When Men Suffer Low Sex Drive

It contradicts all the cultural beliefs we have about the way men are and/or are supposed to be, but the dirty little secret is... American men are flagging in their desire for sex.

"Men are so ashamed of speaking up about low sexual desire," observes Michele Weiner-Davis, a marriage therapist from the Chicago area. It violates their own sense of masculinity. But "low desire in men is America's best-kept secret," she says, and estimates that it affects "at least 20 to 25%" of adult males.

For women, the figure is thought to be much higher, somewhere between 40 and 50%. A woman ducking out of sex, the headache thing, "is as American as apple pie," says Weiner-Davis. It's a staple of every comedian's routine.

But it strikes terror into the heart of a guy to even think he might not be interested, because his sense of self is usually tied up in his virility. So no one has real information on just how many men are affected.

Find a Therapist

Search for a mental health professional near you.

Nevertheless, there appears to be a great and growing gap between the reality of the current state of male desire and the cultural mythology surrounding it. Men are more and more having it less and less. Weiner-Davis is seeing it among the couples who turn up at her door for help.

And their low sex drive often has little to do with hormones or biology and a lot to do with the women in their lives. Men today, often enough, are angry at their wives.

The first inkling that something unusual was going on in the bedroom occurred some years ago, Weiner-Davis reports. "I was working with a couple that wasn't making much progress in their relationship. The husband, a high-powered attorney, said in an offhand way, 'I guess we don't really touch that much.' My immediate thought was that the wife wasn't interested. But he said, 'No, actually it's me who isn't interested.'"

When she asked him what that was about, he said, "You know, my wife is so critical of me. And she hurts my feelings. She finds fault in everything that I do. I just don't want to be anywhere near her."

What's happening, Weiner-Davis says, is the couples are working hard in the office. And women are also working hard at home. And they are getting on their husband's cases. "In theory, she says, "women are equipped with the language to ask for change. But they don't; instead, they bitch."

They don't express appreciation for what their husbands see as their own contribution of hard work to the family. And it's emasculating.

Instead of saying "I'd really like to spend more time with you," or "I really enjoy your company and the last time we went to a movie together I really had a good time," the husbands more often hear: "You never want to do anything."

And that can shut off sexual desire as quickly as a terrorist attack.

Whether lack of desire originates with husband or wife, the end result is the same. There is a lack of physical contact, which is experienced by the other partner as the ultimate rejection.

"When one partner is yearning for more physical closeness and touch, and the other spouse is too preoccupied, too stressed or too angry, it's a big deal," Weiner-Davis insists. The sex-starved marriage is really all about feeling wanted.

In the presence of a mismatch of desire, all intimacy drops out on all levels in addition to the sexual. Couples stop having meaningful conversations. They wind up at risk of infidelity and divorce.

So, not surprisingly, Weiner-Davis has some counsel for couples in relationships marked by mismatched desire. It basically comes down to what she calls the Nike approach: JUST DO IT!!! This is her advice for the low-desire spouse, and admittedly it's provocative.

She points out that the quickest way to change feelings is to take action, that most people have to make things happen. We know this, and take action, in other areas of our life, like exercise. But somehow we make sexuality a forbidden zone, outside the laws of mortals.

For most people, desire doesn't just happen by itself. The way to get people moving is to take action. As the Italians say, the appetite comes while eating.

And in response to action, miraculously the other spouse becomes happy, feels much more wanted, and more committed to the relationship. And he or she begins to do things without being asked. Both people get more of what they want.

Current Issue

Dreams of Glory

Daydreaming: How the best ideas emerge from the ether.