by Dr. Erica Marchand – a psychologist specializing in couples and sex therapy in Los Angeles.
One of the most common complaints I hear is about low desire or low libido. What to do about this? Shouldn’t we just naturally want to have sex? It’s more complicated than that, and you don’t need to feel bad if you don’t. Here are 5 tips for managing and increasing sexual desire.
1. Recognize “low desire” vs. a “desire discrepancy.” Sometimes when a member of a couple complains of “low desire,” they mean “my partner wants to have sex more often than I do.” People naturally differ in how often they want to have sex. It’s not uncommon for one partner in a relationship to want sex more often than the other. If the person with lower desire is not bothered by their level of desire, then it really is a relationship issue rather than purely the “low desire” of an individual. To resolve a desire discrepancy, partners really need to talk about their sexual needs and come to some agreement about sex — how often, who will initiate, how to handle disagreements, etc. It’s helpful if the partner with higher desire doesn’t nag or shame the partner with lower desire, since this is hurtful and doesn’t really help the situation. It’s also helpful if the partner with lower desire considers being receptive to participating in sex, even if they aren’t spontaneously feeling desire, as a way of acknowledging their partner’s sexual needs. A great book to help manage desire discrepancy is The Sex-Starved Marriage by Michele Weiner Davis.
2. Add excitement. Studies have suggested that novelty and excitement in life in general can boost sexual attraction and arousal. This can mean doing new things together (going somewhere you haven’t been before, trying a new activity) or, better yet, doing new AND exciting things together (learning how to surf, riding a rollercoaster). This can also mean going about sex in a new way than you have before. Think about changing up your sexual routine, not following the usual script of kiss, touch, remove clothing, etc. Use your imagination or consult books or movies for ideas on something different.
3. Slow down. I commonly hear about people rushing through “foreplay” to get to intercourse, sometimes spending less than 5 minutes on the “preliminaries” to get to the “main event.” I would encourage thinking about sex differently. The stuff you do before intercourse is part of sex, not just “foreplay.” Really focusing on providing and receiving pleasurable sensations during this time is crucial to overall enjoyment. Enjoyment, in turn, is crucial to desire — the better it feels, the more you’ll want to keep doing it. Especially if you’re the person feeling lower desire than your partner, give yourself plenty of time at the beginning of sex to do things that feel good to you before moving on to intercourse, if that’s your goal.
4. Start from neutral. We often think desire has to come before sexual activity. In reality, if you are feeling neutral but otherwise willing, consider participating in sex if your partner initiates. Note I’m not saying to have sex if you don’t want to. I’m saying if you’re not opposed to it, just not in the mood, consider going along with the idea for the pleasure, or relationship benefits, or whatever. Many people who rarely feel desire spontaneously nonetheless find that desire and arousal follow from a conscious choice to engage in sex. In this way sex can be kind of like working out — it feels good after you start.
5. Learn what gets you aroused. This might seem obvious, but many people don’t actually get the types of physical, psychological, or relational stimulation they need to really get aroused. What do you like? If you are a person with lower desire, you may want to use erotic books, movies, pictures, fantasies, ideas, or activities to feel more aroused more often. Sometimes the usual sexual script of kiss, touch, remove clothing, etc. just isn’t that arousing. It’s okay to need something more or different than this. Consider exploring what types of things turn you on. Can you incorporate these things into your life on a more regular basis and see what impact this has on your sex drive?
Remember that desire is also affected by many other factors in life, including stress, overall health, relationship quality, time demands, and other things. If an area of your life is really out of balance and causing you distress, it’s normal for sexual desire to take a backseat. At the same time, no life is perfectly balanced. Sometimes we have to make time to cultivate the things we want in life, and sex is one of them.
Hope this helps!
P.S. I recently uploaded a video with more info on this topic:http://youtu.be/ywzWQK9jIqY