Sometimes, you catch a glimpse of your partner — and you can’t wait to be intimate with them. But other times, it can be days, weeks or even months between when you’re ‘in the mood.’ Every human has a sex drive, but they ebb and flow throughout lifetimes and the stages of our relationships. As defined by sex therapist Courtney Geter, LMFT, CST, a sex drive in its purest form is a sexual desire to want to have sex. It’s often referred to as our libido, and it can feel complicated to understand and explore. However, one aspect is true for all of us: we all go through periods of attraction and activity and less exciting ones. However, if you’re curious about what can impact your sex hormones, here, experts shed insight into times when it’s normal to have a low drive:
You’ve been with your partner for a long time.
When you first met your one-and-only, you probably felt drawn to them. And at times, maybe even intoxicated by their presence. Many people refer to this relationship stage as the ‘honeymoon phase,’ and it can last anywhere from a few weeks to a few years, dependent on the couple. Erotic wholeness coach Darshana Avila describes this time as a blissful, erotically-charged, lust-filled chapter that leaves us feeling utterly happy. While it’s important to savor this feeling, it’s equally important to know and accept it won’t last forever.
“We tend to then measure an entire relationship against the new relationship energy, without accounting for the fact that there are genuine biological — nevermind emotional and situational — differences between then and now,” she continues. “It’s not that you can’t feel highly turned on and want lots of sex throughout many chapters of a long-term relationship. Many experience a shift once the relationship has mellowed out, and rather than relying on those feel-good chemicals, you might have to rely instead on better communication and creativity to support you in having a mutually satisfying sexual connection.”
When this happens, Avila suggests shifting your sex routine from spontaneous to intentional. This means making time in your schedule to prioritize a romp and to get creative in what you count as intimacy. “Take the goal orientation of ‘we must have intercourse’ off the table. And be sure to let your honey know that while in the big picture you want to share a healthy and happy sex life together, at this moment, what would feel good to you is taking time to get to know what you each like,” she adds.
You’re really stressed.
Whether it’s personal stressors or work-related, it’s hard to get in the mood if you’re feeling preoccupied, says Megwyn White, a certified clinical sexologist and the director of education for Satisfyer. After all, if you’re silently worrying about your back-to-back meeting day tomorrow while you’re having sex, you’re not in the moment so that it won’t be as pleasurable. White says to be open and honest with your partner on how you feel when this happens. This will allow you to cope with your stress levels and better manage them so you can get your groove back.
“Start by minimizing stress by altering your lifestyle and focusing on what would make you feel the best in return. Whether it’s seeking mental health support or incorporating more activities that make you happy, be sure to communicate these concerns and desires with your partner,” she explains.
It can also be helpful for your connection to participate in hobbies together that lower your stress. As White explains, it could be something as simple as cooking a meal together, learning a new game, renovating a room, or taking a class together. “As you stretch and grow together, you also get to tap into that contextually based desire which helps you to sharpen your attraction and see your love in a new and exciting light,” she says.
You’re experiencing anxiety.
Geter says the close cousin of stress is anxiety and can be a major culprit in low sex drives. This is because people choose from three reactions when they’re feeling anxious: fight, flight or freeze. When this is not dealt with, it can create sexual issues, like erectile difficulties, painful sex with penetration and other performance fears. So, in addition to whatever part of your life is causing you anxiety, you also pile on the pressure in the bedroom, which only creates a negative cycle.
“If you and your partner have regular check-in times to talk about relationship concerns, this is a good time to discuss your needs and explore different ways to be intimate without the anxiety and stress,” Geter suggests. And if you feel as if these discussions only make matters worse, she notes it can be meaningful to speak with a sex therapist to offer an unbiased, third-party opinion and advice.
You’re going through a rough patch in your relationship.
Maybe it’s adjusting to being a new parent. Or you lost your job. Perhaps you are both working so much you have little time to connect. In a worst-case scenario, your partner broke your trust, and you’re struggling to gain it back. Rough patches in a relationship can cause you to lose interest in sex, and while it’s to be expected, it also needs to be addressed. As difficult as it may be to communicate these sensitive issues, it’s the only way to heal, White says. The key is to be mindful of their feelings and to approach the conversation as a team.
“Incorporating use of ‘us’ and ‘we,’ to ensure you’re effectively communicating the importance of improving issues for both parties,” she continues. “It’s important to feel that you can talk to your partner about issues or disagreements, which can have positive effects on your relationship moving forward.”
If you aren’t getting enough sleep or you’re constantly on the go, you may have little energy to give to your relationship. In fact, White says getting enough shuteye could help boost a woman’s sex drive the next day by as much as 14 percent, according to a study in the Journal of Sexual Medicine. “Let your partner know you’re going to be prioritizing your sleep. If you live together, encourage each other to get to bed early,” she recommends. “Once you feel rested, you can even get intimate in the morning — which could be a great start and boost to your day.”
You’re not having the kind of sex you want to be having.
It seems simple enough, right? If you don’t look forward to your under-the-sheet action, why would you make it a priority? As Avila says often, it’s a combination of not knowing how much sex you want to have and not feeling confident to communicate and give feedback to your partner to make the experience more enjoyable. To combat this, take a step back and reconsider how you define ‘sex’ and intimacy. Or, in other words: it doesn’t all have to be about intercourse.
“Sex is whatever you want it to be: from a PG-13 make-out session to an erotic massage to only oral or any other way you want to play,” she continues. “Normalizing this would help so many people reevaluate the belief that there is ‘something wrong’ or that they don’t have a sex drive. There’s a much greater likelihood that you can find something you enjoy and would like to engage in if you don’t feel pressured to enact a goal-oriented, peak performance that you might not be in the mood for.”
And don’t be afraid to express your vulnerability and allow your partner to learn about your personal drive and desires. Avila recommends picking a neutral time — aka not when you’re having sex — to start by finding something that does feel good and then explain something that isn’t working. For example, you could say: ‘Hey love. I know you wanted to have sex last night, and I wasn’t feeling it. I’d like to share something I’ve been thinking about and wonder if you’re up for a chat?’
Assuming they agree, you can explain:
‘I noticed that I said no to sex because part of me didn’t trust it was going to feel good to me. More specifically, I really like when you use your whole hand to rub my vulva but find it a little too intense when you touch my clit directly. I’d love to explore with some different qualities of touch to create a really awesome experience together. Are you open to that?’
You’re spending endless amounts of time together with your partner.
As we have all battled the pandemic, many couples have spent more time together than they know to do with. After all, working, eating, exercising and existing under the same roof 24/7 can make you tired of anyone, even if you love them deeply. Gigi Engle, author and the resident sexologist for Zumio, says there have been two different camps of couples during the lockdown. One experienced a mega boost in their sex drive, while another has experienced the opposite, reporting very little interest in getting it on.
“Some people are so anxious about the state of the world that their desire has taken a nosedive,” she continues. “Whatever the situation is right now, it’s completely normal. These are unprecedented times, the likes of which we’ve never seen before. Don’t beat yourself up about it and take it slow.”
If you’re interested in increasing libido, she says to get curious. The desire for sex is not an inherent human “drive” like we’ve been told it is — desire is born out of our brain and body’s reciprocal reward system. “Meaning we are more likely to want sex if we have positive sexual experiences. The better the sex we have, the more sex we want,” she adds.
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