Help! I Have No Interest in Sex

Dear GoodTherapy.org,

Ever since my ex and I broke up a few years ago, my interest in sex has been declining. I have dated a few people since my breakup, but sex just isn’t the same. My libido isn’t what it was, and I just don’t feel “the need” the way I used to. While we were together, my ex and I had a consistently scorching-hot sex life. Sex was extremely important to me and a major source of connection. Now? Most of the time, I can take it or leave it.

Part of me wonders if this is more about getting older and less about something else. I’m 44 now, and I know it’s normal for a man’s libido to decrease over time. But it wasn’t so long ago I was having sex almost daily and it still didn’t feel like enough. The difference is pretty stark, to the point I regularly turn down sexual overtures in the dating world, even when it’s been a week or two. In fact, it’s been a source of discontent in the relationships I’ve tried to develop. I’m not used to being the one to turn down sex.

I don’t feel like attraction is the issue, and I masturbate about as frequently as I ever did. I have to think there is some sort of mental block that is getting in the way of my enjoyment of sex. Maybe my sexual triggers aren’t being triggered enough. Or maybe my needs are evolving and my body is taking the cue. I honestly have no idea, but I miss the old, sexual me.

What do you think is going on? —More Bothered Than Hot

Submit Your Own Question to a Therapist

Dear Bothered,

Thanks for your question. Almost nothing is more personal than our sexuality and associated feelings and desires, so I appreciate your candidness.

Additionally, few aspects of our human being-ness are more complex than sexuality, so without more background I can only give a hunch as to what I think might be happening. I’ll try to be as honest as you were.

The short answer to the question “what is going on?” is: quite possibly a lot of things.

I hear what sounds like anxiety in your concern, maybe even an undertow of loss in missing “the old, sexual me.” Could it be you also miss the old sexual relationship? Your feelings of loss seem to sync up with the loss of your ex, which implies this relationship was of profound emotional importance in addition to being “scorching hot.” In fact, the scorching-hot experience is also powerfully emotional: passionate, spontaneous, wild, and playful. Sexuality is such an overwhelming experience because it involves all of us: body, mind, spirit, emotion, intimacy or closeness with another (relationality), and so on; hence its magnetic psychological force.

As to your specific issue, first I would seek a medical checkup, just to rule out any possible physiological causation.

Ruling out medical challenges, I would reflect upon just what it is you lost, in terms of emotional relatedness, when you lost this partner. I would assume, for instance, that they made it “safe” to be yourself, to let intimate aspects of yourself roam free. What made it so, as best you can guess?

As I read your question a second time, an idea occurs to me. You talk about sex as though it is a free-floating activity, almost as if having a partner is incidental to your sensual pleasure. But the more I study psychology, the more it seems to me that our existence is relational, very much bound with important others. Sigmund Freud himself often hypothesized that masturbation was a way to relieve the sexual attraction to a forbidden or incestuous other—a kind of furtive substitute for sexual longing. (Though it would take Carl Jung to expand the meaning of “connection” or fusion beyond the literal.)

I don’t believe it’s a coincidence that your loss in sex coincides with losing your ex. I’m curious what it is about this other person that created such powerful chemistry between you—and what led to the end of the relationship.

Ruling out medical challenges, I would reflect upon just what it is you lost, in terms of emotional relatedness, when you lost this partner. I would assume, for instance, that she or he made it “safe” to be yourself, to let intimate aspects of yourself roam free. What made it so, as best you can guess?

It is not unheard of that a couple will have a fiery relationship in the bedroom, but struggle to relate, empathize, or communicate. I’m thinking particularly of romantic experimentation where needs or desires are “sexualized” and satiated physically—nothing wrong with that—while unspoken emotional or psychological differences have yet to be addressed or worked through.

I often work with people who can express a strong, historically unmet need to be seen, valued, and respected only via sex or sexual role play, but not in more mundane daily interaction. In other words, the vulnerability is only physical or literal. Eventually, the relationship deteriorates if the emotional/psychological differences are not addressed. The work of the therapy is, often, in helping a person identify and articulate their needs, often difficult given highly critical or absent parents, though sticking with it often leads to more freedom and options in all of a person’s relational arenas.

Another way of putting it: sexual satisfaction can temporarily soothe an emotional anxiety or injury unexplored in the relationship, or a sense of frustration or estrangement, leading to only a fleeting sense of connection—which still does not address the relational friction.

The more I write and think about this, I’m tempted to say what’s happening here may best be described as growing pains. I believe it was the novelist Graham Greene who said that, as we age, companionship becomes more valuable than sex. This often begins to happen slowly as we creep into middle age.

In that regard, you sound right on schedule, though I know it can be unsettling, and even trigger feelings of grief and loss, if solitary sexual activity has been of consolation to you. Your current dilemma, then, could be facing a newfound vulnerability after losing a person who co-created a highly exciting chemistry. It is often the case we desire to share our existence with another more strongly than is consciously believed, whether it be primarily sexual or platonic or somewhere in between. This is often an uncomfortable or even painful adjustment—but not indicative of anything wrong with you. In fact, quite the contrary.

For men especially (though this certainly can apply to women, too), sexuality can come to represent, symbolize, or have personal meaning in many ways: as a means of finding freedom, fulfillment, and validation or a sense of being strongly valued and desired. The magical feeling of sex or romance can arise when we sense that our very being is desired by another, that this deep, profound desire is in sync with another’s desire for us.

This connection can feel transformative. It can loosen the grip of existential alienation or isolation so many of us struggle with, in an era of mostly technological connection. Some of the people I work with in therapy report feeling most “horny” or sexually hungry during or just after a period of grief.

Is it possible the situation is also difficult because your main means of consolation (sexuality, masturbation) is elusive, or less effective, in the aftermath of the breakup? That can be an unsettling realization, indeed, though by no means hopeless.

As we get older, we hopefully discover there is more to partnership than just the physical mechanics or hydraulics of sex. It sounds like you could really be yourself with this person, that you could both reciprocate and find exciting similarity of passion in the bedroom; what, I wonder, prevented this from happening outside the bedroom as well?

In other words, it sounds like you made a profound emotional/relational connection, which you deeply miss. One plus one equals three, meaning two people in deep connection create a third element: the relationship itself, in all of its maddening glory. You found unique chemistry with this person. How could it be the same on your own?

You could, if the relationship is irreparably over, ask yourself what qualities of this person you found so attractive, what it is that made them so special, especially in bed? What didn’t happen in the overall relationship that prevented it from continuing; can you look without heavy self-criticism at your participation here, your 50%, and see if anything can change to attract or keep the next person you’ll hopefully meet?

Perhaps the answer to the latter is emotional closeness, companionship, or friendship—and some deeper self-understanding, maybe even via counseling or therapy.

I can understand your painful sense of loss, bewilderment, anxiety, and even frustration at the dilemma you describe so honestly. At the same time, there is a chance to “make lemonade” by finding or seeking the succor of deeper human connection and self-awareness, with a new partner and/or others who can relate or identify with what you’re going through. It sounds like a kind of (pardon the cliché) midlife crisis, and this is not uncommon in the slightest.

I hope this gives you some food for thought, and I thank you again for your candor.

Best,

Darren Haber, PhD, MFT

Darren Haber
Darren Haber, PsyD, MFT is a psychotherapist specializing in treating alcoholism and drug addiction as well as co-occurring issues such as anxiety, depression, relationship concerns, secondary addictions (especially sex addiction), and trauma (both single-incident and repetitive). He works in a variety of modalities, primarily cognitive behavioral, spiritual/recovery-based, and psychodynamic. He is certified in eye movement desensitization and reprocessing (EMDR) therapy, and continues to receive psychodynamic training in treating relational trauma, including emotional abuse/neglect and physical and sexual abuse.
  • 6 comments
  • Leave a Comment
  • madison

    madison

    September 15th, 2017 at 11:58 AM

    Break ups can be so hard! They are hard on the ego, hard on the mind, and hard on the body! This is especially true when you have been with someone for a long time and you don’t want to think that your life is completely wrapped up in this one person but that’s what it’s been for so long that it can be a struggle to figure out who you are what you want out of life without them. I do feel for you, and I think that things can get better for you, I just think that right now you are still a little hurt and confused and looking for a way to process all of this.

  • Jeff

    Jeff

    September 16th, 2017 at 12:09 PM

    It will all come back to you when you find the right person to share that with.

  • Tori

    Tori

    September 18th, 2017 at 9:30 AM

    This has to be a horrible feeling for sure!

  • Janey

    Janey

    September 19th, 2017 at 12:33 PM

    I am in a relationship and I am having the same problem. I love my boyfriend but I would rather sit and talk to him, hold his hand, laugh with him, do just about anything but have sex with him. I don’t know what is going on but I’m hoping it pass. But it sounds like you miss your old girlfriend. Like maybe you were really in love and now you just don’t want to have sex with anyone that is not her. It’s kind of sweet. I know it’s annoying to you but I think maybe you should get your ex back.

  • Laurie Greenberg, Ph.D.

    Laurie Greenberg, Ph.D.

    September 22nd, 2017 at 5:05 PM

    Wonderful and brilliant reply! Under the right conditions, the true potential and depth of sexual connection is absolutely amazing. Nearly all of us can benefit, individually and on a wider scale, from recognizing this fact.

    Our culture tends to overvalue shallow and superficial sex, and discourages males in particular from more profound levels of relationship, both within and outside of sexual encounters. Dr. Haber addresses this beautifully, while noting the tremendous value of meaningful human connection and the fact that sex is a unique venue – but not the only important venue – through which we can share this experience.

  • Adrienne

    Adrienne

    September 23rd, 2017 at 9:10 AM

    Do you know how hard it can be to admit to feeling this way when so many men already expect that this is how a woman is going to feel anyway? I don’t want to live up to that preconceived notion that people already have about many women and their sexuality but when you go to talk about it and they just give you this knowing look, then you already feel hesitant to share those feelings.

Leave a Comment

By commenting you acknowledge acceptance of GoodTherapy.org's Terms and Conditions of Use.

* Indicates required field.

 

Advanced Search

Search Our Blog

   
GoodTherapy.org is not intended to be a substitute for professional advice, diagnosis, medical treatment, or therapy. Always seek the advice of your physician or qualified mental health provider with any questions you may have regarding any mental health symptom or medical condition. Never disregard professional psychological or medical advice nor delay in seeking professional advice or treatment because of something you have read on GoodTherapy.org.