Intimate love — 26 February 2006
How to deal with loss of sexual interest (Part 1)

Healthy vital couples often share an active and satisfying sexual relationship throughout their years together. When a change in interest by either partner occurs it is a distressing and destabilizing event for the pair.

There are various causes for a change in sexual desire. Some are physiological, some psychological and some relational. It is important to assess the source of the change in libido so that remediating steps can be taken.

Very often both partners deal with the situation in silence while creating various scenarios in their heads as to the source of the difficulty. If the partners do not discuss the change in their intimacy, they only widen the distance between them, intensify their individual fears, mount the shame and lower their personal regard. When one partner has a difficulty it is a relationship issue and should be handled by both mates’ cooperation toward a solution.

Most couples are so enthralled with their early passion and frequent love making that they see a change as abnormal. What they may not realize is that there are some periods in life when a partner’s libido is expected to be reduced, and for good reasons. For example, mothers of infants are most commonly disinterested in intimacy with their husbands. In part it has to do with the total absorption with caring for the baby, receiving sensual pleasure through contact with the infant, extreme exhaustion, temporary abandonment of her own needs and loss of the image of herself as a sexually desirable person. All these ways may be nature’s way of welcoming babies to the world with the greatest attention and love as well as helping women better space their offspring while restoring their health.

Parenting small children is another period in life when sexual desire and activity may wane. Both mates may be overworked, uniquely focused on their children and life tasks, to the exclusion of their own needs.

Normal aging often affects one’s desire for physical intimacy. Older pairs who are still very close may experience less frequent love making due to slower reflexes, performance failures, pain or discomfort, which are common.

Midlife crises may temporarily lower sexual interest within the union. While some may feel physically aroused, it may not be by their mates. Being in transition of self-definition causes both men and women to shy away from intimacy.

Ill health or a disease process may hinder the physical ability of both genders and may relegate sexual activity to a strenuous effort, too demanding for the benefits rendered. Some medical conditions may interfere with potency and certain medications may also reduce one’s libido. Most of these conditions can be alleviated with appropriate medical attention.

It is important to overcome one’s hesitancy about talking about the changes one feels due to fear or embarrassment. A talk with a physician may be helpful in ruling out medical causes, while conversations between the mates may strengthen their emotional intimacy.

Stress at any juncture of life is another culprit in inhibiting sexuality. Being worried about work, finances, health, responsibilities, or any other emotionally taxing concerns may distress individuals enough to suppress their intimacy needs.

Depression is another major individual cause for experienced loss of libido. The feelings of apathy, disinterest in life, dim view of themselves and their lives takes its toll on depressed individuals’ sexual interest.

Being disappointed in oneself in other areas in life may also cause some people to extend the less than positive self-view to their sexual appeal as well. Perceiving themselves as not very desirable may cause these individuals to disbelieve their partner’s interest in them. Their sense of worthlessness shuts down their capacity for sharing love and physical intimacy with their partners.

When a partner experiences loss of sexual desire:

• It is important to first rule out any medical causes.
• Understand that fluctuations in sexual interest may be healthy reactions in certain life stages. Be patient with your mate during these times and find new ways for expressions of your physical love.
• Talk with each other openly about your needs and concerns and together pursue help, if needed.
• Realize that whether the cause for change is a health issue, an emotional difficulty or a life stage reaction, it is not an individual problem, but a couple’s issue to be resolved lovingly together.

Part 2- will deal with the relationship issues that are the primary causes in loss of sexual desire.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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