When She Wants Sex but He’s Not Having It

couple having problems in bedMany of the couples I work with are dealing with disparate desire levels—in fact, I’d say the majority of my sex therapy conjoint work is for just this issue. Most people might assume that the person less interested in sex, in such cases, is typically female. Not so!

Nowadays, more than half of the heterosexual couples I counsel are consulting me because the man has lost interest. Ten years ago those percentages were reversed, with more women experiencing low or no desire. (For two women, this sometimes spells so-called “lesbian bed death.”)

Many sex-therapist colleagues are confirming my experience. At a 2012 AASECT (American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists) conference, one speaker estimated that 10 million men live in sexless, heterosexual marriages. I don’t recall who the speaker was, but that huge number has stuck in my mind.

I’m convinced that, these days, more men are willing to seek help because more men know they’re not the only ones. And there is far less stigma. Traditionally there has been a stereotype that proclaims men always want sex, that they are not supposed to have low or no desire. This can bring about shame and embarrassment.

I utilize an approach which allows me to meet or speak with each partner individually between couple sessions so I have opportunities to ask low-desire men why they’ve lost their mojo. Some report emotional fallout such as depression, anxiety, or resentment toward their partner. Others admit that they began avoiding sexual encounters due to performance issues such as premature ejaculation or erectile difficulties.

But the majority point to one thing: low testosterone levels. So why not just get your “T” upped? After all, there are a lot of docs who offer that, and you won’t have to talk to me about your feelings, right? Such sentiment feels similar to that which advocates for antidepressant medication in lieu of psychotherapy: “It’s not me. It’s my brain chemistry, and there are pills for that!” Comments of this nature usually come from men who have been coerced into counseling by disaffected female partners.

A male construction worker I know recently lamented how recent economic shifts have affected the power dynamic in his relationship with his wife. “So I get laid off, while her office gig keeps her bringing home the bacon,” he said. “Makes me feel more hollow than horny!”

I don’t have a boiler-plate approach for issues like this. Every couple is unique, and each individual brings their own history, hopes, and fears to the table. It’s always crucial to look with compassionate curiosity at the relationship, focusing on fears each person carries that might be blocking his or her ability to repair and strengthen the erotic bond.

I encouraged my unemployed friend to let go of expectations and attachment to outcome/orgasm with his wife, who has recently been reading the bestselling 50 Shades of Grey books. “Now she suddenly wants to jump my bones and try all this new stuff,” he said. “I thought this was what I always wanted, but now that she’s running toward me, I want to run the other way. Who knew?”

My response to my friend is similar to the one I would suggest to a person who visited my office with similar complaints: turn toward her rather than stonewalling or avoiding physical closeness. Look for satisfaction that might not be mind-blowing but is “good enough.” I referred him and his wife to a sex therapist in their town and suggested to him that smiles and embraces can ease all manner of discord.

He called this morning, laughing: “Can you believe it? My better half wants us to see the 50 Shades movie as soon as it comes out, and I said, ‘OK!’ Who knows—maybe it’ll be fun and I’ll come home with some new ideas!”

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© Copyright 2014 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Jill Denton, LMFT, CSAT, CSE, CCS, Sexuality / Sex Therapy Topic Expert Contributor

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by GoodTherapy.org. Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • joni

    August 27th, 2014 at 1:51 PM

    I have to admit that if my husband didn’t want to have sex with me then I would know that something was up because I can’t think of one time that he has ever turned me down. I don’t say that to brag, please don’t take it that way, only that if he doesn’t wnat it then I definitely know that there is either something wrong with him or something is up that I need to be suspicious about!

  • Justin

    August 27th, 2014 at 4:15 PM

    hahaha Joni you sound like my wife! She would say that she would do the same thing if I were to turn it down. But all kidding aside this is something that can very easily happen to couples if you get stuck in a rut and don’t take care f each other. The marriage is something that constantly has to be worked on to better it and nurture it. It would be easy if it did this all on its own but I am sure that veteran married couples would always tell you that sometimes it is a whole lot of hard work to keep that relationship going strong.

  • Charlotte

    August 28th, 2014 at 3:48 AM

    You know that there is something going on in any marriage when one partenr or the other feels no desire anymore. We all kind of laugh and giggle about it, but anyone who is married knows that it stays important to have a stable and loving physical relationship. You can have so much more but this remains an important part of any successful marriage. So it could be hormonal, it could be something else deeper going on, but it is not something that you should just hope goes away on its own because it can create a huge divide between the two of you very quickly if you don’t get it resolved.

  • angela

    August 28th, 2014 at 10:29 AM

    I see that there is something wrong with my husband but he refuses to go see a doctor and get anything tested because he just says that he is tired and doesn’t feel like it.

    I have tried to tell him that I can tell that something is off kilter but I guess I don’t say it in a way that makes him feel very good because he won’t pay any attention to that at all. Either that or he claims that I have hurt his feelings.

    I don’t know what to do because I have gotten pretty frustrated with the whole thing. I am trying not to let this drive a wedge between us but I am afraid that it is doing just that.

  • Kenlee

    August 29th, 2014 at 11:54 AM

    Thank goodness that my husband and I have not gone through this but I know that a lot of friends who have young children say that this has been the death of the relationship. You always think that having children will bring you closer together but I know so many who are saying that this is driving them apart! It has to all be a matter of priorities I guess and deciding what is going to be number one in your life and I think that for man it has all become this race to be mother or dada of the year and we kind of lsoe perspective that maybe we should put the marriage first and then the kids second. It kind of sounds a little selfish I know but I think that it has to be in that order to have it remain a success.

  • toni

    August 29th, 2014 at 2:10 PM

    This is insane! Does this really happen? I hear about it all of the time from a woman’s perspective but never a guy’s!

  • Ellen

    August 29th, 2014 at 8:02 PM

    My husband stopped acting affectionate and when I brought it up he would blame me, ” you are always on your computer or reading a book ” then he would say, “I’m stressed” or ” my back hurts”
    I finally called him out on it and after much prodding found out that though he loved me he doesn’t want to be married anymore.

  • gabriel

    August 30th, 2014 at 12:41 PM

    My doctor finally put me on a patch that would help regulate my testosterone levels and that has been a miracle for me.
    I was once so uninterested in having sex with my wife that I thought that she would end up leaving me.
    i think that she thought that I was no longer attracted to her but I just did not have that desire anymore for sex even though I love her more than anything in this world It took a while for the levels to get regulated but since we have found the right dosage I have been like my old self again, and in a good way.

  • Zac

    August 31st, 2014 at 7:33 AM

    You may have to try a whole new approach with your partner when something that you have always done in the past has stopped working for them.

    So they might wnat to try a new position or even have you approach them for sex if they have always been the instigator. It is always worth a try, and if that does not work then there are a milion other things that you can always try to get it all back on track for the two of you.

    When all else fails a great couples counselor might just be the thing for you.

  • Debra M

    September 2nd, 2014 at 4:11 PM

    You may start to see this more and more as the couples get older. I think that you see a whole lot of women really hitting their sexual stride at ages when their husbands are losing a little of their machismo and that can be a tough road to travel on together.
    It is never easy for a couple to get through this, when either one of them is just not feeling it. You start to think that it is about you and that you are doing something worng but most of the time it means that there is something off with the other partner.
    It is not something that you just want to ignore because even the marriages with the most years behind them can suffer greatly as a result of problems in the bedroom.

  • joellen

    September 4th, 2014 at 3:00 PM

    There isn’t anything to be ashamed of when this happens to you, and I think that there are the women in the relationship who feel worse about it than some of the men do, mainly because we are so prone to blaming ourselves when soemthing goes wrong in the sex department.

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