Why does sexual desire plummet, and how can you get it back? This week – Jess shares specific tools, tips, and strategies to reignite sexual desire. She also explores the concept of responsive vs. spontaneous desire, the Fire & Ice list, and more!
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This is a computer-generated rough transcript, so please excuse any typos. This podcast is an informational conversation and is not a substitute for medical, health, or other professional advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the services of an appropriate professional should you have individual questions or concerns.
How to get your libido back
You’re listening to the Sex with Dr. Jess podcast, sex and relationship advice you can use tonight. Hey. Hey. It’s Jess here. And today we are talking about how to get your libido back because I receive many questions around this topic. But the latest is from a mother of two kids who’s been married for five years. And she says. I’ve always liked sex. But after two kids and five years of marriage. I’m just not into it anymore and it’s causing problems in my relationship. I’m totally attracted to my husband, but I’m just never in the mood and I want to get my libido back. Help. I think this is a pretty common experience. I think so many of us will see ourselves in this person whether we have kids or not, whether we’re married or not, regardless of gender or relationship arrangement. And I want to begin by talking about the reasons we lose our libido. Because each of the reasons that we lose libido or interest in sex is probably more appropriate. Language can hold a potential pathway to getting it back. And that’s a piece that I think maybe I should begin with, that libido can be a bit of a misnomer when we consider it a sex drive, because a drive, you know, the drive to eat, the drive to sleep, the drive to drink water, those drives are essential to survival of the individual, but sex drive is not essential to the survival of the individual. Yes, theoretically, we need to have sex to reproduce, but now we’ve got all these new technologies so we don’t have to. And many of us are having types of sex that aren’t going to lead to reproduction anyway. So I’d like to use the word sexual desire as opposed to libido or sex drive. And there are so many factors that affect sexual desire. So first I’m going to say that it’s okay to not be in the mood for sex. Some people actually never desire sex, and this can be a really perfectly healthy baseline for those folks. Just as some people don’t crave sugar or salt, some people don’t want to have sex, and that is okay. I realize that this is not the case for this listener because they say they always like having sex, but if you don’t desire sex and you don’t want to have sex, that is perfectly fine. If that is your baseline, it doesn’t mean that you’re broken. I know that we love to pathologize and say that if you’re not in the mood for sex, it’s your diet or it’s your exercise or it’s your attitude or you have to relinquish shame. But for some people, they’re just not into it, and that’s okay. And then the second piece before we get into the factors that affect desire for sex is that many people, most of us, do not find ourselves in the mood for sex spontaneously. Right. We experience responsive as opposed to spontaneous sexual desire. And I’ll be talking about that in just a moment. But first, let’s talk about some of the reasons the factors that affect desire for sex. Because they range from the physical to the relational to the emotional to the practical. You may not be in the mood for sex because, as I said, maybe it’s your baseline and you just don’t want sex, which is perfectly healthy and okay. Or maybe it’s because you’re exhausted from work, kids, family, socializing trauma.
Maybe it’s because you’re stressed out. Maybe you’re dealing with more stress in your life right now. Maybe you’re more drained. There’s a lot going on in the world. There’s so much going on in individual lives. Maybe you’re just feeling drained. Maybe you’re drained from mental health challenges. Maybe you’re upset with your partner. Maybe you’re feeling disconnected from your partner. Maybe you’re dealing with resentment. Maybe you have trauma you haven’t worked through. Maybe you’re totally wiped from living with the burden of systemic oppression. Maybe you are emotionally exhausted from engaging with sad news, with distressful events. Maybe you’re dealing with technoference. Maybe you’re spending too much time online. And maybe that is causing you distress or making you feel disconnected from the present moment. Maybe it’s making you feel badly about yourself. We have data on how our digital diet affects our sense of self and our energy. Perhaps you’re dealing with unresolved anger or guilt or shame. Maybe the sex you’re having recently isn’t satisfying. So it follows that you don’t find yourself in the mood for more of something that isn’t particularly exciting or satisfying. It’s also possible for some people and maybe not for this listener. But I want to kind of cover a broad range of reasons why we’re not in the mood for sex. Maybe you don’t feel comfortable with sex, and maybe you attach it to messages of shame or immorality due to sociocultural teachings from family or religion. Maybe you’re dealing with physical health issues. A lack of sleep. Maybe pain, injury, chronic illness, surgery, nerve damage. Maybe sex is painful or uncomfortable, and that could be due to endometriosis vaginismus vulvodynia. For some people during perimenopause, sex can become uncomfortable. Maybe you feel too much pressure and it’s affecting your sexual response. Maybe you feel pressure to get aroused or get wet or be a certain type of lover in bed. And that can affect your sexual orgasm. That can affect your sexual response story that can affect whether or not you have an orgasm. It can affect your erection. It can lead to erectile dysfunction, premature ejaculation, delayed ejaculation, delayed orgasm. All of those conditions can be tied to performance pressure. It may be that you’re bored. You may want sex to be an exciting escape from reality. But maybe instead it’s feeling like something predictable or feeling like a chore. So there are all these reasons. What did I just name? 1520 broad reasons why you can lose interest in sex while your desire for sex may be low. And each of these reasons for losing interest in sex holds a potential pathway to getting it back. So if your lack of interest in sex has to do with being exhausted, you may need to make practical changes to get more rest, to solicit more support, to get more help with your daily tasks. You may need to cancel. You may need to stop doing things for other people so that you have the energy for yourself. And as I kind of walk through, each of the reasons for loss and the potential solutions held within the conversations for each can be really voluminous and broad. It’s not like, oh, okay, it’s so simple. I need to set my alarm an hour later.
Well, if you have to get your kids ready for school, you may not be able to set your alarm an hour later. If you’re on shift work, you may not be able to just change your sleep schedule. So you’re going to have to look at this from a really from a problem solving, strategic perspective. What can I do about any of these boxes that I’m ticking with regard to loss of desire? So if you’re feeling resentful or disconnected from your partner, you’re going to have to work on the relationship. And that’s not a one conversation thing where you’re like, oh, okay, well, I’m feeling resentful and that’s affecting my libido, so let’s get rid of the resentment. You’re going to have to dig a little deeper and think about why you’re feeling resentful, what are the feelings you’re holding onto, and what do you need to do to let go of the resentment? Oftentimes we’ll turn to our partner and say, well, what I need from you is ABC. Sure, you can make any request you want, but resentment is also about the way you are processing anger over the long term. And I do believe we have an episode on how to let go of resentment. So I suggest you go back and listen to that if that’s something that’s affecting you. If you’re feeling bored with sex. Oftentimes sex is very exciting in the beginning, of course, like, you see this new person, you want to get your closet to them. You want to get them naked. You can’t wait to get on top of them. And it’s because you don’t know what’s coming next. Right? It is unpredictable. It’s actually a small amount of fear of rejection that makes it so exciting. But once you settle in with someone, once you’re living with them, once you’re coparenting with them, once you already know that they’re the person you’re going to have sex with, it becomes less exciting. And you have to do things to inject excitement into your sex life. It might be ordering a sex card deck or playing a sex game. It might be trying a new toy. It might be blocking time so that you can actually be together. And enjoy one another’s company in a nonsexual environment. So it’s not just about having the sex, it’s about creating the space so that you actually want to bang this person. So if all you do together is clean and co parent and drop off the kids and talk about money, I always talk about the dark triad of mundanity. So when you only talk about your schedules, your family, and I always talk about the dark triad of mundanity. If you only talk about your schedules, your family, and your work, it may not be that exciting. If the sex you’re having isn’t that satisfying, you’re going to need to talk to your partner about what is satisfying. It doesn’t mean you have to go to them and say what? And say, well, I’m not in the mood for sex because it’s just not good for me. You can say, what does make sex exciting for me is when you use these words, or when you talk to me in this way, or when you plant sex seeds in the morning so that I feel like you’re being flirtatious with me, so that I feel like you love me and want me and want to feel connected to me. Not only when you’re trying to be sexually intimate with me, I want that intimacy throughout the week. And you need to model that behavior if you’re really exhausted from engaging with upsetting news and distrustful events because there’s so much going on in our local communities and in our global community, maybe you have to limit your feed. Maybe you decide, you know what? I’ll read the paper in the morning because I want to be abreast of what’s going on, but I’m not going to read it afternoon. Or maybe if you’re dealing with anger or guilt or shame from other areas of your life, you’ve got to go work through those things. Maybe you feel guilty about cheating on an ax. Maybe you feel shame around some choices you made that affected your family. Going and processing those emotions, walking through them, talking through them, drawing through them, whatever process feels therapeutic to you, all of these processes can affect your desire for sex. I didn’t actually talk about getting more sleep or exercising in a way that feels good for you moving. It doesn’t mean you need to go to the gym and get in a specific type of shape at all. But oftentimes movement can feel good with our bodies. I mentioned Technoference. Go back and listen to the episode on Technoference and think about how technology may be interfering with your capacity to be present and in the moment. That’s a big question to ask. If you’ve lost interest in sex, do you feel connected to your body? And if you don’t generally feel connected to your body, what activities, what environments, what scenarios tend to make you feel more connected to your body? And how can you bring more of that into your life. You know, mindfulness practices continue to be shown to address, it seems as though every single sexual issue or dysfunction or diagnosis. And so mindfulness practices, of course, have been practiced for many, many generations, hundreds of years, even longer in the east. And now the west is taking these Eastern practices and looking at them from a specific data perspective, from a Western perspective. But we know that just a couple of minutes of meditation, a couple minutes of mindfulness, giving yourself a chance to be in your body, these small non sexual changes can have really significant effects on your desire for sex, on your sexual response, on sexual pleasure, and on orgasms. You can look into options for anything that helps you to feel mindful.
Maybe it’s yoga. Maybe it’s stretching. Maybe it’s just Googling, a meditation on YouTube and slowing down for a few minutes so that you can be in your body. So the short version is try and figure out which factors are affecting your desire or lack of desire for sex. Is it exhaustion? Is it stress? Is it discomfort with regard to sex? Is it pain? Is it boredom? And then once you’ve identified one or two, take baby steps. Just think about, okay, what can I do to be less stressed? And for many people, especially for parents, and especially for mothers, this means letting other people down and putting yourself first. This means that maybe you’re not going to help out with an extra carpool. Maybe you’re not going to make meals for a school event. Maybe you’re not going to host a specific dinner. Maybe you’re not going to take on extra work at the office so that you can have some energy for yourself. Because it sounds like to me, especially for this listener, they like sex. They want to get it back. And it’s not just about pleasing a partner or resolving the issues in the relationship. You actually enjoy sex, and it’s something that feels good for you. So why would you not want to want more of what feels good for you? Now, if you’ve addressed the pieces that are interfering with your desire for sex and this is not like a quick fix, you’re just starting to address them. The second piece is to really think about the fact that it’s normal to need help getting in the mood. Because some people will tell me I’m not in the mood for sex, and they’re worried that they’re just not spontaneously in the mood for sex, or they’re worried that they’re not in the mood for sex at the same time when their partner is in the mood for sex. But most people don’t experience spontaneous desire, especially for sustained periods of time in long term relationships. So spontaneous desire refers to getting in the mood, finding yourself in the mood without a specific stimulus. So you’re walking down the street, you’re in the mood for sex. You get into bed after a long day you’re in the mood for sex, cool. That happens for some people. But for most people, what we’re experiencing is responsive desire. And responsive desire refers to getting in the mood after you become physically aroused or experienced some sort of erotic stimulus, like fantasy, dirty talk, lethal text, flirtation, touch, massage, reading, erotica whatever it is that gets you a little bit aroused. Then when your body is aroused, the mind follows with a responsive desire. So we either call it responsive desire or arousal first desire. And neither of these is better than the other. If you are spontaneously in the mood for sex, amazing. If you find yourself in the mood for sex after you become physically aroused or exposed to some sort of erotic stimulus, that is perfectly fine too. My point here is that if you’re waiting for spontaneous desire to happen, if you think that changing the way you sleep or changing what you’re eating is going to automatically lead to spontaneous desire, that is probably not going to be the case. It may make space for more spontaneous desire. Like, for example, if you have more time on your hands, if you feel more connected to your body, if you’re feeling more energetic in your body because you’re eating foods that really work for you, if going to the gym kind of gets your adrenaline going and reminds you that it feels good to enjoy other high adrenaline activities like sex, cool. It might lead to spontaneous desire, but responsive desire may be what you want to really focus on. So if you want to get in the mood, just note that you have to do something to get yourself in the mood because desire is predominantly responsive for so many people. So if you wait until you’re spontaneously in the mood to have sex, you may never have it or you may very rarely have it. So if your partner is in the mood for sex and you’re not in the mood for sex, you can say, no, I’m not in the mood. Cool. Or you can say, you know, I’m not in the mood. But if we were to do ABC, that might get me in the mood. And again, that ABC usually is something that leads to physical arousal. So the old, I think, model of sexual response was you feel desire, you get aroused, you reach a plateau, you have an orgasm, and then there’s some sort of resolution. But what we know, and we’re even seeing changes to the DSM around sexual dysfunction and low and no desire. What we know is that it’s not desire than arousal, it’s arousal than desire for so many people. So don’t wait until you’re in the mood.
One thing that I do with clients, and I’ve probably mentioned this before, is I recommend you make a fire and ice list. And that has to do with what puts you in the mood for sex. The fire. So in the fire column, you’re going to list everything that might possibly lead to desire for sex. And in the Ice column, you’re going to list everything that might detract from your desire for sex. And you want to consider a really range, a broad range of factors that relate to, like, practical things. So, for example, playing certain music, or putting a lock on your door so your kids can’t come in, or playing a white noise machine so you don’t hear your kids. It might be a bit about the lighting and the ambience so you feel more comfortable, more calm, more soothed. It might be about having a clean room. Those are the practical things that can go on your Fire and Ice list. And you might also think about, like, spiritual things. How are you feeling in your mind, how are you feeling in your body? Or the physical things like sleep, diet, exercise, overall health. Also write down the relational things, right? The amount of tension in your relationship. Are you communicating your needs? Of course, consider the emotional things, your stress levels, your mental health, and then also think about lifestyle. So, for example, division of labor, workload responsibilities. These are your elements of your day today that can light your fire or cool your jets. And if you’re able to identify your Fire and Iceless, and you can just kind of keep adding to it over the course of weeks, you can have your partner do the same. It can help you to better understand your own needs and priorities, and it can also help them to support you if that’s something, if that’s a role that they want to play. And I really do like the fire and Iceland. I might have mentioned this before, but I was in Romania not too long ago, and one of the people who was in my session, he had also attended my session in Romania maybe, oh, I don’t know, four years ago now. And he said he still has that list and he has a new partner, and he shared it with her and she started to do hers as well. And I know that it seems like a little bit of work, but it really is just about knowing ourselves, right? We kind of know what we want to eat. We know what spices we like and what we don’t like. We know what types of wine or juice or anything you drink that feel good for you versus the ones you don’t like. And this is sort of the same thing. You’re trying to figure out, well, what is it that supports my desire for sex and what is it that detracts from it? And I just think this can be helpful from a practical perspective. There are ways, of course, to activate responsive desire, right? So it might be fantasizing, letting your mind wander, imagining a scene in which you’re treated exactly how you want to be treated, and you’re engaging in all the activities that excite you. So fantasy is a really powerful tool. If you’re not in the mood, it can help you to get in the mood. And with fantasy, because I know it’s hard for people to think of their own fantasies. I want you to go back to your core erotic and elevated erotic feelings. Basically, how do you want to feel? Do you want to feel wanted? Do you want to feel adored? Do you want to feel overwhelmed? Do you want to feel irresistible? Do you want to feel sexy? Do you want to feel powerful? Do you want to feel totally submissive? How is it you want to feel? And then kind of weave the fantasy accordingly? So fantasy is one way to activate responsive desire. Using erotic material is another way, right? Just reading sexy stories. You can head over to literacy site. They have tons of stories on there. It might be watching videos that turn you on or looking at art or images. It might be watching porn or tuning into webcam models, if that’s what you’re into.
These can all be shortcuts to arousal, which produce sexual desire for many people. Another thing is to just physically touch yourself, right? So I’m not in the mood, but I’m going to reach for my vibrating toy with a little bit of lube and I’m going to put it right here and I’m going to see where it takes me. Of course, you have to get over the hump of I’m not in the mood in order to do these things like fantasy and engaging with erotic material and playing with toys. And then if you don’t feel like reaching for a vibrator and putting it right on your perineum or right on your nipples or right on your clit wherever you use it, you can also engage in non erotic touch that feels sensual and pleasurable with no pressure, right? Maybe you have your partner give you a sensual massage and you see if arousal follows. And there’s no pressure here, right? If arousal doesn’t follow, that’s okay. Hopefully you’re still enjoying the process, enjoying the intimacy, engaging in that physical affection that makes you feel more present and in your body. Because with all of these things so I mentioned identifying all the factors that detract from libido, from exhaustion to stress, to systemic oppression to technoference. And then I mentioned the fire and ice list and doing these different things to get yourself in the mood. What I don’t want to do is add more pressure to the pot here. So look for things that feel good in your body without the pressure to get in the mood and just see what happens. And talk to your partner or partners about this. I received another question along the same vein. They’ve been together a while and it seems his wife has lost interest in sex. And you have to have a conversation. All of these strategies apply regardless of whether you’ve lost interest in sex because you’re a little bit bored or because you’re too busy or because you’ve just had kids. I mean, having two kids in the house under I presume under five, that’s a lot. And so I don’t want to add to the pressure pot. I want you to just enjoy it, explore it and seriously talk, talk to your partner about it because it’s going to break the tension. And I can promise you, you are both making assumptions and mostly when we’re a little bit fearful of it and which we tend to be in relationships, we don’t talk about fear enough. We talk about anxiety all the time, but we don’t talk about fear enough. But most of us, when something is awry in the bedroom or in our sex lives or with our libido or desire for sex, we become fearful that something is wrong with us, that it’s going to adversely affect the relationship, that maybe a partner is going to leave us. We have attachment issues around that. But the more you talk and you’re honest and you’re vulnerable and you come with the language of I love you, I like having sex with you, I really miss having sex with you. I know this is uncomfortable, but I think we should talk about it and know that your conversation doesn’t have to be perfect, it doesn’t have to flow. You can experience hiccups, you can disagree. There can be a little bit of tension, there can even be a little bit of conflict frustration at times. But if you start with I love you, I care about you, I want to work this out. And that is the underlying tone vibe of the conversation. You can really work through anything. So I do suggest maybe you listen to this podcast but also share it with a partner and keep the conversation going. So I’m going to suggest for your homework that you think about that fire. Nice list. Like what are all the things that could potentially put me in the mood? And again, thinking about practical, thinking about spiritual, physical, relational, emotional and lifestyle. Practical and lifestyle go hand in hand thinking about all those things. And you should be able to put a whole bunch of items in each of these lists and keep adding to them. So that’s what I’m going to leave you with, hoping that you are able to cultivate desire as opposed to just finding your lost libido, thinking about desire, needing to be cultivating, knowing that it doesn’t occur spontaneously.
And I’ll just leave you with that reminder that if you wait until you’re spontaneously in the mood to have sex, you may never find yourself in the mood and you may never have sex again. And that sounds like that’s not what you want specifically for this listener. And I think for many of you out there going to stop right there and remind you that I’m running a promo on my website happiercouples.com. I highly, highly, highly suggest you invest in the Mindful sex course and not just invest in buying it, but actually invest time in working through it. It contains videos, audio files, worksheets to help you be more in the moment. Definitely. Absolutely. And now we have the so called evidence, but we’ve always known this to show that mindfulness practices are positively correlated with a greater, higher desire for sex. So go check it out, along with my other video courses on oral pleasure and lasting longer in bed. Happycouples.com save 25% with Code Podcast because you’re a listener and I want to reward you. So hopefully you reward yourself by putting the time and effort in. Happy.com Code Podcast, folks. Wherever you are at, have a great one. I’ll be back next week. You’re listening to the sex with Dr. Jess podcast. Improve your sex life. Improve. Prove your life.