| March 11, 2013

Sex, sexuality, and sexiness are on the minds of the American public much of the time.

Even a cursory review of newsstands reveals something of a national agenda — if not obsession — with images that scream: I am so sexy and sexual, aren’t you? 

And yet, despite the inescapable mass of sexually suggestive photographs in the media and the predictable bylines on Cosmo’s covers about how to make your man happy in bed, millions of women aren’t having sex in their relationships at all.

This is so widespread that publications as diverse as Psychology Today, The Atlantic Monthly, The New York Times, and blogs galore are granting more than just a few column inches for stories on the topic. Given the time and analysis devoted to this problem you’d think there would be a diversity of causative factors. Yet, the majority of women who come to see me and tell me they’re not interested in sex say much the same thing: sex has become just one more thing on their “to do” list. Just like baking 100 cupcakes at midnight for the PTO, laundry and lunches, or answering emails way after office hours, today’s modern woman is so overworked in the home and on the job that sex has become one more thing to accomplish and there’s nothing pleasurable or appealing about it.

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Women feel exhausted by and angry about responsibilities they’ve assumed (or are hoisted on them) and resent the fast-paced living that so many of us have become slaves to. The combination knocks their libido right out of them. Whether a woman encourages the chase before marriage or not, once the knot is tied and the kids come in, chaste becomes her new normal.

The modern woman who has earned her stripes in the workforce and mothering is especially at risk. While saying “I do” was originally intended as a lifelong commitment to her mate — sex included — many brides soon shift their focus from their sweetheart onto their achievements out in the world and inside the home on kids. Being the best at the office, best at mothering, and best friend while working on having the best figure, home, and fashions shifts women’s priorities from the pleasures of intimate partnership to the demands of work, kids, friendships, and then maybe, and only if all else is done, their lover.

What’s really behind this and why is being the presumed “best” of anything so important to women, especially when it’s draining their desire for sex? What I have discovered in my work is that women often have two primary ways by which they determine their self-worth on any given day. The first is, “Have I had a good food and exercise day?” and the second, “Have I done enough for others (especially my kids?)” This kind of thinking and living is exhausting, burdensome, generates heaps of anger, and robs women of their libido. If women would be more willing to settle for sane living over the assumed perfect, chock-a-block full life, then sexual desire is more likely to be present.

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Consider the pride that so many women take in their ability to multitask. They wear it like a badge of honor despite the increased risks for error and the distraction it fuels. We seem to have forgotten the value of giving things our undivided attention and the aphrodisiac properties of giving and receiving undivided attention from our intimate partner. My personal and professional experience has taught me that keeping sex alive involves maintaining your focus on pleasurable living versus industrious, beehive activity. This is a disciplined practice of sorts, like getting enough sleep.

This doesn’t mean pulling out your calendars to schedule your “hot time” on a weekly basis. But it does mean changing your focus from perfection and accomplishment to embracing pleasure in life as a healthy and worthwhile pursuit. This demands reducing your expectations of yourself, your children, and your mate and renaming pleasure as a health practice, not just an indulgence or reward for what you’ve accomplished. The more effort women make to weave pleasurable interludes into their daily lives, the easier it will be for them to reclaim their libido as one of the best pleasures of all.

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When we make this change, the fatigue and anger lessens, physical and emotional strength improves, and the ability and willingness to seek sexual intimacy (instead of running from it) begins to reappear. We all have times in life when we’re busier than usual and can’t avoid an overload of daily deadlines, multiple tasks, and, too much to do. But if the majority of your time is spent at a more leisurely, realistic pace, then you’ll roll with these episodes and return to calmer waters where your interest in sex will resurface. The key to keeping your interest in sex alive and well is raising the status of pleasure in general while denouncing the overly busy life.

And don’t forget, undivided attention is a strong aphrodisiac and there is no such thing as perfect.