Love and Lust

Marriage, we often hear, grows less sexual with every passing year. Yet research shows that long-term couples often have vibrant sex lives, even more than their single counterparts. Here's how to keep the lust alive. 

Sex & the High Octane Woman

An Interview with Sex Therapist Dr. Stephen Snyder

In Esquire, writer Stephen Marche tells his readers "why strong women just aren't that into having sex" with them anymore. Using examples of both TV characters and real life high octane women, Marche takes the position that "in the post-post-feminist maelstrom that is Danica Patrick and the Real Housewives of Wherever and Secretary Clinton versus Beauty Queen Palin," women may wield power, but that power comes at a cost. The cost, he says, is professional, social, and sexual confusion. "Sex," writes Marche, "has become a minefield just too tricky to navigate as [women] build a career or a family or a reality-TV-show franchise."

While sex and sexuality may be a "minefield," as Marche calls it, for some powerful and successful women, others have no issues at all with sex and their sexuality ... if only they had time for it! A recent survey of 3000 working parents in the UK not only revealed that working parents have precious little time to relax, it also discovered that over a quarter of those surveyed felt that their sex life suffered due to their hectic schedules and the exhaustion they felt from trying to keep up with all of their commitments. In the US, surveys suggest that the problem here is even worse. As reported on CBS's The Early Show, a recent national survey of working parents revealed that approximately two-thirds of those surveyed often feel too tired to have sex, and a national survey conducted by the National Sleep Foundation found that 33% of women surveyed reported that they had too little time or were too tired to have sex.

These results are not surprising for therapists who work with working couples or with high-achieving women who are trying to juggle all of the demands in their hectic lives. In fact, being too tired for sex or a loss of libido is one of the most common complaints among women in couple's counseling sessions. As Dr. Laura Berman reported on The Oprah Show, "A lot of women don't know that stress--chronic stress--will not only make you not want to have sex, but chemically it will negatively affect your testosterone levels."

To shed more light on the subject, I recently did a Q&A with Dr. Stephen Snyder, author of the Sexuality Today blog for Psychology Today, to share his insight on what seems to be a growing problem in many women's fast-paced lives.

Q: Most high-achieving women are aware of the connection between stress and fatigue, stress and anxiety, and even stress and physical illness. However, there is also a strong connection between stress and libido, isn't there?

A: People forget that sexual arousal is part of the Relaxation Response. If you can't relax, sex is going to suffer. The modern problem started with TV - which is passive, but for most people not really relaxing. The internet, email, and globalization have kicked this problem into another dimension entirely.

Q: In The Nine Rooms of Happiness, Dr. Catherine Birndorf writes that being too tired for sex is "one of the biggest epidemics facing women today." Do you agree?

A: Absolutely. It's true for men, too. Sex requires leisure time. But as I wrote in Sexual Survival in the Modern World, for most people I see in my Manhattan office the idea of leisure time is just a quaint memory. For such couples--and there are a lot of them--I recommend they cultivate frequent sexual arousal together, even when they're too busy or tired to actually have sex. The phrase I use is "simmering." Simmering takes a couple of minutes at the most. It's nice to simmer every day. Eventually leads to more sex, too.

Q: I frequently hear a lot of guilt in high-achieving women over a lack of interest in sex or being too busy to have sex, which only adds stress to their already stressful lives. Any advice you can offer?

A: The classic in the field is Kathryn Hall's Reclaiming Your Sexual Self. The heart of the book is the notion that there IS a sexual self, which needs to be honored. Sample advice: Don't fake arousal. The sexual self doesn't like it when you do. A more recent book I like a lot is Laurie Mintz's The Tired Woman's Guide to Passionate Sex. Sample advice: How can you expect to want sex if you never think about it? Give yourself permission to fantasize -- when you're at work, at the gym, etc. I spend a lot of time in my office talking with women about their erotic fantasies.

Q: One common characteristic of high octane women is perfectionism. They don't like to do something if they can't do it perfectly every time, which makes some high-achieving women feel that sex has to be great every time they have it. Your thoughts?

A: Don't worry about having great sex. Just focus on having good sex. As I wrote in "Open secrets about sexual arousal," I think of good sex as a regression to a somewhat infantile state of mind. Most people love that feeling, and they end up loving the people they have it with. Stay very basic. Breathe together. Practice motionless intercourse. Look into each other's eyes for a long time.

Q: Many of the women I've worked with over the years are very conscientious about their dress and appearance, not wanting to appear overly feminine or sexual in any way out of concern that others will think that's how they got to where they are. What are your views on high-powered women and sexuality?

A: In a cultural sense, women in high-powered jobs are still pioneers. Most modern people still have deeply ingrained ideas about men being socially or sexually dominant, and women being socially or sexually submissive. Cultural transformation is something I don't expect to see in my lifetime--but I hope my great-grandchildren get to enjoy it.

© 2011 Sherrie Bourg Carter, All Rights Reserved

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Stephen Snyder, MD, Associate Clinical Professor of Psychiatry, Mount Sinai School of Medicine, is a New York City psychiatrist, therapist, and writer specializing in sexual and relationship issues. You can follow him at www.sexualityresource.com, ww.PsychologyToday.com/blog/SexualityToday, and www.twitter.com/SexualityToday

Sherrie Bourg Carter, Psy.D., is the author of High Octane Women: How Superachievers Can Avoid Burnout (2011, Prometheus Books). For more information on high-achieving women, see www.high-achievingwomen.com.

Love and Lust