Exactly How To Turn Yourself On Again When Your Sex Drive Has Dipped
Photograph by James Garaghty
Take your sex drive from groan to grrrrrr…
Sex isn’t so straightforward for women. The female libido can be elusive – here today, gone tomorrow – and for some, not there at all. Here’s how to get your sex drive back.
Is Your Libido A Bit Limp?
We all want to be that woman – at least for a night. The sex glutton who has actually tried all 69 of the moves “guaranteed to drive him wild” and loved every one of them. But even if you were always up for it once upon a time, these days you may have patches when your libido is as lifeless as the office pot plant.
You’re not alone. In a survey published, more than one in three premenopausal women admitted to experiencing low sexual desire in the past month. That’s a lot of us!
Evidence shows that a low sex drive can have a physical cause, such as insufficient blood flow to the clitoris or vagina, nerve damage (possibly as a result of surgery), low testosterone levels or raised blood pressure.
There can also be psychological causes, including extreme tiredness, stress, depression, use of antidepressants, psychological blocks, distractions or general unhappiness in a relationship.
But there’s good news: according to experts, once you identify the possible causes of your lukewarm libido, you can start figuring out a solution.
The Confidence Cure
Not all psychosexual blocks are anxiety-related. For many women, low self-esteem can be the biggest passion-killer.
Caroline Burns*, (34), has always struggled with a lack of confidence. “While I was growing up, my brothers and my dad were pretty brutal with the way they would tease me about my weight. Plus, I always had a sense that my dad wasn’t being faithful to my mom during their marriage. Even though my family and I have better relationships now, these self-esteem issues have been a running theme for me.”
In her early twenties, Caroline turned to sex as a way to feel validated, attractive and loved. But it was never fuelled by good old-fashioned desire. “I enjoy the cuddling and the closeness, but the act itself just doesn’t do it for me,” she says. “And I’ve never been able to have an orgasm during sex.”
Like Caroline, many women approach sex from the wrong direction. We’ve been fed these messages that sex is supposed to be for him and about his needs, say the sex experts, and has nothing to do with our own pleasure, bodies or desires. For Caroline, who was raised in a strict religious household, there was plenty of guilt around sex.
A conservative environment can also mean you’re not very familiar with the intimate bits of your body. “Ignorance of your genitals and physiological responses can inhibit your desire and orgasmic capacity,” says clinical sexologist Marlene Wasserman, aka Dr Eve. “Self-knowledge is empowering.”
Adding to her cycle of shame, Caroline feels insecure about being so “non-sexual”. For reasons she can’t figure out, she says, “I just don’t have the urge to have sex or even masturbate.” It probably doesn’t help that her boyfriend of two years has a very high sex drive. Although she usually has sex with him when he wants it, Caroline says, her inability to reach orgasm creates even more tension between them.
Ultimatums – especially those bred from frustration – only add more pressure to the situation, says sex therapist Ian Kerner, author of Sex Recharge. Caroline needs to have honest conversations with her guy, he says, and remind him that, although she realises this is difficult for him, his patience and understanding will help her improve her sexual response faster.
The best solution to such cases, says Kerner, is to stop having sex for a while. “Instead of having intercourse, focus on sensual touch, without the pressure to have an orgasm,” says Kerner. Caressing each other, giving each other massages, kissing – these are all ways you can operate outside the sexual sphere, but still feel tenderness, love and validation.
To sell the “no-sex” idea to your man, Kerner suggests explaining that in addition to clearing out the chaos in your own head, you want to focus on finding fun new ways to get him off that don’t involve intercourse.
To address your body-image concerns, you need to adjust your perception of what’s sexy, so you can start feeling sensual and sexual. Wasserman suggests looking in the mirror at the parts of your body you think are attractive, and focusing on these rather than on what you feel are flaws. When you think of your body, think of the features you like. Over time, this will help you to see yourself as sexy.
Happier and Hornier
Most antidepressants, especially selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors (SSRIs), will kill your libido – which is not to say you should stop taking these without talking to your doctor.
But a study published in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy found that bupropion, known by the brand names Wellbutrin and Zyban, doubled non-depressed women’s interest in sex. Another study by the same researcher found that it improved orgasmic response in premenopausal women. How does it work? Bupropion ups the brain’s levels of dopamine and norepinephrine, neurotransmitters with energising, feel-good effects.
Pharmaceutical company Boehringer Ingelheim has developed a drug called Flibanserin, which aims to treat low desire in premenopausal women.