January 22, 2009

Q&A: Aging and Changes In Sexual Desire

More often these days, people are talking more openly about desire - including how desire often changes throughout one's lifetime.

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Question: My wife and I have been married for 20 years and have three children – two currently in college. My wife is no longer interested in sex – not just intercourse – but also my showing affection like kissing her lips, or kissing her breasts. Recently she told me that she doesn’t feel anything during vaginal intercourse and doesn’t want to have any more sex. What can we do?

More often these days, people are talking more openly about desire – both in terms of how couples may have different levels of desire as well as in terms of how desire often changes throughout one’s lifetime.

Desire Discrepancy

Having different levels of desire – what we often call desire discrepancy – can be difficult for couples, as the person who wants more sex often feels as though they are pestering their partner, or they may feel as though they are not attracted or loved anymore when they ask for sex and their partner declines.

The person who wants less sex, or none at all, may feel guilty or as if they are depriving their partner, and yet they may also feel bothered or annoyed at being asked so often for something that they have clearly said they do not want.

Often when a couple notices these differences in desire, the changes have been building over time – even if they seem to have happened overnight. It may be that your wife hasn’t enjoyed sex for some time and that she has only recently felt comfortable saying this to you. Or else perhaps she has long enjoyed having sex, but recent changes related to menopause, aging or medical conditions have made sex feel less pleasurable or enjoyable for her, or even painful.

Significant Changes Around Menopause

Sex changes significantly for many women around the time of menopause and she may find it helpful to speak with her healthcare provider about any changes she has noticed not only in relation to desire but also in regard to vaginal dryness, genital sensation, temperature changes or general bodily comfort.

You two might also find it helpful to meet with a sex therapist to help you find ways to express and receive affection with each other, even if you don’t actually have sex together for some time – if at all. Sometimes a person will stop wanting to be kissed or hugged, mainly because they worry that it will lead to sex.

Perhaps your wife will be more open to meeting with a therapist, and working on your shared affection, if you assure her that you will not pressure her do anything she is not interested in (such as have sex). You might say, though, that because you value your relationship so much – including your ability to be affectionate and express love in ways such as kissing, hugging and cuddling – that you would like to see if there are ways that you can find pleasure and joy with each other.

Recommended Reading

The book For Each Other: Sharing Sexual Intimacy may be a helpful resource and you can find a sex therapist through the web site of the American Association of Sex Educators, Counselors and Therapists.

  • Ken

    This seems to be a pretty common problem. What can men do when their wives totally stop being interested in sex after many kids and menopause? Is this a reason why older men end up with younger women? Working with a therapist to see how I can be happy with a relationship with affection but no sex is completely out of the question. That would only work if I had a sexual mistress on the side. And what does one do if therapy and medical checkups has not helped the woman be one least bit more interested in sex? It seems a shame to have a mistress or file for divorce just because of this.