“Not tonight, honey. I have a headache.”
This old refrain makes us think of tired wives across the country turning down their desperate husbands for the hundredth time.
However, the reality is that women aren’t the only ones who suffer from low libido and lack of sexual interest. Men also suffer from low desire. And when they do, it can be incredibly complicated and challenging for couples to face. Many women feel ashamed and angry that their spouses are turning down their sexual advances. After all, men are supposed to want sex all the time.
It’s easy to see how harmful gender messaging about sexuality can be, both for men and for women. Men feel overwhelmed that they aren’t in the mood like they are “supposed” to be, and women feel suspicious and insecure that their partners don’t want them anymore. They wonder: Is he cheating? Is it because I gained weight? Is he not attracted to me?
The reality is often much less insidious. Like women, men encounter low libido for a number of reasons, both physical and emotional. Perhaps he is suffering from a hormonal imbalance (men go through a “change of life” just like women do, when their testosterone levels dip), perhaps he is dealing with a chronic condition like diabetes, or perhaps he is simply too tired and stressed from dealing with work and his hectic schedule. All of this can do a number on a man’s desire, especially if his relationship is tense and unhappy on top of it.
Here are some things women can do to help boost their partner’s desire:
• Consider his medicine cabinet. Did he recently start a new medication such as anti-depressants that might be doing a number on his libido? Other drugs such as Propecia (a popular hair-loss prevention drug) can also lead to decreased desire. Beta-blockers and anti-anxiety meds can have similar unwanted effects. He might consider talking to his doctor to find out if they are options that will interfere less with his sexual function.
• Get exercising. Nothing is better for your physical health (or sexual health) than plenty of exercise. Take a long walk after dinner each night or join a intramural sports team together. Get active everyday and make healthy choices as a couple.
• Encourage him to see a medical doctor. If he isn’t interested in sex, it could be due to erectile dysfunction which can often be easily treated with medical intervention. Most men will avoid sex all together if they perceive any risk of poor sexual function and once performance improves, libido often follows. A doctor can also check his testosterone levels, which play a significant role in sexual function and interest and often drop as men age.
• Address stress. If stress from his job or other aspects of his life are bringing him down, he might really need some support. Encourage him to reach out for assistance, whether that’s from you, a friend or even from a therapist. In fact, according to the research, the best prognosis for a man’s sexual dysfunction is when his partner is involved in the seeking of treatment.
• Talk about it. Don’t sweep the issue under the rug. If you want more sexual connection, you need to discuss it. Just make sure you do it in a way that is non-confrontational. Don’t accuse him or insult him (“I can think of a million men who would love to have sex with me!”) Instead, say, “I’ve noticed we aren’t having sex as much as we used to. I miss being with you and I love our sexual connection. What can I do to help bring back some of the passion and intimacy back to your lives?”
• Initiate sex. Don’t sit back and wait for him to make the first move. If you want more sex and romance, be the change you want to see in your relationship. Kiss him passionately when you leave for work in the morning, surprise him in the shower when he least expects it and be generous with compliments and positive feedback. If you make him feel sexy and desirable, he will automatically feel more in the mood as a result.
• Help him to make healthy choices. A big hearty dinner with a few glasses of wine might sound like a good way to end the day, but it could also leave you both too tired and full for sex. Eat light, nutritious meals, and limit your alcohol intake. Instead of zoning out in front of the couch, engage in some fun, heart-pounding (and libido-enhancing) date activities such as trying bungee-jumping or going to an amusement park. Push yourself outside of your comfort zone. The more you can get out of your rut outside the bedroom, the more you will get out of your rut inside the bedroom as well.
Lastly, just remember that it is not uncommon for people to experience times of low desire…whether they are a man or a woman. Just try to stay connected during this time and continue communicating, and you will survive with your relationship and your sexual pleasure intact.
Laura Berman, PhD, is a world renowned sex and relationship educator and therapist; popular TV, radio and Internet host; New York Times best-selling author; and assistant clinical professor of ob-gyn and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine at Northwestern University in Chicago. Dr. Berman is a New York Times best-selling author of many books on sexual health and pleasure, a weekly columnist for the Chicago Sun Times, and host of the radio program "Uncovered with Dr. Laura Berman."