Why do so many people lose their ‘mojo?’ Low libido is one of the most common complaints in my sex therapy practice. Desire is the initial phase of sexual response, followed by arousal, orgasm, and satisfaction. It is the most complex and fragile phase of sexual response (especially for women).
When working with clients, I divide desire into three separate and discrete components—biological, social, and psychological. At different stages of life, these components compete with each other, often creating conflict. People are often shocked when they discover just how fragile sexual desire really is!
Biological Component of Sexual Desire
Biological desire represents the physiologic manifestation of sexual energy in your body. Think of it as libido, horniness, or drive. It is hardwired into our DNA. It has nothing to do with the quality of your relationship. It is simply a primal urge. An animal instinct.
For you male readers, do you remember being in 10th grade and getting spontaneous erections in Geometry class; then being called to the board to solve an equation? Once boys reach puberty, their hormones are raging. They eat, breathe, and sleep sex. Girls also spend much time discovering and getting acquainted with sexual desire. The difference is that males have ten times more Testosterone than females at all stages of life. This hormonal discrepancy can lead to sexual incompatibility. I’ve helped thousands of couple negotiate this issue. And, it’s not always the man who wants more sex. More and more women are complaining that they want more sex.
Many organic variables affect biological desire, such as aging, chronic illness, medication, surgery, hormonal changes, chemotherapy, chronic pain, smoking, and certain recreational drugs. It is important to rule out potential biological causes because a sexual symptom may be indicative of a serious underlying medical condition.
Medical conditions like diabetes, hypertension, and obesity affect the vascular process that enables blood to flow to the genitals. Certain drugs, like antidepressants, antipsychotics, blood pressure medicine, and hormonal preparations also undermine sexual response. Although alcohol has an often appreciated socially-disinhibiting effect, it is not a friend of sexual function. Alcohol is a depressant, and thus depresses sexual function.
So you can see that the biologic component of sexual desire is pretty fragile. When we add in the social and psychological components of sexual desire, things get pretty complicated.
Social Component of Sexual Desire
The social component of desire is shaped by the messages we internalize from culture, religion, society, parents, peers, the media, etc. Although these messages are not always healthy or accurate, they become deeply embedded in our psyches. They shape our feelings about our gender role, sexual behavior, fantasies, comfort with sex, masturbation, and much more.
Early sexual experiences, both positive and negative, leave a profound legacy on our sexual development. Everyone has a sexual ‘story’ that encapsulates themes from childhood, adolescence, and young adulthood. Often these sexual stories are laden with shame. Many of my clients have never shared these stories with anyone—even their spouse.
One client told me that when she was in 5th grade she was “a bit chunky” and “not very popular.” When a “popular girl” handed her a note in math class, she was so excited. She thought maybe she was being invited to a party or sleepover. No such luck. The note said: “Do us all a favor and buy a f****** bra. Signed, The Class.”
As my client recounted this story, she wept like it had happened yesterday (even though it had been 20 years). She was so humiliated by the note that she became disgusted with her breasts and tried to hide them by wearing baggy clothes and literally binding them. Even though she was married and enjoyed intercourse, her husband was never allowed to touch her breasts (which she had surgically reduced at age 21). As a result of therapy, she came to celebrate her entire body and ‘make friends with it.’ Not only was her husband allowed to touch her breasts, but she came to genuinely enjoy the stimulation.
Many men have iconic stories of being rejected by girls during adolescence. These rejections leave a mark on a young man’s sense of masculinity. I’ve treated thousands of men who still feel the sting of those humiliating experiences. Processing the legacy of these events can help men break free of feeling inadequate or resentful.
Religion is also a source of conflict to many. I treated a man who never consummated his marriage because he believed sex was inherently degrading to women. At the same time, he was masturbating six times a day. Every time he masturbated, he believed his was flushing “billions of potential eternal souls” down the toilet and grabbed his rosary beads to pray after every flush.
I’ve heard thousands of memories from clients whose parents ‘caught’ them masturbating. Often, parents shamed them by punishing them or telling them it was ‘dirty.’ One woman told me her mother described masturbation as Satan trying to steal her soul. Hundreds others report they were forced to wash their hands, repent, or had their bedroom doors removed.
Psychological Component of Sexual Desire
The psychological component of desire represents the quality and tone of your non-sexual relationship. If you hate your partner or don’t trust him/her, this will surely affect your motivation to be sexual.
Anger, resentment, and disappointment can make it difficult to openly give and receive pleasure in the bedroom (and out). What if your partner gained forty pounds? What if your partner doesn’t help with the kids? Is patronizing? Abusive? Critical? Withholds money? Flirts with other people? Sleeps with other people? Takes you for granted? All of these dynamics may undermine one’s motivation to be sexual.
Most people (not just women) want to feel connected to their partner. When interactions are consistently negative, the frequency and quality of sex typically decreases. Women say “You ignore me all day then expect me to have sex at night?” Men say “You nag me all day then wonder why I don’t want to sleep with you?” If you’ve lost your mojo, contact me and I can help you sort out what’s holding you back. You deserve optimal sexual health and satisfaction.