My Husband & I Have Incompatible Libidos. Help!
My sex drive lags compared to my husband's. Is there anything I can do... and should I?
Welcome to Ask A MWLTF (Yes, that’s Mother Who Likes to F*ck.), a monthly anonymous advice column from Scary Mommy. Here we’ll dissect all your burning questions about motherhood, sex, romance, intimacy, and friendship with the help of our columnist, Penelope, a writer and mental health practitioner in training. She’ll dish out her most sound advice for parents on the delicate dance of raising kids without sacrificing other important relationships. Email her at email@example.com.
I was having lunch with a friend recently when I noticed her remove a pink bottle from her purse, shake out a few pink pills, and wash them down with her glass of carbonated water. This friend is one of those women who always seems to have a natural supplement on hand for whatever might ail her, so I’m used to seeing her casually toss back capsules of every color, but this one looked different. I asked her if it was some kind of Barbie supplement, a souvenir maybe from when she took her daughter to the Mattel movie. It wasn’t.
She told me it was a natural libido-enhancer designed to help perimenopausal women with sexual dysfunction. She didn’t have any such dysfunction herself, she assured me — at least that wasn’t the term she would use. “More just the usual lagging libido,” she called it. She’s 51 years old and she just didn’t feel like having sex that much. Unfortunately, her husband of 20 years still wanted to have sex three or four times each week. In every other way they were compatible, but this new mismatch in sex drives was putting a strain on their relationship, so my friend thought she’d give this a try.
I was intrigued. In many ways, my husband and I have been experiencing similar challenges for much of our relationship. We’re compatible in so many ways and the sex we have is satisfying. It’s just that he always wants more of it than I do. I don’t feel good about having a low sex-drive, but I always assumed there was nothing I could do about it. Am I wrong? Do these pills for boosting female libido really work? Are they safe? And if they are, do I owe it to my husband and myself to at least give it a try?
Curious and Hopeful
I’m not a doctor, but a brief perusing of the most recent research on over-the-counter libido-enhancing supplements suggests that the answer to your first question — do they work? — is an emphatic, meh. A 2020 study published in the Journal of Ethnopharmacology on the clinical effectiveness of specific supplements concluded that a woman’s sexual system is extremely complex, and there is no one supplement that shows effectiveness for libido improvement. That said, I’m sure there’s plenty of anecdotal evidence to the contrary, and given how much money I’ve wasted over the years at the supplement aisle of Whole Foods, far be it for me to advise against a little herbal experimentation. On the other hand, there’s really no substitute for an appointment with a trusted g.p., particularly since low-sex drive can often be related to medications, hormonal imbalances, or other physiological conditions. A doctor or nurse practitioner can take a look at your particular symptoms and offer you information about possible interventions.
Now that we’ve gotten that out of the way, let me turn my attention to your final question: do you owe it to yourself and your husband to do whatever you can to rev up your sex drive? Let me begin by saying, you’re not alone in wondering. Incompatible libidos are one of the most common concerns that bring couples into therapy. And while the problem is not strictly gendered — there are certainly plenty of women who want more sex than their partners — it is especially common for heterosexual couples to experience conflict around the issue. In my experience, male clients often feel frustration and rejection when their desire for sex surpasses that of their partners, while women with lower libidos often feel shame, inadequacy, and resentment. We live in a sex-driven, sex-positive, sex-obsessed culture in which it’s assumed we should all be having lots of sex a lot of the time and a lack of desire or willingness to do so is a sure sign of psycho-pathology or uptightness.
I thought of this recently when a cis-gendered, straight, male friend of mine confided that mismatching sex-drives had been a long-standing problem between him and his wife. He’d mentioned it to his doctor, and to his relief and surprise, the doctor had solved the problem for them; their relationship had never been better.
“What did he give her?” I asked, assuming he was going to tell me about some new pink pill his wife was taking that had turned her into an insatiable fiend.
“He put me on Prozac,” the friend said.
“For depression?” I asked.
“No,” he told me. “To make me want to screw less. And it worked!”
Apparently, for most of his adult life, my friend had been horny. He was hornier than every romantic partner he’d ever had, including his wife, finding himself in a constant state of frustration if they didn’t have sex three or four times a week. The first few years of his marriage, his wife’s desire had been roughly equal to his own. Now, they were in their late 40s and for her it was just too much. They were fighting about it constantly and even thinking about splitting up when he started Prozac. SSRIs are typically used to treat anxiety and depression, but a common side effect is reduced sex-drive. Taking the medication, for the first time in his life, my friend felt that his and his wife’s libido were perfectly in tune. They had satisfying sex every couple weeks. He enjoyed it. The rest of the time, he could enjoy her company and think about other things.
As my friend spoke, it occurred to that there must be thousands, maybe millions of men, in exactly the same boat, men whose high sex drives had caused problems in their marriages, their relationships, their lives. SSRIs are a safe and well-studied drug known to reduce sex drive, and yet not once had I ever seen it advertised for that purpose. If there were other doctors prescribing it for that purpose, they certainly weren’t talking about it much. High sex drive was seen as a sign of vitality and health, not a thing to be ebbed or tamed. Meanwhile, millions of women in every stage of life — middle-aged women and menopausal women, pregnant women and nursing women, bored women and tired women and women who still loved their husbands deeply but maybe just weren’t that physically attracted to him anymore — were in search of something to “fix” them. Funny, isn’t it?
I guess what I’m saying is, if you want to take medication to improve your sex drive because you’d like to have and enjoy sex more than you’re having it and enjoying it, more power to you. But you don’t “owe” this to anyone, especially not yourself.