Note: This is the first of a two-part series.
Dear Neil: My wife of seven years has seemingly lost all interest in sex. When I approach her, she says she’s too tired, or she doesn’t feel well, or she’s in a crabby mood. Before our two children (ages 2 and 4) we had a vibrant sex life. But now, she’s rarely in the mood. This is driving me crazy, and has caused me to reassess my commitment to our marriage. Can you shed light on why a woman would lose interest in sex—and stay disinterested?
All Dried Up in California
Dear All Dried Up: Michelle Weiner Davis addresses this question in her excellent book The Sex-Starved Marriage (Simon and Schuster). She says, “Try to envision what it would be like to rarely or almost never desire another person sexually or think sexual thoughts. And while you’re at it, picture yourself masturbating—and your mental movie goes blank—or your touches don’t feel sensual or exciting. Or imagine that your feelings of excitement are so fleeting that it’s hard not to feel frustrated. What would it be like for you knowing that millions of people are easily turned on but you feel deader than a doorknob? How would you feel about your body failing you in this way?
“And speaking of bodies, what if you didn’t like yours? What if you felt shame or embarrassment at the thought of your spouse seeing you naked in the light of day? How easy would it be for you to relax and feel pleasure? Imagine, too, that you feel pain during intercourse, that orgasms are few and far between, your erections don’t happen or don’t last very long: how eager would you be to initiate sexual encounters? Or what if you were in constant physical pain or felt ill most of the time? How enticing would sex be then? Would you be lusting after your partner or focusing on ways to alleviate your discomfort?”
Then there’s the issue of how stress, exhaustion and depression add up to make some people feel overwhelmed, uptight and on the edge—all of which further inhibits erotic feelings. And there’s also the question about how it would feel if your life partner had no empathy or understanding about what you were going through with all of this. How would it feel if you were repeatedly told of your partner’s sexual unhappiness, that you’re a disappointment in bed, and Ice Queen? (or for men, a wimp)? Would that make you feel more frisky or less, asks Davis.
She says that even if your partner acts cold-hearted or uncaring about how you feel about your sex life, behind such a defense is pain, because it hurts to know you’re letting the person you love down.
Another possible cause of your wife’s sexual withdrawal may come from a lack of closeness and intimacy in your relationship. For your wife, a more intimate and caring relationship may be what she needs in order to be more in the mood. Sharing your feelings (other than your disgruntlement with your sex life), spending time together, going on dates and being more affectionate may all trigger greater sexual desire in her, says Davis.
I will continue this discussion in next week’s column.