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The Art of Relationships

with Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

There is an art to maintaining the intimate relationships in our lives. Read on to explore our experts' perspectives, and learn new techniques to improve your own relationship skills.

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Wednesday, April 18, 2012

What to do About a Low Sex Drive

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Not in the Mood

I have no sex drive. I want a happy relationship, but don’t want to force myself to have sex. What do I do?

This is a question I’ve heard many, many times over the years. While I hear it more often from women than men, both sexes struggle with this dilemma. There are no quick fixes, but there are ways to address the problem.

To begin with, consider three common causes for this problem:

Relationship issues: Lack of sexual desire is a common problem in relationships that are troubled. You might immediately think of situations in which there is a lot of conflict and arguing. However, I am also referring to relationships that are no longer held together by an emotional connection. These are partners who continue to stay together out of convenience, for the sake of children, or out of inertia.  When relationship issues are the cause of lack of desire, improving the relationship or deciding to end it are the most obvious ways to address this issue.

If you want to revive your relationship, it helps to approach this with the mindset that it will take time and effort. Talk about the problems. Discuss all of your feelings; however, emphasize what you would like your relationship to become. If you hold deeply felt disappointments or anger, then you will need to work these feelings through together – possibly with the help of a couple’s therapist. As your emotional connection begins to grow again, it is likely that your sexual desire will also return.

Medicine: There are many kinds of medication that have reduced libido as a side effect. If you are concerned about this, talk with your doctor about your medicine. There are different ways that your doctor might be able to help. For instance, they might recommend you change your medicine or adjust the dose. It is important, though, that you share your concerns and actively give him or her feedback as you make changes. This will greatly increase your chances of finding a good solution.

Pain: Sometimes women experience physical pain during intercourse. Not surprisingly, this can (but not always) turn them off to wanting to have sex. It is important that you talk with your doctor if you experience painful intercourse so that you can find out what is causing this and solve the problem.

Equally real is emotional pain or numbness that sometimes accompanies even the thought of having sex. This can be the result of a history of sexual abuse or other kinds of emotionally painful experiences that have resulted in a fear of trusting and getting close to people. And, as I mentioned earlier, problems in a current relationship can reduce or eliminate a person’s desire for sex.

Age: It is not uncommon for people’s libido to decrease with age. This is something you can accept as part of natural aging, or you can put more effort into stoking the coals of desire.

Also, common problems for women as they age are vaginal dryness and thinning of the vaginal wall. Although you might still have a desire for sex, you might also want to avoid the pain. Many women find that pain during intercourse is alleviated with vaginal moisturizers (e.g. Replens) or water-based lubricants (e.g. K-Y). But if these don’t work for you (or they cause other difficulties), talk with your doctor about possible estrogen therapy.

In addition to directly addressing the causes of a lowered libido, it is important to maintain a healthy perspective on the problem. Remember that relationships are by definition a two-person experience. So, when either person is having problems in their sex life – or any other aspect of the relationship – then both people have a problem. With this mindset, you and your partner will remain a team and will nurture a happy life together.

If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic on the Relationships and Coping Community, click here.

Photo: iStockphoto

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 1:21 pm

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