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Is your husband losing interest in sex and you can't figure out why, or what to do about it? Marriage therapist Michele Weiner Davis shares some insights she gained from talking to women about their sex lives, sex drives and dry spells.
Here's an excerpt from the “The Sex-Starved Wife.”
Are you a sex-starved wife? A woman who deeply desires more satisfying sex with your husband? Would you settle for just more sex? Or to put it more accurately, would some sex do?
If so, I am not surprised that the title of this book piqued your interest. You are craving a loving, passionate, juicy, sexual relationship with your man. And you deserve it! The good news is that you've come to the right place. Although we've never met, I know what you've been going through and how the difference in your and your husband's sex drives has taken a toll on you. I also know that until now, effective help for your problem has been in short supply. But that's all about to change. I am going to be your personal coach and help you become an expert on getting your love life back on track.
But first, I want you to read a few letters from women who have been struggling with a desire gap in their own marriages. You're about to learn that you, my friend, are not alone:
My husband is just not interested in sex. He has no desire for me. Unless we go away and stay at a hotel or it is a special occasion, he will do anything to avoid the sex. When we do have sex, he won't touch certain parts of my body. He won't kiss. He won't say "I love you" either. I feel worthless, ugly, undeserving. I am obsessed by the lack of sex in our relationship. When I bring it up, he gets angry and says that he should just leave, that all I want to do is create drama where there is none. Most days I just wish I could run away and not feel anymore. I am dying inside and don't know how much longer I can hang on.
My husband's libido has been at rock bottom for years. Always believing it would get better, I've stuck it out. But now I feel I am losing the best years of my life, as well as my libido. Am I not allowed to feel feminine? We have sex three to four times a year; he orgasms upon penetration, leaving me wanting more than a "clean-up" job and a good, silent cry in the bathroom. He knows I'm upset. He is laissez-faire about seeking help.
I am attractive. I am very lonely with my children grown. I desperately need to feel the arms of a loving man around me once again. My husband's attempts are robotic, in an effort to keep me from divorcing him. Where am I in his emotional absence? Where am I in his life? I'd give my eyes and teeth for good sex once a year!
Does any of this sound familiar? Are you longing for more touch, sex, and physical closeness? Are you overwhelmed by feelings of hurt, rejection, loneliness, and frustration? Do you find yourself wondering what's wrong with you because your husband doesn't seem interested? Have you been so desperate that you've even considered (or are) having an affair? Do you feel ashamed that your husband isn't like other men? Have you grown increasingly exasperated that you haven't been able to get your husband to understand what's missing in your relationship? If so, hear this — there are millions of women out there who, contrary to popular belief, feel exactly the same way you do.
Perhaps you're wondering where all these women live, because all you ever hear about are horny husbands with nearly permanent erections who chase their wives around the dining room table. Your friends at your health club complain that their husbands' sexual needs are moving targets: the more sex they get, the more they want. They can't stand their husbands' need for constant physical reassurance. And think about the media. Hardly a day passes without some magazine or newspaper article, medical study, or relationship expert offering women advice for stoking their sexual flames and rekindling their desire. The message is clear: men have insatiable sexual appetites; women have headaches.
And then there's your marriage.
Perhaps it started out on fire; you couldn't keep your hands off each other, and your lovemaking was frequent and passionate. But somewhere along the line, things changed. Maybe it was when you got pregnant or when the kids were born. Or perhaps the problem started when his job became ultrastressful. It might have been around the time you started arguing about money, in-laws, or who does what around the house. Maybe it was the twenty pounds you gained or the medicine he takes every day. Or his lack of interest in sex could have something to do with his difficulties maintaining an erection, you wonder. You got dizzy trying to figure things out.
Maybe the signs of your husband's sexual sluggishness were there all along. Looking back, you now realize that you just assumed things would get better. But time passed and nothing changed. In fact, things even got worse. He almost never seems interested in you. So, out of desperation, you resigned yourself to the role of initiator. You had to. If it weren't for you, in fact, you'd never have sex. But now you've grown tired of always being the one to reach out, always being the one to risk rejection, always being the one who cares. And the fights about sex have become exasperating. The loneliness is slowly killing you. And he just doesn't get it. Or, you wonder, "Worse yet, does he? Is he doing this to punish me?"
Finally, when analyzing your feelings, his feelings, your marriage, your motives, his intentions, has gotten you nowhere, perhaps you have tried to get your husband to do something about his lack of desire — talk to your family doctor, get a checkup, go to a therapist. But he won't. He can't understand why you're making such a big deal about this sex thing and why you simply won't stop nagging. Everything would be okay, he tells you, if you would just back off. Or maybe he has gotten medical or psychological advice in the past but his follow-through stinks. You've grown weary of repeating, "What good does testosterone do sitting on a nightstand?" You don't want to pressure him and damage his fragile male ego. You just don't know what to do anymore.
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How can you openly admit that the man you married, the man you love, the man with whom you plan on spending the rest of your life, doesn't desire you? You ask yourself, "What's wrong with me. Aren't I attractive?" How did you manage to hook up with the one man in the world who would prefer doing just about anything other than making love to you? Why isn't he like all the other guys?
Well, your husband may not be like all the other guys, but you're about to discover that he isn't as unique as you think. In fact, after almost three decades of working with couples and knowing what really goes on behind closed doors, I'm here to tell you that your guy isn't unique at all. Believe it or not, there are millions of men who, for a variety of reasons, just aren't in the mood. In fact, I'm convinced that low sexual desire in men is America's best-kept secret. But why, you ask yourself, should this topic be so hush-hush when women talk openly about their "Not tonight, dear" declarations with anyone who will listen? The short answer: it's different for men.
A woman is expected to have dips in her desire for sex; she can talk about it without her femininity or sanity being called into question. A woman can commiserate with her friends about her husband's one-track mind and how she can't hug him without his thinking sex is imminent and be in really good company. (As one man in my practice put it when I tried to normalize his wife's low desire by saying that she's in good company, he said, "I wouldn't say she's 'in good company.' I'd say she has lots of company.")
Because in our culture masculinity and virility are inextricably connected, most men don't share that level of comfort with self-disclosure. In fact, it strikes terror in their hearts to even think that they don't desire sex, let alone admit it publicly.
Imagine a guy sitting around with his male buddies in the locker room saying, "I just hate my wife's one-track mind. All she ever thinks about is sex. I can't even lie next to her in bed without her starting to grope me. I wish she would be interested in me as a person and not just interested in my body." It doesn't happen.
What's the fallout of all this? To begin with, I feel certain that the incidence of low desire in men is vastly underreported. Why? There's too much shame and embarrassment. And that's a tragedy. If men don't talk to their wives, their friends, or their doctors, why in the world would they talk openly to researchers? They probably don't! And because we don't have accurate statistics, men who lack desire believe they are in a very small minority. Feeling like freaks of nature, they remain isolated and don't get the help they need. As a result, their self-esteem and their marriages suffer.
Secondly, since men don't talk about this, their wives wonder what's wrong with them. They believe they're flawed or unattractive. They've had nowhere to turn. Until now.
I have been a marriage therapist for almost three decades, specializing in marriages that other therapists declare dead on arrival. To me, there is no such thing as a marriage that can't be resuscitated. Although helping couples on the brink of divorce is challenging work, I wouldn't trade what I do for anything else. I see miracles happen every day: couples who truly believe divorce is inevitable gradually discover that with a little information, a lot of coaching, and a willingness to leave blame behind, they can reinvent their marriages.
Some years ago, I noticed that many couples in my practice were experiencing major relationship breakdowns because their levels of interest in sex were worlds apart. One spouse was hot, while the other was not. While this sort of disparity happens from time to time in even the best of relationships, there was nothing temporary about the sexual divide wreaking havoc in these marriages. There were long-standing issues of rejection and misunderstanding that spilled over into every aspect of the couples' lives together. I called these relationships sex-starved marriages.
Contrary to what you might think, a sex-starved marriage is not necessarily one that has no sex (although abstinence can and does occur); it is a marriage where one spouse desperately longs for more touch, physical connection and sex, while the other spouse, for a variety of reasons, just isn't interested. The partner with lower desire can't understand why his or her spouse seems so obsessed with their sexual relationship and thinks, "What's the big deal? It's just sex."
However, to the spouse with a higher sexual drive — in this case, you (for the sake of simplicity, let's refer to you as the HDS — higher-drive spouse) — it's a huge deal, and it's not just about sex. It's about feeling wanted, loved, appreciated, sexy, and attractive. It's about feeling close and connected. Sex is truly the tie that binds; it leads to emotional intimacy. And when the spouse with a lower sex drive doesn't understand this, it spells trouble for the marriage.
Longing for more physical closeness, the HDS tries to get his or her partner, the LDS (lower-drive spouse), to understand the importance of having a good sexual relationship. Since she or he doesn't feel the same way, the words fall on deaf ears, and as a result, nothing changes. So the HDS tries again to get through to his or her spouse. Now the LDS feels pressured, angry, and resentful. At this point, intimacy on all levels drops out of the marriage. The spouses stop sitting next to each other on the couch. They stop laughing at each other's jokes. They stop making eye contact. Their talk is perfunctory. They quit being friends. Their marriage is placed at risk of infidelity or divorce.
I found these marriages were so prevalent that I decided to write a book on the subject and called it — you guessed it — The Sex-Starved Marriage. I wrote about the problems that occur in marriage when one spouse is vastly more interested in sex than the other and, more important, what they could do to fix things.
The Sex-Starved Marriage was written for both the HDS and the LDS, to help them understand each other's feelings and offer a game plan for taking their sex life off the back burner and making it more of a priority. Among many other things, I was outspoken about the value of a robust sex life for both spouses, not just the HDS.
It was in that book that I also spilled the beans: women don't have a corner on the low desire market. Based on my observations in my clinical practice with couples, I knew that many men just weren't in the mood for sex. I felt certain that we as a society have perpetuated a myth about the ever-turned-on male. During my travels on the seminar circuit, I have spoken to countless sex and marital therapists across the country and asked them about their observations about low-desire men. They all agreed that although more men than women complain of not having enough sex, the differences between genders aren't as great as we've been led to believe. Only when we realize how commonplace low desire in men really is will women stop feeling unattractive and come out of hiding to seek the help they need to have richer and more satisfying sexual relationships. That's why I'm so passionate about getting the word out that men have "headaches" too.
Soon after the publication of The Sex-Starved Marriage, I was flooded with letters, e-mails and phone calls from people from all walks of life. There were expressions of gratitude from more highly sexed spouses for my having taken a strong stand about the importance of sexuality in marriage and for gently but firmly nudging spouses with a lower sex drive to take a more active role in bridging the desire gap, along with countless requests for more information and marital help. Most striking, however, was the overwhelming reaction from women like you whose husbands have lost desire.
I just recently found your book The Sex-Starved Marriage in a local bookstore, opened the book, and began to read. My heart began to thump and beat quickly while tears fell from my face. By the time I struck up the nerve to purchase the book, I had already read 60% of it. You see, it is very rare (as you know) for women to talk about the lack of sex in their marriages. It would be wonderful to have more focus on this "role reversal" so that men with low sexual desire are not ashamed. Plus, I need more help! My husband and I are "stuck." We seem unable to find that perfect time to talk. We have been married for fifteen years this August, with two children ages eleven & almost nine. We are high school sweethearts, and I believe we are meant to be together forever; however, I can't go on this way. Can you help?
"I miss sex with my husband"
Oh, my God! I watched you on the 20/20 show, and I cried all the way through it. I wish that my husband could have watched it with me so that he would know how I am feeling. I feel like we never have sex. It has been almost four months, but he doesn't have a clue that it has been that long. We have been married for fifteen years and have three children. We both work full-time jobs, and he is able to find time for everything and everyone but me. I told him the other day that I feel as if he doesn't love me. We hardly ever touch or kiss. I am just overwhelmed after seeing the show that I am not the only wife crying herself to sleep at night because of rejection from my husband.
I should like to thank you for addressing such a sensitive subject on prime-time television. My husband and I have been together for nearly thirty years and we have five beautiful children. He is thirteen years older than I am. He used to be very sexually active, but in the last ten years it just abruptly stopped. I cannot tell you how lonely it can be. I just wanted to personally thank you so much for opening the door and making me realize that I am not alone.
Something else interesting happened: during the promotion of The Sex-Starved Marriage, I was interviewed on countless call-in radio shows. Guess who called in. HD men called to complain about their unsatisfying sex lives. LD women wondered what they could do to increase their sexual desire or to get their husbands to better understand their feelings. Grateful HD women called to thank me for letting them know they're not alone and to discuss their frustration about their husband's apparent lack of empathy. But conspicuously absent were LD men. Not a single man who was lacking sexual desire called in for information or to simply discuss his feelings. Although these phone calls were anonymous, no LD man felt safe talking about this taboo subject. Even when the shows' hosts specifically invited these men to call in, there were no calls. I knew something had to change. As long as the topic of low sexual desire in men is off-limits, women's pain and shame will also remain largely unaddressed. And that's not okay.
Furthermore, it became increasingly obvious to me that even when women were willing to risk talking about their situations, there was precious little effective help available to them. Although The Sex-Starved Marriage offered guidance and reassurance, it is largely unisex in its approach and left more highly sexed women with many unanswered questions. And while some of the experiences, emotions, and strategies for overcoming a sexual divide are similar in all marriages regardless of gender, apparently not all are. Sex-starved women face unique challenges, requiring more guidance and support.
So you now know the genesis of this book. What you don't know is what you'll learn by reading it. Maybe for the first time in your marriage, you will see that all the emotions you've been feeling are both understandable and normal. You will learn about what really goes on behind closed doors in bedrooms across America, and you might be very surprised, you will recognize that you are in very good company. You'll start feeling better about yourself as a person and as a sexual being, your festering insecurities caused by the dynamics of your interactions around sex will be replaced by feelings of confidence and empowerment. But this isn't just a feel-good book. By the time you've finished reading it, you'll know more about low desire in men, what causes it, and what you can do to motivate your husband to become more proactive in boosting his desire. You'll have a game plan. You'll stop thinking about divorce or fantasizing about having an affair. And if you've gone outside your marriage to satisfy your sexual needs, you will probably rethink your actions and reinvest yourself in your marriage.
That's because at bottom, you really know that you want your spouse, not someone else, to want you.
The Sex-Starved Wife will also answer questions that many women in similar situations to yours have asked me. Although men experience low sexual desire for a variety of reasons, sexual difficulties are one of the most common causes. Almost 30 percent of men have persistent problems with climaxing too early or have difficulty achieving erections. It's easy to understand why a man would avoid sex if he associates it with failure. I will offer you information that will help you approach your husband sensitively, making it more likely that he will be willing to get help for this very solvable problem.
Or perhaps you feel certain that sexual desire isn't the problem; the problem has to do with his lack of desire for you. He may be involved with pornography — both online and offline — and you simply can't fathom why he would be masturbating rather than making love to you. You want to know how to get your husband to stop putting energy into his self-interests and focus on you and your marriage. The Sex-Starved Wife offers answers to these problems and provides a fascinating look into this growing problem in our society: Internet sex and self-sex as a substitute for marital sex.
In Chapter 1, you will read the surprising results of a poll conducted by Redbook magazine and myself. We teamed up to find out what women have to say about their sexual appetites, their husbands' sex drive, and their sexual relationships. Once you and your husband have the facts at your fingertips, you will be armed with information that will be freeing. It will enable you to approach your sexual desire gap more openly and more collaboratively.
Chapter 2 will help you see why your feelings of shame, anger, hurt, and resentment have made reaching out for help so difficult. It is here that you will learn ways to stop blaming yourself (or your spouse) for your less-than-satisfying sexual relationship and start getting ready to create major changes in your life.
In Part II, "Why Men Say No," you'll read about the many explanations for low desire in men.
Chapter 3 will help you understand how hormone deficiencies or sexual dysfunctions might be causing your husband's dip in desire.
Chapter 4 explores how issues such as depression, stress, or poor body image may be at the root of this problem. And in Chapter 5, you'll learn that common relationship problems such as resentment or anger may be the desire busters. You'll also read about the ways in which pornography, masturbation, and infidelity might be the cause of your sexual distance.
Now that you know about the reasons there is a desire gap in your relationship, it's time to do something about it. And that's what Part III is all about that.
In Chapter 6, you will find new ideas about how best to approach your man. Perhaps you haven't wanted to hurt him, or more likely, you've talked until the cows came home, and the only responses you've gotten are defensiveness and anger. Let's face it: you're dealing with a fragile male ego, so I'll show you how to say and do things that will allow him to keep an open mind and heart.
Chapter 7 describes treatments for helping your husband overcome a drop in desire stemming from biological issues or sexual dysfunction. You will learn ways to approach your husband to get him to go to your family doctor or a marital or sex therapist and the best way to encourage your husband to follow through on suggestions from his health care professionals. You'll find strategies couples can use together to solve their sexual problems as a team.
In Chapter 8, you will learn ways to help your husband cope with and overcome such problems as depression, poor body image, unresolved childhood issues, grief, job loss, and stress, which may be dampening his desire. While you can't resolve your man's problems for him, there are things you can do to pave the road for his feeling better — and therefore more sexual.
Show me a couple with a desire gap, and I will show you a couple with relationship challenges.
In Chapter 9, you will learn how to tackle these problems in loving, effective ways. You will also read about specific techniques for being more open about sex and resolving your sexual differences.
Getting one's sexual relationship on track is one thing, but keeping it that way is quite another. Chapter 10 will help you sustain the changes you're making in your love life. This chapter outlines some of the major challenges to keeping passion alive in a marriage, especially when differences have divided couples. It sets out specific steps in order to resist taking positive changes for granted.
Chapter 11 is designed especially for the woman whose husband has stubbornly defied her efforts to make their sexual relationship more satisfying. Sometimes, despite a woman's best intentions, her man won't listen or follow through with well-meaning suggestions. If you find yourself in a go-nowhere situation and you feel that you've been spinning your wheels, this chapter will offer hope. You'll read about alternative strategies you can use when your passion-boosting campaigns have hit dead ends.
In Chapter 12, you will learn about situations where your husband's lack of interest in sex with you may not be an indication that he has low sexual desire. He may be involved with masturbation, cybersex and other Internet activities, or infidelity, or he may be confused about his sexual identity. It's important for you to learn about these possibilities so you know where you stand and what you can do to chart your course.
And because no single book can answer all of your questions about boosting and nurturing sexual desire, Part IV provides you with lots of additional helpful resources to help you and your husband achieve the results for which you are hoping. It includes self-help books, methods for finding qualified sex therapists, and useful online resources.
So that's the whole enchilada. Are you up to the task of making real and lasting changes in your sexual relationship? I bet you are! Well, let's get started. Sexier times are right around the corner.
This article was originally published in January 2008. Reprinted from "The Sex-Starved Wife" by Michele Weiner Davis. Copyright © 2008 by Michele Weiner Davis. Excerpted by permission of Simon and Schuster Books. All rights reserved.