No Interest in Sex
"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.
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.
Reasons in men
Pressure to perform well in bed seems to be increasing - fuelled by media images of the ever-potent, ever-ready male. A man is expected always to be able to perform sexually. At the same time, modern society expects him to deal with increasing stresses in the workplace, to do his share of household tasks, to be an intellectual companion and emotional support to his partner, and to be a perfect father. It is no wonder that he finds he cannot perform sexually. Over the past decade, the number of couples coming to Relate (the relationship counselling organization) with difficulties blamed on lack of sexual desire in the male partner has doubled.
Heavy drinking is a common cause of loss of interest in sex (and problems with erections). This is because alcohol eventually reduces the production of testosterone by the testes, interferes with processing of testosterone (male hormone) by the cells of the body, and affects the parts of the brain that control hormone balance.
A low testosterone level is seldom the reason for a loss of sex drive, but your doctor can check this quite easily.
Questions to ask yourself
- Is this really a problem, are my expectations unrealistic, what do I really want, is it affecting my relationship? You and your partner may feel the situation is quite acceptable. On the other hand, it may be affecting your self-esteem and your relationship.
- Am I depressed? Feelings of sadness, hopelessness and helplessness, with lack of energy and disturbed sleep, and an inability to find anything enjoyable are symptoms of depression. Modern antidepressants are very effective at treating depression, and are not addictive. As your depression gradually lifts, your sex life will improve. If this doesn't happen, it may be that the tablets are curing the depression, but their side-effect is making the sex problem worse. Don't stop taking the medication; mention the problem to your doctor, who will be able to change the dose or use a different antidepressant.
- Am I drinking too much? If so, try to cut down.
- Have I started taking any new medications? A drug is unlikely to be the cause if you had already gone off sex before starting it, but otherwise it is worth checking with your doctor to see if any medication could be responsible.
- Is there any other physical reason? If you are tired or physically unwell it is quite reasonable to wish to put your sex life on hold for a while.
- Is there any specific aspect of our sex life that is putting me off? A relatively simple problem, such as the type of contraception or pain on intercourse, can be dealt with by a visit to your doctor or family planning clinic. However, there may be a problem which is easy to put your finger on but less easy to deal with. This could be anything - your partner's standards of cleanliness, the type of sexual activities your partner wants, lack of privacy, a suspicion that your partner has a sexually transmitted disease, a triggering of unpleasant memories of sexual abuse. Unfortunately, this type of problem doesn't usually go away on its own, but a counsellor (see Useful Contacts) will be able to help you find the best way of dealing with it.
- Is my loss of interest in sex really because I am unhappy about other aspects of the relationship? If so, tackle these issues, perhaps with the help of a counsellor.
Here are some exercises to rekindle sexual desire.
Staff, H. (2009, January 2). No Interest in Sex, HealthyPlace. Retrieved on 2023, December 4 from https://www.healthyplace.com/sex/psychology-of-sex/no-interest-in-sex