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Paradise Lost? Libido and you

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In the last week alone I have encountered half a dozen women in my practice who were almost (or actually) in tears, grieving for the loss of their libido.

These are beautiful, accomplished, loving women who have achieved great things: fulfilling careers, loving relationship, raising families… and yet they have an overwhelming sense of failure related to this one area of their lives. When I ask the question “do you actually miss it?” the answer is often no, that they are too busy, tired or satisfied in other ways to care much.

Usually, the main issue is that they feel guilt over what they perceive as a failure to satisfy their partner but are somewhat ambivalent about whether or not they have sex themselves. “I look forward more to a good book/sleep/glass of wine” is often heard.

Women feel that this is a failure (which we are much more attuned to than our achievements) even if they haven’t actually asked how their partner feels about it. They worry that they are abnormal, especially if they have experienced a higher libido in the past. I received numerous desperate requests for testosterone treatment, the media-driven panacea for a flagging female sex drive.

This may be appropriate for some, but for the vast majority of women the reality is much more complex. We are all products of the multiple factors that contribute to our everyday existence, so addressing any lifestyle-related issues requires a holistic approach. Consider this for a moment: In every other area of your life you accept that there will be ebb and flow, peaks and troughs… why can we not accept the same of our sexuality? Could you actually be NORMAL…?

When I saw this article from Jean Hailes I felt strongly that I needed to share it. It beautifully encapsulates the holistic and fluctuating nature of desire, and Sex Educator Maureen Matthews manages to eloquently express those things that I would wish to say to my patients in this situation.

The time of your life: your sexual journey

Whether you have a partner or not, whether you want a partner or not, whether you’re a younger, midlife or older woman – you’re on a sexual journey. Your sexual journey will likely evolve and change as your life changes, with peaks and troughs and perhaps everything in between.

You may have times in your life when you have a lot of sexual activity, and times when you have very low or no sexual activity at all. You may have times when you feel sexually frustrated and unfulfilled, and times when you completely lack the desire, impulse or need to be sexual. Sex educator Maureen Matthews explains, “No matter who you are, everyone is on a sexual journey. Everyone has to negotiate their sexual needs and feelings.”

Your sexuality is a part of what makes you human and makes you, you. Not only that, your sexuality is an important part of your health and wellbeing; a part of yourself that, at times, may require care, thought, attention and focus just like any other part of your health and wellbeing.

“Our society tends to trivialise sex and sexuality, but it’s really worth focusing on and trying to maintain a healthy sexuality,” says Maureen.

Your journey belongs to you

There may be changes in your life or in your health that can affect your sex drive (libido). These changes may be physically based, caused by illness, medications, hormones or menopause. You may experience mental or emotional changes such as depression or relationship issues that decrease your libido. Or you may have major life changes that impact your sex life, for example, if your partner passes away.

The important thing to remember is that your sexual journey belongs to you and only you. If need be, these changes can be navigated in line with what you feel comfortable with. If you’re unhappy with your sex life it’s important to work towards a solution that suits you and your situation.

Adapting to change

“Getting informed is a big part of feeling good about yourself,” says Maureen. “If you take the time to learn, explore and understand the reasons behind certain changes, then it can be much less stressful and you won’t blame other things for something you may need to negotiate yourself.”

If your libido decreases around your menstrual cycle or due to menopause, for example, it’s better to be able to identify the actual cause rather than jumping to conclusions and blaming other things or people.

Get to know your likes and dislikes

Whether you are in a relationship or not, the more you learn about your own sexuality and pleasure response, the better. “Self-pleasure and self-exploration can be a bit of a taboo in our society, but it’s a healthy part of being alive. Sexual arousal gets the blood flowing so it’s almost like a bit of a workout!,” says Maureen.

There are many ways to have a healthy sexual life, and it doesn’t necessarily mean you have to have regular intercourse. For some people, intercourse can be difficult, painful, impossible or simply not enjoyable, so finding out what works for you is the best way to keep your sexual journey on track.

Learn to enjoy each other again

If you have a long-term partner, it can be helpful to remind yourself that he or she is on a sexual journey of their own. Maureen believes that sex can be both the glue in a relationship and the way that a couple can play and enjoy themselves together.

If sex has become a bit predictable or has decreased a lot in a long-term relationship, Maureen often encourages couples to learn to touch each other again, “Take the focus off the sex and learn massage,” she says. This takes the focus away from intercourse, relieves some of the associated pressure and expectations, but also encourages connection and physical intimacy.

Nothing compares…

Whatever you do, don’t compare your sex life with someone else’s. A healthy sex life is about quality not quantity. It doesn’t matter if you’re having sex once a day, once a week, once a month, or even once a year.

“It’s not an Olympic event!” says Maureen. “If you are having a good time, that’s all that matters”. Remember, it’s your sexual journey after all, so make it the time of your life.

These helpful tips on sex, libido and desire are part of Maureen’s presentation The time of your life: women’s sexuality after 40. Watch the webinar in full (30mins) where she discusses these topics with refreshing honesty, openness and humour.

Published with the permission of Jean Hailes for Women’s Health | |1800 JEAN HAILES (532 642)

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