Low Libido Blues

One of the most common sexual issues couples experience is desire discrepancy. And when I say common, I mean almost ALL couples experience this issue at one point (or multiple) throughout the course of their relationship. So, what is desire discrepancy? In a nutshell, it means that one partner wants to have sex more than the other. But what are the causes of desire discrepancy and why is it so common? Let’s break it down.

There is always a low desire partner and a high desire partner (Schnarch, 2010). You are two different people, which means your sexual desires will not be in sync 100% of the time. The low desire partner is the deciding factor as to whether or not sex is going to happen. The feeling of not having control can deeply frustrate the high desire partner, especially having experienced rejection over and over again. For the low desire partner, pressure to perform can be a big issue, and may contributes to their lack of motivation to have sex. Do you see that pattern? And because we are rarely educated about effective partner communication, let alone sexual communication, couples can get into some deeply hurtful arguments, leaving both partners feeling lonely, sad and confused.

Here’s the reality. Mismatched desires can stem from a number of emotional, psychological or physical issues in a relationship. And reasons for mismatched desires will vary by couple. An important factor to consider, and something I tell clients every day, is that context matters! (We can thank the brilliant Emily Nagoski, PhD for writing an entire chapter in her book, Come As You Are, just on this topic). What does that mean, you ask? It means that when intimacy is initiated (usually by the high desire partner), your environment, mood, energy level, to-do list (I can keep going) all matter! Are the kids in bed? Did the trash get taken out? I’m still pissed at you from our fight yesterday. See what I mean? All of these things matter when it comes to shutting off your distractions and focusing on getting physical.

What’s a couple to do? If efforts to communicate about this issue have not helped, considering an investment in sex and relationship therapy is a great start. Especially if you are both feeling confused about how to handle such a sensitive topic. We sex therapists know a thing or two about desire discrepant couples. We understand that barriers to intimacy are real and need to be handled effectively with empathy and understanding. Integrating intimacy building interventions (both emotional and physical) are staples to this process. And while being caught in a relational dynamic that’s impacting the quality of your sex life can be frustrating, it’s absolutely possible to improve your dynamic if both partners are willing to show up, look at their contributions to the problem, and make appropriate changes.

~ Michelle Herzog, LMFT, CST

 

Schnarch, D. M. (2010). Intimacy & desire: Awaken the passion in your marriage. Carlton North, Vic.: Scribe Publications.

Nagoski, E. (2015). Come as you are: the surprising new science that will transform your sex life. New York: Simon & Schuster.

On Being a Sex Therapist

I was recently at an event in Chicago where I was mingling and meeting new folks while taking in the city views. In the typical back and forth of new people conversation, an inquiry of what I do for a living came up. This is where the conversation can get interesting. You see, I’m a Certified Sex Therapist. I work with people in the greater Chicago area who are struggling in their emotional and physical relationships. Pretty normal stuff for someone like me. Not so normal for someone who has never met a sex therapist or even heard about sex therapy before. Once that cat is out of the bag, I typically experience the conversation going one of two ways. While some people might be a little intimated by what that means (which I totally respect and understand), others are naturally curious and will start asking a lot of questions. And I get really excited when people ask questions.

So why do I tell complete strangers what I do for a living? Because I understand that at some point, they may need a therapist like me. A specialist who can work with their deeply personal issues in an informed and non-judgmental space. Someone who has the specific qualifications to work with them so they can feel confident and fulfilled again.

Here’s the thing, relationships are hard work. They demand consistent efforts towards intimacy building, self-awareness and vulnerability. And when people run into issues in their relationships, they typically experience issues with their sex lives. For a lot of people, sexual intimacy problems can lead to depression, anxiety, low self-esteem and a whole lot of other stuff. So, when I tell people about my job, I want them to know that this kind of resource is available to them, if and when it’s ever a need.

There are multiple reasons why someone may seek sex therapy. The most common issues I see in my practice are mismatched desires between partners (i.e. one partner wants to have more sex than the other), sexual dysfunction, low sexual self-awareness and sex after trauma or illness. Other issues range from sexual communication issues to painful intercourse. I love educating people about their sexualities, breaking down not-so-correct social constructs and creating a space for a new and healthy narrative. I value my job and the people I work with.  Every day, I am impressed by the work my clients undertake to improve their lives. I will continue to spread the word about sex therapy because there’s no other profession I’d rather be in. 

~ Michelle Herzog, LMFT, CST

Sex therapists are trained to work with a variety of relationship configurations and sexuality preferences and problems. There are a number of wonderful helping professionals out there in the sex therapy community. If you are looking for a qualified professional in your area, please visit the professional directory page at the American Association for Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists (AASECT).