Why Doesn't He Want Me? When Your Drive Is Higher Than His

Thursday, February 12, 2015 by Meg   •   Filed under Sexuality/Relationships

Anyone who has ever been turned down for sex has some feelings around it. Women who are denied feel rejected and unattractive. We get frustrated, sexually and otherwise. We may also feel anxious, as if the relationship is threatened. This is based on an evolutionarily relevant drive to have sex as a way to increase attachment and reaffirm bonds (and if you want to learn more about that, check out The Evolution of Desire, The Anatomy of Love or Mothers and Others).

In short, we don’t always want to high-tail it to the closet for some solo fun with the magic bullet or rascally rabbit (and if you don’t know what those are, you should). Sometimes, we want the connection, the closeness. We want a partner. This whole reaffirming bond thing may be why couples who have more sex have more marital satisfaction even when they have less than ideal communication skills otherwise1.

But it’s a bigger issue than immediate hurt feelings and a little argument over him not being in the mood. Conflicts over intimacy tend to be recurrent and ongoing2 which does not lead to happier relationships overall. And this issue is heightened, with more anger and aggression, when one or both partners is depressed, especially if it’s the husband2

And when it’s the wife who has a higher drive, we have a few other issues to contend with.

Socialized Perceptions of Lack of Desire

Men and women respond to a lack of desire differently, in part because of our socialization. Women are receptive to the media’s portrayal of attractiveness (more here in "You’re Not Pretty (Enough)"). However, this same media also normalizes a-sexual femininity.  While a woman may be called a “cold fish” for her lack of desire, it is generally more socially acceptable for her to “have a headache” or be otherwise not in the mood.  

But men are more socialized to link their sexuality to their masculinity and their sense of self. This makes men more fearful when they lose interest in sex, according to Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence. Because of this socialized belief that men are more sexual, more of them are ready to make excuses or suggest a psychological explanation for those feelings (i.e. I am not happy with her) as opposed to admitting low drive3. Blaming a partner is an excuse that is not such a deep blow to their masculinity and sense of self overall. But passing the buck is a dick move that makes us feel a whole lot worse, and a whole lot less desirable.  It also makes us think we can do something about it and leads to frustration when we can’t.

Sorry, ladies. We just don’t have that much control. 

Especially once we have kids. 

Hormones and Testosterone

Testosterone is a hormone related to desire and libido. And men have lower testosterone levels once they get married4. This drop in testosterone is much steeper once they become fathers4, and it varies with parenting effort. 

Let’s break that down. 

Theoretically, it’s good for men to have higher testosterone levels when sowing their wild oats. But if those oats need a lot of time and investment to stay alive, it would be remarkably unwise of mother nature to push him to keep fucking everything that walks when doing so would spread resources too thin. So men who are more invested in caretaking should have lower testosterone. The less contact you have with kids, the less your body perceives that they need you and the more kids your hormones think you should father. For some, the trade-off of having a super involved caring daddy might be less time between the sheets. However, more research needs to be done in this area. 

But lowered drive in men doesn’t usually effect relationship quality4. This may be because mothers also have significantly lower testosterone than their non-mommy counterparts5. Married women (or those who have already secured their mate) have lower testosterone than non married women5. This means that when guys have lowered sex drives in relation to this phenomenon, we often don’t notice because we aren’t in the mood either. And when we don’t see it as an issue, we don’t talk about it and normalize it for women who do have a higher drive.  That makes them feel kinda shitty and otherwise abnormal. 

Guess what ladies? While higher testosterone can be the result of a thyroid issue or other hormonal imbalance, high sex drive is not ordinarily a malfunction but rather a normal, healthy part of living. Higher drive is more common when you’re pretty healthy too. Good news for all the wonderfully libidinous freaks in the house. 

Other Reasons Men Refuse Sex

  • They're tired or not in the mood. Sometimes, just like us, men just aren't into it right then. Maybe they want to drink a beer and watch the game or they'd rather spend that extra time sleeping. It's not always all about us, or about something being wrong at all. Sometimes it's about how his day went or it's about needing to decompress alone. Introverts may be especially prone to seeking this alone time (more here in Invtroversion and 8 Ways to Survive).  
  • Stress: Stress leads to changes in many hormones including glucocorticoids, catecholamines, growth hormone and prolactin, all of which are involved in the stress response6. And they can lead to endocrine issues and subsequently a loss of libido when those hormones get all crazy.
  • Depression: Losing interest in things you used to enjoy and low libido can be a sign of depression. (More here in What Is Depression?) This is something you want to check out with a professional. 
  • Performance Anxiety: Believe it or not, ladies, our partners really do want to please us. If he has a history of (ahem) finishing too early or not being able to bring you to climax, things can go from sexy to OMG SO STRESSFUL fast and cause a drop in libido. For this issue, try the tactics outlined in Slow Sex  (or Urban Tantra if you’re adventurous). 
  • Medications: Many medications, both psychotropic and otherwise can drop libido like a bad habit. Make sure you are aware of this and if the issue is severe, have him speak to his doctor about other meds that may allow for improved…uh…function.
  • Medical conditions such as cancer, depression, cardiovascular issues, diabetes and any conditions that alter blood flow in the body can trigger loss of libido or erectile dysfunction and get him to avoid sex. Make him get a check up under penalty of your mother visiting for a month.  
  • Role Changes: This one is tricky because some men have issues surrounding sexualizing the mother of their children. Just as we have more trouble finding ourselves while in the throes of motherhood, so might they. There might also be other reasons such as fear of hurting a growing baby during pregnancy or concern about making you uncomfortable. Take it from a seasoned pro: if your doctor or midwife gives you the go ahead, he’s not going to hurt anyone. Make sure he knows that.
  • Trauma: Some women are concerned abut having their husband in the delivery room. “If he sees that, he might never see my vagina the same way again!” This is not usually the issue. For some, though, fear can develop, particularly if the birth was difficult or life threatening, say in the case of emergency surgery and blood transfusions. In these cases, a husband may be worried about harm or see his wife as fragile, whether he recognizes it consciously or not. In addition, just as women can experience lowered drive due to trauma, men with a history of physical or sexual abuse may also have hair triggers to lose drive, or may have a lower libido due to all the stress hormones floating around in their systems (more here in The Big O).  Issues with trauma should be dealt with professionally as they are unlikely to get better without some intervention.
  • Disturbing Fantasies: Like women, some men have fantasies that they have trouble turning off (see more about fantasies in the Can Fantasy Be Useful? series). Disturbing fantasies are often related to trauma in childhood and can cause intense guilt or disgust if they come up during sexual acts, leading some to refuse intimacy altogether. These are also notoriously hard to identify in your partner because they induce so much shame that men will refuse to talk about them. But they are normal and men who have these issues can seek assistance to cope with them. It’s probably something your shrink has heard before. Trust me. 
  • As a Control Tactic: This one has nothing to do with libido, but sex can be withheld by either partner as a control tactic or as punishment. This is not the same as not being in the mood because he pissed you off. This is also not the same as bartering sex for favors around the house, which is often done as a fun and productive way to bridge the gap in desire between partners. (Take it from someone who didn’t have to do the dishes last night.) Instead, withholding sex to purposefully hurt the other should be discussed and addressed as a real problem and a potential control issue, as it is more common in abusive or narcissistic relationships. (Click on those words to read more about those types of relationships.) 
  • Thyroid conditions: These can lower drive due to the thyroid’s role in regulating hormones, along with the other hormonal issues discussed above.

You don’t have to remember all the specifics here, but the point is that it isn’t something you’re doing wrong. In most cases, it’s a matter of a difference of drives due to extenuating circumstances. 

What To Do About Low Sex Drive:

Depending on the issue at hand there is not a one-size-fits-all solution (what she said), but they all require some conversation. Don’t start it with, “I hate that you’re a prude!” Try, “I feel rejected when you don’t want to have sex. Can we talk about why that happens?” And when he answers, respond without judgment. Work hard to understand his position, or he won’t discuss it for long. It helps if you’re holding something hostage until he talks about it. Maybe a steak or something. Dudes like steak, at least that’s what my husband tells me, though he might be prone to overgeneralization. 

Once you have some idea of the issue, you can move on to solutions. 

For medical and hormonal issues that are beyond the scope of normal, see a physician.

Encourage him to take care of depression or traumatic reactions. For issues that stem from discomfort or fear of harm, encourage him that he won’t hurt you or that you’re fully healed from childbirth or whatever he’s worried about. I love this quote to drive the point home: “Why do people say "grow some balls"? Balls are weak and sensitive. If you wanna be tough, grow a vagina. Those things can take a pounding.” 

Betty White is so awesome, you guys. So awesome. 

Even normalizing the lowered drive might take the pressure off and lead to more open discussion, less blaming and more intimacy, if not actual sex. Hell, send him this article to normalize it, and say something like, “It’s really common and we should talk about it,” or “Fuck the media and their portrayal of masculine sexuality!” Or whatever floats your boat.

You can also try compromise. If he’s not in the mood, is there something else that might make you feel closer to him? Snuggling on the couch with a chick flick instead of watching the game? Would you take a little tongue action or do you need the whole salami? Can you agree to ask less if he agrees to try more often? While you might need different tactics if he is dealing with traumatic reactions or the like, most couples are able to find a compromise that works well for them and improves intimacy even if they don’t have sex every time they want to.  

There are also books that detail ways to increase intimacy. Check out Rekindling Desire, Slow Sex or Urban Tantra. Try watching porn together occasionally if that’s your thing. You might also like the Kama Sutra board game which puts slightly less pressure on partners. You can even remove the actual sex cards and go with all the lovey-dovey massages and foreplay stuff. 

So, ladies, if you have a higher drive than your husband, rest assured that you are normal. Talk it out, identify the issue, seek solutions and and find a compromise. And if all else fails, there’s always the magic bullet to get you through until he puts out. 

Related Posts: 

  1. http://www.researchgate.net/publication/7593586_Exploring_relationships_among_communication_sexual_satisfaction_and_marital_satisfaction
  2. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3807599/
  3. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3151655/
  4. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/16543176
  5. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/23123222
  6. http://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pmc/articles/PMC3079864/

Topic-Relevant Resources

Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence
Everything you ever wanted to know about couples and sex (and how to use this knowledge to your advantage).

Rekindling Desire
The title says it all.

The Anatomy of Love
An in depth look at a history of human mating. Sex, anthropology and more sex. What more could you want?

The Evolution of Desire
Evolutionary psychology and the history of human mating

Urban Tantra: Sacred Sex for the Twenty-First Century
An interesting look at improving the capacity for sexual pleasure using "outside the box" techniques. Not for the faint of heart.

Mothers and Others
Anthropologist Sarah Blaffer Hrdy explores the history of maternal drives and assistant caregivers