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Whose duty is it to do what when sexual desire dims?

Who's responsible for her lack of desire?

Who's responsible for her lack of desire?

by Karen Kreps

I found myself deep in discussion about the imbalance of sexual drive in the marriage of people I didn’t know and would never meet. I had learned about them in an advice column brought to my attention by a retired medical professor who occasionally suggests topics related to my writing.

When he sent me the advice column, the doctor commented that the woman with the low libido “gives no indication that she has talked with her husband about her feelings, needs, fears, etc. She seems willing to settle for placating him—minimally meeting his needs or defining why she no longer is interested. It suggests a holding strategy.

“If I were her husband, I would not want to be having sex with her if she were not equally or nearly equally as interested as I was. Lord, I’d hope she’d tell me that she was not nearly as interested and would try to negotiate with me on what my needs and desires would be. I don’t think it is possible to provide sex to keep someone else happy and remain true to myself. I just couldn’t do it—and I expect that she would betray her disinterest, which in itself is a form of betrayal, isn’t it?”

The syndicated columnist Carolyn Hax had given voice to a thirty-eight-year-old woman who defended her low sex drive. Married ten years, with two young children, she candidly disclosed how she has little or no sexual interest. She was perfectly contented performing her wifely duties to satisfy her husband’s libido. It didn’t take much time. All she wanted was for therapists to stop trying to fix her. She stated:

“Marriage requires the ability to compromise, to meet halfway and to ensure his happiness to the best of her ability…I am okay with being told that this is something I should do to maintain a happy marriage. I am not okay with being told that I should see a marriage counselor, buy a book or apply a cream.”

Isn’t it a woman’s prerogative to take an active interest in sexuality—or not—as the cards were dealt to her in the house of love? What does it say about a gal if she’s not as hot-to-trot as is her male counterpart?

Researchers Masters and Johnson described the “human sexual response curve” as starting with desire, followed by arousal, orgasm and resolution. Women who experience loss of desire can nevertheless function well once engaged in the sexual encounter. Still, talking about her diminished desire may hurt the guy’s ego and breaks a taboo that threatens the status quo.

When I Googled “female sexual desire,” I found little about healthy desire but rather an abundance of literature on female sexual dysfunction, segmented into Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (where she just isn’t interested in, doesn’t fantasize about or initiate sexual activity) and Female Sexual Arousal Disorder (where she doesn’t respond physically to somatic stimuli).

According to study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association that broke ground in 1999, sexual problems are common in women and men, but especially in women. In a survey of men and women aged eighteen to fifty-nine years, about forty-three percent of women and thirty-one percent of men reported some sexual problem.

The complex set of causes may be physical, hormonal, psychological or social.

The recommended treatments range from medical (antidepressants, hormone therapy and counseling) to unregulated (lubricants, erotica and a good dose of open communication with one’s partner).

Our cycles of desire fluctuate, modified by such things as sleep depravation, fatigue, travel, the
weather, work demands, fiscal stress and family dynamics. And the challenge of finding a mutually satisfying frequency for sexual coupling begs the question of quality.

I question whether her lack of desire was entirely the responsibility of the woman in the advice column. It may be the result of her husband’s inability to stimulate her. As women mature, they can be very responsive. If she is not experiencing this, it may be because their marital sex may have become routine and too familiar. I’m not recommending that she go out and have an affair, but it may be that with another, more dynamic partner, she would have a totally different outlook. She may be perfectly content to have a low sex drive, but that complacency may be depriving her (and her husband) of experiencing more excitement and deriving much greater satisfaction.

They are having lazy sex, which doesn’t take long and doesn’t generate much response on either side. It makes me wonder if he is omitting foreplay, how strong his erections are and how quick he is to climax. If he knows she’s just putting up with sex so long as it doesn’t take very long, he doesn’t have much incentive to develop his staying power. He may be dissipating his seminal energy with frequent masturbation, and what is left isn’t enough to get her going.

She may simply strive to remain a faithful wife, trying to satisfy him minimally and not going after a big orgasm herself—but that leaves them both the poorer for it. The opportunity exists for the couple to reevaluate their needs, behaviors and responses and to rekindle their passion.