Doing sex therapy in my office near Boston, I often find myself wishing I had a quarter for every time a woman who complains of lack of arousal or low sexual desire, or just plain "not liking sex" tells me about a recent time when she was lying with her partner, knowing that what they were doing to her right then was irritating the heck out of her, and she did nothing. To make matters worse, many times, these women — who think of themselves as not interested in sex — are one hundred per cent able to tell me how they would have liked to be touched during the time when they were getting turned off or annoyed sexually. But they didn't tell their partners what they wanted! Does this sound like you? I hope so, because if you're a big part of the problem, you can fix it.
Why is communicating your true sexual likes and dislikes important for women? As I've described elsewhere, women are much more distractible than men. If you're beginning to enjoy the kinds of touches you're getting, if you're beginning to feel a shift in your body to a state of relaxation, anticipation, or pleasure, then you're doing neither of you a favor if you allow your partner's off-putting next moves to continue. Now sex has become boring or irritating. You're creating the negative experience yourself because you're avoiding conflict, or avoiding hurting his feelings. Think about it, this is just rat psychology. It's Pavlov’s dog. To like sex more, you have to associate it with good experiences. Gather your courage and find the words. Talk, women!
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Granted, some women who are disinterested in sex have biological reasons for their low libido and/or low arousal — causes such as hormonal problems, drug side effects, or physical pain. The causes of women's low libido are complex. I always have my patients get checked out thoroughly by a physician specialist in sexual medicine — an M.D. who really cares about your sexual functioning. (Sex therapists in your town know who these physicians are.) I'm not saying that telling the truth in bed can fix every woman's sex life, but it might be important for you.
There is a large group of women who are sabotaging their own sex lives. If you find yourself wishing that your partner would touch you here instead of there, then you're far from sexually dead or disinterested. Be curious about why you aren't sharing the thoughts you have in your head when your partner's touch or sexual approach turns you off. Read on and see if any of these situations apply to you. If so, you're in a good position to save your own sex life.
Women With TMSSS
One group of women, a large group, have what I have come to call TMSSS — Typical Mother Suck-y Sex Syndrome. Now you won't find this syndrome spelled out in the current DSM — the Diagnostic and Statistical Manual that psychiatrists use to categorize patients. But every sex therapist in the US and Europe sees scores of women with TMSSS. In fact, in mothers' groups, cohorts of women with TMSSS band together, share stories, and convince themselves that their condition is inevitable, probably hopeless, and completely normal.
Mothers, especially mothers of small children, are exhausted. As one of my clients said, "I just can't punch out my mom card." She could not make the shift from the mom role to the role of an independent woman who might be interested in some physical pleasure for herself. Life felt like a steady attempt to keep frogs in a wheelbarrow. After the standard day of trying to get her children to do what they needed to do, like get dressed and eat breakfast before they had to get onto the school bus or into the car to go to nursery school, she was depleted. She hated that entire morning routine, being the drill sergeant, yelling at them. Then the rest of the day was just as taxing, driving the kids around to their activities, feeding them, and cleaning up after them.
Later at night, when her husband switched from kissing her, which she liked, to moving too rapidly to touching her clitoris, she just gave up on redirecting him and just lay there, letting him control the sexual pacing and recipe, waiting for him to finish. She had to get to bed anyway, tomorrow was another day full of an unending list of things to do for everyone else. If this sounds like you, then you need to make a plan to periodically give yourself enough time and rest and space to "punch out your mom card" and reinvest in your sexual self. (Click over to my article No Babysitter? Money Tight? Want Good Sex? No Problem for a few more ideas.)
Women Who Were Socialized to Serve Men
There is a group of women who have been socialized to think that men's sexual needs are greater than women's and that women need to give men what they need for the marriage to succeed. If you've been socialized like this in your family of origin or in your church, then try to pay attention to what your body is telling you. If you've been telling yourself that you don't like sex, when in fact you just don't love your partner's way of being sexual, try asking your partner how they would feel about receiving some very specific sexual feedback. You might be surprised. Maybe they would welcome it, because they love you, and would enjoy sex much more themselves if they knew you were enjoying it.
Women in The Movies Don't Have to Ask So It Must Not Be Normal
Lots of women just can’t picture asking for what they want sexually as normal, since they have never seen it modeled –not in school, not on tv, not in the legit movies, not even in romance novels. The women in porn movies model a penis-centric, disrespectful way of (supposedly) asking for what they want. Listen, most of normal life isn’t shown in the media. Movies and TV are for entertainment. In all my years, I have seen one movie (Late Marriage, an Israeli film) where the couple had a normal sexual interlude. (At one point, he was hurting her by leaning on her hair. At another point, he was being too rough. In both instances, she told him nicely what she needed, and lovemaking resumed.) So the assumption is that every other woman is being pleased and wildly turned on by what her partner is doing instinctively, wordlessly, without feedback. So there is something wrong with ME if I need something I’m not getting in bed. I’m here to tell you that you’re completely normal. It pains me that there are few examples of what real, good sex looks like between two people. ( If you want to see some amazing examples of women asking for what they want, watch some movies on Tantric sexuality.)
Getting the Courage to Ask for What You Know You Want and Need Sexually Will Change Your Life
Research shows that women's sexual pleasure depends on learning what we like and asking for it. Please don't ignore the voice inside your head that knows exactly what it wants. If you need some support, consider talking to the most sex-positive person you know. Or if you don't know anyone in your real life, imagine being coached by a sex-positive heroine on TV or in the movies. (For more tips, you can read my book SexTalk.)
Aline Zoldbrod Ph. D. is a Boston based sex, couples, and individual therapist. She is the author of three commercially published books on sexuality and relationships. You can find her on SexSmart.com
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