In the U.S., it is estimated that one out of every three couples struggle with problems associated with low sexual desire. According to Michele Weiner Davis in her book The Sex-Starved Marriage, a study showed that 20 percent of married couples have sex less than 10 times a year. Complaints about low desire are the number one problem brought to sex therapists.
From sizzle to fizzle: Why does a couple’s sex life change? In the Philippines, there is no statistical data on this but Randy Dellosa, M.D., psychologist and psychiatrist, and Josie Colmenares-Valderrama, senior marriage counselor from CEFAM (Center for Family Ministries), both agree that it is not uncommon for Filipino couples to suffer from this state, judging from their own counseling experience.
“There are many reasons why a couple’s sex life changes over time,” Dellosa explains. One of the most common reasons for this is the demands of raising a family. Age, physical health, stress level, family history, and priorities all play a role in a couple’s sex life. Colmenares-Valderrama says, “It’s hard to generalize. In the past, you’d hear about low sexual desire among women. But you’ll be surprised. This also applies to more men nowadays.” An example of this is a father who is promoted to a higher level or is pressured at work, and is too tired or stressed out to feel sexual desire.
The anatomy of sexual problems: Mind, body, heart According to Dellosa, you could break down the reasons for lower sexual desire among married couples into three categories: Psychological (mind), emotional (heart), and physiological (body).
1. Mind Psychological reasons include stress, anxiety, borderline personality disorder, trauma (especially for those who have a history of sexual abuse), hypoactive sexual desire disorder (the absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity), feelings of guilt such as the Madonna syndrome among men who put their mothers on a pedestal (they feel they cannot have sex with someone who is a mother), poor self-esteem or body image, and phobias (one of them being, vagina dentata or fear of vagina with teeth, popularized in movies).
2. Body Physiological reasons include illnesses like hypothyroidism, side-effects of medication (for hypertension) or birth control pills, side-effects of operations like surgery on the prostate or spinal cord, and the use of alcohol and illegal drugs.
Childbirth and breastfeeding are very common reasons for a woman to have lower sexual desire. According to Denise*, married for four years and mother of one, “Since I gave birth vaginally and I tore my episiotomy stitches, I was so afraid of feeling any more pain down there. I was afraid of tearing again. Now, it’s not the same. My husband and I talk about having sex more regularly, the way we used to before our baby, but it’s just so difficult because I’m breastfeeding and our daughter shares our bed! We’re both so tired all the time after taking care of our baby.”
A woman’s hormones are greatly affected by childbirth and breastfeeding. “Ob-Gynes have to brief married couples about this,” Dellosa says, “Too often, couples don’t understand what’s going on, but it really has to do with a woman’s body adjusting to motherhood. Just because a woman’s episiotomy or C-section wound has healed doesn’t mean she’s ready for sex.” The return of a woman’s healthy sexual desire after childbirth takes a while, and husbands need to show their support and understanding during this period. Dellosa estimates that a woman will take six months to a year to adjust physically. “A couple’s sex life will go through many stages,” Dellosa states, “This round won’t be the end. If you have another child, there would be another adjustment. When your priorities change, when menopause or andropause (the male equivalent of menopause) sets in, expect changes once again.”
3. Heart Lastly, emotional reasons, like feeling insecure, building up of resentment, pent-up anger, and even fear of getting pregnant, get in the way of a healthy sexual relationship between a couple. When one party feels hurt by the other and doesn’t bring it up, the emotions just keep getting bottled up and translate into less physical contact.