"Although I love my partner as much as ever, I seem to have lost interest in sex"
- "All this fuss about sleeping together. For physical pleasure I'd sooner go to the dentist any day." (Evelyn Waugh, British writer)
- "I know it does make people happy, but to me it's just like having a cup of tea." (Cynthia Payne, after her acquittal of a charge of controlling prostitutes in a famous case in 1987)
- 37% of men have sex less than once a fortnight (MORI/Esquire poll of 800 men aged 18-45, 1992)
Sexual appetite (libido) tends to wax and wane - there are periods in our lives when we have little desire for sex, and other periods when sex assumes an over-riding importance. Most of the time we are somewhere in between. So losing interest in sex is probably a temporary phase, and not a disaster. In fact it is only a problem if it means there is an imbalance between our desires and those of our partner, if it makes our partner feel unloved and frustrated, or if we ourselves feel unhappy because of it. It is also important to remember that most people are having much less sex than everyone else thinks, as has been shown by many surveys. All the same, there may be a reason for lack of sexual desire which can be remedied.
Reasons in both men and women
Depression is one of the most common reasons. Surveys show that about two out of three people with depression lose interest in sex, as a result of imbalances in brain biochemistry. So it is not something that you should blame yourself for.
Medications, such as antidepressants, tranquillizers and beta-blockers, can damp down sex drive.
Stress and physical illnesses take their toll on every aspect of life, including sexuality. It is difficult to be enthusiastic about sex if you are worried, tired, in pain or generally under par.
Relationship problems of any kind can depress libido (although some couples find their sex life improves when other aspects of their relationship are rocky).
Something in the past can affect the present, such as memories of sexual abuse, or a demoralizing sexual relationship.
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Reasons in women
A contraceptive method you aren't comfortable with, or worries about infection can trigger a loss of interest in sex. For example, you may have noticed some vaginal discharge, or something about your partner's genitals, and are worrying that you or your partner could have a sexually transmitted disease. Some contraceptive pills, particularly those with a high progesterone content, can reduce sexual desire.
A new baby is very demanding of time and energy, hormone balances are changing and there may be soreness from stitches. So it is not surprising that 50% of women do not have much interest in sex for many months after childbirth (although 1 in 5 women feels more sexual than before). The American sexologists Masters and Johnson found that 47% of women had little desire for sex for at least 3 months after having a baby. Another survey asked women about their sex life 30 weeks after having a baby: only 25% were as sexually active as before, most said their sexual desire was much reduced, and 22% had almost stopped having any sex at all.
Breast-feeding causes temporary vaginal dryness and discomfort (because of the high levels of the breast-feeding hormone, prolactin), making sex seem even less attractive.
Painful intercourse is obviously a turn-off. This can happen because the vagina is dry or for various other. In some women the pelvic and nearby muscles clamp up so strongly when intercourse is attempted that it is uncomfortable, painful or even downright impossible; this is called vaginismus.