Why Would a Man My Age Have a Rapidly Declining Sex Drive?

I'm a 44-year-old man. I used to love sex. It was a huge part of my life. When I wasn't having it, I was often thinking about it. I considered that normal, not obsessive. About six months ago, though, something changed. It just started to hold less appeal. I didn't seek sex as much, didn't masturbate as much, and didn't like it as much even when I did engage in sexual activity. This has persisted, and I'm starting to wonder if something is wrong with me. I work out and I feel healthy, but the sex drive isn't there. I don't get "turned on" easily. I know it's normal for sex drive to decline with age, but I feel like I'm too young still for that to be it. I have dealt with depression and anxiety off and on for years, but it hadn't ever gotten in the way sexually, so I have a hard time pinning it on that, also. I did use porn for years, and a part of me wonders if I used it too much, so that now I can't get into it. I also wonder if trying Viagra a few times messed with my wiring somehow. Please help. —Turned Off
Dear Turned Off,

Thanks for your honest letter. This is not at all unusual, what you’re going through, for men especially. In a way, it means you’re growing up and are now ready for some honest-to-goodness soul searching. (Which may have prompted you to write.)

Carl Jung once said it’s only when a person gets a glimpse of their mortality, often in middle age, that therapy begins. We lose some of our youthful illusions, and time becomes more precious.

If I could rephrase your question, it would be, “What really matters to me? And what does sex mean to me? It used to be super exciting but it no longer does the trick, and that’s frightening. Now what?” Some men do find this happening in their mid-40s, though there’s a good chance what is happening is at least as psychologically rooted as it is physiological. Maybe you need something more fulfilling for yourself, out of life, and out of relationships.

First, the practical. Many men in their mid- to late 40s begin experiencing bodily changes in which the vitality of youth ebbs somewhat; we may need more sleep, experience more aches and pains, dwell a little longer in the depression or anxiety that’s dogged us for years, and so forth. Our devil-may-care resilience loses some of its bounce, and that’s hardly fun for anyone—especially men, many of whom identify strongly with their potency, sexually and otherwise.

You may be experiencing some shame along with fear if you have a history of feeling “not enough.” Many men who turn to sex for emotional self-sustaining often struggle, sometimes unconsciously, with shame and self-doubt. It’s as if our bodies and genitals are rebelling or walking out on the job, and we’re a little ashamed of what’s become so important for us, what we think we need but shouldn’t (pornography, for example).

So, first know you are not alone; much of this is normal for creeping middle age. You may want to get a physical (if you haven’t already) to make sure it’s not a medical issue. In fact, that would be the first thing I’d do, just to be safe. You allude to some erectile dysfunction, which, while not unusual for men your age, is something a medical professional may be able to help with.

I once read an interview with a psychologist who treated men for erectile challenges. She said, “Penises tell us a lot about what their owners are feeling.” Perhaps some of your recent life experience is deflating, in more ways than one; as someone who treats addictions, I can tell you that people often become anxious when repetitive behaviors are no longer the exciting or dynamic outlet they used to be. In a way, this is a sign of maturity, but it can bring anxiety with it.

I once read an interview with a psychologist who treated men for erectile challenges. She said, “Penises tell us a lot about what their owners are feeling.” Perhaps some of your recent life experience is deflating, in more ways than one; as someone who treats addictions, I can tell you that people often become anxious when repetitive behaviors are no longer the exciting or dynamic outlet they used to be. In a way, this is a sign of maturity, but it can bring anxiety with it.

What’s most telling for me—and, granted, I don’t have a whole of background to go on—is that you mention sex but not a partner. The focus, in other words, is on the literal, not the emotional or relationship transactions (love, closeness, trust) that accompany sex. I have always found that sex and attachment (and sex as attachment) to others are interconnected.

Sex, like any interpersonal transaction, never happens in a vacuum. Even men who “love ’em and leave ’em” typically are operating out of strong feelings and fears regarding intimacy; perhaps they fear or are ashamed they want it too much, so they dodge it via flings or porn and such. It may sound strange, but some of the men I help have fallen in love with prostitutes or strippers in ways that, from a distance, may seem delusional. (I am not suggesting this is your issue, mind you, though there are parallels with looking at porn.) What I realized is that they were ashamed of their desires for sex, and their own vulnerable emotional needs, because of how safe it felt attaching to someone who “got” their desires (with a built-in distance that ensured safety). In other words, they were “acting out” their desires without looking closer or exploring them in greater depth, perhaps in therapy or a support group.

I’m going to go out on a limb and say your main challenge here may lie in a kind of loneliness at a gut or soul level that is elusive or out of your awareness. It’s a catch-22 for some men; desire for closer relatedness is shameful (not “masculine”), so it gets channeled into sexuality, which is fun and safe due to emotional distance (which porn provides), which is unsatisfying in the long run, leading right back to square one: isolation, shame, and maybe even heartbreak.

We can “decode” our sexuality in a way that helps explain how we connect with others, even friends and family. The man who insists on being on top or on the bottom in bed may take an overly aggressive (or passive) role in all his relationships (or be passive in bed and dominant in the boardroom). The trick of sex is that it’s a pleasurable respite and the height of intimacy.

Graham Greene, one of my favorite novelists, once mentioned in an interview his belief that as men get older, they get more interested in companionship and less in “exciting” sex. The closeness and trust between partners is what’s exciting, not so much the novelty or the literal physical activity. Not that there’s anything at all wrong with the latter. It’s just that we need to be careful not to put all our psychological eggs in one basket; what is “hot” to us starts to shift as we get older and mature, as the emotional side of relationships gain in importance and we start to think about who we might want to have at our side over the longer haul, the end of which—sometimes startlingly—isn’t as far away as it was.

You may want to talk to other men who are going through this; a therapy support group or individual counseling or even online support can be helpful in opening up options, understanding, and recognizing that you’re having a very human experience that we all, in one way or another, must at some point negotiate.

Thanks again for writing.
Darren

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.
  • 7 comments
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  • jon

    jon

    December 26th, 2015 at 11:10 AM

    I would be worried that I was becoming depressed again, if you say that this is something that you have dealt with in the past.

  • Judy

    Judy

    December 26th, 2015 at 1:35 PM

    You are so young! I hope that you find the help that you need and the answers that you are seeking. You have so many more years left and you should be able to enjoy them!

  • Alice

    Alice

    December 27th, 2015 at 3:54 PM

    Have you talked to your doctor about other medications you are taking?

  • Jacob

    Jacob

    December 28th, 2015 at 10:23 AM

    This could happen to any guy of any age and of course it is never going to be anything fun. I would definitely have a talk with the woman or man in my life to see of they can help you reason out some of the things that could be causing it and then if you are pretty concerned that you can’t figure it out, then a visit to the dr may be in store.

  • donald

    donald

    December 30th, 2015 at 12:34 PM

    How about low T? have you been tested?

  • Rebecca

    Rebecca

    December 31st, 2015 at 10:59 AM

    I know that we always think about women only losing their desire for sex but this is the perfect example that this can happen to men too. I think that it was very brave of you to speak up and express what it is that you are feeling or not feeling so that other men can know that they are not alone if they are feeling this same way.

  • buzz

    buzz

    January 5th, 2016 at 10:36 AM

    Man I don’t even wanna think about the prospect of losing interest in sex. I love having sex with my wife, that has always been a great pleasure in our relationship and I honestly can’t say that I can imagine not being with her in that way.

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