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I just read the July 14 issue, where Esther answered a question from a man about his wife's loss of interest/desire for sex. But what advice do you have when a man loses sexual desire? My husband and I have only been married for a few years. We went from having sex several times a week to only having sex once a month. The few times we have spoken about it, he confessed that he feels like a failure (he just lost his job) and it has sucked any sexual desire out of him. I'm at a loss. Is there anything that either of us can do?
I’m so happy you’re asking this question!
Let’s clear a few things up: there’s this mistaken cultural stereotype of male sexuality that men are always interested in sex; that they're these perpetually driven sexual creatures in constant search of an outlet.
In reality, more often than not, it’s the men who lose interest.
And there are several reasons. For this particular question, it seems like a lot of his loss of desire is tied up with losing his job, the ensuing loss of confidence, and his sense of self worth. “If I don’t perform and achieve, I feel like less of a man,” says his internal voice.
So I’m going to broaden the question to address several other aspects of men’s sexual desire.
Men feel vulnerable. There are three main sexual areas where men feel most vulnerable: the fear of rejection, performance anxiety and not knowing if they’re a good lover. How can he be certain of his skill? What if she's faking it? And what about past lovers — did she enjoy it more with them? These uncertainties can all affect his sexual self-esteem.
It could be medical. Medication for prostate issues, blood pressure, diabetes, heart conditions, SSRIs for depression...all of them generally come with sexual side effects.
He’s in his own head. People think male sexuality is all biologically driven. Not true. It’s just as driven from the inside as it is for women. If he feels depressed, anxious or unworthy, his sexual desire can disappear.
He’s not young anymore. When men are younger, they learn to rely on spontaneous and autonomous erections. He arrives ready to do the job, as it were. When the erections are no longer spontaneous, he starts to wonder: "A real man doesn’t need help!" And that affects how he feels about his masculinity. It’s a cultural stereotype, and one that can stop his libido cold. One unspoken truth is that for many couples past 55, the end of sex is male-induced — not female. Unfortunately, because his penis no longer performs on its own, he gives up, letting the penis make the decision instead of him. See the great blogs of Marty Klein on this topic.
That lack of potency could also come from work...or lack thereof. He’s not providing for his family. He thinks, “I’m a loser.” It’s deflating his male ego.
There’s a split between love and lust. As with women, there’s a struggle to integrate intimacy and sexuality. How to make love to the woman I love proves much more challenging than "doing it" with any old stranger. Men’s imaginations are complex, highly emotional and rarely understood...by men or women.
His partner has become family...or maybe a best friend or roommate. It’s hard to sexualize someone who’s so close to you. “That’s the mother of my children!” While some men see women as things or conquests, other men worry about women too much. They feel guilt about the selfishness of sex.
It’s easier to go masturbate by themselves than to please someone else. In the old days, he could get his way and, in a sense, use her to masturbate (thankfully, that’s not the case anymore). So he may prefer to take care of himself than face the challenges of relating to and pleasing a woman.
He’s relying on one tool. There are so many different forms of orgasms! For women, the whole body is an instrument. Too many men ignore the sexual range outside of their genitalia; it’s not just about the penis. There are even breathing exercises he can do that help men become multi-orgasmic, if he’s so inclined.
Finally, women have permission to complain about the lack of desire. Men, not so much. He thinks he can’t say he has a loss of desire. It causes shame. Have you ever heard men in the locker room complain that their wives or girlfriends keep coming on to them but that they are the ones who avoid sex? I’ve even seen men resort to getting drunk, just so he can do it and then think “I’m off for the next two weeks.” A miserable dynamic for him and her.
The Sex Starved Wife: What to Do When He's Lost Desire by Michele Weiner Davis
The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment by Jack Morin
"The Good-Enough Sex Model" By Michael E. Metz and Barry W. McCarthy
The newsletter of Marty Klein
Dear Doc (& Men, Too): Less Viagra, Please Marty Klein in Psychology Today
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. Have a question? Ask Esther Perel.