Thirty percent of young and middle-aged women, according to a recent New York Times Magazine piece, are going through extended periods of low sexual desire — or none at all. That’s a pretty interesting subject, although the Times‘ take managed to make it so polite as to be snoooooozy. The official term is hypoactive sexual desire — which, like every term describing something emotional, carries a value judgment that there is a specific set-point.
The story, typical of the Times, focused on dry, intellectual academic research and its findings, essentially wandering as far away from the forest as possible to examine a few trees. The larger question is why women feel this way, and research into sexual desire has often focused on men.
The story’s protagonist is a Canadian researcher, Lori Brotto, who uses something called “the Basson Sexual Response Cycle”, filled with arrows and circles. Have we really come to this?
Here’s my personal take on why some women are losing interest in sex:
1) We’re exhausted. If you have kids, certainly several and/or several under five, you’re tired. If you have kids and work out of the home, you’re tired. If you have a long commute on top of that, you’re wiped. If you’re lucky, your commute is by bus or train, allowing you time to sleep. If you don’t have kids, and you’re not super-rich, you’re working yourself to death to grow your income and net worth. Or maybe just trying to find a new job.
2) We’re scared to death — of losing our jobs or of our husbands or partners losing their jobs. Fear doesn’t make you want to shimmy around the boudoir. It makes you want to hide in the closet.
3) We’re broke. Credit card companies have jacked their rates sky-high recently and the stress is insane for anyone carrying large balances. Banks are restricting credit. Anyone who needs access to credit is largely SOL. If you have enormous debt(s) and have lost your job or might, money beats sex on your list of things to think about, probably 24/7.
4) We’re worried, those of us who have kids, about their futures. I know many people losing jobs who have several kids in or about to enter college or job-seeking. We’re worried about them, too.
5) Media images of women deemed sexually desirable are a nasty joke: skinny, white, young — and did I mention skinny? The average American woman is now a size 14, not the size 2 or 4 or 6 shown us relentlessly by women’s magazines edited by women. Every time I see another editorial spread on –ho hum — Sarah Jessica Parker, reputed to be a single-digit size, I want to throw the magazine across the room. Enough already! Fat women love sex too. And fat(ter) women are having and enjoying great sex with men who love them and their curves, but you’d never know it because the only women we ever see held up to us as Gorgeous (i.e. desirable) literally have their bones sticking out above their $5,000 gowns.
6) Power struggles. It’s largely unspoken, but I think it’s real for many women on a daily basis. Micro-insults can sap your confidence and joy. If you head off to work, forced to do battle, (no, not overtly or directly), with sexist and/or racist stereotypes of what you’re actually capable of or educated for or dream of accomplishing, let alone earning almost 25% less than men, you’re pissed. And pissed isn’t going to do a pole-dance for anyone.
Here’s what I think might help:
1) Clean house! Yup. Free the woman you love from the chains of toilet-scrubbing, oven-cleaning, vacuuming, grocery-shopping — soooooooo tedious! — consistently and you’ll find someone with new energy and interest to spare. Most women are still expected to do the bulk of the housework, on top of working and even childcare. Yeah, that’s sexy.
2) Listen carefully. Not with one ear or while texting or scrolling through your Blackberry or while watching TV. There are few things more deeply alluring than someone’s loving, devoted and undivided attention. Remember those first dates when you were trying so hard to impress us? Women are socialized to be indirect, so as not to hurt people’s feelings by really saying what what we want or need. Our most crucial messages may not come through loud and clear.
3) Slow down. We live in a culture addicted to speed and productivity. Great sex is often an activity conducted without some grim-faced, determined goal. It’s fun, relaxed, needs and takes time — as in an uninterrupted, quiet, private hour or more.
4) Address the anger. If a woman isn’t opening up to you, literally, there’s usually a good reason for it. She might be furious, with you or with herself or others. Not fun. It can be hard work to get to the reason(s) and resolve them, let alone talk about them. But until they’re gone, so’s (good) sex.
Keeping it PG, please, what’s turning you on these days? Or off?
Why do you think so many women have lost interest — or never found it — in sex?