Welcome to the “what’s killing women’s libido?” series!
In the month of June I want to look at some of the reasons that women’s libido is often so low, and look at what we can do about that.
Now, I know that many of you reading this blog have the opposite problem–your libido is actually higher than your husband’s, and you’re left frustrated! What I’d like to suggest is that while this is a relationship problem for sure, it isn’t necessarily a libido problem. You may not actually have an abnormal libido. You may actually have a normal libido! It may be that most other women who never want sex actually have libido issues.
(And I’ll try to write some posts for women with higher libidos as well!)
Here’s the thing: we know that, in the larger population, women will always have a slightly lower libido than men, simply because biologically our libidos are made to be more sensitive to outside cues. That makes sense. Women are the ones who get pregnant, and so have greater costs to having sex, and so our bodies want to protect us from taking on a huge task when conditions aren’t perfect. So if we’re not feeling safe and loved in a relationship, our libido may suffer more than a man’s in a similar situation.
But this does not mean that women were created to have virtually no libido.
Here’s what I want to argue this month:
What if women’s libido, especially in evangelical circles, has been artificially lowered? And what if that means that we can find a route to boost women’s libido to its natural level–or higher?
What if the baseline for libido, especially among evangelical Christians, has been lowered?
We actually found signs of that in our survey of 20,000 women for our book The Great Sex Rescue. We found that believing certain things caused fewer women to be in the shared libido or higher libido category.
But it’s not just beliefs that can lower our libido. It’s a whole combination of things!
In The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex, we were trying to explain to men that libido isn’t actually the problem. When all things are firing on all cylinders in different aspects of the marriage, then libido tends to take care of itself. We presented men with this formula:
If someone has a low libido, then, we need to ask, “what, on this equation, isn’t working?” And that’s what we proceeded to do in the following pages of The Good Guy’s Guide to Great Sex!
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What would it look like to build a picture of sex that was MUTUAL, INTIMATE, and PLEASURABLE FOR BOTH–with no harmful messages?
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So let’s break this down and see what may be killing women’s libido!
Anything that disrupts her emotional health, or triggers negative associations with sex, is likely to kill a woman’s libido.
1. Past trauma, including sexual abuse
If she has trauma from abuse, especially sexual abuse, it’s going to affect her libido because she isn’t going to feel safe in sexual situations.
If this is your story, please see a licensed counselor with experience in evidence-based trauma therapies.
2. Insecure attachment styles
Our own attachment styles can also kill our libido. If we’re struggling with any form of insecure attachment, being emotionally vulnerable will be difficult–and vulnerability is the key to libido and passion. See our series on attachment from last month to help with this.
3. Negative messages about sex
What if you grew up hearing that all men struggle with lust, it’s every man’s battle, and so you need to cover up your body to make sure grown men don’t lust after you since you’re a stumbling block? How would you feel about your body? How would you feel about sex?
Negative messages can impact how we see sex, which was why we wrote The Great Sex Rescue. It seems to us that all the authors complaining about women’s low libido have actually largely caused the problem in the first place!
For instance, we looked at the effects of the “all men struggle with lust” message on women’s libido, and here’s what we concluded:
If you read a book from the Every Man’s Battle series, then, or read For Women Only by Shaunti Feldhahn, which also teaches this message, your libido is likely lower than it would have been otherwise.
4. Other mental health issues, such as depression, or general life stress
If one’s mental health is suffering, libido is going to suffer. Please know that mental health issues do not mean that you have a weak faith, or that God is angry at you. Again, please see a licensed therapist, or even talk to your physician about this.
If you’re experiencing a great deal of stress in your life, from work, or situations that can’t be fixed easily (like a child with special needs, or ill parents), build whatever margins you can into your life, and get as much help as you can!
When our physical health is compromised, sex is going to be affected.
5. Sexual pain, such as vaginismus
Our study for The Great Sex Rescue found that evangelical women suffer from sexual pain at at least twice the rate of the general population, and much of that increase is due to the negative messaging around sex and our bodies that we grow up with.
We found that roughly 23% of women had primary sexual pain, and about 28% of women had sexual pain after childbirth. Please seek help, because sex shouldn’t hurt.
6. Chronic pain or chronic illnesses
Any chronic pain, or chronic illness, can also affect libido. If you have chronic conditions, see a massage therapist, physiotherapist, or physician. Do what you can to help yourself! Even unhealthy eating habits or never getting any exercise can hurt libido, so whatever steps you can take to get healtheir–even if they’re just small steps–can also help libido.
7. Simple exhaustion
Finally, no one wants sex if they’d rather just sleep. When you’re chronically exhausted, then libido will fall by the wayside.
That’s why uneven mental load is such a huge libido killer. When women carry the majority of the details and responsibilities for the daily life of the family, they’re often physically and mentally exhausted. A great way to boost libido, then, is to balance mental load!
8. Hormone or other libido issues
Here’s the only category where it could actually be a true libido issue–if hormones are really out of whack. Menopause can cause this, as can other hormone problems earlier in life. Even breastfeeding or hormonal birth control can cause this. If you feel like you’ve never experienced sexual desire or arousal at all, please see a physician. Or if you used to be quite sexually responsive, but now you’re not, and there’s no obvious reason, please see a physician.
When we can’t trust our spouse, our libido will naturally tank because sex isn’t emotionally safe for us.
9. Porn use by a spouse
If your spouse has been using porn, you’re not going to want to have sex! Porn use cannot be tolerated. It objectifies women (and objectifies you); is a huge betrayal, and simply must end. Listen in to our podcast from a few weeks ago on how to do a porn triage.
10. Prior infidelity
If your husband had an affair, or chatted with women online, or went to a strip club, or had a porn problem, even if these things are in the past, it may be that you don’t feel like you can trust him again yet, and sexual feelings haven’t returned. This could very well be your body protecting you because he hasn’t shown real signs of repentance yet (saying sorry isn’t enough).
If this is your story, please see a licensed counselor.
11. Obligation sex
If she feels like she has to have sex under threat–because she’ll lose his love; he’ll watch porn; he’ll have an affair; he won’t talk to her anymore–then sex is no longer freely entered into. It’s no longer about two people “knowing” each other and experiencing each other; it’s just a taking from her. No woman wants to be objectified and used, and if sex becomes an obligation, or even worse, coercion, then her libido will disappear (and pain rates will skyrocket). Check out The Great Sex Rescue for how this plays out! We found huge evidence of these obligation messages throughout evangelical culture.
12. Feeling like you don’t “know” each other
Sex is supposed to be a deep “knowing” of two people (Genesis 4:1), where you bring all that you are to the bedroom, and you’re accepted anyway.
In other words, sex is supposed to be the culmination of your emotional connection, not the cause of it. Some people want sex in order to feel connected, but they don’t want to do the work of actually connecting. Sex cannot replace a deep connection, and if you continue to have sex when there is no emotional connection, libido will tank.
13. Feeling taken for granted, or like your husband is a child
People want to have sex with someone who is a genuine partner, who ignites your passion. But how can passion be ignited if your spouse acts like you aren’t a partner, but instead a maid? How can you feel passion for someone who you end up treating more like a child?
If your spouse doesn’t share the mental load or the parenting responsibilities, but instead acts as if they’re one more thing you need to take care of, then it’s very hard for passion to grow. Again, see my mental load series!
14. Being the brunt of a pornified style of relating
If your husband has a pornified style of relating, where sex isn’t about a “knowing”, but is only about a taking, and when he blames his lust or objectification of other women on you (or on those other women), then it’s going to be awfully hard for libido to flourish!
Physically Satisfying Sex
15. She never orgasms
Quite frankly, why would you want to do something which never feels good for you? And evangelicals have a 47-point orgasm gap, where 95% of men almost always/always reach orgasm during a sexual encounter, but only 48% of women do. If that’s your story, check out our orgasm course!
How many of these boxes do you check?
Some of us will only check a few–I score 2/15, because I’ve got some chronic back pain and some stress–and some of us will score a lot higher.
Can you see how, if you score higher, you don’t have a libido problem? You have other problems.
Low libido is rarely the issue; low libido is usually a symptom of the issue.
What if you’re NOT the problem with your sex life?
What if the messages that you’ve been taught have messed things up–and what if there’s a way to escape these toxic teachings?
It’s time for a Great Sex Rescue.
This month we’ll be looking at how we can start to address some of these low libido issues.
Others we won’t look at, because I’ve already dealt with them at length (and follow the links for even more!).
But as we launch in, I want you to do one more thing for me:
Look again at that list, and see how many of these libido killers are newer cultural phenomenon that the church may have contributed to.
When I say “the church is artificially lowering a woman’s libido”, this is what I mean.
The negative messages about sex; the obligation message; the priority on his orgasm; seeing her pleasure as unnecessary, or not even worth mentioning (like Love & Respect); making mental illness into a spiritual failing rather than a real problem; telling women they get over sexual abuse just by forgiving (so women are blamed for being spiritually weak if they still have trauma); encouraging the pornified style of relating; encouraging uneven mental load. And so on. And so on.
Is it any wonder that evangelical women appear to have lower libidos than women in the general population?
We can fight against this by reclaiming sex as God intended. And hopefully, as we do that, we’ll rediscover libido too! I hope you enjoy this series this month!
What did yo score? Was there something I left out? Let’s talk in the comments!
What’s Killing Women’s Libido? Series
- 15 Things that Kill Libido for Women
- A Tale of Three Brains and Libido
- How Brakes and Accelerators Influence Libido (coming soon)
- and more!
- PODCAST: Have we made sex a yes space for men?
- PODCAST: What’s killing women’s libido? (coming at the end of the month)
Plus don’t miss our revamped Boost Your Libido course, launching soon!
Sheila Wray Gregoire
Founder of To Love, Honor and Vacuum
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