By Hara Estroff Marano, published on March 1, 2003 - last reviewed on November 20, 2015
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
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
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
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
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 don't express appreciation for what their husbands see as
their own contribution of hard work to the family. And it's
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
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.
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.