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If You're Distressed About Your Sexual Desire, This Could Be Why

"It's appropriate and healthy to reconsider the role of sexual desire in your own life, value system and in relation to your partnerships."

18/11/2017 09:09 SAST | Updated 18/11/2017 09:15 SAST
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On a scale of 1 to 5, with 1 being the lowest and 5 the highest, rate how important your sexual desire is to you. Give a reason for this rating. No one is looking over your shoulder, so try to be honest about your sexual-desire score.

If you have rated yourself on the lower end of the scale, do you think that you have a medical problem? A sexual medical problem? I wonder how many healthcare professionals you have consulted, and how many over-the-counter products you have bought to remedy your "sexual problem".

Here is how you know whether or not you have a sexual dysfunction. In the U.S.'s Diagnostic and Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders (DSM5), men are diagnosed with hypoactive desire disorder and women with sexual interest/arousal disorder.

Men with this disorder are characterised as having persistent or current deficient (or absent) sexual/erotic thoughts, or fantasies, or desire for sexual activity for a minimum of six months. This must be accompanied by significant distress. The criteria for women to be diagnosed with this sexual/mental illness are about the same as those for men.

Come on, now -- hands up anyone who has not gone through a period of time, perhaps six months, when you just did not feel like sex. It could be because you have stress at work; have a new baby or are pregnant; are going through menopause; have an illness; or are simply pissed off with a partner on the discovery of an affair. I would not medicate you.

Instead, I would like you to think of your low desire as merely an alternative way of being in the world. Because we live in a sex-saturated, sex-centred, medicalised world, low desire is stigmatised, and there is shame thrust upon anyone who chooses not to be sexual. Ask yourself why your primary relationship has to be sexual. Why can it not be romantic and just as significant?

Stop expecting sexuality to be an automatic part of your relationship. Not everyone wants sex.

Why can it not be platonic and affectionate? I think it saves a lot of that unnecessary hassle of trying to decode "what now?" after a casual hook-up, and it removes the escalator effect... you know, that feeling you get immediately after you have sex with someone and begin to plan the rest of your lives together.

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It could also avoid the deep silences in marriages, in which a touch is an invitation to sex. And this sex feels so unwelcome, as there are no other touches outside these subtle but predictable signs of wanting action.

Perhaps you identify as asexual. In other words, you identify as someone who experiences little or no sexual attraction to anyone, does not have libido/drive for sexuality, and really prefers not to be sexual with people. And you've felt this way your whole life.

At times it causes you distress, and you actually feel you may have a sexual dysfunction. But actually, it feels so real to you that you shun your partner's attempt to guilt you into sex, you choose not to feel shamed into sex and learn how to say no to sex you don't want, and yes to cuddles, romance and friendship.

I am not undermining the terrible pain and conflict a couple feels when -- without thought, communication or negotiation -- they enter into a significant relationship and expect sex as part of the deal. It goes hand in hand with fidelity (not) -- so agreements are not set in place before the commitment is made, only to find a few weeks/months later, that sex is not part of your partner's deal.

Disappointment, anger, friction and avoidance appear, and romantic detachment sets in. I say it's appropriate and healthy to reconsider the role of sexual desire in your own life, value system and in relation to your partnerships.

Avoid therapists who advise you to watch porn to increase your desire, or tell you to "just do it". They are shaming you into a culturally constructed sex-sick society...

My advice:

  1. Stop expecting sexuality to be an automatic part of your relationship. Not everyone wants sex.
  2. Communicate your status upfront. For example, "I am asexual", "I am aromantic, demisexual (only aroused with a significant partner)"; the categories also include demiromantic, heterosexual, homoromantic, biromantic (interested in both genders), and panromantic (open to any gender). Expectations should immediately be laid out on the table.
  3. If you/your partner had a healthy desire, but have experienced low desire for more than six months, without a medical reason, and it causes you/her/him distress, seek assessment and counselling with a sex therapist. I bet it will be about relationship issues, as opposed to sexual dysfunction.
  4. Set your own desire boundaries, so that you never engage in coerced sexuality.
  5. A discrepancy in sexual desire must be openly discussed and alternatives sought. For example, open relationship, sex toys, pornography and masturbation.
  6. Low sexual desire is most commonly a relationship problem. Seek relationship therapy rather than a magic pill.
  7. Avoid therapists who advise you to watch porn to increase your desire, or tell you to "just do it". They are shaming you into a culturally constructed sex-sick society that embarrasses you for having too much sex and then punishes/medicates you for not having enough sex.
  8. Accept that nonsexual relationships can be fulfilling.