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Why Having Sex Is a Chore for Some Couples

Just another obligation.

Research indicates that 40 to 50 percent of women suffer from a sexual disorder compared to 31 percent of men (McCabe et al., 2016; Cleveland Clinic, 2016). Low libido, or what professionals now refer to as male hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD) and female sexual interest/arousal disorder (SIAD) are two of the most common sexual disorders presented by couples to sex therapists. Some studies report that low libido is present in 8.9 percent of women ages 18 to 44, 12.3 percent ages 45 to 64, and 7.4 percent over 65 (Parish & Hahn, 2016). The disorder was found to affect approximately 20 to 25 percent of men aged 40 to 80 years (Lewis et al., 2010).

The pharmaceutical company that successfully develops and markets a drug for low libido will no doubt easily surpass the sales of all ED drugs put together. But that is far easier said than done. Two drugs have been tested and approved for women but come with some uncomfortable side effects. Addyi (filbanserin) can cause dizziness, fainting, and nausea, and Vyleesi (bremelanotide) for premenopausal women can bring about flushing, headaches, and vomiting.

While numerous causes have been attributed to low libido such as psychological (e.g., depression), systemic relational (e.g., control struggles), and medical (e.g., hormonal issues), it remains a mystery in part because of the many factors that could be operating, sometimes simultaneously.

In this post, I will limit the scope of low libido by focusing on those couples that report sex as a chore. Some time ago, a newspaper journalist decided to conduct a statewide survey about what couples preferred to do in their spare time. To his chagrin, “have sex” was seventh on the list, lagging well behind reading a book and going to a movie. He called to solicit an explanation.

Even though I knew the statistics on low libido, I was still a bit surprised. He didn’t control for the age of his subjects and so there were several relatively young couples in the sample. But then it hit me: The activities that scored high on the list were all things that could be done solo. You basically do not need someone else to read a book to or with you, and you can go to a movie by yourself. If I recall, going to the gym ranked relatively high and that is something people can also do by themselves. The journalist considered my explanation plausible enough and went on his merry way.

I, however, decided to pose the same question to several of the couples in my practice and they offered similar explanations. Now, I recognize that this is a skewed population—because they were having some difficulty of their own. But, without revealing my thoughts on the subject, they matched my thinking.

Nearly all of the couples questioned sided with the survey results, but they offered an important addition: Most said that the potentially solo activities were in fact “relieving," or void of "pressure.” One client said: “Most people work all day and are under pressure to perform. Some of us do not want to worry about pleasing someone when we have time off. We know it is part of being in a relationship, but the truth is, at times it feels like another obligation."

Albeit sad, there is validity to my client’s explanation. But not all hardworking people feel this way about sex. In fact, some cannot wait to have free time to be with a partner. This is only one man’s opinion, but I believe that certain people are prone to developing this attitude based in part on their childhood and life experiences.

Medical issues and relationship problems notwithstanding, I have found that individuals who were taxed at too young an age, or as we say in the business “parentified” in their families of origin, may have less to give than others (Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark, 1973). While they may start out with a modicum of energy, they may have less in the tank to begin with and are more likely to run dry sooner. I have noticed that some of these individuals have what I refer to as an “internal egg timer” and when this goes off, they are cooked, so-to-speak. It is true that some people have less to give than others, and in some cases, it is because they have already been drained.

Parents would do well to think about the long-range consequences of an overly helpful child. He or she may one day experience low libido and choose to read a book over having sex.


Boszormenyi-Nagy & Spark, G. (1973). Invisible loyalties. New York: Harper & Row.

Cleveland Clinic (2016). Diseases & conditions: An overview of sexual dysfunction. Retrieved December 13, 2016, from…

Lewis, R., Fugl-Meyer, K., Cornona, G., Hayes, R., Laumann, E. (2010). Definitions/epidemiology/risk factors for sexual dysfunctions. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 7, 1598-1607. doi: 10.111/j.1743-6109.2010.01778x

McCabe, M., Sharlip, I., Lewis, R., Atalla, E., Balon, R., Fisher, A., Laumann, E., Lee, S., Segraves, R. (2016). Incidence and prevalence of sexual dysfunction in women and men: A consensus statement from the fourth international consultation of sexual medicine 2015. The Journal of Sexual Medicine, 13, 144-152.

Parish, S., & Hahn, S. (2016). Hypoactive sexual desire disorder: A review of epidemiology, biopsychology, diagnosis, and treatment. Sexual Medicine Reviews, 4, 103-120.

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