If you’ve lost your sex drive, that’s a good sign for your sex life. If you’ve lost the hots for your partner, it actually means you’re on track for radical, sexual fulfillment.
What?!? Sounds crazy, but it’s true. I’ll tell you why. It all starts back at my childhood kitchen table…
My mother was a product of the 1950’s when “women’s sexual fulfillment” was gauged by how happy you made your husband. My mom occasionally dished out relationship advice along with her hearty Jewish meals. “Keeping men happy is easy,” she would say, “just give him food and give him sex.”
“Give him sex.” It seemed like innocuous advice. Even quasi-true advice.
But it was bad advice.
“Give him sex.” Such a loaded sentence. Such a sad sentence. “Give” him sex because it will keep the peace. Because it’s your duty as a good woman. Because now that you’re married, who else is going to give it to him? Because he needs it. But what about you?
When sex started to unravel in my marriage, I remember my reaction when my husband reached across the bed in the dark. I would sigh and then gather myself together to put on the show. “Let’s have fun getting this over with,” was my motto. Sex wasn’t SO bad after all. It usually finished relatively quickly. It didn’t seem to cost me anything. Sometimes it even felt good, once I got into it or when I was ovulating. It made him a lot less grumpy, too, and a sexually frustrated man makes an unhappy bedfellow. I’ll admit it: I used sex to keep the peace.
Without realizing it, I had actively employed my mother’s advice: “Just give him sex once in a while and he’ll be happy.”
Yes, maybe he’ll be happy. But what about me?
“Me” was never a strong character in my mother’s tales of intimacy. The storyline was never about the heroine and her own sexual pleasure. She didn’t spin legends of women unleashing their passions and drenching the world with overflowing power. No, having needs or desires in my family, sexual or otherwise, was like having a disease. Your needs were a burden meant to be locked behind a soundproof door. Mention your needs and the table went quiet. Because who wants to hear about your needs?
It turns out that quite a lot of people want to hear and meet my sexual needs. The people who love you want to meet your needs, too. You might not know it yet. My mother never knew it. And neither did I until my needs came knocking hard on my bedroom door.
Unmet sexual needs don’t knock on the door in the strip-tease, seductive way we might expect. My sexual unrest didn’t stick a toned, fishnetted thigh through the door and wolf whistle. It didn’t saunter up to my husband and rub him up and down with furs, or excite my imagination with ideas of new hot sex positions.
Instead, the knock of need starts out more practically. Tap Tap. “Hey woman, something isn’t quite right here.” The voice was so small it was almost ignorable. “Your partner is touching you too roughly and you don’t like this.”
“All men touch me too roughly, that’s just how men are. He’ll get the hang of it.” Needs, it turns out, are often socially inappropriate and inconvenient. My needs went quietly behind the door.
The voice of need also emerged when I was feeling good and wanted more. Knock knock. “Tell him to touch me here! And over here,” my needs sang.
“He doesn’t like it when I tell him what to do,” I shushed.
Rap rap. “His breath stinks, ask him to brush his teeth so you can enjoy kissing him.”
“That’s rude. I just won’t kiss him in the mornings.”
Pound pound. “HEY! You just had sex but you’re still not satisfied! He’s falling asleep, you better wake him up!”
“But it takes me forever to cum, it’s embarrassing. I’ll just do it myself.” I would go sleep with my body burning. My partner never knew.
After several years of “giving him sex,” of ignoring my own desires and playing the part of the good woman, my sex life and my relationship grew tense. My partner and I didn’t laugh as much as we used to. Small conversations turned strained more quickly. I felt less attracted to my partner. I felt more depressed in my life. I’d go to bed and wake up anxious. My needs started to scream: “I can’t take this anymore!”
At which point I shut the door hard on my needs, and locked it. And do you know what happened? That pesky voice went quiet. Do you know what else went quiet? My interest in sex.
When we ignore that little voice for long enough—the one that says, “Don’t talk to me like that,” or, “I want a different kind of touch,” or, “I want to feel more attracted to you,” or, “I want MORE please PLEASE PLEASE MORE!”—then our needs fall silent. They stop talking.
After a woman silences her own needs in her sex and relationship life, there can be a period of what seems like peace in the bedroom. Sex happens frequently enough that the relationship seems normal—once a week, twice a month, whatever we learned was “healthy.” Sex goes well enough, in that it looked good and sounded good and he came and maybe she did, too. Nothing disastrous happened, but certainly, nothing very interesting happened. As one of my clients who was in this period of peace said, “Sex isn’t awful. But I’d rather read my book. At least in my book, I don’t know how it’s going to end.”
But then, something happens. After a few months or a few years, what once felt peaceful now feels… stale, less and less like pleasure and more and more like a chore.
“Give him sex.” Because that’s your job in a married life.
If you relate to this storyline, you know how dismal it feels to live in. The low level of tension hanging around the house. Watching TV at night and pretending that’s all you require for stimulation. Hiding the tension eating at you inside as you eat another pint of yogurt. Chopping vegetables and trying not to lose your mind. It can seem like this practical, low-sex existence has become your fate in life. I know from personal experience it’s so easy to say, “That’s just the way it goes,” and completely forget that spark inside that used to be my passion.
It turns out that we can star in our own sexual fairy tales. We can be that heroine who feels pleasure again, who feels giddy about her sex life, and who feels powerful in her work life because she’s so lit up that nothing can stop her. Our leading role can start right now. Just know this: the first chapter isn’t very pretty.
It isn’t pretty because the two surprising signs that your sex life has hope are:
1. You’ve lost interest in sex, or,
2. You’ve lost interest in having sex with your partner.
Most of us see both of these scenarios as “major problems.” The truth is, each of these means one thing and one thing only: you are fed up with “giving” your partner sex. You are trying to break free from the old storyline my mother passed down to me, and maybe that your mother passed down to you. You may not even realize it, but your body is rebelling against a sexual system that has never worked for women’s benefit. Your needs are knocking in the loudest way they can—by shutting your sex drive down.
That’s why when a woman comes to me and says, “I’ve lost interest in sex,” I say, “Good! It’s a great sign for your sex life. Because all it means is you don’t want to keep ‘giving’ sex to your partner.”
There’s another option out there. You can have something else besides the bleak rut that you are in. If you’re willing to start with Chapter 1 of your own heroic story of pleasure, you can feel sexy and alive again, and you can do all of it with the partner you already have.
Advocate for women's sexual fulfillment