Patricia*, a marketing manager in her 30s, is plagued by a low desire for sex. She does it with her husband only once every two to three months. “He definitely wants more, but I just can’t get into the mood. Naturally, this has led to arguments between us.”
She’s not alone. Studies suggest that 30 per cent of young and middle-aged women in the US go through long periods feeling little or no desire for sex. In fact, women face a lack of lust more than any other sexual problem, be it an inability to climax or pain during intercourse. There are no recent local studies on this topic.
Dips in sex drive are often involuntary and there could be a gazillion reasons why. “We’re not machines so it’s only natural that our bodies – as well as libidos – respond to situational, environmental and physical changes over time,” says Dr Douglas Ong, an obstetrician-gynaecologist. “You might feel less desire for sex if you’re suffering from ill-health and depression, drinking too much, tired out from long working hours or going through hormonal changes during menopause.”
Another major factor that influences sex drive is stress, suggests Dr Martha Lee, founder and clinical sexologist of Eros Coaching. “Most of us do not realise that stress takes a toll on the libido. Our body interprets chronic stress as life-threatening so it naturally prioritises survival over pleasure. When this happens, less oestrogen and testosterone are produced – sex hormones vital for generating desire and sexual response.” That’s why you won’t feel like getting it on when you’re all stressed out from filing that work report on time.
WOMEN WANT TO WANT SEX
Most women with lagging libidos want to turn it back up a notch (even if there are some who might be okay with their sexless state). That’s because some remember the times they had regular, satisfying sex with their husbands. Others are motivated by their desire for children. Or, women with low libidos do not want to risk hurting their relationships with their husbands.
Sheryl Bathman, a marital counsellor explains: “For instance, a husband who’s working very hard, is insecure or too stressed to empathise with his wife’s lack of lust, may feel rejected, inadequate or even punished. A good sexual relationship is important for a healthy marriage.”
So what’s a woman to do? While men can easily get it up for an all-night love-fest with well-known drugs like Viagra, Levitra and Cialis, it’s harder to find effective libido-boosting options for women. Dr Christopher Ng, obstetrician and gynaecologist, states: “There’s actually no reliable magic pill to increase a woman’s sex drive. If your low sexual desire is causing you distress or affecting your marriage, head to the gynae clinic first. This will help you to get to the root of the problem, and rule out any pathological reasons, like a low thyroid function.”
GET YOUR LIBIDO BACK
If you’ve ruled out physical problems after a medical check-up, try the following tips. Dr Ng says: “For most women, adopting a multi-faceted treatment approach – sex counselling, lifestyle changes and maybe medication – aimed at the many causes behind this condition is what works best.”
ASK YOURSELF WHY
Do a self-evaluation first, says Dr Lee. “A lot of the time, we do have some idea of what the real problem is. For instance, you know if you’ve been working long hours or haven’t been sleeping well. If so, then you need to make certain lifestyle changes, like reducing stress and getting regular exercise.” Dr Ng adds: “Strengthening your pelvic muscles by doing Kegel exercises can also help you become more aware of the muscles involved in pleasurable sexual sensations, and boost your libido.”
REV THINGS UP
Ask yourself which areas of your sex life you want improved. “Is it merely the frequency you’re unhappy with?” asks Dr Lee. “Or is it the duration of foreplay and the overall quality of sex? When you understand what you want, you’ll be in a better position to implement changes in your bedroom routine.”
GET OFF THE PILL
Being on the progesterone-only Pill, as well as other hormonal contraceptives like the Evra patch, might dampen how often you want it. Dr Ng explains: “These progestin-only pills and transdermal patches have been linked to reduced libido in a small group of women.”
That’s because we’re programmed to feel the desire for sex just before and during ovulation. When we stop ovulating, we naturally lose that boost in sex drive. So if you want to feel the sizzle again, shelve those tiny poppers and opt for other contraceptives like condoms.
SEEK A DOCTOR’S OPINION
There are medical treatments that aim to boost a woman’s sex drive. “Testosterone-laden drugs and patches, for instance,” says Dr Ng. “But these are controversial as they can also cause acne, hirsutism (excess body hair) and mood changes.” There is also Tibolone (Livial), a steroid that relieves perimenopausal symptoms by increasing testosterone levels, thus revving up the libido. You can also opt for oestrogen therapy in the form of pills, patches or gels, which can help with sex drive by helping to maintain the health of vaginal tissues, keeping them well moisturised so that sex is not painful or uncomfortable. “But drugs or medical treatments should always be taken only as recommended by a qualified doctor,” says Dr Ng. “And only as a last resort.”
DON'T TRY THESE AT HOME...
Herbal remedies or over-the-shelf libido-boosting products like tongkat ali without seeking medical advice. Dr Ong says: “None of these have been clinically tested or approved by the US Food and Drug Administration and might have repercussions on your health.” Even the sexual effects of well-known natural aphrodisiacs like oysters and asparagus are based on folklore, not fact, Dr Ng notes.
Just because your sex drive is lower than your best friend’s doesn’t mean you must try and fix it. “Don’t compare yourself with others,” says Dr Lee. “Your sex drive is uniquely yours. If a lagging libido is not bothering you, your partner or your relationship, then everything’s okay.”
THE OTHER EXTREME?
If you feel amorous very often, you’re probably one of the few women who have a high libido because of higher-than-normal testosterone levels. Some women are also more sensitive to sexual stimuli. It’s a good thing, unless you seek sex constantly at the expense of your marriage. If so, you could be suffering from an underlying medical condition like bipolar disorder, so do see a doctor.
WOMEN REVEAL… WE WANT TO WANT IT MORE
“I have sex with my husband of three years about once or twice a month. I just can’t muster up the energy to do it more. He feels tired out too. We’ve been resorting to short sexcations abroad to force ourselves out of ‘work mode’ and into ‘sex mode’!” – Jane*
“We’ve been trying for a second baby so we’ve been scheduling sex in our diaries more often. Otherwise, it’s actually difficult to keep up with his needs – three to four times a week. Generally I’d be happy with just once a week – and preferably on a Saturday night!” – Melly*
“I feel turned on by my husband, but my mind is permanently tuned to work and all I think about when he’s nuzzling my neck is how I should be getting back to the computer to file that report.” – Penny*
MEN REVEAL… HOW WE GET THEM INTO THE MOOD!
“I SMS her seductive messages throughout the day. I’ve found that describing the naughty things that I’m going to do to her when we both get home is a great way to get both of us in the mood.” – Manny*
“When my wife pushes me away and tells me she’s not in the mood, I just roll over and go to sleep. I respect her decision – it must mean that she’s tired out from work. It doesn’t bother me much.” – Ryan*
“My wife and I live apart because of our careers, so actually we do it every time we get a chance to hop into bed together. That means she’s usually in the mood! Also, if I wear smart casual clothes, she’ll tear them off when we’re back home at night.” – Trevor*
*Not their real names
This story was originally published in the July 2011 issue of Her World.