New research explores how women navigate low desire in loving relationship.
As a therapist, I often work with clients who are trying to make sense of their low, or decreased, sexual desire.
Was there a sudden turning point, or a gradual change over the years? Could it be a lack of energy due to the demands of raising kids? The influence of various cultural, societal, or religious messages? The navigation of various life stresses and transitions? Work challenges? A change in health status?
One of the more difficult questions to ask is: Does my low sexual desire mean something is wrong with my relationship?
While problems with our sex life can certainly have a negative influence on our romantic relationships, there are many of us who report having low sexual desire yet are still deeply in love with our partners.
How do we navigate loving relationships when we don’t really love having sex?
In a new study published in The Journal of Sex Research, Dr. Moor and her colleagues at Tel Hai College in Israel interviewed women who self-identified as being in loving long-term relationships while also experiencing a decrease in sexual desire. It was required that women felt their decreased desire was significantly lower than that of their partner’s.
The authors interviewed 15 women between the ages of 25 and 59. Most were married to their partners and about a quarter were cohabitating. All women were required to be in a relationship of at least 1 year, with the average relationship length being 3.5 years. Approximately half the sample had children.
Over the course of the semi-structured interviews, the authors asked participants about: a) the quality of their relationship, b) how their relationship was impacted by their decreased sexual desire, c) their explanations for how their desire decreased over the course of their relationship, d) what impact women felt this had on themselves and their relationship, e) how women dealt with the decreased desire themselves, and f) how the couple dealt with and navigated these sexual desire differences together.
Love Doesn’t Equal Desire
Participants, by definition of being able to participate in the study, said that their sexual desire never made them doubt their relationship or their feelings for their partner. That is, they saw sexual desire and love for their partner as being completely unrelated.
For example, one participant said: “I never doubted the relationship. And the older I get the surer I am of our relationship.”
Further, over half the participants said that they didn’t feel their desire discrepancy had a negative impact on their relationship. This subset of women shared that they had deeper and more intimate connections with their partner that went beyond sexual activity. Examples included navigating parenthood and life’s ups and downs together as a team, which some women described as keeping their relationship strong, even if they experienced some sexual challenges.
My Low Desire, My Problem
However, and perhaps a bit unfortunately, in order to make sense of a decrease desire while being in a loving relationship, many women in this study went inwards, blaming themselves for their decreased sexual interest. That is, they seemed to rationalize that if we don’t have a problem, it must be my problem.