Men’s sex “drive” is often perceived as being perpetually activated…. But what about when it isn’t?

MYTH BUSTER: Neither a man nor a woman is expected to be continuously ready to jump into a sexual encounter.  

Many girls and young women, regardless of religious affiliation, are taught to cover their bodies to avoid the slightest possibility that the highly sexualized male will gaze upon them, have illicit thoughts and possibly act out on them. It’s time we give the male species a little more credit.  Men and women are both sexual beings and we are “all made out of the same parts, just organized in different ways” according to sex educator and author Emily Nagoski, in her book; Come As You Are (2015).  While men can be more attuned to their sexual desires and physiological reactions, they are not constant and more importantly, they are able to be tamed and controlled.

While women are learning and acknowledging (and worrying) about their sexual difficulties, it is inherent that we understand what men are experiencing as well. There are 5 main categories of male sexual dysfunction: desire, arousal, orgasm, pain and last, but often most important, is compatibility with their partner.  This piece will focus on the first of these 5 issues; DESIRE.  (More forthcoming in future blogs).

Hypo-active Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD)

Men who experience low sexual desire often feel sexually inadequate or emasculated, as they are socially expected to be ready to “go” at any given moment. Woman often wonder whether there is something “wrong” with her male partner if she is more interested in sex than he is.

According to the DSM-V (Diagnostic and Statistical Manual), 34% of women and 15% of men between the ages of 18-74 experience HSDD.

Stress and emotional challenges correlate significantly with HSDD. Low or no desire is most commonly associated with “context”.  This means that the level of sexual desire can be situational.  While the ability to compartmentalize and focus on sex and sexuality (putting other concerns and obligations on the back burner) is one of the male gender’s strengths, there are times where he will not be comfortable enough to be turned on in a specific location (in-laws house) or time (during exams or business deadlines) or life circumstance (after being let go at work).  

During such situational predicaments, it is helpful to remember that desire exists on a continuum:  low desire doesn’t mean no desire.   In the case of no desire it is important to discuss this with your partner and consider seeking professional advice.

A clear and complete medical history is important while assessing the origins/causes for male HSDD.  Medications such as SSRI’s (Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors) commonly used for anxiety or depression may cause reduced libido in both men and women.  Other medications associated with cancer treatment, high blood pressure and other illnesses may cause low sexual desire as well.

The psychological and physiological risk factors for MHSDD include:

  • Alcoholism
  • Substance Abuse
  • Heavy alcohol drinking or substance abuse before a sexual encounter
  • Depression
  • Diseases of the vascular or neurological systems
  • Early childhood negative sexual experiences
  • Adult negative sexual experiences
  • Relationship difficulties
  • Stress and exhaustion

If you feel that you or your partner’s desire is being impacted by a medication or physiologic symptom, speak to your physician in order to explore different plans of action.  While it may feel awkward talking to your doctor about your intimate life, remember that sexual health is a big part of general health. Your doctor won’t know that there is a problem unless you bring it up.

Your doctor will most likely ask you to do some blood tests including a hormone panel in order to assess your levels of testosterone.

Emotional support, sex education and couple work offer the couple an opportunity to develop techniques to increase desire from psychological and relational perspectives.  Healthy communication (including open sexual communication) is by far the most important channel to understanding and improving your sexual desire.  While this is not often a skill that comes easily to couples, it is important to practice being uncomfortable for the sake of a better and more fulfilling life together.