There it is.
The one your partner gives you when they’re in the mood to get busy. You know it well. You’ve seen it many times. And you used to like it. You looked forward to it. You would daydream about “the look” and what it led to.
What it led to was intimacy. And sex. And those were always important parts of your relationship, your sense of self and, well, your life.
But you don’t look forward to “the look” anymore, despite how much you love your partner. In fact, you dread it. Because instead of being your cue to eagerly get ready for sex, it signals you to find an excuse to get out of it.
“I’m not feeling so great.”
“I just remembered I have some work to finish.”
“I am so tired. I’ll be asleep before my head hits the pillow.”
So there you are. Nursing a headache you don’t have. Typing a fake status report. Or just lying quietly in bed, next to a disappointed and confused partner, feeling guilty, ashamed, and frustrated that you don’t want to have sex.
Does any of that sound familiar? Of course, we don’t mean exactly. If you’re a woman frustrated by low sexual desire, you probably have your own well-worn excuses for not having sex. But there’s a good chance the feelings are similar: shame, guilt, sadness, and maybe even worry that your partner may leave you.
And if you’re on the other side of the bed in this scenario? The partner who wants to have sex but keeps being turned down, again and again and (sigh) again? You’re the one who may be left wondering why the person who used to want you “that way” goes out of her way to avoid being intimate with you.
If I thought that I would go the rest of my life without having sex or without desiring sex, I don’t know. I would probably let my boyfriend go because that’s not fair. It’s also not fair to me.”
—Sarah P., a woman with low sexual desire who has not been diagnosed with HSDD
Whichever side of the bed you’re on, if this sounds in any way like you and your partner, it’s time to have a talk about low sexual desire. If sex is something you’re more comfortable doing than talking about, this could be challenging. But studies have shown that disclosing feelings about intimacy issues—as well as other matters—can help people have more stable romantic relationships.
Here’s another way to think about it: your sex life has always been a crucial part of your relationship. Your attraction to each other helped bring you together and sex was fun. Of course you’d like to get that back. But what do you suppose the odds are that your dead bedroom will come back to life if you just keep ignoring the problem? (You don’t have to answer that; the point is made.)
So, have we convinced you to talk to your partner about low sexual desire and how it’s affecting your relationship? Great! Here are some things to take into consideration as you gear up for the conversation:
- Make sure the time is right. This is a serious discussion. You want to have it when you’re both in the right frame of mind for it. When you’re getting ready for bed—or whenever typically used to be your “sexy time”—might not be the best moment. If there’s a possibility one of you may be expecting to have sex, starting a conversation about low sexual desire could put one (or both) of you on the defensive. And that’s not a great place to start.
- Try to pick a “neutral” time to start the conversation. When things are quiet (kids in bed, dog walked, dishes done) and you’re both relatively rested and can focus on each other’s feelings without being interrupted. If you have low sexual desire, being the one who starts the conversation helps ensure that you’ll look out for your own feelings as well as your partner’s.
- Don’t blame anybody. This is a tough situation for both of you and it’s nobody’s fault. You both want to get back to desiring and enjoying sex the way you used to. It may be that the partner with low sexual desire has hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD). If that’s the case, it’s important to remember that HSDD is a known sexual dysfunction. It’s a medical condition. She can’t help that she has it, but she can be treated for it.
If you suspect that you or your partner might have HSDD, this could be a good time for the two of you to make a plan to find out.
- Don’t be embarrassed. You’ve been intimate with each other. You’ve seen each other naked. What’s left to be embarrassed about? If you can do it, you can talk about why you’re not doing it. And if you’re not doing it because one of you has HSDD? It’s good to remember what we said above. HSDD is a known sexual dysfunction—and it’s treatable.
- Keep it cool. When you engage someone in conversation, they tend to match how you talk and act. If your partner perceives you as hostile or lobbing blame at them, they may dish it right back. Remember who the bad guy is here: nobody.
- Use “I” language, not “you” language. Which of the following do you think you’d respond to more favorably if your partner said it to you:
“I am feeling upset.”
“You make me feel upset.”
If you said the first, it’s likely because it’s an example of “I-language.” That means focusing on saying what you feel without sounding like you’re accusing your partner of something. That may seem too simple to be effective, but it really works.
Studies show that using I-language is far more likely to bring about cooperation and less likely to cause negative emotions. If you’re experiencing low sexual desire, here are some examples that might help you craft your own conversation starter. (And if you’re on the other side—you want to ask your partner if she has low sexual desire—you can adjust accordingly):
“I want you to know that I realize we’re not having sex nearly as much as we used to. I know that’s frustrating for us both. My sexual desire just isn’t there like it used to be. But I want us to figure out how to get it back.”
“I miss how we used to be so into each other sexually. I want that back. But right now, I’m not feeling sexual desire like I used to. For ANYBODY. I’m really frustrated by that. I don’t like having no sex drive. I think it might be a medical condition called HSDD.”
“I’m tired of going to bed just to sleep. And I know you know what I mean. There’s something wrong with my sexual desire and I’m really frustrated by that.
I want you to understand how much I want us to get back to how we used to be, [INSERT SEXY NICKNAME FOR YOUR PARTNER HERE].”
OK, ready to start that conversation? We hope so. And if you’re experiencing low sexual desire you find frustrating, we hope that after you talk to your partner, you’ll talk to your healthcare provider. If you find out that it’s HSDD, you may find a treatment that will help. So you can start looking forward to “the look” again.