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She’s bared it all for Playboy—twice. On Dancing with the Stars, she exuded sexuality with each hip-strutting cha-cha-cha. And yet there was a time when having sex was the last thing Lisa Rinna wanted to do.
Rinna was 37 and her second child, Amelia, had just been born. She expected it would take a while to get her mojo back. But when months went by and still, her libido remained a distant memory, she became concerned. She missed being sexual, and she missed the intimacy with her husband, actor Harry Hamlin. But missing sex wasn’t enough to make her want it.
“It was horribly scary,” Rinna, now 45, says. “I didn’t know who to talk to. I didn’t talk to Harry about it because I was too afraid. I didn’t even think to talk to my doctor about it. So I figured it out on my own.” What Rinna discovered was that her sexuality was deeply rooted in her body image, which had suffered after her pregnancy. “I had gained 30 pounds,” Rinna says. “Your breasts are shot after breastfeeding. My hormones were all over the place. (For me it was about) getting my body back and feeling like myself again.”
So how did Rinna get her groove back? She took a pole-dancing class. Over the course of four months, Rinna got toned, regained her confidence, and before she knew it her sex drive had shifted from neutral to high gear. The most surprising part of the journey was understanding the role her mind played in getting her in the mood.
“I’ve learned that every woman is entitled to have a healthy sex life, and if you haven’t wanted to have sex in a really long time you have to talk to your doctor about it,” Rinna says.
Nearly 40 percent of women suffer from low libido, and the incidence level increases with age. For most, this lack of desire doesn’t bother them at all, but for 12 percent of women, low libido causes guilt, frustration and anger. Doctors are not completely sure why some women lose desire, but they are sure that the brain is a big part of the equation. The reasons include both the psychological and neurological, and the hope is that if women can understand their brains’ role in libido, they might be able to rediscover their sexual selves.
If you’ve lost your libido, here are some mind-body connections to consider.
Are you distracted?
Worrying that the kids will cause some coitus interruptus or being fixated on that problem you have at work can make it difficult for the brain to be sexually stimulated. “When we are thinking, ‘How am I responding? Are the kids crying? How is my partner responding? Do I look fat,’ these are all distractions,” says sex and relationship expert Laura Berman, Ph.D. Sex becomes a spectator sport, she says, and you’re rooting for the losing team. It’s no fun, and if something’s not fun you’re less apt to crave it anytime soon.
Is sex painful?
Vaginal dryness, triggered by hormonal changes associated with pregnancy or aging, can cause pain, as can a host of other factors from childbirth-related injury to infection. “Your vagina is not stupid and if something hurts, it’s going to protect itself,” says Lauren Streicher, assistant professor of obstetrics and gynecology at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “The way that it protects itself is the brain shuts down and says ‘Don’t go there. Don’t do that. It is going to hurt.’”
Do you resent your partner?
It’s hard to feel amorous for someone who is driving you insane. “I had a patient who drove eight hours to see me and talk about her low libido,” says Dr. Streicher. “When she got here she said, ‘I think I know why I have no libido. I just spent eight hours in a car with him and all I kept thinking is I hate this man.’ So for her, it wasn’t about hormones; it was about the relationship.”
Are you sleep deprived?
After a long day of juggling kids and work, your brain craves one thing between the sheets: sleep. So encouraging your brain to switch from sleep mode to sex mode isn’t always easy. “Before babies, people think you go to bed at night and that is when you have sex,” Dr. Streicher says. “You have to rethink that. Maybe the best time to have sex is during the baby’s morning nap.”
Could it be HSDD?
Doctors are just beginning to understand the neurological basis for lack of desire in women. In some women with hypoactive sexual desire disorder, little activity is seen in the part of the brain that is usually stimulated by the back rub or the dirty talk, says Dr. Berman. Neurotransmitters are not communicating, and so the body doesn’t get the message to rev up the sex engine. There are no FDA-approved treatments for HSDD, although Dr. Berman says hormone treatments have helped some patients.
Talk to your gynecologist about any issues you are having. And if she doesn’t take your concerns seriously, start shopping for a new doctor. “You have to dump the doctor when he tells you, ‘Just get used to it.’ Or, ‘Once you have kids, it all goes away,’” says Dr. Berman. “None of these are satisfactory responses, so you have to sometimes go through a couple of frog doctors before you find a prince.” Talking to your partner about your lack of desire isn’t easy, but can be pivotal. To help, Dr. Berman recommends using the questionnaire found on the Sex Brain Body: Make the Connection Web site. Or do what Rinna did—figure out what will make you feel sexy again. “I read about the pole dancing class and thought, ‘I have to do it. It scares me to death but I have to do it,’” Rinna says. “Intuitively I knew that this class would help me get back in touch with my body.”