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I have written before about psychological background of disease, and sexual issues are often obvious examples of psychosomatic symptoms. If you have done your medical tests and the results didn’t show any physical issues that would cause a problem, it is time to focus on the possible less obvious causes. Of course, our psychology is complex, so the possible causes of sexual dysfunction are usually not simple and cannot be easily categorized. Yet we can recognize the following important aspects:
Stress often has a more obvious influence on sexual desire of women rather than men. It is not uncommon for men to use sex as a stress relief strategy, so sometimes stress can even increase their libido. This is not so common amongst women. Women more often need to be emotionally motivated for sex, which includes a relaxed state of mind, lack of immediate concerns and a pleasant environment.
If stress is acute and temporary, perhaps the lack of libido is situational only. The real problem is long-term, “background” tension that continuously saps one’s energy. This can be a symptom of external worries, such as problems at work, upbringing of children or lack of cooperation and trust within an intimate partnership. However, often such chronic stress can be a consequence of childhood experiences that still have unconscious influence: anxiety, guilt, self-criticism and similar.
Some people can be so used to this kind of stress that most of the time they are barely even aware of it. If background stress is a normal part of your life, you might be confused about your lack of libido and perhaps feel guilty about it. A superficial, selfish partner can add to your stress by criticizing, blaming and debasing you for your lack of sexual interest. In this case, your libido might be wiser than you. Do you really want to risk having children with such a person?
If you are a man, and your female partner’s libido is chronically low, consider if your relationship is balanced in terms of sharing work and responsibilities. “Dish washing is the best foreplay” is true anywhere and anytime, but especially if a woman is overburdened with all kinds of obligations. Do you really invest effort into your daily life together, or do you expect her to take care of details and find excuses to be lazy? Best to ask her. (This is all, of course, appliable to women if the situation is less traditional.)
Mental dissociation from body and emotions
Noisy brain and continuous analyzing can be a pure habit, especially if your job demands that you spend hours every day in such a state of mind. At the end of the day, it can be difficult to “turn your brain off” and relax. Your brain can continue to work in overdrive, getting lost in planning, concerns and obligations while you try to make love.
If there are no other causes of the problem, you can relatively easily learn to relax and reconnect to your body after coming back from work, or at least before going to bed. However, it might easily be that there is more than a simple habit beyond surface. Perhaps you have controlling issues, learned from your parents or during chaotic experiences. Are you generally prone to perfectionism and criticism? In such cases, continuous mental activity can be your way of trying to control your life and avoiding suppressed fears.
Practice bringing your attention back to your body and feelings, instead of getting lost in thoughts. It might feel weird in the beginning, but soon you will probably be able to stay focused on making love much more easily. If this wouldn’t be enough, you might need to check if there are other unconscious patterns that prevent you from being in your own body.
Perhaps, as a child, you have learned that emotions are painful, shameful or unacceptable for your environment? Perhaps you have learned to debase emotional expressions or water them down with forced humor. If you are particularly rational and avoid emotions, you might have particular difficulties tuning into your feelings during a sexual intercourse. This might be especially true for women. Many men learn that sexual moments are some of the rare ones when emotions are allowed and expected; if a woman learns to dissociate from her own emotions, she might be phychologically and socially conditioned to avoid them even more during sex.
This is another kind of pressure that is particularly experienced by women. Sexual behavior that is dominantly shown on internet and in mass-media is mostly a result of male fantasies, represented in ways stimulating to many men. Inexperienced people, young people in particular, build their sexual expectations on such fantasies and expect their sexual partners to act in such ways. These scenarios are often not comfortable for women, yet young girls who don’t know themselves well and don’t respect themselves enough might believe such media more than their own feelings. Thus they may ignore their own instincts and emotions in order to adapt to male expectations.
In such a way, social pressure on women might not only come from men, but women and girls can too make pressure on each other, if they accept other people’s ideas of what is “normal”. Women are much more likely to suffer consequences in cases of unwanted pregnancy, which can sometimes limit them for the rest of their lives. Therefore, it is realistic for women to be more careful and have higher criteria for sexual partners. If a woman learns to ignore such instincts, she has to deny and debase many other of her own emotions. This is a burden that she might carry into her future relationships, even if she doesn’t experience obvious traumas such as sexual abuse, unwanted pregnancy or abortion.
Intimate relationships often start with transference (we fall in love with people who unconsciously remind us of important people from our past). In the beginning, this is normally a key ingredient of enthusiasm and passion. Yet when the “honeymoon” is over, the unpleasant consequences of transference, such as accumulating resentment, become visible. (Check this article for more information.)
One of them can be a subtle incestuous feeling. If your partner is an unconscious replacement for your father or mother, sister or a brother, or even a grandfather… how likely are you to go to bed with those members of your family? If even just a tiny part of your brain is aware of similarities of your partner to these people, your body can automatically object. Consider this possibility if your libido is otherwise normal, but you feel inexplicable resistance to making love to your partner.
Beliefs that prevent you from relaxing into sexual pleasure do not have to be conscious and verbalized. Sometimes they may only manifest as subtle, unspecific discomfort or resistance. Perhaps you are so used to this that it feels normal. Remember how did your parents talk to you about sexuality and related topics? Were they calm and relaxed, or did they show irritation, discomfort, shame or avoidance? Such behavior doesn’t have to be traumatic to leave a lasting impression on a child.
Patriarchal societies present sex as humiliating, not only for women who are shown as objects to be exploited, but indirectly also for men who are shown as selfish, shallow and aggressive. The amount of such content in public media and behavior helps us assess emotional maturity of societies and individuals. Healthy societies and individuals perceive sex as a mutual relationship of two people who appreciate each other as complete human beings. Such a relationship doesn’t humiliate or exploit anyone and is therefore innocent.
I recommend you to choose partners whose behavior shows that they see and respect you as a complete person, instead of a projection of their past (transference), their imagination or hormons. With such a partner, your toxic beliefs cannot be continuously reinforced. There are few of such people and you might need time to learn to know them well – but it is well worth the effort.
Our coaching can also help you resolve your toxic beliefs from past and integrate lost parts of yourself.
Your previous experience and habits influence what becomes sexually stimulating to you. As with smells, tastes and many other stimuli, once we get used to a certain stimulus, we can stop noticing it until it becomes stronger. Perhaps certain spices and tastes felt weird and intense when you first tried them, yet after a while you got so used to them that a small amount wasn’t enough anymore. Some people, for example, feel a need for adrenaline. They might use more and more extreme sports (or other risky activities, such as gambling or even crime) to achieve the level of stimulation they want. After a while, the risks they have gotten used to are simply not enough. Something similar can happen with sexual stimuli.
In early stages of human evolution, people were used to seeing exposed bodies so they weren’t sexually aroused by bodies alone. Obvious sexual signals were needed to arouse interest, similarly as among animals. Later, people started covering their intimate parts to protect them during dangerous activities and to achieve more freedom of movement. As humanity spread to colder climates (or harsh climates such as deserts), people needed more and more protection, so they started making clothes of animal skins, and later other materials.
Once people got used to see bodies covered by clothing, it became more and more unusual to see a naked body. What was normal before, started to cause more and more intense reactions, of either arousal or discomfort. People started to feel a need to control both of those reactions. Thus all kinds of social and religious rules and taboos were created.
Only a few centuries ago, it was unusual to see a bare female ankle or shoulder throughout Europe. In Arabic countries, where people needed to cover their faces to protect them from sun or sand, it became unusual to even see a woman’s face. Considering that a male body is usually less by itself stimulating to women, there was less perceived need to wrap it in rules too. On the other hand, in some countries women can be judged as immoral if even their necks or ankles can be glimpsed through their clothing.
In Western countries, quite the opposite process is going on. First people got used to bare shoulders and low necklines, then mini-skirts and bare bellies, then to bare breasts and thongs on beaches. Lately, with internet, pornography became so widely available for free (if you exclude all the spyware and malware that usually comes with such web-sites) that many people, especially young men, already take it for granted. “Regular” sex is not so exciting anymore, so other kinds of unusual stimulation are sought after. Many people now expect anal sex, which many women find painful and hurtful. (If your partner insists on anal sex which you don’t want, buy a dildo and demand: “You first!” 😉 )
Some people use such stimulation as a replacement for love, attention and intimacy. Sexual activities stimulate production of endorphines within our bodies, which can temporarily create an impression that emotional void has been filled. Thus sex can become a kind of addiction, such as with all activities and substances which replace emotional health and balance. If you are addicted to sex, at least you do not ingest such harmful substances as many other addictions would make you do – but an emotional relationship with a real person might become secondary.
If you are used to explicit pornographic content, the naked body and being touched by your partner might not be enough to you. To keep your arousal at high levels, you might try to use more and more uncommon positions and scenarios, until this demands so much energy and focus that you stop paying attention to your partner as an individual. We can expect more and more sexual issues amongst younger people too, as differences between individual sexual habits and expectations increase.