‘I’ve just got a low libido,’ is something lots of women tell me, to explain why they’re not having enjoyable sex with their partner.
It rarely turns out to be the real reason.
Don’t get me wrong, some women do have a naturally low ‘resting’ libido. But even then, there are invariably other factors at play.
Social psychologist, Justin Lehmiller, is absolutely spot on when he says, ‘We think we don’t want sex, but it’s more that we don’t want the sex we’re currently having’.
Here are six things that women often confuse for low libido – but aren’t.
Tracey Cox shares six things that women often mistake for having a low libido, as it’s revealed there are invariably other factors why they’re not enjoying sex with their partner (file image)
Not feeling comfortable asking for what you really want
‘The only time I orgasm is when I’m masturbating to porn,’ one 28-year-old woman told me.
‘I’m into watching BDSM or group sex: I want to be dominated. ‘My boyfriend is tender and thoughtful. But what works well in our relationship, doesn’t work for me sexually.
‘I don’t have the heart to tell him I find our sex so boring.’
This is a common scenario.
Lots of women have active, supercharged sexual fantasies or lusty solo sex sessions but feel too embarrassed to tell their partner what really turns them on.
They worry they’ll be judged or offend.
Worrying about your body
Tracey (pictured) cites studies that show being ashamed of your body can impact your desire for sex
‘I look at myself in the mirror and I’m ashamed at how bad I look,’ a 40-year-old woman confides.
‘I never did have a great body but it’s far worse after I had a baby. I’m a lesbian which helps a little: I think women are kinder about body issues than men are. But I can see my partner is frustrated by my constant criticism of myself and how it’s impacting on our sex life. It’s basically flatlined.’
A landmark 2012 review of 57 studies, spanning two decades of research, found significant links between body image and just about every factor associated with sex: arousal, desire, orgasm, frequency of sex and sexual self-esteem.
Study after study turns up the same result, year in, year out: feeling sexually attractive means you’re far more likely to enjoy sex, have more orgasms, initiate sex more and be more comfortable discussing sex with your partner.
It’s not rocket science: if you’re ashamed of your body and think it’s ugly, why would you want anyone looking at it or touching it?
Incompatible sex styles
We talk a lot about incompatible sex drives but our sex style – the kind of sex we enjoy – is just as important.
If the sex you’re having isn’t exciting, you’re not going to want to repeat it on a regular basis.
‘I like slow, sensual sex. I need intimacy – lots of eye contact during and talking beforehand to feel close to my partner.
‘My husband likes quickies: from behind, hardly any foreplay and at the most inconvenient times. Is it any wonder my sex drive isn’t high?’ one newly married woman complained to me.
Is her husband aware she isn’t happy?
‘No. I don’t feel like I should complain at this point. We’ve only been married six months’.
GET THE SEX LIFE YOU DESERVE
Speak up. If you aren’t happy with the sex you’re having, ask for the sex you want. Be brave: tell your partner what you fantasise about or watch when you’re having solo sex. Encourage them to do the same.
Be honest. No-one wants to deliberately offend or hurt their partner so always be tactful and sensitive in any conversation about sex. But hiding your real wants and needs does nothing but guarantee your sex life will be unsatisfying.
Start small. If you’re worried your ‘kinks’ are a little out there, take baby steps. Say, ‘Hey, have you ever thought about trying a tie-up game?’ rather than ‘Do you mind if I wear a gimp mask next time’.
Educate yourself about your body. If you struggle to orgasm, research how the female body works. Read ‘Come as You Are’ by Emily Nagoski. Check out OMGyes, a website that shows you how to orgasm (and have better orgasms). There’s lots on traceycox.com detailing the different techniques women use to masturbate.
Viva la difference! Women and men have different response systems. Stop trying to be like a man. Don’t apologise for needing more time and wanting different things than your partner does.
Don’t compare. Feel inadequate when talking with friends about sex? Don’t believe all you hear. Most of us exaggerate the amount we have sex, our orgasm rate and enjoyment level. Find your ‘normal’. It doesn’t matter how much sex everyone else is having.
Be kind to yourself. Even supermodels have body insecurities. Having a perfect body isn’t the answer to low body self-esteem, learning to accept your (perceived) flaws is.
Focus less on what you look like and more on what you’re feeling. Look at your partner’s body, not your own.
Talking to your partner about your sexual preferences – what you like and don’t like – isn’t complaining.
It’s setting you both up for a lifetime of good sex rather than a continuation of the lacklustre sex you’re experiencing now.
The orgasm gap
Yes, yes, of course sex is enjoyable even if you don’t have an orgasm.
But if you NEVER have one with your partner – and they’re steadily and cheerfully clocking one up every single time – it feels (and is) horribly unfair.
‘I can’t think of one time – not one single occasion – that my partner didn’t orgasm when we had sex,’ a 36-year-old woman laments.
‘For me, it’s the norm not to. I’ve tried talking to him about it and telling him I don’t come from intercourse but it’s like he doesn’t believe me.
‘His standard answer is that all his other girlfriends had no problems, so it’s my problem if I do. Nothing to do with him.’
One recent study found while 91 per cent of men said they usually or always experienced orgasm with their partner, only 39 per cent of women do.
There’s obviously less incentive to have if you don’t orgasm: add simmering resentment to the mix and desire evaporates completely.
Stress and depression
Hand up if you tick both boxes: feeling stressed and low?
‘None of my friends are having sex at the moment: we’re all too worried about what’s happening in the world,’ one woman told me.
‘I’ve got two kids at home, my parents are vulnerable so I’m looking after them, there’s nothing to look forward to and life is so uncertain. I feel worn out by it all.’
Stress, anxiety and depression are classic killers of libido and they’re all in abundant supply since the coronavirus appeared early this year.
Forty-four per cent of US adults say sex has become far less frequent and satisfying since the lockdown and it’s the same in most of the western world.
Ironic, since sex is exactly what we need to shake us out of the doldrums. It reduces tension, makes us feel more relaxed and connected to our partner.
Yet it’s bottom of the ‘to do’ list for many at the moment.
Tracey says 30 per cent of women only want sex when something erotic is already happening to them (file image)
The way you get aroused is different than your partner
Men and women tend to get aroused in different ways.
About two thirds of men experience the ‘want sex, then seek it’ model of ‘spontaneous desire’. They feel like sex, then instigate it with their partner.
Only 15 per cent of women feel desire this way.
Thirty per cent of women have ‘responsive desire’ – they want sex only when something erotic is already happening to them. Desire happens after their bodies are being sexually stimulated, not before.
About half of all women experience some combination of the two: sometimes they’re spontaneously aroused, other times they want sex only after sexy things are already happening.
Most people think the only ‘natural’ desire is when you feel like having sex out of the blue.
Responsive desire is an equally normal, healthy way of being aroused: it’s just the way your body works.
Tracey’s new book, Great Sex Starts at 50, is out now. You’ll find more of her views about sex and love on traceycox.com.