Ask Esther

Because every man wants to have better sex

August 20, 2015 9:00 am

The loss of desire in long-term relationships (part 2)

Because every man wants to have better sex, even if that means actually committing to a relationship, we’re proud to present Ask Esther Perel, a monthly series in which critically acclaimed sex therapist Esther Perel answers your questions about sex and relationships and helps you and your partner have a more fulfilling life, together. 

My wife and I have been together for 17 years. In the beginning, our sex was great, both of us reaching orgasm about the same time. The last 4 or 5 years have been different. My wife has lost interest in sex. When we do have sex, she shows no reaction. She no longer reaches orgasm either through oral stimulation or intercourse. I know she still loves me, so that’s not the reason. I have no idea what has turned her off to sex. — M

Loss of desire in committed relationships is the plague of modern couples. I can’t tell you how many men and women complain about the loss they feel when a partner becomes sexually disinterested. It’s not sexual dysfunctions that bring people to the offices of sex therapists; it’s loss of desire.

Here’s are 10 reasons why women lose sexual desire, and some thoughts on how you might tackle your conundrum.

You can see Part One of Esther’s answers right here. Part Two is below.

6) Staying sexually awake in the context of commitment. The research that has made the most sense to me comes from Marta Meana. She says that women lose their interest because of the institutionalization of the relationship: their feelings of responsibility and caretaking, and the routine and obligation of sex. These numbing conditions exist irrespective of how sexually attracted you continue to be for her. This often has to do more with the concept of marriage than with the man that is the husband.

7) The paradox of security and desire. She sees you as a husband, a father and a best friend. She sees herself as a mother, a wife and a caretaker. None of these roles are associated (for her) with feeling sexy. She can’t step out of the role as caregiver. She can’t retrieve the woman behind the mother or wife. Anything you can do to leave the domestic and enter into the erotic is a step in the right direction. There are just too many centuries of history conspiring to desexualize the wife and the mother. Many women (and men) carry this inside of them against their own will.

8) Sexual boredom. Couples get into routines. In my experience, men often remain more easily attracted and desirous of their wives. Because women lose their appetite more easily, they need, in a sense, for the food to be far more appetizing to stay interested. Women disconnect from their sexuality, even against their own will. Hence, they need the sex to be much more enticing, risqué, more novel, more playful. In order for her to want sex, it needs to be sex worth wanting, says psychologist David Schnarch. Often, it’s not that she’s not interested in sex, but rather that she’s not interested in the sex that she can have. If she’s interested in the sex, she’s more likely to escape the bonds of wedlock; the routines, the institution and the endless list of “shoulds.”

9) Women are walking contradictions. There are a few twists and turns in women that leave many men puzzled. Just because she enjoyed sex last night doesn’t mean she wants it again today. Go figure. Or she’ll say, “I want you to hear me when I say no, but I also don’t want you to give up too soon, because if you just touch me slightly and I don’t respond immediately, and you give up, than you obviously weren’t that into it in the first place.” On the other end: “If you push too much, you’re not respecting my boundaries.” And there’s also: “I don’t feel like it, but maybe you can make me feel like it. Make me want to say yes … without being a predator.”

10) Nothing turns men on more than a woman who’s turned on. But nothing turns a woman on more than to be the turn on. He can be there — erect and all — but if she’s not into it because in that moment she’s disconnected from herself, it’ll do nothing for her. For that, she needs to like herself first. A man can tell a woman she looks gorgeous, but because women see men’s sexuality as less discriminate (“He just wants sex and I happen to be the wife”) she ultimately doesn’t believe him. She believes her own self-appraisal more than anything he can tell her.

Those are the ten things that come to mind.

One more thing, regarding your letter:

Of course she loves you! Love and desire: they relate, but also conflict.

Esther Perel is the best-selling author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, a practicing psychotherapist, celebrated speaker and organizational consultant to Fortune 500 companies. The New York Times, in a cover story, named her the most important game-changer on sexuality and relationships since Dr. Ruth

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