Many of us worry about the way our sexual desire fades as a relationship progresses. We’re usually aware of the honeymoon effect, and we expect that the beginning of a new relationship will be sexier and more passionate than the later stages, but regardless, we still wonder if the dip in sex drive is normal. Sometimes we might wonder if there’s something wrong with the relationship itself.
But here’s the strange thing: those of us who worry about our sex drives also report being deeply in love with our partners. Nothing changes in love, but the desire seems to fade. So, how do we manage a relationship which is still filled with love, when we no longer love sex?
A new study in the venerable Journal of Sex Research, Dr. Moor and her colleagues interviewed women who were experiencing exactly this issue: in love, but lacking desire, with particular focus on women who believed their sex drive was lower than their partner’s. It was a small sample, but since it’s such an understudied topic, it’s valuable nonetheless.
The researchers asked the women about the quality of their relationship, how their relationship has been affected by their declining sex drive, why their sex drive might have decreased, how they personally dealt with the decrease, and how the couple dealt with the decline together.
Interestingly, most of the participants never doubted the relationship itself as a result of their decreasing sex drive. One participant said, for example, “I never doubted the relationship. And the older I get the surer I am of our relationship”. Even more reassuringly, more than half of the women interviewed said that they didn’t feel the difference in desire had a negative impact on the relationship. The feeling of these participants was that they were actually enjoying a deeper level of intimacy with their partner’s beyond sex.
It wasn’t all good news though, as many of the women blamed themselves for the dip in desire. They chose to focus on the problem as their problem, to be solved by them alone, rather than the relationship’s problem. They seemed to rationalize it like this: “if we don’t have a problem, it must be my problem.” One participant summed it up, “sometimes I feel really bad, like, what’s screwed up with me that I don’t have a higher sexual desire? And you start to think maybe something is wrong with you.”
While the majority were confident that the discrepancy in sexual desire didn’t affect the overall quality of the relationship, most women still acknowledged that there was occasionally unwelcome pressure put on them for sex, or at least some tension about the divergent sex drives. Many noted that, although they felt loved, there were still sometimes arguments about the frequency they had sex, and some worried that their partner was taking their lack of desire personally.
As a result, women in the study reported consenting to sex even when they weren’t entirely excited or enthusiastic about it, as a method of reassuring their partner, rather than through a desire for personal satisfaction or pleasure.
Avoidance behavior is related to this, and some of the women reported inventing reasons to excuse themselves from sex entirely, or create situations in which sex could not happen. Pretending to be asleep was common, as was the reluctance to touch or be physically close to their partner to avoid instigating sex. The withdrawal from physical affection out of reluctance to engage in sex was particularly demoralizing.
Of course, the women stated that the lack of desire did not indicate a complete absence of it, and they often still felt desire and attraction towards their partner. Some went further to say they still felt attraction to other people, even if they had no intention to pursue those thoughts. The ability to be attracted to people was still extant, and the latent desire was still there too. It wasn’t gone.
Similarly, they still reported pleasure and satisfaction from sex when it happened. In other words, their desire for sex might be low, but they still enjoyed it when they did it. This offers support for the model of sexual desire in which women’s desire can be nourished by sexual activity, even if desire is low at the outset.
To Sum Up
There are lots of reasons why our sexual desire decreases, and it’s normal. Over the course of a longer, successful relationship, it’s absolutely normal for both partners to undergo peaks and troughs of sexual desire, and as the relationship progresses, the peaks will seem lower, and the troughs deeper. But there’s nothing wrong with you as a result, and there’s nothing necessarily wrong with the relationship.