Intimate love — 15 May 2011
How to maintain your interest in sex

Decrease in sexual interest among American couples is a growing phenomenon. It may be a cause and/or an outcome of medical or relationship issues.

A 2004 study reported in WebMD stated that one third of women aged 18 to 59 suffer from loss of sexual desire, known medically as hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). Michele Weiner-Davis, a renowned relationship therapist and author, claims that at least 25 percent of men suffer from low desire.

Common contributors to lower interest and desire for sex in both men and women may entail: medical problems, emotional and mental disorders, medications, life stresses, aging, low Testosterone that affects both men’s and women’s sexual desire and interpersonal conflicts. Interestingly, marital discord is a major cause of reduced sexual interest.

Both genders’ sexual interest may be present but sexual availability is negatively impacted by marital disharmony. Sheryl Kingsberg, associate professor of reproductive biology at Case Western Reserve School of Medicine clarifies, “If you are mad at your spouse, you could be horny but you’re not going to want to be sexual with that particular person.”

Sherry Broadwell and Kathleen Light studied the cardiovascular responses of married couples during conflict. They found that, “Marital disagreement was reliably associated with heightened blood pressure and heart rates.” They added, “Negative or hostile behavior during conflict markedly enhanced physiological change.”

When people experience uneasy physiological reactions they are unlikely to be interested in physical intimacy.

Daniel O’Leary found a ten-fold increase in risk for depression in both men and women who engaged in marital discord. Depression decreases interest, availability and willingness to engage in sexual activity.

These medical reactions parallel the emotional distancing that pairs feel subsequent to hostile confrontations. Verbal exchanges between mates that include anger, hostility, resentment, aggressive accusations and personal attacks may lead to medical and emotional reactions propelling mates to avoid sexual contact.

Couples may not have control over medical conditions that inhibit sexual ability or desire, but they do have the capacity to treat each other with respect and decency during conflicts and thus avert some medical and psychological reactions that are adverse to a healthy sexual life.

To preserve your mutual sexual interest:

• Realize that your words are weapons that can fire back at you causing reduction in your and your mate’s sexual interest and desire.
• Remember that though a good sex life is physically and emotionally healthy – it may be subjugated to a warm emotional connection.
• Abstain from hostile words, innuendos, attacks, accusatory, resentful or demeaning phrases during marital conflicts. They damage you medically, emotionally, sexually and spiritually. As O’Leary’s subtitle states: “Not Being Nasty Matters More Than Being Nice.”
• Safeguard your mutual sexual desire through courtship, words of appreciation, love, admiration, kindness, playfulness and your stated delight in your partner’s appeal.
• View times of conflict as opportunities for creating a mutual solution that will support your team unity and reinforce your attraction and desire for each other.

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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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