But when we’re not in the mood or our libido is low, it becomes more difficult to identify the reasons why we’re not up for sex. It could be one reason or many, but understanding why we’re not up to the task, as it were, helps us better distinguish our sexual brakes and accelerators.
In reality, human sexuality is more complicated for a lot of us than it is for others due to a variety of reasons, both physical and mental. Knowing the factors that contribute to our sexual brakes and accelerators can help us determine what’s hindering our mood in the bedroom.
You’re Actually Tired
You may have used this excuse to get out of having sex once, twice, or multiple times. To be completely fair, for most of us, our energy just isn’t where it should be at the end of a long, packed day, and that’s understandable. Furthermore, most of us (including our spouses) are unaware that, by and large, women need more sleep than men.
The perfect amount of sleep differs from individual to individual, but on average, women may need a few hours more than men do. During sleep, our brain rests and repairs itself, and for women who constantly multitask or are continuously going during their day-to-day, this means that their bodies and minds require more rest. On top of that, constant hormone fluctuations and even pregnancy and menopause may make it more difficult for women to get adequate rest compared to their mate. In fact, women are at risk for insomnia at a rate 40% higher than men. One study by sleep expert Michael Breus found that women experienced higher rates of depression, anger, and hostility in the morning following an inadequate amount of sleep.
You’re on an SSRI
Selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors, known commonly as antidepressants, don’t just affect your mood – the majority of them may negatively impact your sex life. Not only do antidepressants make it difficult to get aroused, but they may also impact your ability to stay aroused and even orgasm.
Some individuals who are prescribed antidepressants may find that their sexual dysfunction issues wane over time as they become more accustomed to the drug. But for others, these issues will persist, which may result in a medical provider suggesting you change your dose or change your medication. Sexual dysfunction and lowered libido are common side effects of SSRIs – about 50% to 70% of patients suffer from some form of it – but that doesn’t make it any less frustrating.
Talking with your medical provider might help address the issue if it’s having an intense impact on your relationship, but one provider at Harvard Medical School suggests practical measures, like scheduling times to have sex, as a way to address the dysfunction.
You’re Experiencing a Hormonal Shift
If you’re pregnant, breastfeeding, on birth control, or going through menopause, be prepared to experience a change in libido. In fact, any fluctuation in hormones should come with the expectation of your libido being impacted in some way by that fluctuation. For example, during menopause, estrogen levels plummet, which makes having sex more complicated – vaginal dryness is common with menopause, as is having your vaginal tissue become thinner, and both of those consequences can increase sexual dysfunction.
If you’re a woman with low testosterone or another hormonal imbalance, your sex drive will likely be impacted. Testosterone is important to the female body as well as the male body because it helps with arousal, and if you’re on hormonal birth control, for example, you could be experiencing low levels of testosterone, which impact your body’s ability to get physically aroused and express interest in sex.
When you’re stressed about your mortgage, unpleasant coworkers, or some other trigger, your body releases cortisol, the stress hormone, to help your nervous system cope with the symptoms. However, chronic stress can dangerously elevate your cortisol levels through constant stimulation, which may increase your physical and mental fatigue and increase your blood pressure.
Stress impacts your ability to be aroused because it’s activating your fight-or-flight instinct when your body should be activating its parasympathetic (relaxation) system. During arousal, your body needs to be relaxed, open, and releasing oxytocin, but instead, it’s impaired by cortisol. Women’s health expert Dr. Jolene Brighten explains that everything that’s happening outside the bedroom is often a barrier to sex, or what’s known as our sexual inhibitions or “brakes.” Dr. Brighten explains, “For most men, they’re like, ‘Okay, roses, scented candles, get a bubble bath, buy her lingerie. Let’s hit the accelerator.’ What women mostly need is a dampening of the brakes.”
You Have Chronic Pain
Chronic pain is the aches and pains that occur anywhere in our body and last for over three months. Chronic pain could be caused by inflammation or healing from an injury, or it could even have psychological or psychosomatic origins. Experiencing chronic pain, which often materializes in sensations like shooting pains or throbbing aches, can take its toll not only physically, but mentally, and result in conditions like developing sleep issues, anxiety, and depression.
Obviously, chronic pain impairs our ability to be active and enjoy a physical experience like sex, but research shows that physical activity helps reduce pain severity and improves physical functions of the body, mood, and quality of life in those with chronic pain – which hopefully means that with time, low libido can be ameliorated by sticking with physical activity and fitness.
You’re Having Relationship Problems
Maybe the cause of your low sex drive isn’t physical or mental. Maybe it’s your spouse. Whether it’s his apparent lack of interest in you or his inability to listen to someone else besides himself, you might become accustomed to viewing sex not as something to bring the two of you together, but as something that operates on a reward system. It’s easy to think that if your husband does something good or something that you like, he should be rewarded with sex, and if he does something you dislike, sex should be withheld from him, at least until he can learn to do better.
Weaponizing sex is a dangerous game, and playing any stupid game in your relationship will probably result in winning stupid prizes, as they say. The minute you start to view sex as something that should operate in accordance with your particular mood or your opinion of your spouse, you’ve decided to eliminate respect for your mate from your relationship.
Every relationship faces its tough times and challenges, and sexual dysfunction on either end is no different. But actively withholding sex because there’s an issue you won’t address or withholding it just because you can means you don’t see your husband as your teammate or as someone worthy of your love and affection. Don’t let an issue that started elsewhere in the house affect what’s going on in the bedroom. Address it, leave it where it is, and enjoy the make up.
Sometimes it feels like we don’t have enough hours in the day or enough mental capacity to even think about sex. We have chores to do, kids to tend to, and things to cross off the to-do list. It’s natural in some ways to say no to sex, as long as we’re being honest with ourselves (and our husband) about the reason why. A healthy sex life is one of the best parts of a solid relationship, and if a physical or mental reason is diminishing your physical or mental capability to be interested in sex, it needs to be addressed as soon as possible.
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