I’ve been talking about sex more this month than I think I ever have online, and it’s been really eye-opening to see how much other women are wanting to talk about it as well. Sarah and I announced we were doing an episode on low sexual desire a couple weeks ago and our podcast facebook community lit up with comments and questions from women who experience low sex drive. (If you want to read through that conversation, you can join the closed Selfie community here. It’s a great space for asking questions and getting feedback in a more intimate setting than regular facebook.) Here are a few of the comments women had:
I think it would be helpful for me if you address when one partner has low desire and one VERY high, and how to come to terms with that so neither party feels uncared for or less valuable. It’s a drag to feel like you’re letting your partner down or form them to feel like they’re not desirable or that you don’t love them in the way they feel loved.
Sexual desire for women is usually more emotionally tied. Women are often denied the space and capacity for it. I think male partners who are failing at the sex game are those that are willfully ignorant to this fact.
I think if I had someone helping with life, I’d feel like having sex. LOL As in, a wife for me! Ha. My issue is being a parent to four kids, working a lot, taking care of a house and I can’t switch back into “me” mode. All of that other stuff is so not sexy. Trying to do lots of self-care and put date nights on the calendar but it’s harrrrrd.
You can listen to the episode where we talk through these comments and more here. I also did a facebook live with my friend Gabby Blair where we talked about the same thing.
One of the things that emerged from my discussion with Gabby is the fact that having a low sex drive does not necessarily mean you have Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder. HSDD is a defined medical condition with biological components. It’s the most common form of sexual dysfunction in women, and it’s been recognized in medical communities for nearly half a century. But it isn’t a blanket description for all women who have low sex drive, and it’s important to note that if a woman has a low sex drive and feels fine about that fact, that’s okay! One of the markers of defining HSDD is that a person has subjective distress about their low sex drive . . . they are dissatisfied with it, and for most women with the disorder, they have had times in their past where they were more satisfied with their sexual appetite. The essential feature of female HSDD is a deficiency or absence of sexual fantasies and desire for sexual activity that causes marked distress or interpersonal difficulty. Desire is not a switch, desire is in the brain, and your brain may be working against you when it comes to sex.
The following are some of the symptoms of HSDD:
You experience low sexual desire no matter the type of sexual activity.
Your lower sexual desire or lower interest in sex is bothering you.
Your level of sexual desire or interest in sex has decreased.
You were satisfied in the past with your level of sexual desire or interest in sex, but no longer are
Lack of sexual desire can have a biological basis. Multiple studies show the brain controls desire differently in women with a healthy sexual desire with women with HSDD. And there is ample science behind this: brain scans show markedly less activity in areas of the brain that are important in sexual response for women who suffer with HSDD. While these studies have revealed there is a biological connection to HSDD, a medical provider can diagnose HSDD with a few simple questions. The problem is that many doctors have not been educated in HSDD, and most aren’t even asking. If you want to a doctor well-versed in HSDD, the Right to Desire website as a telemedicine component that can allow you to talk with a qualified doctor who gets it.
It is estimated that 1 in 10 women suffer from HSDD, and those numbers certainly seemed consistent in the conversations I’ve been having. If you want to learn more, check out the Right to Desire website, watch the funny but informative video below, or listen to our Selfie Podcast episode on HSDD.
The tropes and jokes about women rebuffing their partner’s sexual advances are as old as women reaching for a glass of wine as soon as their kids go to bed. It’s funny because it’s familiar. And yet, women seem to sort of accept the idea that it’s fine for their sexual appetite to be low . . . that not wanting sex as often as our partners is just the way we’re wired.
Obviously, sexual desire can wax and wane based on life circumstances. Everything from kids to relationship issues to hormones can make us feeling less frisky. But for millions of women, it’s not just external circumstances. A low sexual desire is not related to circumstances, but it is a constant state of being.
What differentiates just “not being in the mood” from an actual disorder of desire? Well, Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorderis a defined medical condition. it is the most common form of sexual dysfunction in women, and while it’s been recognized in medical communities for nearly 1/2 a century, few women understand what it really is. Symptoms can include experiencing low sexual desire no matter the type of sexual activity, a persistent decrease in your overall sexual drive, problems in your relationship due to your low sex drive, or previously being satisfied with your sex drive but no longer feeling that way.
It’s easy for women to dismiss this as something serious. But low sexual desire and related distress can negatively impact body image and self confidence, and can also wreak havoc on relationships. There are solutions, and it’s time for women to talk about it beyond jokes and sterotypes. It is estimated that 1 in 10 women suffer from Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder.
Over the next few months I’m going to be diving deeper into the specifics of this disorder, from the symptoms to the prevalence, to the weird disparity between women’s sexual desire and men’s in the medical community. (Spoiler alert: men’s sexual desire disorder has always been taken more seriously, while society has reinforced this ideal that female sexual dysfunction is trivial or even normal.)
If you are concerned about your own sexual desire, talk to a doctor. And if that feels too intrusive or overwhelming, the #righttodesire site has set up an option for women to talk with a doctor knowledgeable in HSDD online, confidentially and from the comfort of your own home.
To learn more, or to take a quiz to see if you might fit the criteria for Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder, check out the #righttodesire website.
What I Want You to Know is a seriesof reader submissions. It is an attempt to allow people to tell their personal stories, in the hopes of bringing greater compassion to the unique issues each of us face. If you would like to submit a story to this series, click here. This guest post is by an anonymous reader. I have never known sex without pain. From the very first time on our starry-eyed-virgins wedding night, until now several years later, I experience stabbing, gasping pain at any attempts at intercourse. I visited my gynecologist (twice) and had a number of sessions with a therapist to try to figure out what was wrong, but neither of them spoke this word to me, and I had to google my problem to figure out that it has a name: vaginismus. Involuntary muscle contractions that can make intercourse nearly impossible, and in some cases are the cause of unconsummated marriages and infertility. Don’t tell me to relax—it’s involuntary. And don’t tell me to just go slow and use lube, either—this is a condition beyond the normal first-timer jitters. It seems like everyone else does sex so easily, but I don’t enjoy it and can’t provide it to my husband. Oh sure, there are other intimate activities besides “insert part A into slot B,” but our world (and church too, actually—read a Christian sex book lately?) focuses on actual intercourse to the point that I feel utterly left out. I also have to fight bitterness against all of the people who seem to be having great sex all the time, and against all the people who told me before marriage that it would be so wonderful and special and close. In my experience to date, sex = searing pain. One helpful resource I found—the one that gave my problem its name—said the condition is nearly 100% treatable, but I wonder why none of the experts I visited could tell me that and give me the simple reassurance that this problem has a name, is experienced by many other women, and can be overcome. Vaginismus needs a voice. And now, slowly, I am on the path to healing, but I haven’t yet dared to hope.
Hi, I’m Kristen. I’m a mom of four kids via birth and adoption and a writer living in Southern California. Read More.