Becca Hirsch, M.A., AMFT
We all receive mixed and unhelpful messages about sex. Whether it’s a commercial on TV, an article in a magazine, or your friend who is especially prone to giving unsolicited advice, we all experience it. What is especially unhelpful and potentially harmful about these messages, is that it leaves many of us feeling broken, that there’s something wrong with us, or that having a sexless relationship is inevitable over time. I often hear from couples I work with say, “I figured once you’re married, you stop having sex”, or, “I love my partner so much, but I just never feel up to having sex. There must be something wrong with me.”
It is true that after the honeymoon phase of a relationship has ended, sex often does decrease in frequency, and once you’ve been with your partner for a long time, the novelty of sex does change. However, that does not mean that your relationship is doomed or that there is anything wrong with you or your partner. There are many factors that impact our libido, especially among women. It is important to recognize these factors and understand that there are things we can do to address them and try to create change in our lifestyle, our mental health, and our relationship. While each person and couple is unique, there are three major factors that impact libido:
1. Stress. Most women, and many men, report that when they feel stressed, they have greater difficulty getting turned on and spend less time thinking about sex. When your plate is full with your career, kids, health issues, financial issues, and so forth, sex may not be on the forefront of your mind. While stressful situations are inevitable in life, we do have control with how we handle them and manage them. Learning stress management strategies and coping skills will help you handle your stressful life more effectively. (Examples: exercising, carving out time for yourself, spending time with loved ones and friends, mindfulness exercises, and seeing what you can take off your plate and ask for help from others.)
2. Anxiety (especially regarding body image and sexual functioning). I often hear from individuals and couples in therapy that they worry about how their body looks, if their partner is enjoying themselves, and if they will have an orgasm. When our minds are filled with self-critical thoughts and worry, it’s not creating space for pleasure and connection. Anxiety can lower your libido and impact your sexual functioning. The best way to soothe your anxiety, especially when it relates to sex and body image, is to seek therapy to learn tools to challenge your inner critic as well as practice mindfulness. Mindfulness teaches you to stay present and focus on touch and what feels good, instead of focusing on how your body looks or other critical thoughts.
3. Relationship issues. When there are issues in a relationship or marriage, such as arguments that escalate quickly, infidelity, or other significant issues, it can often result in a loss of libido, or a loss of trust in a partner, which can, therefore, make sex feel unsafe and too vulnerable. If you’re feeling a decrease in libido due to relationship issues, it would be helpful consult a couples therapy as well as an individual therapist for healing and re-establishing trust in the relationship.
Experiencing changes in your sex life and your libido over time is normal and healthy. If you are noticing that it is impacting your relationship, your self-esteem, or your mental health, it is important that you not only bring it up to your partner, but also seek outside guidance from a therapist for support, education, and to gain a further insight on how and why your libido has shifted.