I hear a lot of whispered truths from women about their sex lives. I hear that they don’t like kissing, that they haven’t had sex in months (or longer), that they would be perfectly fine never to have sex again. But the statement I hear more than any other is: I don’t feel like having sex.
What they mean when they say this is that they’re experiencing a lack of desire and they’re bumping up the expectation that they should feel hot and bothered by their partner more often, sometimes, or even vaguely. They’ve been flooded by the dysfunctional messages about sexuality that permeate the culture and have formed the belief that if desire isn’t instantly and frequently coursing through their body there’s something wrong. Like all forms of anxiety, the “something wrong” usually takes the form of “there’s something wrong with me, my partner, or our chemistry.”
There’s nothing wrong with you. There’s nothing wrong with your partner. And if you’re in a healthy, loving relationship, there’s nothing wrong with your chemistry. But there is something very, very wrong with the messages that we’ve all absorbed, and these are what need to be uprooted and replaced.
There’s something wrong with the message that says that you should feel desire just from looking at your partner.
There’s something wrong with the message that says that just because you love each other you should know how to make love and turn each other on.
There’s something wrong with the message that says your partner should know how to turn you on and that, in fact, it’s his or her job to ignite your desire.
There’s something wrong with the message that says that sexuality is only about intercourse and orgasms. As I wrote about last week, it’s so much more than that!
There’s something wrong with a culture that fails to share the message that fear and sex are intimately intertwined, which means that if you’re struggling with any form of anxiety your sex drive is going to plummet. Sex anxiety, like relationship anxiety, doesn’t make headlines.
There’s something wrong with the message that says desire should be effortless and steady.
Here’s the cognitive truth about desire: Most women begin their sexual experiences at sexually neutral. This means that before they begin the make love they physiologically don’t experience a pulse or tingle of desire. They may feel flat and bland. They may then start to attach onto negative labels and call themselves “frigid” or “cold”, which of course only causes more shut down. It can be liberating for women to learn that most women don’t feel the typical sensations of sexuality until a layer of fear has been assuaged and until they can tap into their partners’ sexuality. As Sue Johnson quotes from psychiatrist Rosemary Basson in Love Sense, “Women often begin sexual experiences feeling sexually neutral and move into desire and arousal as a result of sexual cues from their partners. Their sexuality is often responsive rather than agentic. It is a reaction to their partner’s sexual interest.” (p. 133)
And here’s the emotional truth about desire: We do a lot of things that we don’t “feel” like doing. We don’t usually feel like exercising yet we know it’s good for us and we’re almost always glad that we heaved ourselves off the couch and took that class or went for that run. We don’t always “feel” like flossing our teeth or eating greens but we do these things because we know they’re good for us and, like exercise, they do end up making us feel good. Human being are funny creatures; why wouldn’t we feel like doing things that are good for us? Well, we have this quality called fundamental laziness, which is an offshoot of another part of human experience called resistance, which is a sister to one of the core strands that composes our human nature: fear. If it’s laziness, resistance, and fear that prevent us from doing the things that we know fill our well of Self and contribute to a basic state of health and well-being then we must name and untangle these three elements if we’re to access and actualize a way of living that leads to wellness.
The same is true for sex: as women, and especially if you’re the low-drive partner, we don’t always “feel” like engaging sexually but once we do it’s usually positive, life-enhancing, and leads to more closeness with our partner*. Yet, unlike exercise, flossing, and eating greens, our sexuality is fraught with so many painful and shame-laced stories that to say “just have sex even if you don’t feel like” doesn’t usually sit well with many women. So this is where approaching the territory of sexuality with tremendous gentleness, compassion, and care becomes essential.
Beyond these truths, it’s essential to understand that we’ve all been wired to equate desire with longing, arousal with chase, sexuality in all forms with drama. We’ve become misguidedly conditioned to want to be wanted, and when we’re comfortable in a relationship – when the chase is over and we trust that our partner is here to stay – we realize with a hard thud that we have no idea how to connect to a sexuality that’s not based on longing or seeking approval. We’ve been conditioned to use sexuality to “catch” a partner, so what happens to our sexuality when the partner has been “caught”?
What happens is that we must learn to replace our conditioning with something healthy, which means re-wiring to learn to be turned on by trust, respect, safety, and connection. To do so we must be willing to dive deep into our histories and tell our stories while simultaneously immersing ourselves in healthy, loving images and messages of love and sexuality. You won’t find this in mainstream culture. You won’t find it on Netflix, in magazines, on billboards or in the movie theaters. This is why I created Sacred Sexuality: A 40-day course for women to heal body shame and ignite desire; as an antidote to the messaging we’ve received our entire lives and as a roadmap for learning how to activate and awaken healthy desire. As always with my work, we will unearth from the bottom up and approach ourselves with the utmost compassion and tenderness so that you can learn to embrace the sensuality and sexuality that are your birthright. I look forward to seeing you there.
* Note: This article only applies to those in healthy, loving, and safe relationships. If you’re with a partner who is abusive in any way, this information doesn’t apply to you and I urge you to seek professional help immediately. Also, the Sacred Sexuality course isn’t only for the low-drive partner. The information, tools, and support I teach in the course apply to all women no matter what level of drive you have.