Women With Low Desire: What Went Wrong?

In an age in which medications are increasingly being used to treat sexual problems, it is increasingly important to look at the context of women’s and men’s sexual lives. Not all sexual problems can be fixed with a pill, particularly if problems stem from a lack of privacy for sex, children or pets that interrupt sex, feeling bad about one’ body, feeling ashamed about sex, or such. Recently, researchers from a variety of clinics and schools in the US published an article in the Journal of Sexual Medicine about the experiences of 400 premenopausal women diagnosed with Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD). In this study, they asked the women to rate, for themselves, what they felt the contributing causes of their low desire were, both when their desire first dropped as well as currently. Here’s what they found:

Though fewer women were able to pinpoint the causes of their initial lack of desire (although 9% felt that pregnancy or recent childbirth had contributed to it), more women indicated factors that they felt were linked with their current low levels of desire. A total of 60% of these women, for example, felt that stress or fatigue was linked to their low desire. About 1/3 felt that other sexual issues, such as pain during sex or difficulties with orgasm, were connected with their low libido. For 14% of women, it was lack of privacy for sex; for 12%, menopausal symptoms contributed as well. Nearly 1 out of 5 felt that dissatisfaction with their overall relationship contributed to their low desire and 15% cited their partner’s poor lovemaking skill or technique. Granted, these were women who mostly said that they were happy in their relationships and could communicate with their partners (though 31% said they were “uhappy” and 24% were dissatisfied with their relationship communication).

In light of the many factors that women linked with low desire, the researchers emphasized that many cases of low desire are perhaps best treated with individualized, patient-focused treatment plans – not a one-size-fits-all approach (and unlikely, I would venture to guess, a “pill” approach). Some of these women may be in relationships that are unlikely to get better. Others may benefit from counseling or therapy that helps to fine-tune their communication skills so that they can talk about sex or pleasure or happiness with ease, and not just talk about who’s turn it is to walk the dog or take out the garbage. Some women may find that lifestyle behaviors, such as healthier eating and exercise, help them to feel better about their bodies. Others may simply need to hear from their partner – or the world around them – that they are beautiful and valued as they are.

To learn more about the complexities of women’s sexual desire, and how to enhance low desire, check out my book Because It Feels Good: A Woman’s Guide to Sexual Pleasure and Satisfaction. To find a sex therapist or counselor in your area, visit the Society for Sex Therapy and Research’s web site.

About Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick

Dr. Debby Herbenick is a sex researcher at Indiana University, sexual health educator at The Kinsey Institute, columnist, and author of five books about sex and love. Learn more about her work at www.sexualhealth.indiana.edu.

  • KH

    Asking a person why they're not interested in sex is often a tricky business. It's like asking someone why they're interested in sex. As a high-sex-drive person, my answer is simply, I don't know! All I know is I'm interested in sex pretty much any time of day or night. I would never think to suggest it's because I had a good night of sleep, or because I'm not fatigued, because I'm interested even when I'm tired and fatigued!

    Likewise with my wife. She's said she's not interested because she's often tired. Well, I don't see a whole lot of interested when she's well-rested either. Rather, when she's not busy, she's energized and busy and has no time for sex (another excuse).

    So, that explains why many of us high-sex-drive men are naturally suspicious of women who have 100's of different reasons at different times to avoid sex.