Sex & Sociability

Question and commentary on connections, both sexual and social

What's Behind a Loss of Libido

There are multiple causes, but encouraging approaches to improvement.

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Why We Lose Libido

It’s quite common for a woman to lose interest in sex when there is an upheaval in her hormones such as pregnancy, nursing, or menopause. Men have natural hormonal decline with age, or it can happen suddenly, such as after prostate surgery. In any case, a decline in the hormone testosterone in either sex causes a simultaneous decline in sexual interest—so it is the first cause we look for when there is such a loss of libido.

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The second major cause of loss of sexual interest is personal and individual—that is, it has nothing to do with his or her partner. A person can be ill or in pain; feel overburdened and overscheduled; experience the effects of medication for some other condition that causes a loss of libido; or find themselves wrestling with some personal demons such as work pressures or family problems. He or she may have certain beliefs, such as that sex is no longer appropriate or possible the way they are accustomed to. In these situations, attending to the sexual needs of a partner may feel like just another chore in an already overburdened life—and discussing it just too difficult to think about.

The third major cause of a lack of sexual interest is relational, having to do with what is going on in the partnered relationship. When a person is angry with a partner, or disgusted by his or her behavior, having sex with him or her is the last thing they think about.

What Can Be Done?

As a sex and relationship therapist (a licensed marriage and family counselor and a Board-certified sex therapist), I explore all of these possible causes, often strongly suggesting that the individual who has suffered the loss of libido have a thorough physical examination before coming in for therapy. If there are physical causes, we can acknowledge them, sometimes correct them, and work around them while focusing on any of the other circumstances.

In many cases, physical changes either cause or compound the problem. After a woman ceases to produce natural lubrication, intercourse can be uncomfortable or painful. There are many products on the market to replace lubrication, so common that they can be found in supermarket and drug-store aisles. These can be applied by the woman or her partner. However, people need to know of these products before they can avail themselves of them.

Many people believe that sex just can’t happen without a man’s erection—and many men simply stop initiating when they can no longer count on having one on demand. Heavily advertised aids such as Viagra are available for the asking from most physicians, but if the desire for sex isn’t there, these really don’t solve the problem.

In many cases, education can make things better, if not totally solve the problem: What remedies are available? What can be changed in your personal situation? Have you discussed your situation with your physician? Have you discussed it honestly with your customary sex partner? Have you considered sex therapy?

A Couple's Concern

If you are the one with the loss of libido, it is important to remember that you are part of a couple (if you are), and that your partner quite possibly still has sexual longings. Ignoring the situation and not talking about it will not make it go away. Talk with your partner about his or her needs and what you can do to satisfy them. Are you willing to have an open relationship so that your partner can be sexual elsewhere? Most people are not. Therefore, with desire of your own or not, it may be up to you to tend to your partner’s desires. Affectionate touching can go a long way here if specifically sexual accommodation is just not possible.

If it’s your partner who has lost desire or has just stopped being sexual with you it’s important to talk about the situation without accusations but from a problem-solving perspective. You might be surprised at how often sex within a longtime couple just stops. Nobody says anything about it and the person who still would like sex is simply stuck in his or her bewilderment, frustration, and resentment. Not a good solution. Communication is important, even if it is one-sided. Tell your partner how you feel and what you propose to make the situation better. Sometimes simply acknowledging that the situation exists improves the atmosphere and can start a dialog about possible solutions.

While you educate yourself and seek some solutions it is important to stay connected—both psychologically and physically. Regular sex greases the wheels of a couple’s daily life. When it is absent, frictions that might have been minor irritations before can flare up to be major. Sexual frustration can make a person difficult to live with. Guilt on the part of the one with no libido can make him or her distant or resentful of his partner’s continuing needs. Loss of libido, a lack of interest in sex, is not necessarily the same as a lack of interest in your partner as a person. Whether it’s you or your partner who has lost sexual interest, it’s important to remember to, as the old song goes “keep the home fires burning.”

Isadora AlmanM.F.T., is a Board-certified sex, marriage, and family therapist, lecturer, author, and syndicated advice columnist of "Ask Isadora."

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