In her book “Where Did My Libido Go?” Dr. Rosie King says many factors can act as desire inhibitors and contribute to low sexual desire. Low sexual libido (desire) is the most common sexual problem experienced by women, men, non-binary & queer people.
Nevertheless low sexual desire tends to be more present for women because we’re socialised in gender-specific ways, specifically to put other’s needs first and ignore our own needs. This leads to stress, and when stress is present, desire disappears. This is a biologically hard-wired response in all living beings. So if you’re feeling stressed, it’s no wonder you have low or no sexual desire!
Nevertheless, Dr. Emily Nagoski says that everyone, no matter what gender identity, gender expression or biological sex, will experience low sexual desire at some time in their life. This can happen early or late in a relationship and can last for a short or a long time. It is common and totally normal. Be reassured, if you are interested in connecting to your sexuality and pleasure, there is a way through this.
To connect to pleasure, it’s important to get to know and embrace your own unique body and sexuality. Get in touch with what pleasure and sex mean to you. And especially connect to what you want to feel like during sex. Take your focus off what you “should” be doing and focus on what gives you pleasurable feelings and sensations. If you’re feeling pleasure, you’re doing it right! Emily says pleasure is the measure of sexual well-being.
You have brakes & accelerators
Low sexual desire can be compared to having a foot permanently stomped on the brakes in a car. When your brakes are on, no matter how hard you push the accelerator, your car won’t move. In the same way, if your desire inhibitors are present to a sufficient degree, no matter what combination of desire enhancers you try, your desire won’t be aroused.
Desire enhancers won’t be effective unless desire inhibitors are reduced or eliminated altogether. To understand this unique individual balance in yourself and your partner, read about the research on the Dual Control Model of Sexual Response by The Kinsey Institute which has been studying human sexuality since 1947.
Your sexual brakes & sexual accelerators
Emily Nagoski explains the dual control model more simply. It’s the mechanism in your brain that controls sexual response. The dual control model means there’s two parts to it. The first part is a sexual accelerator in your brain which responds to all the sex-related information in any environment. Everything that you see, hear, smell, touch, taste or think/believe/imagine which your brain codes as “related to sex”. It’s your turn on signal, your go button, your accelerator. It functions all the time at a subconscious level. This includes right now because you’re reading about sex, which is a little bit sex-related. So there’s a little bit of accelerator happening right now.
And at the same time, your brain’s second mechanism, the sexual brakes, are noticing all the good reasons why you should not be turned on right now. It’s your turn off signal, your stop button. It picks up everything that you see, hear, smell, touch, taste, think/believe/imagine that your brain codes as a potential threat. That means any stress, like relationship difficulties; ill health; the life circumstances around you; the to-do lists; your worry about money, kids, performance, identity and trauma. So just like in a car, you have to take your foot off the brake first before the accelerator can get the car moving.
What can work as an accelerator is playfulness. Playfulness means no performance anxiety and no script to follow. It’s free-form, you make it up as you go, you’re experimenting. This is your ability to roll around like puppies in the bed and just romp and have permission to do whatever you want to do, with full consent. Mistakes, awkwardness and slip ups are all part of playfulness. There are no mistakes in play. This is the thing about sex and humans. As long as everybody involved is glad to be there and free to stop & go at any time, you don’t have to do what you don’t want to do. There isn’t a script you need to follow. It’s really important to know and feel that everybody is glad to be there and free to stop or go at any time. That’s what creates freedom, spaciousness and being comfortable with sex. It builds trust.
It is well known that differences in sex drives can lead partners down a path full of frustration, misunderstanding, resentment and despair – a path that may lead to separation and divorce. Research shows that many factors can inhibit sexual desire, and they fall into four main categories: physical inhibitors, psychological inhibitors, relationship inhibitors, situational inhibitors.
Here’s an exercise for you to do. From the lists below, pick which combination of factors may be contributing to your inhibited sexual desire. Have your partner do this and then compare lists. This can be very revealing.
Inadequate physical health; not looking after appearance & hygiene; fatigue (caused by lack of sleep, having too much on one’s plate, lack of adequate rest, too little recreation, not enough relaxation); chronic illness; acute & chronic pain; any pain on intimate touch; excess alcohol or recreational drugs; some prescribed drugs; hormonal changes (menopause, pregnancy, breast feeding, age-related); nervous system changes; chronic heart or lung disease; acute or chronic infection; auto-immune disease; cancer & cancer treatments; erectile difficulties; ejaculation problems; low arousal; lack of lubrication; inability to orgasm.
Stress; anxiety; fear; resentment; anger; sadness; depression; despair; distrust; poor self-esteem; feeling sexually inadequate; poor sex education; negative sexual attitudes; believing wrong/harmful information about sex from the media or religious institutions; poor body image; lack of pleasurable sexual thoughts & fantasies.
No consent; bad communication; no affection; no mutual decision-making; criticism; lack of trust; jealousy; no romance; no commitment; no intimacy; no constructive conflict resolution; no companionship or fun; no respect; not feeling attracted to partner; not good enough sensual & sexual skills; no appreciation.
Unfavourable environment (messy bedroom, computer/work related devices turned on, TV on); lack of time, lack of intimate environment; uncomfortable lighting; lack of privacy, no lock on door, no lock on drawer with sex toys; squeaky bed; uncomfortable room temperature; dirty & uncomfortable mattress, sheets & pillows; unresolved consent; contraception issues and/or safe sex issues.
Other Desire Inhibitors
- Sexual boredom and habituation
- Wrong belief that sex “should” be spontaneous. It isn’t in long-term relationships! Sex can be spontaneous if you plan it and schedule it in your calendar
- Unresponsive partner—feeling undesired and undesirable
- Overwhelming sexual demands of partner
- Feelings of sexual inadequacy or poor sexual self-esteem
- Discomfort with sexual repertoire
- Fear of sexual rejection, repeated sexual knock backs
- Birth control anxieties and interruptions
- Safe sex issues
- Fear of intimacy
- Lack of partner appreciation and acceptance, frequent criticism
- Unresolved relationship conflict and partner hostility.
Because your sexuality is unique and complex, you may find yourself to be equally or more stimulated by “typical” female enhancers. On the other hand, you may respond to enhancers that are thought of as “typically” male. It’s more helpful to think of enhancers as the unique combination of factors that appeal to you currently. Be open to these changing and evolving as you and your relationships change & evolve.
Typical Female Desire Enhancers
Romantic gestures (cards, flowers, gifts), compliments, communication, intimacy, non-demanding affection, sensuality, quality time spent with partner, low level of conflict.
Typical Male Desire Enhancers
Varied lovemaking, novelty, spontaneity, nudity (seeing the naked form), lingerie, positive sexual responses from partner, erotica, pornography. Note that erotica and pornography are two different things – google them!