Lagging libido

My husband and I have been married for 10 years and we have three children. Recently I've been having trouble reaching orgasm and feel like I've lost my sex drive. I'm 28-years-old and I'm lucky if I want sex once a month. My husband is 34 and he wants it almost every day. I'm tired of making excuses for my lack of desire. (My husband is the only man who has brought me to orgasm.) Do I have a sexual problem?

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Gayle Peterson

Gayle Peterson, PhD, is a family therapist specializing in prenatal and family development. She is a clinical member of the Association... Read more

Perhaps the loss you are experiencing is related to your image of yourself as a sexually attractive woman, or "good" wife rather than your sex drive itself. There is nothing wrong with fluctuation in sex, or wanting more or less sex than your partner. In addition, the pressure you are feeling about sex may contribute to decreased desire.

There is a lot of hype and misinformation about sex in our culture. Commercial advertising and movies promote the idea that people are ready to be sexually active at any minute. Any variation or change in sexual activity is often experienced as a loss. Sexual appeal is projected onto the objects we buy as well as our relationships. For example, when I bought my black jeep, to my surprise a colleague of mine described it as sexy! Our world inundates us with the suggestion that sexiness should be ever present in our lives or something is wrong.

Often cultural biases we learn when young lead us to believe that the "other" is responsible for our sexuality. Contrary to popular belief, or the beginning stages of "falling in love" others do not turn us on sexually. We, in fact turn ourselves on through accessing our own desire, bringing positive sexual feelings to the center of awareness. This takes time (maybe 10 minutes or less?) but is a necessary precursor to physiological readiness for sex. Naturally, when arousal happens quickly it feels as though someone else is responsible for our sexual response. Yet, it is the responsibility of each partner in a marriage to know how to access their sexual landscape and bring it forward to the relationship. Clearly, partners influence one another. But accepting responsibility for self awareness is crucial to success in any area of marriage, and sex is no exception.

Let go of guilt. Instead, begin to explore the nature of your own sexuality. After three pregnancies, you may still be reclaiming your body as your own. Particularly if you have pressured yourself to keep up with your husband's rate of sexual desire.

You and your spouse are different. He has not experienced the pregnancies or the hormonal changes that you have. He has not shared his body in this way. If he is not the primary nurturer in the family and you are, then he does not have the daily physical contact with children that you may experience. These are just some of the things that may absorb your creative energy, causing you to desire sexual activity less. Your husband may also not be feeling the societal pressure that a woman feels to be "sexy" in order to feel valued in the culture. Although he, like you, may experience cultural pressure about his sexual adequacy if he takes the difference in your sexual arousal personally.

It is natural for your sexual desire to ebb and flow, as you have described. It is unrealistic to believe that two people would not experience differences in their desires for sex. Lovemaking is an intimate activity requiring synchronicity of energy which is not always matched by your partner. More often than not, one partner is sexually aroused before the other. Sometimes a lover is sexually primed -- physically and emotionally -- while the other has not even thought about sex! Unfortunately, possibilities can be stymied when partners expect instant availability, rather than an invitation to become sexually aroused.

Sexual arousal begins internally. Heartrate, hormonal surges and other physical excitement follows a familiar, if not conditioned, pathway of sexual arousal in the limbic system of the brain. By the time a spouse has made a sexual overture to a partner, he or she has already experienced body changes. Their partner, however, may have other things on his or her mind. The initial overture can be perceived as a pressure if she or he expects (or is expected ) to be instantly responsive, sexually. This can lead to feelings of intrusion, instead of invitation.

Realistic expectations can prevent the interpretation that lack of immediate sexual response is a personal rejection. When a sexual overture is registered as an invitation to become aroused, there is more likelihood that sexual lovemaking will occur. With the understanding that two partners may be differently primed, the invitation from one to another can be considered! Consideration time allows for the partner who has not been thinking sexually to entertain the possibility, without pressure.

The fact that you have orgasms with your husband means you are orgasmic. You may have only had orgasms with your husband because he is the first man you trusted enough to let go. Trust is an important ingredient in intimacy. However, it is critical for a woman to know and relate to her own anatomy for orgasm, independent of a partner so that she can guide her spouse in pleasuring her more effectively.

Women are often not encouraged to understand their bodies, therefore they may depend on their husbands to develop their relationship to orgasm or other sensual, sexual pleasure. Although it is true that relationships are the vessel to contain our development, it is also important that we understand and relate to our sensual nature independently. Lonnie Barbach's book, "For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality" as well as the chapter on women's sexuality in Karen Johnson's book, "Trusting Ourselves" are good resources for deepening your relationship to your own sexual nature. Dr. Johnson makes the point that although boys handle their penis from a young age, a girl's genitals are not as immediately available for exploration. Masturbation may come more readily in a boy's development and is often supported by his friends. Girls, on the other hand, are not encouraged to develop their relationship to sexual pleasure. Yet without exploring what brings pleasure independent of a partner, it is difficult to take personal responsibility for sexual responsiveness in the marriage.

Explore your sensual and sexual nature and become aware of your personal biological rhythms. Invite your husband to join in your sexuality when you are ready to share, and interpret his overtures as invitations to do the same. You might also benefit by sharing your sexual histories and development with one another. Beginning to talk about sex will help diffuse guilt. By opening an avenue for communication, you will no longer be avoiding the subject, but will move forward together. And in some cases, it is the communication itself that becomes the foreplay!

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