“A man wants sex all the time, and always needs to be ready for sex, otherwise he isn’t a man.” Men are expected to want sex all the time simply because they’re men. Despite this social expectation, sometimes men really do lose their libido.
Men don’t like talking about it, nor do their female partners, but reduced libido in men causes greater tension in the couple relationship than any other deficient sexual functioning. Why, you might ask? I’ll expand on the reasons for that later, but first let’s try to define what loss of libido actually is.
The definition of loss of libido in men:
The Diagnostic & Statistical Manual of Mental Disorders Edition 5 (DSM 5) defines loss of libido in men as a deficiency in sexual or erotic thoughts, fantasies and attraction relative to sexual activities.
Reduced libido generally does not occur suddenly but tends to be gradual. It is difficult to define reduced libido in a precise manner, particularly if we avoid using frequency of sexual relations as the index of measurement.
As a sexologist I find that defining the quality of sexual relations based on their frequency is not correct. Many individuals visiting my clinic, and particularly men, tend to measure the quality of their sex lives based on the number of times they have sexual relations within a fixed time frame. Articles on this subject also tend to reinforce that approach, and list once weekly as a suitable frequency. In my view, sexuality is not a test, and giving grades should therefore be avoided.
The quality of sexual relations is better evaluated based on how the couple experiences them.
An additional area of difficulty when using a method of measurement based on frequency is that for sexual relations to eventuate, libido is not the only factor involved. Couples often report on sexual desires that are not realized for a whole variety of reasons, such as a lack of suitable conditions that range from insufficient free time to a suitable place, and to other problems in sexual functioning that cause avoidance of sex, including performance anxiety, penetrative pain, and other issues.
There are situations in which a man may feel he will not perform as expected and experience erectile dysfunction. This fear of itself is definitely enough to cause a man to avoid sexual relations even though he may want them or be attracted to his partner.
Another popular reason is that attraction is roused, but something then happens to shut it down, such as an argument with the partner, work stress, children requiring attention, and so on. So when examining whether libido has actually dropped, it is very important to mark off other reasons that could lead to the same outcome.
Note that the DSM definition relates to a disorder appearing for at least 6 months. This specified time frame did not appear in the previous DSM. The time frame is significant. In our life cycles, it can certainly be natural that libido drops for a while.
There may also be strongly increased libido over a period of time. A very familiar example relates to the monthly hormonal cycle experienced by women.
Women’s hormonal profiles change across the month, which can very strongly impact their libido. Other events in the life cycle, such as birth of a child, parenting, workloads and more, are also periods in life that may impact libido. It is worth tracking the duration of periods lacking libido, noting when they began and whether any additional changes simultaneously occurred. Medications can also affect libido: if during a period of reduced libido the individual was on medication, a physician should definitely be consulted.
According to research published in 2013 in the Journal of Sexual Medicine based on a sampling of 5,000 men, it was found that 14% of them between the ages of 18-29 and 17% in the 50-59 year category experienced low libido during the preceding year.
The prevalence of loss of libido among women is twice as high. Nonetheless, when men lose their libido, the impact is generally much stronger. Why? Here’s the explanation I promised earlier. When men lose their libidio, they experience greater fear than women in the same situation. The reason is because in men, it generally undermines their entire perception of masculinity.
Remember when we mentioned social expectations earlier? We are educated to believe that a man wants sex all the time. Sexuality is a very central part of male identify. By contrast, women are socially expected to want less sex than men.
Imagine what happens when a man experiences wanting sex less much less than his partner, for example, and how she then feels. The impact of this on a couple relationship is more destructive than when women lose their libido. The attitude towards women’s loss of libido is more forgiving and understanding, since it is more socially accepted (and therefore viewed as normative).
So how can you tell if you’ve experienced a drop in libido? Here are some questions that may help:
1) Have you stopped expecting sex?
2) Did you initiate sex in the past but now you do that less and less?
3) Do you have fewer thoughts about sex or eroticism during the day in general and not necessarily with regard to your partner?
4) Is sex itself technically not as good and the experience of pleasure is much lower?
5) Does your partner say she feels you have less desire than in the past?
If you found yourself answering ‘yes’ to some of these questions, it may be that you are experiencing a reduction in libido. Let me remind you again that it’s worth keeping track of this over time and not getting stressed over it across short periods.
The good news is that your level of libido is not a decree that you just have to learn to live with. Something can definitely be done about it.
I recommend first and foremost visiting your family physician and asking for overall blood tests, including the hormone testosterone which is responsible, among other things, for libido.
If your tests come back in good order, I also recommend seeking sexual therapy as soon as possible to lessen the negative impact on the couple relationship and on your own self-confidence as you work at solving the issue.
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