Excerpt from Dr. Sandra Pertot's book, Perfectly Normal: Living and Lowing with Low Libido
(Note: Dr. Pertot's book rejects the current notion that a "healthy" sex life means frequent and exciting. Instead, individuals fall along a wide spectrum of interest in sex and low libido does not necessarily mean sexual dysfunction.)
Feel like you wouldn't care if you never had sex again? You're not alone. By far the largest group of people seeking sex therapy is women who feel there must be something wrong with them because they don't have the urgent sex drive that they believe everybody is supposed to have. (Dearest note: During perimenopause and postmenopause, this is one of the most common complaints among women)
In Perfectly Normal, Dr. Sandra Pertot dismisses that theory. She believes that there are many ordinary and logical reasons why you might not want to have sex -- and provides practical solutions to everyday sexual problems. She doesn't offer a cure for low libido but rather an approach for making your sex life the best it can be with what you've got. In Perfectly Normal, you'll find specific tips on discovering your sexual potential, including how to:
- Explore your ability to have orgasms
- Stay focused during sex
- Practice fantasizing
- Appreciate your body
- Identify what gets you interested in sex -- and what turns you off
Dr. Pertot also offers advice for you and your partner on developing your sexual relationship. She shows you how to take advantage of sensory, emotional, and environmental triggers that make it possible for you to develop a sex life that works for both of you--and will sustain you and your partner into old age.
The following is an excerpt from the book Perfectly Normal: Living and Loving with Low Libido
by Sandra Pertot, Ph.D.
Published by Rodale; January, 2005
Copyright © 2005 by Sandra Pertot
YOUR SEXUAL RELATIONSHIP
Saying that a sexual relationship involves two people is stating the obvious. One of the few areas of agreement among sex therapists is that low libido is a problem for the couple, not just for one partner. What sex therapists can't seem to agree on, though, is whether relationship problems are the main cause of sexual difficulties, or vice versa.
In this section, I want to explore your sexual relationship from your point of view. The following chapter provides your partner with the opportunity to think about what's happening from his perspective, and then we can move on to helping you work together to improve your sex life.
Take Responsibility for Affection
Once sex becomes unsatisfying, boring, or irritating, it's quite common for the woman's desire to avoid sex to spread into other areas of her intimate relationship with her partner. As the anti-libido cycle escalates, the woman finds herself avoiding hugging, cuddling, kissing, sitting on the sofa together to watch television, and so on because she thinks doing these things will encourage her partner to try for sex. This means the couple feels more and more distant from each other--and more and more lonely in the relationship.
Not surprisingly, this is the most common feeling men talk to me about. Yes, they would like to be having sex, but most say it's the fact that their partner almost cringes at their touch that distresses them the most.
If you find yourself in this situation, you can start to do something, about it immediately. Tell your partner you are going to start giving him hugs, cuddles, and kisses sometimes, but he has to promise not to try to take it any further or not get upset if he does try for more and you make it clear you want only some affection. Try to give him a quick hug every day, then, as you relax with this, make it a longer cuddle. If you can do this more than once a day, you can take my word that eventually, he will get the idea that affection is not automatically a lead-in to sex.
I ask you to take responsibility for increasing affection for two reasons. First, you can choose the time and place, so you're not going to feel annoyed at being interrupted while you're busy. Second, because you have felt so guilty and powerless for so long, it will be great for your self- esteem to realize that you have such a positive role in your emotional life. It's also wonderful to realize that your partner loves you for you, not just for sex, and that it really isn't that difficult to help your partner feel loved and secure, just as you want to feel.
You can make the situation lighthearted--it doesn't have to be deadly serious. For example, if he's cuddling you and his hands start to wander, grab his hands, put his arms around you, and tell him, "Down, boy; re- member this is just a cuddle,' or whatever seems right to you. Don't act offended if he forgets himself sometimes; your reaction to him is an important part of the anti-libido cycle, too.
Getting some affection back into your relationship is at first more important than increasing your sexual frequency, because it changes the atmosphere between you to being more gentle, caring, and loving, This is important if you are going to build your sexual relationship using emotional/sensual sex.
Take Advantage of Any Feelings of Sexual Interest
Are there times when you feel like having sex but you don't let your partner know?
There are various reasons that a woman may not act on any feelings of sexual interest. She may worry that if she approaches her partner for some wildly raunchy sex, he will then expect her to do it regularly. Since she can't guarantee that she will feel the same way on a consistent basis, she ignores the impulse to seduce him.
Similarly, a woman recovering from a period of low sex drive, such as after the birth of a baby, may also not let her partner know of her occasional sexual interest because she's afraid he will think everything is back to normal. She knows this isn't the case, because women recovering from episodes of low drive typically have quite erratic patterns of sexual desire. While she may be keen one night, it could be weeks before that feeling returns.
In both of these cases, the simple answer is to go for it when the mood strikes you, but afterward, let your partner know, with some regret for you both, that you can't guarantee when you will feel that way again.
A woman also may not act on her sexual interest because she fears that her partner will interpret her behavior to mean that she feels very turned on and wants passionate sex, when in fact she may want sex for more emotional and sensual reasons. The best solution is to trust your feelings and be confident enough to say how you're feeling and what you need. "I'm not horny, but I want your body; I need to be close" is just one example of how to explain your intentions.
Another obstacle that may keep a woman from expressing her desire for sex is that in general, women are more tuned in to their partner's emotional states. This means that if he has said he's tired or for some reason she assumes he wouldn't be interested in sex, she won't make advances because she doesn't want to put him out. When this comes up in sex therapy, the reaction of a lot of men is "Please, please, let me be the one to decide whether or not I want sex!"
Not feeling confident to initiate sex, for any reason, can skew the perception of a woman's libido. In the case of one couple I saw who had different biological clocks, the husband felt that his wife had low libido because she wasn't keen when he was interested in the morning, and he had to make a lot of effort to get her to respond to his advances. When she explained that she did feel interested in the evening, but she knew he was tired and didn't want to bother him, the focus of their mismatched libido issue changed.
When a woman is prepared to try to initiate sex, she may find it difficult to be blatant about what she wants. She may give only indirect signals, which her partner often misses. One woman felt that by saying, "I'm going to bed now," she was inviting her husband to come with her for sex, but he said he didn't realize that that was any different from other nights when she went to bed early. Even in today's supercharged sexual atmosphere, you may feel uncomfortable about doing a striptease to get your husband's interest or taking the initiative by undressing him. Maybe the answer is to tell him, "When I say this or do that, it means I want to have sex with you."
Women seem to be more influenced by practical issues than men are. Although a woman may feel interested in sex, she can switch herself off when she realizes that the kids will be home soon, or it's late and tomorrow is an early start, or she has to prepare dinner because guests are due soon. It's a tricky situation, to be sure, but this could be the time to make sex about doing something cheeky and daring.
By not having sex on those occasions when you actually feel like it, you are limiting yourself to having sex when your partner initiates it. The chances that you'll always want sex at the same time he does aren't high, so you are losing those opportunities when sex is likely to be best for you. Although it's difficult for you to clearly signal when sex seems like a good idea, give it a try. A strategy that can overcome any embarrassment is to act out a role. Think of someone in the movies and imagine what she does in a seduction scene. By hamming it up as someone else, you can get past your own inhibitions, and eventually it will become easier to initiate sex as yourself.
Be Present with Your Partner during Sex
While there are men like Erin's husband, Steve, who aren't happy with anything less than an hour of passionate sex, a lot of the men who come with their wives for sex therapy say that more than anything, they want their partner to want to be with them during sex. Yes, it would be good for them if the women wanted to play erotic games, but missing out on these things isn't what's worrying them. They tell me that what distresses them the most when their partner lies there with a faraway look or tells them to hurry up is that they feel as if they're imposing themselves, and they know their partner doesn't want to be there with them. This is what leads to the feelings of loneliness and rejection the men talk about. They try hard to make sex better for their partner, not realizing that their best efforts are likely to make things worse.
Thus, while the woman is worried that she's letting her partner down, he is worried that he's doing the wrong thing by her, and sex becomes more complicated than it needs to be.
You can see why I believe the concept of relationship sex has a lot to offer couples who are caught up in the sexual illusion. Relationship sex means that the woman identifies and acts on her own reasons for wanting to have sex with her partner, and she can reassure him that she really does want to be there with him. If the couple knows that they care about each other, it isn't that difficult to give each other what they want. The woman can appreciate sensual sex with or without arousal, and the man can enjoy becoming aroused with her if he knows she's content to be present emotionally during sex. If you use some of the suggestions in the section on staying focused during sex, such as touching his face, running your hands across his body, or playing idly with his penis, he'll know you are there with him--and you are giving him what he wants.
Say No to Sex with Confidence
In all my years of clinical practice, I have talked with hundreds of women about motherhood, careers, sexuality, relationships-all areas of women's lives. The common thread running through all these discussions is guilt, Women feel guilty if they go to work and leave their children, if they take a day off from work to look after sick children, if they can't devote enough time to their own parents, if they don't enjoy motherhood 100 percent . . . and the list goes on.
Men don't seem to embrace guilt with such enthusiasm. I've found that men are more likely to assess situations in terms of their own adequacy, so the more common bad feeling among men is inadequacy, which brings its own problems.
Most of the women I talk with tell me they feel awful when they say no to sex. Although they may also be irritated, annoyed, or sad, guilt is the main reaction. This seems to happen across all types of relationships. Erin's husband, Steve, was a very difficult and demanding person who expected sex several times a week and wouldn't settle for anything less than an hour of intense sexual activity, but for years, Erin felt guilty that she was letting him down by not giving him the sex life he wanted. Richard, who was depressed and needed sex daily in order to feel reassured that Anne loved him, claimed that she didn't really care about him when she said no, thus making her feel guilty.
Even when the man is extremely gentle, caring, and considerate and genuinely understands and accepts his wife's lower interest (like Debbie's husband, Alan), the woman still feels guilty that she is depriving him of the sex life she feels he deserves. That may be even more true in these situations because he is so supportive and understanding. It's common for a woman to explain to me that her husband has been so patient, that he isn't the problem. She can't understand how he has stayed with her; she feels terrible that he is missing out all the time. What does feeling guilty imply? It implies that you believe you are doing something wrong and that your needs and feelings are not as important as your partner's. Realistically, what are you doing that is so bad? You haven't chosen to have low libido; in fact, I know how much you would Me to feel more sexual desire than you do. Life would be simpler for you if you had as strong a desire for sex as your partner does. You are not to blame for what's happening in your sexual relationship. Feeling guilty also implies a belief that if your partner doesn't have sex when he wants it, he will suffer in some way, and it's your responsibility not to let that happen. Let's look at this more objectively. Yes, it's true that if he feels aroused and doesn't have an orgasm, he may feel sexually frustrated. I'm sure, however, that he has felt sexually frustrated many times and has always survived. If you really do not feel like having sex, and he feels overcome with frustration, the simplest solution is in his own hands. if, like Margaret's husband, Ed, he feels he shouldn't have to masturbate, that is his choice. I agree that it's not the most desirable solution for him, but it does resolve his immediate physical need--and his sexual frustration is his responsibility, not yours.
A good sexual relationship is based on mutual respect, mutual compromise, and give-and-take based on mutual caring and consideration. It cannot be based on obligation. If you feel guilty when you say no, your sexual relationship is out of balance; you are focusing on what he wants, or what you think he wants, rather than on your own feelings. You can't develop your sex drive based on gust.
Reprinted from Perfectly Normal: Living and Loving with Low Libido by Sandra Pertot © 2005 by Sandra Pertot. Permission granted by FSB Associates.
Sandra Pertot, Ph.D., is a clinical psychologist and sex therapist in private practice. She has been published in Woman's Day, Penthouse, and many publications in Australia where she lives.
Chat with other women about sexual libido and vaginal dryness
Power Surge Midlife Sexuality, Relationship Experts...
Check the Power Surge Web Site's Library for transcripts of guest chats with experts in the area of sexuality. These guests have been part of Power Surge's, My Menopause, My Sexual Self Series. Every author is listed in the Library alphabetically.
If you click on the expert's name below, it will take you to one of their transcripts.
Dr. Sandra Scantling, the author of
"Extraordinary Sex: A Couple's Guide To Intimacy." Dr. Sandy is Power Surge's Ask The Intimacy Expert.
Dr. Marianne Brandon, the author of Reclaiming Desire: 4 Keys to Finding Your Lost Libido.
Susan Rako, M.D. the author of
"The Hormone of Desire: The Truth About Testosterone, Sexuality and Menopause." Dr. Rako is an M.D. / Psychiatrist who's spent years researching testosterone.
Dr. Joan Irvine, the author of
"Recipes For Hot Sex: The Book for a Spicy Sex Life ... Just Add Love." Dr. Irvine is a psychologist specializing in sexual enhancement.
Steven Carter, author of the international runaway bestseller, "Men Who
Can't Love," "What Smart Women Know" and This Is How Love Works. You'll also want to check out Steven Carter's, Ask The Power Surge Relationship Expert.
Dr. Alan Altman, OB/GYN and Power Surge guest, co-author with Laurie Ashner
of Making Love The Way We Used To ... Or Better.
Nancy Friday, author of numerous sexuality books including, The Power of Beauty: Men, Women and Sex Appeal Since Femninism.
Judith Sachs, author of numerous books including The Healing Power of Sex.
Joan Irvine, Ph.D., author of Recipes for Hot Sex.
Lonnie Barbach, Ph.D. , author of The Pause: Positive Approaches To Menopause and numerous books on women's sexuality.
Sharyn Wolf, therapist and author of numerous books on sexuality and relationships, " How To Stay Lovers For Life" .
Mira Kirshenbaum, author of Too Good To Leave, Too Bad To Stay.
Lee Raffel , family psychotherapist and author of "Should I Stay or Go? How Controlled Separation (CS) Can Save Your Marriage."