It seems obvious saying it out loud, but one of THE most common reasons for women losing their sex drive is that the sex they are (or were) having isn’t satisfying.
There are lots of experts writing about this exact issue- consider the following quotes from some of our favourite women on this topic:
“Maybe she’s not got a low sex drive at all- its just no desire for the sex she is (or was) having” –Dr Lori Brotto
“the quality of sex has huge implications for desire… unsatisfying sex is generally bad for desire” Karen Guerney
“as women further described their malaise, their dwindling desire seemed less the result of faulty biology than evidence of sound judgement. It was a consequence of clumsy partners, perfunctory routines, incomplete education, boredom and the chafe of over-familiarity. In short, it was the quality of the sex they were having that left them underwhelmed.” Katherine Rowland
Its not rocket science, hey, but it’s amazing how many people/ professionals/ crappy internet advice forums tell you to have more sex without really examining the reasons why you don’t want it in the first place.
If you’re having unsatisfactory, boring or bad sex, as Katherine Rowland says, your disinterest is in reality “a healthy response to lackluster sex”.
So there’s nothing wrong with you if you don’t fancy sex!!
Which makes perfect sense really.
If this is you, look out for the feeling of being turned on and still wanting to self-pleasure, but the thought of doing it with your partner turns you off, feels like a chore, or you dread it…
Below, we’ll share with you some insights into WHY the sex you are (or were) having is shutting down your desire to do it again, and some tips and tools for how to boost your appetite. It’s quite a long post, so grab a cuppa and dive in!
“There’s evidence that sexual satisfaction might be more important to relationship satisfaction than relationship satisfaction is to having good sex”- Karen Guerney
1. Pleasure is the measure
“To remain interested, sex has to remain interesting”– Esther Perel
Lets face it, if sex doesn’t feel good- there’s very little reason to want to do it! So the way we increase your desire? Focus on having BETTER sex.
Emily Nagoski calls this pleasure is the measure.
She says “the key to assessing your own sexual wellbeing is not how much you want sex, but how much you like the sex you are having”.
The main reason behind sex being so crappy for women is that society doesn’t encourage us to have sex that feels good. Unfortunately the pleasure gap STILL exists, with hetero- and bi- women experiencing less orgasms than their male counterparts. So it’s no surprise that we’re not enjoying sex.
Interestingly, the common narrative about the cause of low desire also doesn’t usually point fingers at our partners skill or knowledge in bed…. don’t get us started, we’ll touch on that another day!
2. Focus on quality, not quantity
Lots of our conversations about having a low sex drive tend to focus on us wanting/planning/hoping to have MORE sex. After all, it’s the lack of it that’s the problem….. right?
Well, what if you have MORE sex… but it’s BAD SEX?!
That’s the case for thousands of women who are turned off sex. They’re not disinterested in sex per se– rather just the sex they are (or were) having.
So leading on from “pleasure as the measure”, the next important step is to throw out the comparison or ideas about the frequency you think you *should* be having sex, and instead aim for quality over quantity!
(FYI, improving the QUALITY of the sex you have often impacts on the QUANTITY, wink wink…)
3. Find out what you want in bed and learn how to ask for it….
Our sexual appetite (desire) is built on knowing what we want, and then being able to ask for it.
However, it’s amazing how many of us aren’t really sure what feels good or what we actually want from sex. And/or we might be awkward (or terrified) to ask for it!
It’s not really our fault that this is the case- there are many reasons why this is so, including that society has never prioritised our pleasure, or provided accurate knowledge about our bodies. Women are also often not raised to be assertive sexually or to put their own needs first, so many of us have never had that space to explore our own pleasure or motivations for sex.
Not knowing or being able to articulate your desires means sex might always be about your partners pleasure- not your own. But the more we know about WHAT we want in bed (and what we really don’t) as well as how to communicate that to our partner(s) the more we can centre our pleasure as part of our sexual experiences.
And the likelihood is- the more we’d desire sex!
To find out how to learn WHAT you want in bed and HOW to ask for it, check out our new course the Art of Sexual Self-Empowerment– after all, knowledge is the first step to pleasure...
4. Learn your motivations for sex
Sex is ALL about motivation (AKA what we get from sex), so knowing the reasons why you want or have sex is a really powerful insight into what is driving your desire.
There are 237 reasons why people have sex, and one of the most common is for pleasure. However, there is a distinct lack of pleasure that women as a whole experience during sex…
Karen Guerney writes that the famed orgasm gap means women report orgasming 65% of the time, compared to 95% of the time for men (the rates for casual sex are much lower, with only 18% of women reporting orgasming usually/often!).
As we explain in this post, desire isn’t a drive but rather about motivation (e.g. what we gain). There are plenty of other reasons for having sex- e.g. closeness to a partner, fun, stress-relief etc. But if sex *for any reason* feels more hassle than its worth, if it takes more than it provides, is unsatisfying, or leaves you feeling depleted in a bad sense, something is amiss and it makes perfect sense our motivation to do it wanes.
To find out more about what motivates you to have sex, and thus how you can increase desire, check out our course on the Art of Sexual Self-Empowerment!
5. Focus on sex being pleasurable- not painful!
Our friends over at Jo Divine have written a really great post about painful sex, and they wrote that a recent survey of nearly 7,000 sexually active women between the ages of 16 to 74, published in the British Journal of Obstetrics and Gynaecology (2017), found that nearly one in ten British women finds sex painful.
The bar is also incredibly low for female pleasure- most women class “good sex” as when it doesn’t hurt!
Sex should NEVER be painful or uncomfortable (unless obviously, you want it to be!). But many of us put up with it because we want our partners to finish, or we think that’s what is expected of sex.
To help with painful sex, the first reason we want to point out as to WHY it hurts is because (in hetero relationships) sex is SO often centered around penetration.
Penetrative sex can hurt or feel uncomfortable if:
- it happens before you’re really ready (we talk later in the seduction section about the importance of achieving “orgasmic unlock” before penetration happens to aid with this)
- it is too deep, too fast, or goes on too long
- and/or you “put up” with it even when it hurts, feels uncomfortable.
Often these things occur because if you’re in a heterosexual relationship the standard narrative of sex is that there’s a bit of a fumble and foreplay, but the main act of sex and how it ends is all about penetration. Karen Guerney writes that this type of sex suits men’s anatomy and is their most reliable route to orgasm. However, it is not the same for women.
Most women can’t come from vaginal penetration, without any additional direct or indirect stimulation from the clitoris.
Because so many of us believe that that ‘real sex’ is vaginal penetration, we put up with sex that hurts or feels uncomfortable because we think it’s what we should be doing.
However, let’s throw that idea in the sea!
If penetration is painful (or just plain boring), try to mix things up and see sex as a variety of things and not just penetration as “the main course”. We’ve got a great post on how to do that here. Especially after childbirth and post surgery, building different ways of being intimate can be just as important. Communicating that with a partner however can be tricky- see the section on relationships for tips on how to have these conversations, or for more on sexual assertiveness see the art of sexual self-empowerment.
Another common reason for painful sex could be if you struggle to get wet/experience vaginal dryness. This might be because you’re not feeling aroused, you can’t relax, you are dehydrated, because of hormone levels that increase vaginal dryness associated with something like the menopause, being frightened of or pre-empting pain e.g. the first sex after surgery- the list goes on! See some of our hot tips below on what to do if this is the case:
Focus on becoming turned on. More arousal might be needed before you’re ready for any kind of touch or penetration. See the section below on build up/seduction for more, or you might be interested in how this relates to responsive desire in this post.
Learn to stay present. Becoming better at noticing the mental chatter or worried thoughts and learning how to calm them can be really useful for increasing arousal, meaning you’re more open to sex. Our guide on Staying Present during Sex could be a good place to start.
Seek help– professional support is invaluable to help with why sex might feel uncomfortable. Sexual health clinics, GPs, and various organisations campaigning for better awareness of issues like menopause, vaginismus and vulvodynia are all good spaces to find help and support. Also check out the section on physical health for more resources and information.
Try lube! Lube is LITERALLY incredible, and can really help women that experience vaginal dryness to enjoy sex/penetration again (menopausal women in particular). This article by the amazing Tracey Cox is about how lube can transform your sex life is well worth a read. However, do be aware that it’s important to be informed about the lube you are buying to check that the ingredients aren’t causing you harm. This article by JoDivine is a great guide for what to avoid when buying lube (and what can/can’t be used!).
Drink more. Sometimes it’s harder to become lubricated when you’re dehydrated! Try upping your water intake to see if that makes a difference.
- What to do if your partner is being too rough, isn’t listening or is forceful. If you believe it’s something you can resolve, you might find our tips on sexual assertiveness helpful in terms of finding more confidence to say no and ask for what you need. Your pleasure is important too! If you’re still sore after something like surgery/childbirth or have experienced an STD, waiting until injuries or sores are healed can be really important. A respectful partner would accept this (and again- intimacy an sex is not solely about penetration!). However, here’s a polite reminder that NO-ONE IS ENTITLED TO SEX WITHIN A RELATIONSHIP. And unfortunately experiencing sexual abuse or coercion from a partner is more common than from an acquaintance or stranger. If you recognise yourself within this or are concerned, Rape Crisis England have some amazing resources and a helpline to call if you’re experiencing sexual coercion or abuse.
6. Ramp up the seduction
As our relationships grow older, it’s common for seduction or any kind of sexual build up to fall completely out of our usual sexual repertoire.
We might find ourselves skipping straight to penetration or doing the same old thing each time, which takes away any sense of intrigue or excitement.
It’s no wonder we don’t want sex if our partner isn’t making the effort!
There are two issues here. Partly not having the right build up to being open to sex could be a lack of understanding about what we need to turn us on. Women aren’t often educated about their own pleasure, what feels good, or how they can articulate that. Instead the common narrative is that our bodies are the property of others, or that our partners pleasure is more important than our own. There are thousands of “seduction styles” that demonstrate a vast range of what gets us hot under the collar. For some women with a seduction style that likes anticipation they may find pressure to have sex (or the idea that it is a foregone conclusion) a complete desire killer. You can learn more about your seduction type and what you like and need sexually on our Art of Sexual Self-Empowerment course.
It could also be a lack of effort on our partners behalf. This is what Wednesday Martin calls “crude seductions”- an assumption on our partners behalf that turning us on is like flicking on a light switch- there’s no need for preamble, effort, and ultimately seduction. The initiation of sex (e.g. how to create ‘want’), is a really important part of female sexuality. So important in fact that we’ve written a whole other post here on how you can understand more about seduction and why it’s vital to desire.
Seduction is a key part of us wanting sex, and so if the way sex is initiated leaves you feel stone cold, it’s yet another reason to feign a headache and turn away from your partner.
7. Reduce the stress around sex- learn to relax and enjoy yourself
Stressful sex sounds a weird one doesn’t it, but it can easily become stressful/uncomfortable if you find you’re struggling to “stay present”, relax and focus on the task at hand. When you’ve got loads of mental chatter, an inner critic, or you’re writing a mental to-do list, it can sometimes feel a bit stressful to get “in the zone” to get turned on.
This might be because of:
- Anxious/intrusive thoughts. These could be about anything- general life, body image, work deadlines… You might be trying your hardest to relax into sex but if you feel stressed, worried, detached or struggling to stay present, you stay inside your own head and miss the signs of arousal going on in your body (arousal non-concordance).
- Performance anxiety: you might have specific worries about how you’re going to perform sexually. Especially if you have experienced general worries coming into your head, it might have caused you to become worried about how you’re responding (or not) to your partners advances. You might worry about whether you’ll be wet enough to have sex? Will you be able to relax enough to enjoy it? Are they enjoying it? Do you look OK? Will you be able to orgasm? What have you got for dinner tonight? What was it I needed to get from the Post Office? Women describe feeling stuck in their own head, overthinking, being a spectator to their own experience, self-judgement, and an inability to become aroused.
- A trauma history might also mean its difficult to tune in to sex or to your own body.
This can lead to women feeling stuck in a vicious cycle in which you’re not experiencing pleasure or can’t orgasm because you’re so stressed by not feeling like you’re going to orgasm. Capeche?
This inability to relax over time can also extend to the build up to sex, so that anxiety about sex becomes triggered every time you think about it or your partner tries to initiate it. It can get to the point where sex (even the thought of it!) can feel stressful (the sexual avoidance cycle). When sex becomes a battle to stay in the zone, to “perform”, or to function, the prospect of doing it again doesn’t exactly seem appealing!
BUT there are so many great resources to help you stay in the moment.
Check out this guide on how to stay in the present moment to help keep your mind from wandering and stay focused on the task at hand…..
Finally, the section below on taking the pressure and expectation out of sex can be really helpful
8. Mix things up in bed!
We ache for adventure, and if sex has become a bit stale, routine, monotonous, predictable or familiar this can sap us of our motivation to get busy.
Karen Guerney writes that women are also MUCH more likely to decline in desire for the same partner, whereas men are more likely to maintain sense of desire. This is because very samey sex every time lowers your sexual functioning by being so predictable. This links into an argument many sex educators are beginning to make which is that women are not naturally monogamous (as history and science appear to make out), and in fact more modern science shows that “long term sexual exclusivity dampens female desire”.
Again this is such an important topic we’ve got a WHOLE other post on it- read more of our unconventional ways to mix things up in bed here….
9. Learn how to be vulnerable
Sometimes being guarded protects us, however if you’re finding that a fear of intimacy is preventing you from being able to let go/lose control during sex (and therefore impacting on your pleasure/experience) this could be something to focus on. Perhaps you find it easier letting loose with people you know less than with the people you’re close to?
Again, we’ve got another whole post on this subject because it’s so important! Click on this post to discover how to surrender and lose control during sex to really reveal your inner wild woman.
Being unable to let go is also often linked to body confidence and feeling disconnected from your body. Equally it ties in to how you feel in your relationship and how vulnerable you are able to feel with your partner.
10. Bust some myths about sex
There are SO MANY myths about sex and desire it’s literally a wonder anyone has it!
For example the idea that sex “just happens”, that sex is always about a penis in a vagina, should be spontaneous, and that foreplay comes before sex. Many of us have internalised these mistruths, to the point where lots of pretty bad sexual practise just feels like the norm.
To remedy this, it’s important to get factual and accurate information about the truth on sex and desire. To get the lowdown, check out this article on myths about sex to find out more.
11. Break the unhealthy cycle
It is REALLY common in relationships where the amount of sex you both want is different (known as mismatched sex drives) for sex to become associated with expectation, rejection, guilt and/or pressure.
This feels horrendous when you’re in it.
Because the partner with the lower sex drive (or the one that experiences responsive desire so initiates sex less) wants sex less, they might begin to either avoid sex (e.g. going to bed earlier, staying up later, making excuses as to why they can’t, getting dressed in another room). Or if the excuses run out they might then “give in” (see below) to avoid rejecting their partner, conflict or there may also be worries floating below the surface (or threats) of a partner straying and getting their sexual needs met elsewhere.
This means they’ve in a cycle where they’ve lost all control over their sex life and may feel powerless. Over time she might end up dreading any kind of sign of initiation of sex. Feeling sexy often involves feeling empowered, and this is one of the most dis-empowering cycles to be stuck in. Maj Wiseman describes this as being like being constantly fed cake- to the point where you don’t build up hunger for cake because it’s always there. She has a really lovely analogy you can read here about libidos and cake I’d recommend reading.
The BEST way to break this cycle is to stop having sex! It sounds completely mad, but implementing a sex ban (and then taking steps to reintroduce intimacy and sex slowly to allow your desire to build) can literally work wonders for desire! We’ve got a post here that is a step by step guide for how to do this in a way that works for your relationship.
*Note: a mismatch in desire isn’t an issue with the level of sex you want- rather in how you manage it! Check out the relationships section for more.
12. Stop giving in to sex you don't really want to please your partner
Luckily, there is an AMAZING way to get yourself out of this pattern very quickly which you can find right here. I was SO surprised that this worked on me but really was a game changer so I recommend checking this section out.
Stopping having sex you don’t want feels a simple tip but it’s REALLY important- restoring choice and power is crucial for desire. At the point of initiation, if you don’t want sex, try checking out the section on relationships to learn how to suggest something else to do instead.
13. Get affectionate outside of the bedroom
Have you found any useful resources or have any great tips on how to have sex that you really do desire?
We would love to hear from you in the comments below- lets share our thoughts and help each other ↓↓↓