who has stood in a supermarket checkout line has seen all the
sexy headlines on women's magazines, touting exciting new ways
for readers to drive their men wild in bed or to heighten their
own sexual pleasure. These are tantalizing promises, to be sure.
But they sorely miss the mark.
fact is, many women aren't interested in more sex or better
sex. They aren't interested in sex at all. They used to be,
of course. Over months or even years, their sexual desire all
but disappeared. And they can't understand why.
years of clinical practice, Andrew Goldstein, M.D., and Marianne
Brandon, Ph.D., have worked with scores of clients who aren't
satisfied with their sex drives. They've seen how women struggle
to open up about this very personal and painful problem. And
they've seen how it can erode women's self-esteem and strain
Reclaiming Desire, Dr. Goldstein and Dr. Brandon present a self-care
version of their highly effective holistic approach to treating
Inside you'll find:
~ An exclusive self-test to
assess physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual health
-- the four cornerstones of a healthy sex drive
~ Essential information on how
major life events like pregnancy, menopause, and divorce can
affect a woman's sexual health
~ A range of practical measures,
from conventional and herbal medicines to mind-body techniques
and lifestyle strategies, that can help rekindle sexual desire
~ Personal stories that draw
upon the real-life experiences of women who once struggled with
low libido -- and emerged with a greater understanding of their
Desire also offers a healthy dose of reassurance and encouragement
as an antidote to all of the misconceptions about low libido.
As you'll learn, a decline in sex drive doesn't automatically
happen with age. And while hormones influence sexual desire
and response, they don't determine a woman's sexual destiny.
Just as important, low libido doesn't necessarily point to a
problem in a woman's relationship with her partner. More than
likely, she simply has lost touch with her sexual self.
those magazine headlines, Reclaiming Desire will more than live
up to its promise. With this book, you can reclaim your desire
-- and make your sex life better than ever.
woman's sexuality is vital to her self-image and self-esteem.
So if her sex drive should falter, the consequences can reach
far beyond the bedroom -- to her sense of value as a person,
her perception of her relationship with her partner, and her
satisfaction with life in general.
many women are reluctant to seek help for low libido, because
it's such a deeply personal problem. Those who do may not get
effective treatment. Too often doctors attempt to pigeonhole
a diminished sex drive as purely physical or psychological.
It's much more complicated than that.
Desire is the only book to address low libido by considering
the whole woman -- her physical health, her emotional resilience,
her intellectual fulfillment, and her spiritual beliefs. At
last women can get a complete, accurate picture of their sexuality
by exploring the diverse factors that have helped shape it.
Using an array of proven self-care techniques, they can determine
what could be sabotaging their sex drives -- and what will help
bring it back.
Andrew Goldstein, M.D., And Marianne Brandon, Ph.D., are cofounders
of the Sexual Wellness Center in Annapolis, Maryland, where
they specialize in treating women's sexual health problems.
Dr. Goldstein divides his time between Annapolis and New York
City; Dr. Brandon resides in Annapolis.
Exploring Womanhood Interviews Andrew Goldstein, M.D. & Marianne Brandon, Ph.D.
Co-authors of Reclaiming Desire: 4 Keys to Finding Your Lost Libido
Drs. Goldstein and Brandon, co-authors of Reclaiming Desire, are cofounders of the Sexual Wellness center in Annapolis, Maryland. Reclaiming Desire is the culmination of their years of research and treatment helping women who have lost their sexual desire find their
libido through a body and mind approach to sexual health.
They visited StorkNet and Exploring Womanhood to talk about this
sensitive and important topic and answered questions from our members. Here are the results of this informative interview . . .
EW Reader: I've lost my sexual desire and I really
have no interest in finding it again. Is that wrong?
Brandon, Ph.D.: You are not alone. About one-third of women
report low desire when surveyed. The fact that you aren't interested
in changing it isn't a matter of right or wrong. It's a personal
preference. Consider the benefits of rekindling your sex drive, versus
the benefits of sexual disinterest. Many women find that low desire
has a negative impact on the intimacy (physical and emotional) they
develop with their partner, on their feelings about themselves as a
woman, and on their experience of physical pleasure in general. If this
is the case for you, you may want to consider why you hesitate to feel
There are "advantages" to being sexually disconnected.
For example, you may use your lack of desire to communicate anger with
your partner. Some women prefer the safety of celibacy to the vulnerability
of sexual intimacy. After all, being open with your partner does involve
risk. The more of yourself you share with him, the more power he has
to hurt you. This issue is complicated by the fact that you may be consciously
unaware of fears like these, while your unconscious mind motivates your
lack of desire. Relatedly, a woman may want to avoid any form of dependence
on her partner. This can be the case after watching her own mother struggle
but stay trapped in a marriage that wasn't healthy, perhaps out
of fear of being alone. This relates to sexual desire because, in allowing
your partner closer to you, giving him the opportunity to please you
sexually, a level of dependence on him can unfold.
I invite you to
get curious about your lack of libido. That doesn't mean that you
need to change your behavior. Increased insight into your preferences
and behavior will only add to your understanding of yourself, which
is empowering, regardless of what you do about it.
Note: The following two questions have
similar concerns. Dr. Brandon has answered them together.
EW Reader: My DH has an extremely low libido.
It wasn't this way when we first got together but has seriously declined
the longer we have been married. We are the perfect example of it only
takes once to get pregnant. We had sex once last year and it resulted
in the conception of our daughter. It has now been 15 months since we
last had intercourse. I have tried everything to change that. After
awhile, though, you just get tired of being rejected all the time so
I give up trying. He has been to the doctor, and he went on antidepressants
for a year, and it didn't help that aspect. He is now off those drugs
but still has no libido. I range from being really angry, to being really
sad to just plain not caring anymore. He is a great father and we love
each other very much but I feel such a huge void in our relationship.
Sometimes it's hard not to be resentful. He will not consider counseling.
I just don't know what to do anymore.
EW Reader: My
husband and I have been married for just over 10 years. Over these years,
our sex life has grown, but now I think we are stuck in a "funk".
My husband seems to have a low libido (and always has). Not so low,
that there is a health reason just lower than I'd like and he'd like
at times. I am tired of being the one who initiates, and I think, bored
of my methods as well. Any suggestions?
are bringing up a great question -- decreased sex drive in men is
not uncommon but rarely talked about. My concern is that you are writing
this question, not him. By that I mean, if he doesn't want to increase
his sex drive, your efforts will probably have little impact. So start
by talking with him. Does he know how distressing this is for you? Sometimes
women are afraid to bring these more sensitive issues up with their
partners, so they communicate with behaviors and subtle comments rather
than direct conversation. That tends to only hamper communication and
increase misunderstandings, however.
If after this discussion
your husband is motivated to change, then the first step will be for
him to identify why his libido is low. It is true that some people,
including men, just have lower sex drives. Nonetheless, other issues
may still be fueling his decreased interest. When a man struggles with
low sex drive, unexpressed emotion (such as anger at his partner) may
be the culprit. Keep in mind that men in Western cultures, men are in
a difficult position at the moment. On one hand, most women are turned
on by strong, masculine men who are powerful and confident in the world.
Unfortunately, we teach men to develop these traits by shutting down
emotionally. This starts at an early age -- male children consistently
get the message that boys don't cry. Unfortunately these messages
live on in our man's psyche as he matures. The way he copes with
these messages will later have a direct result on his sexual expression.
As he learns to cut himself off from showing painful emotions, he simultaneously
cuts himself off from showing soft and loving feelings as well. His
method of sexual expression will probably reflect this. He can become
emotionally numb which results in a cold sexual experience for his partner,
or perhaps he'll loose his interest in sex altogether.
Other typical libido-killers
for men include excessive alcohol consumption, exhaustion due to long
work hours, or discomfort with the power of his masculinity. This can
result from the societal pressures that he not be "macho"
and unemotional. These men may be afraid of the destructive aspects
of their powerful masculine energy. In an attempt to be more emotional
and responsible in the world, he may pull away from his sex drive, or
at least stop bringing his powerful sexual energy to his partner. In
this case, she may then loose interest in sex because of a lack of sexual
excitement in their union.
These issues generally
require more than a quick lifestyle change to resolve. That doesn't
mean that you are out of luck, however. If your man isn't interested
in sex, there's a lot you can do to get his sexual attention. Taking
some sexual risks yourself will help him open up to his own desire.
Try dancing sexy for him, read erotic literature to him by candlelight,
or masturbate in front of him. Allowing yourself to be more vulnerable
with him will likely initiate a more intimate sexual energy between
Hi! Thank you so much for taking the time to answer our questions. Gosh,
I just don't know where to start. I have a three year old and a 14 month
old. I'm a stay-at-home mom. I have and a truly wonderful, loving, doting
husband and father and I just can't seem to find the energy to have
sex anymore. Both my children are sleeping through the night, but I
just find that I have almost no interest or energy to have sex. Raising
little ones is physical and I'm just dog tired by bedtime.
I've tried a glass of wine and a bath, while letting
him put the kids to bed, he's great about making sure I get enough 'me'
time. Part of it seems to be a desire thing, the other part seems to
be an energy thing. I've lost all my pregnancy weight, so it's not that
I feel unattractive, (although I'm a bit discouraged by the sad state
of my breasts after nursing two babies, lol!) I don't know, I sure wish
there was a Viagra for women! Thanks!
Brandon, Ph.D.: You are bringing up
the most common questions we hear from moms of young children. Most
mothers find that the energy it takes to raise their families can negatively
impact their energy and enthusiasm for sex. If you are perpetually tired,
and/or not getting enough time for yourself, your sex life will indeed
suffer. It's very hard to be giving and loving toward your partner
when you are maxed out from giving all day to your kids. Even if your
partner helps out on occasion, one "night off" isn't
going to spark your libido into action. Think in terms of any biological
system -- energy output depends on energy input. If you are putting
out more than you are taking in, you will burn out fast. A lifestyle
change, involving more regular time for yourself, is probably necessary
for your body to really relax and feel sensual pleasure again.
Next, there are
some "tricks" to boosting your desire. Your brain has probably
been so focused on mothering that you've lost touch with your sensual
side. In my answer to another question in this forum, I addressed how
to turn that around. One other approach that can often yield great results
involves taking some sexual and emotional risks with your partner. This
doesn't mean engaging in unsafe sex practices. The risks I am speaking
of result from increased vulnerability with your husband. First, discuss
with him some things you've always wanted to try sexually, but
were afraid to ask for. Just about everyone can identify something on
this list, even if it was a something they thought of years ago. By
sharing yourself in this way, you drastically increase intimacy with
your partner. For the most part, increases in intimacy will have a beneficial
effect on your desire for sex. If you can't think of anything,
and even if you can, try buying some books on sexual techniques and
read them with your partner. Everybody can stand to learn something.
Another step involves changing your sexual patterns. Most couples get
in to sexual habits that produce boredom over time. Sex has to be interesting
and exciting for you to desire it. Make your sex life worth wanting.
Changing your sexual routines, including asking your partner to touch
you differently, will help matters. Think about the best sex you've
ever had, and determine what made it great. Recreating that experience
in some form now will probably help you feel sexually enthusiastic again.
Finally, try slowing sex way down. Rushing the experience by limiting
foreplay, or attempting to orgasm fast, significantly decreases your
opportunities for pleasure in the moment. Try an experiment -- without
even telling your partner, slow down the ways you caress him. Make a
point of feeling the sensuous nature in what you are doing. It will
change your shared sexual experience.
I am very embarrassed to ask this question, but in almost 6 years of
marriage I have never really gotten comfortable with touching my husband
intimately. I just seem kind of "turned off" by his "parts."
I try to play along but am not often in it for myself but for him -
meaning I don't get much pleasure out of sex. I feel like a total freak.
What can you recommend to help me overcome this? I am 34 and healthy.
We do not have children yet, and as far as I know I was never molested
as a child or anything like that. Thanks for taking the time to answer
Brandon, Ph.D.: This
is a great question, and I'm glad you asked. First, you bring up
a key component of a healthy sexual relationship -- both partners,
including the woman, need to feel that they get something for themselves
from making love. If a woman has sex just to please her partner, it
will feel cold and mechanical to both participants, and as a result,
not enjoyable. I encourage you to start by focusing on yourself, rather
than on your partner. Find what is in it for you to make love to him.
Many women feel that the closeness and emotional intimacy they feel
with their partner is key to their enjoyment. Others like the playful
aspects of sex, the pure physical pleasure of making love, and/or the
joy of making a partner feel good. If you aren't in it for yourself,
it's unlikely that you will open up to enjoying stimulating him.
urge you to experiment with your own body for a while. It sounds
like you would benefit from exploring your sensual self. Being
sexual with your partner first requires comfort and enjoyment
with your own sensuality. In other words, you can't give
him what you don't have within yourself. Most women with
low sex drive have lost touch with themselves as sensual beings.
They no longer feel or enjoy sensual expression outside of sex.
Reacquainting yourself with your sensual side literally starts
with a focus on your five senses -- that is, your use of
vision, touch, hearing, smell and taste. Take time to attend
to sensual images in the form of artwork or nature. Bring these
images into your bedroom and other spaces where you spend your
time. Explore different music styles to find those that help
awaken your sensuality. Play them while you make dinner, or
in your portable CD player while you walk the dog. Use erotic
scents, like perfumes or incense. Finally, learn to experience
foods sensually. For example, eating a juicy peach can be erotic,
as can dining on red meat, or creamy chocolate. Finding the
sensual aspects in your daily life will help you open to the
sensuality of your body and your sexuality.
step in your exploration involves focusing more directly on
waking yourself up sexually. Reading erotic literature can help
you further define what sparks you sexually. You can incorporate
what you learn into sexual fantasies, or, better yet, tell your
partner what turns you on. Create a sacred space where you make
love -- a bedroom that feels romantic and safe will help
you open to your sexual feelings. Further, research shows that
women are more sexually responsive after aerobic activity --
another great reason to exercise! Masturbate regularly --
not with the intention of orgasm, but instead to reconnect yourself
with the intimate aspects of your body. Finally, use your mind
to your advantage. Every day imagine enjoying making love to
your partner. Creating pleasurable erotic images in your mind
will help you desire your man.
that in this process of connecting with your sexual self, you
will find yourself more open to your partner's sexuality. Taking
these exercises seriously will likely automatically change your
response to him, and your feelings about his genitals.
My daughter was born 19 months ago. While I was pregnant, my
libido was pretty good, and I enjoyed sex. Since then, it has
gone way, way down. I am still nursing, but somehow I view sex
at the end of the day as a chore - one more person wants something
from me, wants a part of me. I feel like it is something I have
to perform until finally, thankfully, I can sink into my pillows
and not have to worry about anyone or anybody. My husband is
upset that I don't get more excited about sex- we do it about
twice a week, and I have an orgasm maybe every third time. Usually,
I just "perform" to please him and meet his needs.
Honestly though, I am just as happy to be left alone. He senses
that, and is kind of hurt.
situation has been stressful for what seems like forever- he
has been in and out of work, and is now trying to run his own
business. He also suffers from clinical depression and ADD,
and I feel often like "coach, cheerleader, psychologist,
wife" combined- the one to talk him through it, be encouraging,
give a little structure, point out all his good points when
he is down in the dumps again, etc. He also has two kids from
the previous marriage, and there are constant ugly issues to
resolve with his "ex" regarding visitation. I often
totally feel stressed out and a bit burnt out by all the issues,
and just want my peace and quiet at the end of the day. So my
question is- how can I stop viewing sex as a chore and a duty?
Brandon, Ph.D.: Well
first let's talk about your biology. Specifically, the prolactin
you secrete because you are nursing is doing a lot to make you
disinterested in sex. So much so, in fact, that you probably
won't have much of a sex drive for this reason alone. However,
as you identified, the issues with your husband are also clearly
impacting your passion. It seems as if, in wearing all those
hats for him ("coach, cheerleader, psychologist, wife")
you end up giving him more then you get. This set up leaves
you feeling depleted, and it's unlikely in such a situation
that you are going to want to make love to him. You are in effect
mothering him, and of course you won't want to then have sex
with your "son." In order for you to stop viewing
sex as a chore, you will probably need to feel a change in this
dynamic between the two of you. Start by discussing this issue
and it's impact on your sex drive. He will need to take some
responsibility for getting himself out of his depression so
that you are more freed up to love him the way you would like
Dear Drs, thank you for coming to StorkNet/Exploring Womanhood.
Does your book deal with libido for women over 40 whose children
are not young? I may be hitting menopause and I feel a lot of
changes going on. One day I'm a tiger, then next I have no interest
in sex at all. It's all or nothing. Is this normal? I'm anxious
to read Reclaiming Desire. Thank you ahead of time.
Brandon, Ph.D.: I
love this question, because it gives us an opportunity to discuss
some cultural stereotypes that are destructive for women. Our
book does discuss these issues, but I'd like to make a few points
about it here. First, your experience of libido varying over
time is normal. This happens all through a woman's life, but
particularly at the time of menopause because of hormonal fluctuations.
The most common sexual complaint at the menopause is difficulty
with vaginal lubrication. This is the result of decreases in
estrogen and can easily be accommodated with OTC lubrication.
However, it is not the case that women should expect libido
to cycle down with age. Cultural myths like this are extremely
destructive for women. Another myth is the notion that young
women are more sexually responsive than mature women. This simply
makes no logical sense when you consider that sexual response
involves knowing one's body and being comfortable in it, both
of which are more likely for seasoned women as opposed to our
younger counterparts. Because our expectations have much to
do with how we perceive ourselves and our environment, it is
crucial that we dispose of these worn out notions so that women
are freed up to experience our feminine essence for the beauty
and grace it offers as we age.
I'm the overworked, overstressed mother of two small children,
one of whom cosleeps and still nurses. I'm a full-time student,
I'm my family's sole support, and (for reasons that should be
clear by now!) I'm on fluoxetine (Prozac). All these factors
conspire to reduce my libido to NADA. Zip. Zilch. Intellectually,
I'd like to have sex, but I have no desire -- it just doesn't
seem worth the effort. To make it worse, my husband, a stay-at-home-dad,
is stressed from taking care of the kids all day, he has sleep
apnea (uses CPAP), and takes a beta-blocker (metropolol) --
so no libido on his part, either. We both know what the problems
are, but talking about it just seems to threaten him, and I
find I don't care enough anymore to press the issue. I love
my husband, and he loves me. The stability of our relationship
is not in question. I'm just wondering if we'll ever have sex
again... and if I care whether we do or not? Will I care? How
can I help us regain some semblance of a sex life? Thanks in
advance! signed: frustrated on one level, but not too much on
Brandon, Ph.D.: My
goodness you have so much going on. It's easy to imagine why
you aren't interested in sex right now. The two of you seem
to have developed more of a friendship than a marriage, and
most friends don't desire sex with each other. The bad news
is that it is unlikely that either of you will spontaneously
desire sex again unless you both make an active attempt to work
at it. My first concern is that he shrinks from discussing sexual
issues with you. As a result, you may find yourself loosing
respect for him, which will further decrease your interest in
being intimate with him. You are then vulnerable if you meet
a man while at work (or in another part of your life) who is
willing and able to be more open with you. At that point, you
may find yourself contemplating an affair. Obviously, your situation
can become more complicated very fast. So, I encourage you not
to ignore your dissatisfaction, but instead fight for more for
yourself and your marriage.
My husband is definately a "breast" man and I enjoyed
that tremendously. But we have a seven month old daughter that
I am currently weaning off nursing. How can we both become more
comfortable with my breast being sexual again and not for feeding
our daughter. It has been a tremendous issue for me, I have
mentioned it to him and he understands. Thank you.
Brandon, Ph.D.:This question
comes up frequently for new moms. All the body changes associated
with pregnancy require some getting used to. The good news is
that time is on your side -- the association you both have
made between your breasts and nursing will likely diminish when
you are no longer nursing. And don't be alarmed if the act of
nursing excites you sexually at times. This feeling is only
normal (after all, your breast are being stimulated), but sometimes
mothers get upset by it and essentially dissociate themselves
from sensations in their breasts as a result.
some things you can do to turn this around for yourself. First,
remind yourself how sexy your breasts can be. Go braless around
the house if you are comfortable. Massage your breasts with
oil while thinking sexy thoughts in the bathtub. Wearing clothes
that show off your breasts may be fun for both you and your
partner. Finally, bring your breasts back into your love play
slowly at first, beginning when you are very excited. Either
you or he can massage them when your passion rises. Over time
you can "relearn" the association between your breasts
and sexual excitement.
My husband, (now 45, it's 20 yrs we're married) was raised with
the idea that women have NO sexual needs. I'm not very sexual
myself, but out of self esteem issues, I'm working on (body
image). Well, every time I initiate anything he says something
like "oh, a miracle is happening" or similar in an
irony tone that cools me down immediately. How can I convince
him I have needs too? He was raised in an all-boys environment
and his mother is very nice but cold and distant. We have a
preschooler son and very busy lives. I don't know how to make
time for sex!
Brandon, Ph.D.: Well my first reaction in reading your
question is that I'm not surprised that you don't find time for
sex - most women wouldn't be very interested if their partners
made hurtful comments as you've described. So, your lack of desire
is probably a very normal response to a difficult situation. And
kudos to you for taking steps to work on your body image issues!
I love that you are putting effort into taking care of yourself.
attitude, that "women don't have needs of their own",
is an old cultural myth that continues to rear it's ugly head.
If he won't take your word for it, try getting some books that
discuss these themes and show him that experts say it's unlikely
he's going to get you interested in sex if he keeps treating
you this way. By the information you gave, I can see that you
suspect his relationship with his mother has something to do
with how he's treating you. That very well may be the case -
specifically, that he's angry with his mom and taking it out
on you. That is a common dynamic (as is the reverse, women unconsciously
act out issues with their fathers toward their husbands). Bottom
line, my dear, please take good care of yourself.
I have just heard that taking a break from sex can be normal.
I think perhaps, that is what my husband and I have been doing.
But, how long is too long and how does one get "back in
the saddle" after a break? I am ready to, but my husband
does not seem as interested...
Brandon, Ph.D.: While it is normal for sexual frequency
to vary within a couple over time, "taking a break"
may mean something entirely different, such as a couple experiencing
increased emotional distance and, as a result, their physical
intimacy takes a nosedive. I'm wondering how long it has been
since you have made love, and if this break was consciously
agreed upon, or whether it is just happening. The latter is
more concerning in that if you two haven't planned it, and aren't
discussing it, you've got some work to do regarding communication.
In addition, the longer you go without sex, the more challenging
it will feel to both of you to resume sexual relations. "Getting
back in the saddle" will likely require discussion and
effort on both of your parts. Be gentle with yourselves, and
don't expect it to happen quickly, such as after one well-meaning
discussion. Intimacy, physical or emotional, takes time and
patience to develop and maintain. (This is as true for a long-term
relationship as it is for a young one!)
my answers to other questions here will help you reconnect physically.
In addition, easing back into making love can be done slowly
by breaking sex down into defined stages, and agreeing to take
one stage at a time. Therapists call this "sensate focus."
First, spend several sessions just lying naked with each other,
for at least 30 minutes. This will allow you to get used to
the feeling of being physically intimate again. Then spend several
sessions taking turns just touching each other in nonsexual
ways (each session involves one partner only touching, the other
only receiving per session). When you are ready you can add
sexual touching in this same pattern, then sexual touching with
orgasm, and then intercourse. This "one step at a time"
approach can help you both redefine what feels good, how you
like to be touched, and what you need from your partner. Taking
the time after sessions to share verbally what you liked and
didn't like is essential for your sexual relationship to develop.
if you'd like to spark your husband's fire on your own, try
approaching him in a way that he finds exciting. For example,
act out one of his sexual fantasies, dance sexy for him, or
otherwise create a sexual event that is impossible for him to
resist. In this way you may be able to bypass his "no"
and help him find his "yes" to sex again. If that
doesn't work, read some of my other responses in this interview
regarding low sex drive in men. They may give you some insight
into what is happening with him.
probably also benefit by taking the time now to consider the
dynamics of your marriage. This can be challenging to do, because
it can be emotionally painful. However, problems that don't
get addressed usually just get worse over time. So in the long
run, you are probably better off dealing with them sooner rather
than later. To do this, assess your relationship for balance
in the four quadrants that we explore with couples at the Sexual
Wellness Center. Specifically, we examine partnership dynamics
as related to physical, emotional, intellectual, and spiritual
health. Basically, if your relationship is imbalanced in any
of these quadrants, low libido in one or both partners is a
likely result. I will describe each of these quadrants briefly,
but you may find it helpful to read our book for a more thorough
discussion if you are interested.
health of a relationship relates to whether the two of you together
experience physical pleasure both outside of sex, as well as
sexually. This could mean via mutual nonsexual massage, exercise,
or any other way that you might experience enjoyment with your
bodies. For your relationship to be emotionally healthy, you
would both be free to express and work through a full range
of emotions together - from joy and pleasure to the more difficult
feelings, such as anger or jealousy. The intellectual health
of your relationship speaks to whether you are intellectually
stimulated together by conversation and/or activities. Finally,
the spiritual health of your connection refers to your finding
and sharing deeper meaning in your life and relationship. Usually
when couples find their sex life suffering, one or more of these
aspects requires attention for mutual desire to return.
Brandon, Ph.D.: Nancy
forwarded me some concerns several members have shared about
intimacy and infertility issues, and I'd like to respond. As
a sex therapist with a specialized focus in low libido, I can
assure you that struggling with libido issues during and after
infertility treatments is normal. Please know that you all are
not alone with this concern. It is a difficult problem to deal
with, and I'd to offer you some things to think about.
cannot stress enough how your relationship with your body impacts
your sexual experience. Most women who have participated in
infertility treatment have complex feelings about their body,
many of which are negative. They can feel as if their bodies
are weak, damaged, or otherwise letting them down. They become
angry at their bodies. Rather than being gentle and loving with
themselves, they (sometimes unconsciously) express anger toward
their physical selves. This can occur in a variety of ways.
Some examples may be not exercising or eating properly, withholding
physical pleasures like massage or swimming, or simply becoming
numb to physical sensation in general. The impact of the physically
and emotionally uncomfortable treatment procedures only makes
matters worse. Ultimately, most women seek to "disconnect"
from their bodies rather than "feel" them. As you
can imagine, disconnecting from your body all but ensures that
you will have a bland, if not uncomfortable, sexual experience.
As a result, you certainly won't desire sex.
this process, I encourage you to first identify how you may
be treating yourself unkindly. Step one is to stop these behaviors
ASAP. Focus on loving your body instead of sending it negative
energy. Explore whether your self-esteem has been impacted by
the medical treatments you have received. If you are feeling
less of a woman, making love will be less enticing for you.
Give yourself the opportunity, in whatever form, to enjoy your
femininity. You can do this via the clothes you wear, the perfume
you choose, or whatever helps you feel sensual and feminine.
And don't limit yourself to just exploring the physical aspects
of your self-esteem - make sure to take care of your emotional
self as well. Depression, stress, and anxiety all lead to low
sex drive. If you aren't getting what you need in your life
generally, it will be all but impossible for you to enjoy giving
to your partner sexually.
just a few ideas to get you started. There are many more issues,
such as your sexual history, and your relationship with your
partner, that also affect your sex drive now. While our book,
Reclaiming Desire: 4 Keys for Finding Your Lost Libido, does
not have a chapter focused on infertility and its impact, the
issues addressed will likely apply to your struggles in some
ways. I encourage you to maintain your dialogue with each other
as well, as sharing information, and thus realizing you aren't
alone, can be so comforting in difficult times like these. Finding
your lost libido will take effort, but the increased connection
you will feel with yourself and your partner will make it worth
it. Warmly, Marianne Brandon
Dear Dr. Brandon- I'm 37 years old and have been married for
14 years. I have two children and a good husband and marriage.
Probably, not much different than many other women my age, I
don't feel like I've got a good handle on intimacy. I feel like
something is missing, and I'm going to make a guess at what
it is. I don't really feel like I know myself. I feel a little
inhibited. I grew up with my parents, society, church and pretty
much everything I was taught telling me that masturbation is
wrong. It was wrong to touch myself. Wrong to get to know my
body. So now, as an adult, I have old messages playing in my
head, even though I don't agree with them at all. My better
sense tells me that it's my body, and I have the right to know
it and how it works. And, that there is nothing dirty or wrong
about that. After all, I touch other parts of my body, right?
I please myself with massage elsewhere, so what's the big deal?
If it will help me help my husband learn how to please me, then
what is wrong with that? So, where do I begin? Help me know
what to do, where to begin, how to learn about my own body and
how it works. Thank you very much ahead of time.
Brandon, Ph.D.: First
I want to say that I love how candid you are in your question.
That alone is an optimistic sign for you, because it tells me
that you are willing to reveal information and uncomfortable
feelings about yourself in an effort to grow. It speaks to how
motivated you are to move forward. Motivation can take you far
on your path of healing. I suspect your instincts are right
on - you cannot be intimate with your partner if you can't first
be intimate with yourself. So, let's get down to the business
of how you can change that.
and many of our religions, do teach negative messages about
women's sexuality. Unfortunately, these messages take a while
for women to overcome. Be gentle with yourself, it's likely
that most women growing up with the same influences as you would
have the same fears and sensitivities. So go slow, and break
down your efforts into discrete, manageable parts.
is to look at your genitals in a mirror. Get to know your body
and gain some comfort with it. I suggest that you first buy
yourself a rose and keep it next to your bed, or wherever you
intend to do this exercise. Roses have many similar characteristics
to a woman's genitals - their shades of pink and red, the softness
of their petals, the way they unfold, and their pungent scent,
for example. So first admire the rose, and then, with your heart
open, admire yourself. Go back and forth like this for a while,
and do this exercise as often as you need to, to facilitate
comfort with your body. Next, touch yourself. Not for sexual
pleasure, but instead in an effort to send loving energy into
your vulva. Be kind and soft with your body, treat yourself
with love and respect. After you do that exercise over a period
of time (days or weeks), you can move on to touching yourself
sexually. First, do so just to learn what types of strokes you
find pleasing. Experiment with touching your G-spot, your clitoris,
as well as all around your inner and outer lips. Only after
you gain confidence in this exercise would I recommend that
you touch yourself with the intent of having an orgasm.
each of these exercises, keep saying soothing statements to
yourself, such as "I know it is good for me to know my
body intimately", or whatever makes sense to you. Keep
using words to calm and relax yourself.
word of advice - be aware that your partner may have similar
discomforts with genitals - his or yours. Men are not immune
to these issues. So, you may not be the only one who has to
work through old, hurtful messages. In the end, you may have
to teach him a thing or two!