Google is the place we go to ask the questions we don’t want to ask our friends over dinner.
According to The Guardian, the question ‘why don’t I enjoy sex?’ is one of the most commonly googled queries. And it’s women asking the question.
The reality that women are googling it, yet very few seek professional advice, is perhaps the first clue as to why women have a complicated relationship with their sexuality.
Dr Nikki Goldstein, a sexologist and relationship expert as well as the host of podcast Sex and Life, tells Mamamia that it all begins with the way women frame sex. If you have too much of it, you’re a ‘slut’, and if you avoid it, you’re a ‘prude’. Sex is culturally understood to be an act done by men to women – and thus we often deprive ourselves of sexually agency.
“Women go into relationships enjoying sex,” Goldstein says, “and then it starts to feel like an obligation.” Why? Because we’ve put our sexual pleasure on the back burner.
At the beginning of relationships, women see a spike in their libido. Many couples know the feeling of not being able to keep your hands off each other, having sex multiple times a day and still wanting more.
But, according to Dr Ginni Mansberg, a doctor who specialises in women’s health and appeared on Australia’s Embarrassing Bodies, that level of sexual desire is simply impossible to maintain.
“There are not many couples who have been together for many, many years who have the same libido as they once did. I just don’t see that,” she explains to Mamamia.
Women’s libido is far more complex than men’s, both doctors tell me. Whereas men’s sexual drive is largely physiologically driven, there’s much more that goes into female sexual desire.
A mismatch in libido between partners is common if not somewhat inevitable, and it is constantly changing.
And the first thing is to make sure you do not feel guilty about that.
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“Why don’t I want to have sex?”
There are a myriad of answers to this question.
The first is that if you’ve been in a relationship for a while, then the reality is you’re not going to be jumping out of your skin with desire.
According to Dr Mansberg, it’s time we “downgrade our expectations”.
“Don’t wait to be stricken by desire. If that’s your only criteria for having sex, goodbye sex life. As long as when you do have sex, you’re enjoying it… and being with him doesn’t make you physically feel sick.”
Popular culture is littered with imagery of mind-blowing passionate sex, when for most couples, that isn’t what sex looks like.
But in some cases, having absolutely no sex drive can be a sign of hormonal changes. For example, during pregnancy, or following the birth of a baby, women might find their libido significantly drops. The same occurs during menopause.
If you've had a very sudden drop in sex drive, seemingly out of nowhere, it could be a sign of something physical.
Anti-depressants, for example, can effect libido, a consequence of medication that we don't talk about enough.
But Dr Mansberg is very clear, "The chances of it being a physical thing are much lower than the chances of it being an emotional thing."
That doesn't mean there's something inherently wrong with your relationship. It could be stress caused from another facet of your life.
Dr Mansberg also says, "Your body wants to protect you from having a baby at a bad time for you, so you'll see in times of stress women stop ovulating, but also your libido will go flat..."
The same happens if you're unwell.
If work is overwhelming, or a child is having a difficult time, or you're dealing with anxiety, that will have a bearing on your desire to have sex.
The other possibility, according to Dr Goldstein, is that your unconscious is picking up on something you're not aware of.
"Sometimes, our bodies will tell us how we're feeling when we're not even aware that we're feeling that way," she says. You may be sensing some anger or hostility, and your body has essentially gone into shut down.
"When I do have sex, why aren't I enjoying it?"
The biggest reason women don't enjoy sex can be summarised in one word:
Dr Mansberg tells Mamamia, "Oh my God. I cannot tell you as a doctor how common painful sex is."
Pain can result from vaginal problems, to conditions in the pelvis, with endometriosis - which is incredibly underdiagnosed in Australia - being a leading cause.
If the pain is localised, it could be a result of a tear or lesion. But the pain Dr Mansberg is particuarly concerned about, is a "deeper" pain.
"So if the minute he thrusts deeply you start to hurt," Dr Mansberg says. "And the pain is right through your pelvic area, that would really concern me that there's something inflamed, whether that's an ovarian cyst or endometriosis or a pelvic infection."
In such a case, Dr Mansberg insists you see a doctor.
Another reason women don't enjoy sex, according to Dr Goldstein, is because of our complicated relationships with ourselves.
So many of us have deep-seated issues with our bodies, and if that's the case, Dr Goldstein says, "you're not going to be able to tune out and relax and go with the flow and explore, you're going to be too stuck in your head".
"We get jammed up in our mind," she says.
The third reason, which again we can't ignore, is the physiological component.
Women going through menopause or hormonal changes may experience discomfort, or struggle to naturally lubricate.
When your body doesn't respond to arousal, it doesn't make for particularly enjoyable sex.
"What can I do about it?"
It's all well and good to know why you might feel numb or indifferent towards sex, but what's the solution?
"There's one thing that's guaranteed to work on every single woman's libido. Are you ready?" Dr Mansberg says.
"A new bloke."
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If you're in a committed relationship and happen to really love your partner, that probably isn't an option. Luckily, she has some back up suggestions.
"Make the hour or two before sex as stress free as possible so at least you have a fighting chance of being in the mood," she says.
If you have insecurities about your body and feel more comfortable with the light off, then "leave the light off," she says. Be sure to do whatever is going to make you the most comfortable.
And her last point is a big one: Turn off your phone.
Dr Mansberg says there's nothing less sexy than being ignored by someone staring at their phone watching cat videos. Nothing about that scenario is going to get you in the mood.
The other thing you need to do, according to Dr Goldstein, is have a conversation with your partner about it.
Although women think they're very good at faking it, Dr Goldstein says your sexual partner can probably tell if you're being a "martyr".
If you find yourself mentally checking out, feeling any discomfort, or just struggling to feel into it, there is also lots of help available. Whether it's a GP, gynaecologist, sexologist, psychologist or relationship counsellor, women ought to follow their instincts if they feel something isn't right.
Because we deserve to be enjoying a healthy sex life.
You can follow Dr Ginni Mansberg on Facebook, here.