I had a great time as a single girl. I was good-looking (although somewhat to my continuing chagrin the compliment I usually got from men was “You’re cute” rather than “You’re beautiful”), and I knew how to flirt and converse and keep male attention focused on me. It gave me a charge to know that men desired me, and all the come-ons and subtle competition going on around me were like a steady stream of ego-boosting compliments.
I liked the sense of Power my charm and my smooth little body gave me. I had Something men wanted (even if in most cases it was little more than social acknowledgement of their masculinity), and they would almost invariably make an effort to be agreeable and entertaining. It was my perception that even men who weren’t really pursuing me sexually (faithful mates, co-workers, no-hopers) tended to be smiling, helpful and positive toward me, even forgiving me for things that they might not have forgiven less attractive women.
Having been brought up to be a Nice Person (and, frankly, knowing that excess bitchiness could subtract from my attractiveness), I tried not make too much of my unfair advantages in this respect, but let’s face it, when you have Power, there is a thrill in using it.
So I did.
I enjoyed the whole process of erotic attraction and sexual conquest: the first lighting up of a guy’s eyes, the circling dance of flirtation, the uncertainties, the kisses, the longing, the capture, and (whoa howdy) that exquisite First Time, when most men would knock themselves out to make sex slow, hot and fantastically pleasurable for me. Did I ever love THAT!
Unfortunately, however, the initial Power of Eros tends to be short-lived. You both have sexual energy and affection to burn in the beginning, so it’s easier to remain on your best behavior for a while. Things are very exciting while your infatuation is at its height, but familiarity and certainty soon take the sharp edge off the experience of relationship. This has nothing to do with character or intention or any kind of moral failing. It is simply a physiological fact of life: any repeated stimulus eventually evokes a reduced response. So there is no way in this world to sustain the energy and romance of a new relationship at its most thrilling pitch.
Everybody knows this, of course. Or perhaps I should say that everybody “knows” it. Because it is easy to pay lip service to this truth while not really believing it, down at the center of our most emotional and irrational selves. We can (and very often do) intellectually acknowledge life’s limitations while still craving the impossible.
My husband and I had a tornadic courtship under highly charged circumstances. There was drama, there was competition, there was conflict and high romance and furtive sex and enforced separations and relieved rendezvous. We were apart more than we were together during our engagement. And then we got married.
All of a sudden my role in the universe tilted and turned upside down. I was no longer a Hot Single Girl with a thousand erotic possibilities circling around me every day. Now I was a Married Woman, and there were going to be no more sexual choices, no more new adventures in sex and romance. This man, my husband, was all I was ever going to get again, erotically speaking. No more dancing and drinking and flirting with new men (their eyes lighting up at me, admiring me, showing me I was Wanted). That silly, fun, exciting stuff was all over now. I had to Settle Down and take care of my house and my strange step-children and my One man now. Forever.
How could I make such a transition? It was going to be impossible!
And it would have been, if my interest in sex hadn’t suddenly disappeared. Lucky for me, eh?
Here’s an interesting comment from the ORIGINAL “original blog” post on my loss of libido after marriage:
Why were you surprised that it should “happen to you”?
Look around you and see all the women with one or more children. In many cases they tried to keep their own dream of wedded bliss alive even after the first child. A second child did not help. The solution to their own waning interest and his painful behavior then seems to be somewhere in solitude. “Just leave me alone!”
Because I felt so sexy and so erotically oriented when I was single, I figured I would remain that way even after I was married. My Cosmo Girl culture told me that Normal, Healthy Women are “just naturally” interested in sex, and lots of it. So, I smugly assumed, obviously a terrific, liberated, womanly woman like me would NEVER end up like those Sick, Abnormal Wives I saw all around me, right?
Yet I ended up Sick and Abnormal anyway…or at least what my society considered Sick and Abnormal, and my knowledge of the contemptuous judgment of my culture made the experience of losing my libido even worse.
But there is nothing at all abnormal about a woman losing sexual interest in long-term partner. Not just because of the phenomenon of habituation which I mentioned yesterday, but also because evolution may have designed women to be, if not overtly polygamous, at least serially monogamous.
This is a hard idea for some people to accept. It was really only duing the last century that we decided that there was some optimal level of sexual interest that “normal” women should consistently feel. For centuries before that, although at varying levels of intensity, the mythology of womanhood has held that there are “good women” and “bad women.” Good women were “naturally” monogamous because they weren’t very interested in sex, and bad women were “naturally” promiscuous because they were TOO interested in sex.
These two types of women were generally considered mutually exclusive. But now we know they are very often one and the same, and the reason most women tend to cycle between the two modes of sexual existence aren’t just psychological, but possibly the result of our evolutionary development.
Consider a current theory regarding why sexual reproduction became so much more successful than the simpler forms of making new plants and animals, like parthenogenesis or budding. Needing two germ cells from different organisms to create a new one makes reproduction far less certain and more energy intensive than simply splitting oneself in two, so why did nature come up with such a complicated way of doing business?
As outlined in Matt Ridgely’s book The Red Queen: Sex and the Evolution of Human Nature the constant remixing of genes that sexual reproduction makes possible helps to ensure the survival of a species. Nature urges most animals toward a variety of sexual partners in order to mingle the most genes in the greatest number of combinations, increasing the odds that a useful or resistant genetic combination will be available when an environment changes or a new germ or parasite threatens. ("The Red Queen" is Ridgeley's trope for organisms' need to "run ever faster" in the genetic sense to stay head of new challenges to their survival.)
Up until recently, the most common assumption in the scientific community was that the more urgent and less discriminate male sex drive was nature's method of spreading genes around. The main female contribution to this paradigm was to literally incorporate (create a body for) a given gene mixture and then nurture it past its vulnerable infancy on its way to the next generation. In this concept, a woman's sex drive had to be strong enough in her youth to be receptive to initial pollination, so to speak, but didn't really need to have any active role in the species recombination effort. In fact, as I alluded to earlier, it was in a tribe's best interest if a woman's sex drive didn't interfere with her attention to nurturing babies and accomplishing her food and cave maintenance duties. In that sense, it is indeed "natural" for mothers and married women to lose interest in sex. So, this theory goes, the development of frigidity in a long-term relationship is nature's way of ensuring female fidelity.
However (you knew that was coming, didn't you?) the thing that is overlooked in this idea is the fact that such an understandable or "natural" loss of interest in sex wasn't — and evolutionarily speaking, never could be — permanent. If nature had arranged things such that a woman who'd accepted a "successful" deposit of sperm never wanted to have sex again, even the most peripatetic male population couldn't initiate enough different combinations through the bottleneck of singular nine-month pregnancies to satisfy the Red Queen's requirements.
So nature had to find a happy medium, let's say. It had to tune women's sex drive carefully, so that it tended to "turn off" in certain circumstances (preventing wholesale abandonments of vulnerable children and tribe-sustaining homes), but it also had to encourage women to continue to have sex throughout their lives — preferably (from nature's point of view, anyway) with MANY DIFFERENT MEN.
It's interesting in this context to note that at least one study has shown that there seems to be a common limit to the most "romantic" part of sexual relationships, which seems to somewhere in the range of 30-36 months. In other words, the "high," exciting, infatuation phase of any new relationship very seldom lasts more than three years for either partner (unless there are unusual factors at work that keep the drama or emotional stakes high).
Three years is approximately the time it takes to complete a pregnancy and get children to the stage of eating and absorbing ordinary food, talking enough to make their needs known, walking reasonable distances on their own and actively seeking relationships outside the family. (The "Terrible Twos" mark the first point in childrens lives when they appear interested in separating from their parents).
Three years is also the time period in which even the least fertile of women is likely to get pregnant. About 75-80 percent of normally fertile women will conceive during a year of regular unprotected intercourse. Those who have more trouble conceiving, or whose partners are less fertile than normal, will take longer, but after three years there is a good possibility that a given couple who haven't conceived together, won't. An "unproductive" pair might be more likely to contribute their genes to another generation if they sought different partners before too much time has passed.
In short, it is entirely "natural" for both men and women to lose erotic interest in their long term partners, and for their libidos to be revived by new "prospects." Sexual novelty is valued by nature for its own sake, but happily for the human race and the survival of infants, women's libidos are more malleable and equivocal. If culture or circumstances make it necessary, a woman's natural tendency to lose interest in a familiar partner can be extended indefinitely, and her desire for sex can disappear entirely.
While on the face of it this bodes ill for happy monogamy, women's sexual flexibility also makes it possible for them to recover their erotic sensitivity even without changing partners.
So, do I have any suggestions on how to help your wife rev herself up again?
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