After my daughter was born, I didn’t care if I ever had sex again.
Sleepless nights. Healing stitches. Decidedly unsexy sweatpants.
The ultimate in sensual pleasure was not a massage by my beloved, but a long hot shower uninterrupted by wailing.
Interestingly, I wasn’t the only one.
New fathers experience a decline in libido, too. Not just due to the desire-numbing effects of fatigue and stress, but also due to a drop in testosterone.
If they help out with the baby for more than 3 hours a day, their testosterone levels (and desire) go even lower.
No wonder so many new parents struggle to get their sex life back on track.
But for a certain percentage of couples…
Their sex life NEVER gets back on track.
Up to 1 in 5 women lose their sexual desire completely.
Whether it’s related to children or not, about 1 in 5 couples end up in “sexless marriages,” defined as having sex less than 10 times a year.
The Cause of Sexless Marriages
“Everyone” knows why couples don’t have sex.
It always comes down to the woman. He wants it; she has a headache. He’s always up for it; she’s never up for it.
But is that really the case?
Is it ALL her—and nothing to do with him?
With Viagra prescriptions just a doctor’s visit away, the popular belief is that men don’t have an excuse. If he’s not feeling up for it, he can just pop a pill.
Although the pharmaceutical industry is hot on the heels of a “female Viagra,” many believe that female sexuality is too complex to be addressed by a pill.
Female sexuality is exquisitely sensitive to context, feelings, mood, wellbeing, intimacy, trust, and many other factors aside from hormones.
It’s that complexity that makes low desire in women such a thorny issue.
Can a pill really turn a woman on? Isn’t that supposedly the purpose of foreplay?
Surely, if men invested the time in wooing their women, issues of desire would vanish.
Therapist Esther Perel is tired of hearing this same old debate.
She wants us to look beyond “he wants it/she doesn’t” to see how relationships themselves impact desire in both genders.
Could a lackluster sex life have more to do with the kind of lives we’re leading, rather than some supposed deficiency in women?
The Impact of Relationships on Sex
Perel has been rewriting the narrative of married sex ever since her first book, Mating in Captivity, burst onto the scene in 2006.
She believes the issue is not so much a difference in women’s desire versus men’s desire.
It’s reconciling the erotic with the domestic.
There is something about marriage itself that’s at odds with the uncertainty, mystery, and novelty that fuel desire.
The problem is marriage?
Of all the things to which we might attribute low sexual desire, surely marriage would be the last.
If women need to feel loved to have sex, as the saying goes, then married sex should be the ultimate in bliss.
As a wife, she is loved, supported, and secure. She has the ring on her finger. What more could she want?
And yet married sex continues to fade, even as a couple’s love and affection for each other grow stronger.
Perel jokes that babies are “the fatal erotic blow” in marriages.
Babies turn a couple into a family. As much as families provide comfort, affection and love, they’re not a huge turn-on. We don’t lust after our family members.
Taking Care of Everyone Can Kill You Erotically
Interestingly, it’s that activity that nourishes family life the most—caretaking—that contributes to the demise of eroticism.
Looking after those you love is “a potent anti-aphrodisiac.”
You’re always giving, sacrificing, making sure everyone is fine and everything’s okay. But that selflessness, which is so crucial to family life, drains you erotically.
Sex is a selfish pleasure.
The desire that fuels sex is the desire to take for no other reason than the pleasure it gives you.
If you’re out of the habit of doing anything for yourself, even taking a minute to sit down, then sex feels like something you’re doing for HIM.
A duty. Something you have to endure while mounds of unwashed laundry glare at you accusingly.
More than one woman has written her grocery list in her head while having sex with her husband, proving that multitasking is alive and well in the bedroom.
Nothing is less sexy than feeling overwhelmed, inadequate to the task of getting everything done, and then having your husband offer to give you a “back rub…”
Knowing that the 10 minutes it takes to have a quickie will erase any chance of sitting down and taking a few minutes to yourself before it’s time to get the kids off to bed.
No wonder many of the commonly-prescribed fixes for low sexual desire—lingerie, toys, fantasy—don’t work.
They don’t tackle the root of the problem…
Which may very well be a woman’s sense of herself as a selfless caretaker rather than a selfish sexual being.
So what can couples do?
Getting Your Sexy Back
The first step is to reframe a lack of sexual energy from HER problem to THEIR problem.
It’s not just her. It’s the way their relationship has been constructed.
How can she get the breathing space she needs to remember who she is again?
Ironically, one of the greatest gifts to a couple’s erotic life is distance.
When you spend time apart, you crave togetherness.
Perhaps that space gives you the perspective to remember yourself, who you were before all these roles caged you in.
Discovering yourself independently of your roles as mother or wife can help you connect with your sexual energy.
You’re not just a dutiful daughter looking after your parents or a gold star employee who never lets the boss down.
You’ve got an #InnerBadGirl whispering suggestions to lead you astray.
Saying no is another surprising way to connect with your sexual energy.
Being vigilant about demands on your time and energy can give you a sense of freedom.
You don’t have to do anything out of a sense of duty, even sex. Instead, you can ask for what you want.
Like a real back rub, instead of foreplay. Or a real conversation, instead of a grunted exchange. Or a spa weekend while he takes care of the kids.
Give yourself permission to be selfish. Give yourself permission to take.
If you have to send the kids to the babysitter, do that. If you have to go to a hotel room because your own house reminds you of all the chores yet to be done, do that. If you’ve got to hire a housekeeper so you can have some leisure time, do that.
Do what you need to do to feel selfish, irresponsible, and utterly languid with pleasure.
It won’t be easy.
Life has a way of taking up space in your mind, even when you want to lose yourself in the moment.
You may have to retrain your partner.
Instead of giving into sex on his schedule, you’ll need to train him in YOUR erotic requirements.
It’s incredible how a weekend away or a pampering session can awaken your sexuality in a way lingerie can’t match.
Ultimately, our relationships must rise to the task of sustaining our erotic interest.
We don’t have sex because we’re a couple. We have sex because we DESIRE one another.
And that desire is a two-way street.