There is a stereotype that when two people in a heterosexual committed relationship are no longer having sex, the person who is most likely to have instigated the end of intimacy is the woman. She'd rather read a book, wash her hair, do the laundry -- pretty much do anything other than share physical intimacy with her loving spouse. She perhaps wasn't always this way; the relationship might have once been red hot. But now, bewilderingly, the passion has died.Of the estimated 20 million married couples in America living in sexless marriages (sex less than ten times a year) most therapists believe that about half the time it is, in fact, the woman's choice. The other half of the time, it's not. We recently wrote a book about this counterintuitive truth: He's Just Not Up for It, Anymore. When Men Stop Having Sex, and What Women Are Doing About It, published by HarperCollins/William Morrow in January 2008.When we were doing the research, we were surprised that many men took the time to write to us that they were, indeed, in sexless marriages, but it was their wives who rejected intimacy, not them. These men seemed as confused, hurt and rejected as their female counterparts. They asked us why this was happening, and what they could do to bring passion back to their marriage. So many men wrote to us that we decided to research the issue from the female perspective. There is a link to our new survey at the bottom of the page.
Please note that there is no one easy response to this question. A lack of desire usually stems from a variety of issues, and is generally considered to be the most common sexual problem in America today. The technical term is Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD); defined by the American Psychological Association as "a deficiency or absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity, producing marked personal or interpersonal distress, but not the result of alcoholism, a general medical condition or substance use (medication) or abuse (street drugs)."
So, if a person in a committed relationship has a low libido, but it isn't causing unhappiness to either or both, it isn't HSDD and it isn't a problem. This is an obvious, but important, point. If two people are happily married, but sex just isn't all that important to either of them anymore (or never was to begin with) they have no issue, because there is no "marked personal or interpersonal distress."
Unfortunately, this usually isn't the case. One person still desires intimacy, and the other doesn't. Why? What are the gender differences in this situation?
Here are some preliminary answers.
Some women are telling us they just don't know why. They are confused, and would like to wish their libido a safe and fast return home. Others are more specific, stating painful intercourse, anger and depression as primary reasons for their lack of libido. A few say they just had a baby, or that they want to be absolutely certain they don't get pregnant.
Here's an equation: Pain during intercourse is, to many women, what erectile dysfunction is to many men. They are embarrassed to talk about it with their partner, and choose instead to suffer in silence and just stop having sex. (After all, who would want to have sex if it hurts a lot?) And like ED, it has many causatives -- some physiological, others psychogenic; some relatively easy to cure with very low-dosage hormonal replacement therapy, others more difficult, but still very possible, to cure with therapy.Depression is another major cause of low libido in women, and, ironically, so are many antidepressants. SSRIs (selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) not only lower libido, they may also temporarily take away the ability to feel romantic love.Many women are angry. They think their husbands should do more around the house, or more with the kids. They suspect their husband is having an affair, or maybe found out that he did have an affair many years ago, and can't get past the hurt. Some say their guy has gained a lot of weight, and, frankly, could dress a little bit spiffier when they're home alone. In other words, he doesn't turn them on anymore. Or, they claim they are tired of being ignored, and feel that watching a ballgame has become more important than conversation, or just about anything else. All of this resentment builds, until any desire to be close is gone. The beginning of the end starts when sex is withheld as punishment for everything perceived of as being wrong.And some are just plain bored. They only want to have sex if it's worth having. Otherwise, as one woman told us, "He can keep it!"We thoroughly researched why men stop having sex, and found out a lot of surprising things along the way. Now, as we begin to do the same for women, we're sure that there will be a lot of surprises from the female perspective too.