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MenoPause Blog

Loss of Sexual Desire Is Not a Medical Myth

by JoAnn Pinkerton | Sep 28, 2016

We're pleased to have a guest post from Dr. Sheryl Kingsberg.

Kingsberg, Sheryl 2016

Sheryl A. Kingsberg, PhD
NAMS Board Member

Many women wonder whether they should quietly accept that they have lost their interest in sex, because even in 2016, society still sends a message that women, especially women of a certain age, are not supposed to want sex. They worry and suffer in silence that they have lost the desire they used to have, but they don’t understand why this has happened or what to do about it.

The message that these women actually need to hear is that sexual health is a basic right for all women and men and is an important component of overall health. It is only recently that women’s sexuality is being acknowledged within our society. Although the approval of “the pill” in 1960 was supposed to mark the beginning of the women’s sexual revolution, control over reproduction is not sufficient, and 55 years later, equality in sexual health is long overdue.

Distressing loss of sexual desire is a real medical condition and is known as hypoactive sexual desire disorder, or HSDD, and is defined as the absence or lack of sexual thoughts, dreams, or interest in sexual activity that causes personal distress. It is estimated that 6% to 7% of US women suffer from HSDD, with the highest prevalence in women ages 45 to 64. That translates to millions of women who lost their desire and want it back.

Women want to want, but they don’t know who to talk to about it. Sexuality is an important part of our personal identity, but because many of us lead busy professional and personal lives as wives, mothers, CEOs, teachers, clerks, caregivers, it’s easy to put sex aside. But when I talk to women about their sexual desires, they don’t typically say, “I can live without it.” Instead they want to talk about how to get it back. They want to want.

However, many healthcare professionals are still hesitant to talk to women about their sexual health, and women aren’t comfortable bringing it up on their own. This, along with the societal notion that it’s normal to lose desire, can stifle women from discussing the real sexual problems they are facing.

Low sexual desire affects more than just sex. The effect of HSDD on women goes way beyond the bedroom and can influence every aspect of their lives.

One thing is that it affects their connections to their partners. If a woman doesn’t desire sex, then the whole sexual encounter tends to be disappointing and may lead her to avoid sex altogether. And this avoidance affects overall communication and intimacy with her partner. Furthermore, a couple may not talk as much out of the bedroom, or they avoid engaging in activities together, especially if she’s worried that she’ll lead her partner on in some way. Overall, we know that when sex is bad or nonexistent, it is extremely draining and can greatly change an otherwise good relationship. Low sexual desire can also deeply affect a woman’s body image, mood, self-confidence, and self-worth.

It’s not a simple on/off switch for women. The complexity of what it takes to turn a woman on in the brain has finally started coming into focus. Most sexual problems have multiple contributing factors—psychological, cultural, and physiological. Recent research has indicated that HSDD may arise from an imbalance of the neurotransmitters or chemicals in the brain that regulate sexual desire.

The good news is that research into women’s sexual health has advanced, and we have better tools to evaluate which factors are contributing to sexual problems, and we now have psychological and biological treatment options. 

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JoAnn V. Pinkerton, MD, NCMP
Executive Director


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