Many 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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