As therapists we find that sexuality is the subject that is most difficult for clients to discuss. When issues around sexuality arise, they are initially talked about on a surface level with the desire for a quick fix. It is with extreme difficulty that the subject is broached more than once, even when there are still problems. It is as if we would rather live without sex, or with our feelings of inadequacy, than to live through the embarrassment of talking to another human being about how we feel.
The number one concern of couples about their sexual relationship is differing levels of desire. Two common statements we hear include: “I would like to have sex several times a week. For my partner, once a month is enough.” Or, “I’m just not interested anymore. I don’t care if we ever have sex again.” Sound familiar? Unfortunately, because of our reluctance to talk about it, we are often left feeling unattractive, unloved, and unlovable. We look inward and blame ourselves or feel the relationship is hopeless, rather than risk sharing our fears, even with our partner.
Marilyn: From the woman’s perspective, the lack of desire for sex is a devastating blow to self-esteem. Whether it is her lack of desire or her partner’s, a woman inevitably looks inward and blames herself. It always saddens me when a client talks about her lack of desire for her partner then turns that lack of desire inward and doubts herself: “Why don’t I want him, he needs me. What’s wrong with me?” I have had clients become severely depressed to the point of being unable to function at work because they feel so inadequate. Rarely do women look at their lack of desire as an indication that there may be dissatisfaction in the relationship. Perhaps her partner has changed from athletic and well-dressed to balding with a beer belly. Maybe he doesn’t talk to her anymore; the only communication they have is about life’s necessities. Maybe he no longer buys her flowers, takes her out to dinner, or treats her with love and respect. These are just surface issues, but important none-the-less. And what about her feelings? Rarely do women pay attention to the anger and resentment that has built up toward their partner. Maybe he’s had a affair. Perhaps he is continually criticizing her appearance, her friends, job, the way she keeps the house. Maybe he works 12-14 hours per day and has no time for her. Women are aware of these shortcomings, but rarely do they see how these things could effect their sexual desire. Instead, they take all the responsibility for lack of desire upon themselves.
What women need to understand is that we cannot feel sexual toward someone we are deeply angry with or disappointed in. We cannot continue to feel sexual toward a partner who does not meet our needs (treat us with love and respect). Women need to feel loved to feel sexual. We need the emotional connection. We cannot be in the midst of continual tension with our partner and expect to feel sexual. It just doesn’t work that way. I once had a friend who said she wished she could paste comics on her ceiling so that when she and her husband had sex she would have something to occupy her mind. She feared that she would never feel sexual again. Although it seemed funny at the time, I could definitely relate to how she was feeling. Sex becomes a chore for women when they do not feel loved. This woman is now happily married and has a healthy sexual appetite. The difference: an emotional bond. She’s happy and fulfilled in her relationship.
Chuck: I find the lack of sexual desire in men very confusing. Scientists have said that males have a sexual thought or desire almost every minute, so how can you explain men who don’t want to have sex? From my perspective as a man and a therapist, I know it can be for a number of reasons.
A lot of men come home from work and have nothing left to give. It’s as if, to use the Mars and Venus analogy, he was out hunting all day and all he wants to do is come home and stare into the fire (tv). Another reason is that his wife’s appearance may have changed. He may have been very attracted to her yet with maturity her physical features changed and he no longer perceives her as an object of desire, but only as the mother of his children. He may have moved on to other goals, such as a raise or promotion, a new car or a new house. Another reason for lack of sexual desire could be that the man’s sexual health may be decreasing. Note the rising number of articles about prostate cancer and male impotence. These are just a few of the reasons men give for losing interest in sex.
How did you feel when reading that last paragraph? I know I felt that I was providing a lot of excuses, but these are the reasons I hear expressed by men. What men need is emotional nurturing. There are still a lot of men out there that have a hard time dealing with and expressing emotions. If a man felt that he could have pleasure and nurturing while making love then he would probably go for it every time. What happens, though, is that the nurturing is missing. A man will always have a pleasurable release, but what if the rest of the lovemaking process is stressful? “Am I doing it right?” “Is she enjoying this?” “How much longer do we need to engage in foreplay before she is ready?” All of these concerns without any nourishing equals an unfulfilling experience. Nurturing means that it is safe for a man to feel and express all his emotions. How safe do you think it is for a man to cry or even regress back to an earlier age during lovemaking? It’s not safe at all. Recently on the TV sitcom Friends, the women were making fun of their old boyfriends, one of whom always cried during lovemaking. The message: men are supposed to be strong. But, when men are strong during lovemaking, all you get is distance.
Marilyn and Chuck: It seems that for both men and women, when there is sexual dissatisfaction, the emotional connection is missing. The way that women can be drawn out is through romance and communication. The number one complaint women have about their relationships is the lack of communication. Men, take the time to talk to your partner. Share yourself with her — your highs and lows, yours aspirations, your dreams. Show her that you care. Treat her like the woman you fell in love with. Hold her hand, take a walk in the moonlight, buy her flowers, take her to dinner, send her a card. (Women, men appreciate these gestures also.) A man can be drawn out through interest and appreciation. Do you know what your mate’s life is like outside the home? Encourage him to talk about his interests: the Rockies game, white water rafting, computers, whatever they are. Men love to talk about themselves if someone is truly interested (and they can tell when you are not). Do you appreciate him for the little things? Say thank you when he washes your car, makes dinner, and yes, when he takes out the garbage! These are all areas that can be improved upon just by giving them a little attention. One of our main beliefs is that for a healthy relationship to continue to grow, you have to put the relationship first. That means it comes before the kids, your job, everything. You initially got together because you wanted to be with that person for the rest of your life. Why not give it a try?
This article, written by Marilyn and Chuck, is reprinted with permission from Woman’s Way Magazine. Copyright © 2001 the Relationship Specialists, Inc. All rights reserved.