see each other in a new light and learn things about each other again.
Don’t forget self-care
This might sound like simplistic jargon from a self-help book, but it is so, so, so important to give yourself permission to care for yourself. I am absolutely not saying “have a bubble bath and everything will be okay”, but some people, feel that they were put on this earth to look after others, care for them, and this can make them prone to ignore their own needs. However, not being able to recognise those needs can make it hard for you to respond to sexual cues and sensual stimulation. So slow down; clear your mind and do look after yourself.
If you feel you would like some help tackling the issue of differing sex drives or need a safe space in which to open up about intimacy in your relationship, then specialised work with a trained sex therapist could be an option. Just call 020 8673 4545 or email firstname.lastname@example.org for a confidential appointment.