Written by Kimberly Keiser
Great question, but first, here’s a little clinical information on low sexual desire!
Low sexual desire is the most common presenting sexual dysfunction in women. Symptoms associated with the DSM 5 Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder include lack of interest in sex, fewer or no erotic thoughts, not initiating or responding to sexual activity, less pleasure during sex, and reduced sexual sensations. In order to receive a diagnosis of Sexual Interest/Arousal Disorder, a woman must experience distress caused by the symptoms associated with low sexual desire for at least six months.
A variety of causes can lead women to have low sexual desire. Hormone levels may not be sufficient to produce an effective sexual response cycle in women. Hormone levels can be impacted by a variety of factors. In addition, dopamine neurotransmission and certain medical conditions can contribute to medical causes of low sexual desire. Upon a patient entering sex therapy, it is often important to rule out medical conditions contributing to symptoms by working in collaboration with a medical provider before psychological, emotional, or relational causes are addressed.
Relational issues are some of the most common reasons why women feel low sexual desire. A lack of emotional intimacy, trust, safety, and connection to a woman’s partner commonly are connected to a lack of sexual desire in relationships. Alternatively, having too much closeness and a lack of appropriate separation can cause low sexual desire in women as well. It isn’t always a given that having a close emotional relationship with your partner leads to having a passionate sexual relationship. Often, sexual desire is the product of appropriate distance and a separate sense of self.
Sexual desire often is impacted negatively when a woman has depression. This is further complicated by anti-depressant medication having negative side effects on sexual desire, arousal, and ability to orgasm.
Another interesting contribution to low sexual desire is the vast influences of negative sex education that occurs throughout most people’s lives. Most women are encouraged not to be sexual throughout their sexual developmental years. In addition, female masturbation often is seen as negative or not discussed at all. Many women grow up with virtually no appropriate sexual education or information about their bodies, not to mention a healthy understanding of how to be fully sexually self-expressed. Many times negative messages from religion or culture cause women to feel shame about being sexual. The accumulation of these negative messages over the course of one’s sexual development can dampen or almost completely diminish one’s experience of sexual desire. One of the most exciting aspects of overcoming low sexual desire is reclaiming your sexual self and expressing it fully.
Women’s sexual desire is complex. Unlike male sexual desire, which typically follows a linear path after being stimulated through sight, touch, or fantasy, female sexual desire is the product of many things working for a woman; for example, how she thinks and feels about sex, her mood, her relationship to herself and her body, her relationship with her partner, her overall physical health, etc. Sexual desire is not something that one can go out and get; it is the byproduct healthy emotional, psychological, relational, and biological functioning. Sculpting a treatment plan for low sexual desire in this context requires ruling out or treating any physical causes and then determining other contributions such as those listed above.
In response to the above question, if after other assessments are completed and the primary factor contributing to low sexual desire is indeed resentment over a lack of support with managing household responsibilities in a cohabitating partnership or marriage, then an assessment of relationship functioning should be conducted. After contributing factors to poor relationship functioning have been treated, you can utilize the following tool to help manage household responsibilities in a functional way.
We developed this exercise after watching couples in traditional relationships where the division of labor was determined by one partner, typically the male, working outside the home and the other, typically the female, managing all responsibilities dealing with the home and children. As gender roles change and most families have both people in a relationship working outside of the home, management of household responsibilities often can be a source of resentment in relationships because couples simply do not have a plan to manage them.
To combat this, we have designed an exercise with couples that we call Equal but Different. Here it is:
Sit down as a couple and make a comprehensive list of all household responsibilities.
Have each person separately place the activities into one of three buckets: things I don’t mind doing, things I hate to do, and things that bother me when my partner does them.
Divide the household responsibilities according to who likes to do what.
Have each person start managing and completing the different tasks on his or her list.
After many times of administering this simple exercise, we have noticed that couples who report the things they like to do are often complimentary. What originally causes problems in relationships is a couple’s decision to try to divide the same activity equally rather than splitting the activities based on preference. This most likely won’t eliminate having to do some things you don’t like, but it will most likely significantly reduce it.
If you try this and one or both partners aren’t able to commit to following through, then perhaps there are other issues in the relationship that best would be addressed through couple’s counseling.
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