Not getting any? You’re not alone: Women today have less time for sex
than their 1950s counterparts. And it’s estimated that 40 million
Americans have what experts call a sexless marriage (having sex less
than 10 times a year).
A regular sex life is good for your health. It can satisfy all
sorts of emotional- and physical-intimacy needs and help partners stay
close, says Anita H. Clayton, M.D., a professor of psychiatry at the
University of Virginia and author of "Satisfaction: Women, Sex, and the
Quest for Intimacy." So why the dry spell? You can chalk it up to a
sheer lack of time, but there are a slew of other reasons, too — from
weight gain and perimenopause to technology overload (stop texting now)
in the bedroom. Here’s how to beat these sex busters.
Your bed isn’t sexy anymore.
We hear it over and over again: The bed should be used for sex and
sleep only. So why do so many of us insist on bringing third parties —
laptops, PDAs, "Law & Order" — into the boudoir? All that
technology and distraction can cause insomnia and put a damper on your
sex life. After all, it’s harder to initiate sex if your spouse is
hiding behind a newspaper or glued to the TV or if your hands are busy
exploring the Web rather than his body.
At a minimum, make the bedroom a no-technology zone, Clayton suggests.
Then take a hard look at your life (from romance and work to
entertainment and family), and give sex the priority it deserves. If
you have to schedule sex as you would a meeting, do it!
Your meds are stealing your sex drive.
Oh, the irony. You start taking oral contraceptives (OCs) so you can
have worry-free sex. Then the magic little pills start sapping your sex
drive. Why? OCs contain estrogen, which increases the production of a
protein called sex-hormone binding globulin (SHBG), says Michael
Krychman, M.D., medical director of sexual medicine at Hoag Hospital in
Newport Beach, California, and executive director of the Southern
California Center for Sexual Health and Survivorship Medicine. SHBG can
trap testosterone, affecting your sex drive. There are even new data
suggesting that this negative impact might be long-term. Other
potential sex-drive-stalling meds to be on the lookout for: those that
reduce blood pressure, anxiety, and acid reflux, and antidepressants,
Sex Rx: Ask your doc about the sexual side effects
of all of your drugs. You may also want to try a contraceptive method
that doesn’t use hormones, such as condoms, a diaphragm, or an IUD.
Your crazy-busy life.
You spend your days working, cooking, working out, taking care of the
family. And, still, at 11:30 p.m., "you’re expected to wave this magic
goddess wand," Krychman says. It’s enough to make even Pamela Anderson
curl up in bed and cry, "headache." Besides totally tuckering you out,
the chronic stresses of modern life can also trigger a cascade of
hormonal changes that mess with your body’s sexual-response cycle. And
here’s another modern sex buster that adds to all the craziness:
today’s always-connected technology.
With spontaneous sex almost out of the question, you need some serious
"life management" to work it in, experts say. Put a lock on the master
bedroom door and set a technology time limit. Shift gears from the
harried pace of everyday life with a soothing bath, suggests Health
contributor and Los Angeles–based sex therapist Linda De Villers,
Ph.D. Plunging into warm water takes you away from the laptops and cell
phones that clog up your day. Add a few drops of ylang-ylang essential
oil; the aroma is thought to heighten sexual feelings.
You don’t like your body.
Many women find themselves withdrawing or not willing to experiment
sexually if they’re overweight or have a change in shape due to
pregnancy, Clayton says. "Emotionally, we’ve bought into the media’s
idealization of what is really sexy. The message is, you have to look a
certain way in order to have really good sex."
"Women have a talent for disliking the very things about themselves
that other people find very attractive," De Villers says. Feel free to
ask him what he likes about your body; his compliments can help you
feel more positive. But don’t underestimate the mental boost of
shedding some pounds. In a recent Health.com survey, 37 percent of
respondents said losing weight makes them feel sexy. In fact, even a
five-pound weight loss has been shown to jump-start sex drive.
You’ve hit perimenopause.
Before menopause, hormonal shifts — specifically decreasing estrogen
— lead to physiological changes that can make sex seem about as
appealing as running a marathon with a pebble in your sock. Sensitive
vaginal tissues become less lubricated, the ensuing dryness leads to
pain, and painful sex quickly turns into no sex, Krychman says. Hot
flashes don’t help matters, either. A landmark study published last
year in the American Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology shows women
whose sexual desire drops during menopause are more apt to report night
sweats, disturbed sleep, and depression.
Sex Rx: Talk to
your physician about the pros and cons of hormone replacement therapy
(HRT), which may lessen menopausal symptoms. New research shows an
estrogen cream or suppository may ease dryness without the risks of
HRT. Lubricants such as Replens or his-and-hers lubes from K-Y can also
help, especially if pain during intercourse is a problem. Pine bark
extract is also getting a lot of buzz: A study in the Scandinavian
Journal of Obstetrics and Gynecology found that it may alleviate hot
flashes, depression, panic attacks, elevated cholesterol, and other
symptoms linked with perimenopause. Talk to your doctor before trying
Your man’s just not that into it.
You may actually be raring to go, but your partner’s engine seems
stalled. Perhaps he’s emotionally withdrawing, says Bob Berkowitz,
Ph.D., co-author of "He’s Just Not Up for It Anymore: Why Men Stop
Having Sex, and What You Can Do About It." "The usual problems between
husbands and wives can play out in the bedroom," he says, especially if
your partner has a hard time expressing his feelings properly. Or, he
may want you to be more sexually adventurous. You needn’t hang from
chandeliers; it could be as simple as being a more enthusiastic lover.
Talk it out in a blame-free way. "It’s understandable that a woman
would feel rejected," Berkowitz says. But don’t confront him with ‘What
the hell is going on? Are you cheating on me?’ or he’ll shut down. If a
man’s sex life is not working out, he may feel he’s failed as a man,
because men invest so much of themselves in their sexuality," Berkowitz
adds. So try to broach the subject in a loving way.
When you’re feeling down in the dumps, desire can take a big hit,
particularly if you’re female. Women tend to isolate themselves,
Clayton says, and that can strain even the strongest of romantic
relationships. Antidepressants may lift the dark cloud, but some affect
your ability to have an orgasm.
Sex Rx: If you notice your sex drive takes a nosedive after
you start a new medication, tell your doctor; she may be able to
prescribe an alternative, such as Wellbutrin (bupropion), which doesn’t
affect orgasm. Consider different avenues of treatment, too.
"Psychotherapy doesn’t cause sexual dysfunction and is effective,
especially in mild-to-moderate depression," Clayton says. Exercise also
helps; it enhances mood and energy, and it boosts blood flow to the
Your man is Viagra-ized.
"Viagra-ization" of men, as Krychman calls it, isn’t just happening to
seniors. Younger men are taking the erectile-dysfunction drug, too,
sometimes just to enhance sexual performance. The result can be a
physical and emotional disconnect in bed. "The man takes the medication
and is ready to go, but the woman needs more time to get aroused, to
get connected." The sexes tend to deal with anxiety in opposite ways,
too, Clayton says. Men head to the bedroom to relieve stress, while
women often need to be relaxed to even have sex.
Clayton suggests finding time for some nonthreatening and nonjudgmental
sex talk (not in bed), during which a woman can discuss what she needs
in bed to even the playing field.
You’re sick and tired.
About 10 to 15 percent of the women Krychman treats for low libido end
up having an endocrine problem, such as undiagnosed thyroid disease,
which can affect menstrual functioning and lead to exhaustion,
depression, low sexual desire, and fertility problems. Women who have
chronic illnesses –such as fibromyalgia, anemia, diabetes, or
rheumatoid arthritis –may not be in the mood, either, thanks to
fatigue or body pain. And women who have diabetes may also experience
poor lubrication, low arousal, and a propensity for yeast infections.
Once a thyroid condition or anemia is detected and corrected, any
associated symptoms should dissipate. If you’re battling a chronic
disease, you should take the focus off of the intercourse and explore
other ways to achieve sexual and sensual pleasure, Clayton says.