“Coming to bed?”
Translation: “Want sex?”
Sound familiar? Weary of your guilt and sense of inadequacy about your lack of interest in sex? How did your libido go AWOL? Do you equate passion with love? If you’ve lost all interest in sex, does it mean you no longer love him?
Lack of passion can be as a result of relationship conflict as well as a long list of other factors (i.e. depression, stress, childhood sexual trauma, medications). However, the biochemical action of the brain may also influence how often and how much each of us wants sex.
The idea that sexual desire is orchestrated by our body chemistry is the core finding of this newest research (Love, 1998). Some scientists now believe that the euphoria of romantic love is brought on by the action of an amphetamine-like neurotransmitter(PEA) in the brain. This “chemical brain -bath” theory postulates that the sexual euphoria accompanying the infatuation stage of relationship, comes from a neurotransmitter which stimulates libido and pushes us to seek sexual pleasure. Imagine that!
Now here’s the problem. Nothing lasts forever. Infatuation lasts anywhere from 18-36 months. And then, the levels of PEA begin to drop. The brain, after all, cannot maintain its lust-crazed state! So, there you have it. The downward spiral of sexual desire is grounded in brain physiology.
Now, as if that wasn’t enough to contend with, we have a secondary challenge: the substantial desire gap between the sexes. Another biological factor in this dance is testosterone. When we hear about testosterone, we immediately think “male”. However, both sexes produce this hormone.
Research on women’s naturally produced testosterone (from our ovaries and adrenals) shows that those with high levels of testosterone, “High –T” women, are significantly more interested in sex and more responsive than “Low-T” women. So, it would seem that testosterone is a major player in female desire.
So, now we know that both genders need testosterone for a healthy sex drive and men have 10 times more testosterone than women! So, the biological reality is that men, in general, tend to be hornier than women a lot more of the time. This discrepancy in desire is the single most common complaint of married couples who come to me for sex therapy.
We might be able to cope better with this reality if we didn’t start off in this state of erotic bliss. The problem is that when our brains are saturated with this aphrodisiac (PEA), any disparity in libido we may have had , goes undetected.
When she falls in love, a ”Low-T” woman suddenly finds herself to be a sexual person! Her naturally highly sexed new lover cannot believe his luck! She’s so hot! Then, gradually, his real sexual partner emerges. At this point, the “High-T” person feels disappointed and betrayed. The “Low-T” person wonders what happened to her libido and also feels pressured by her partner to be the way she used to be.
And so begins the downward spiral which lasts on average, about six years before couples come for marriage counseling (Love,1998). So, by the time couples arrive at my door, they have profound doubts about the future of their marriages.
It is my experience that simply teaching couples about the biology of sexual desire (right off the mark), gives them hope and reduces their sense of shame, failure and despair. My message is clear. You can love someone a lot and still not be sexually attracted to him or her. The relief couples feel then allows them to commit to doing the work involved in creating a more satisfying sexual connection.
A “Low-T” woman feels defective. Her “High –T” partner is also hurting. As they come to understand that their partner’s experience of sexual passion is different from their own and valid in its own right, they are more able to be generous in their capacity to respond to it. This begins to build a more erotic bond and a more mature love.
Can it be as simple as that? That our desire gap is rooted in nature, not in an insufficiency of love?
I believe so.