There's a popular image of husbands who can't get enough sex. Is that a myth?
Weiner Davis: A few years ago, I wrote a book called The Sex-Starved Marriage, where I described what happens in marriages where one spouse is desperately longing for more touch or more sex than the other. In that book, I devoted a mere seven pages to the unique challenges for women when they're the more highly sexed spouse. I was inundated with calls, letters and e-mails from women saying, Thank you so much for writing about this because I honestly believed I was the only woman in the world whose husband wasn't chasing her around the living room.
A desire discrepancy, or a desire gap, is the most common problem brought to sex therapists. It's estimated that one out of every three couples experiences this difficulty. And that really doesn't count the kinds of hills and valleys that all couples go through, even when they have a really healthy sex life. It's really what becomes the main issue in their relationship.
Do these marriages often end in divorce?
Unless they get help, they often can. The other thing that happens is the person with the higher desire just lives their life in lonely misery. More men than women complain about not getting enough sex, [but] the difference between the two genders is not nearly as great as the general public believes. Low desire in men has got to be America's best-kept secret.
I teamed up with Redbook magazine to survey women about what goes on behind closed bedroom doors. Over 1,000 women responded, [and] 60% of them reported that they wanted at least as much, if not more, sex than their husbands. What was also interesting, but not surprising, is that the vast majority of men who experienced low sexual desire were completely unwilling to talk with their wives, go to a doctor or go to a therapist. In a culture that equates masculinity with virility, it's no wonder that these guys are tight-lipped.
So, what happens in these marriages is that women feel exasperated because they are incredibly lonely. They feel isolated. When someone is more highly sexed, the person who has less desire really thinks it's just about having an orgasm. [But] to the more highly sexed spouse, it is truly about feeling wanted and loved and emotionally connected.
You divide couples into higher-drive spouses and lower-drive spouses. Is that always true in marriages?
Sometimes [spouses] are fairly evenly matched — sex is not an issue, and it's a good part of their marriage. But it is very, very common for people to be mismatched in their sexual desire. That in and of itself is not a deal-breaker and is not necessarily a problem. How couples deal with that really becomes the issue. We discovered in the survey, and it bears itself out in my practice, that the person with the lower sex drive controls the sexual relationship, not out of a need to manipulate or control, but because they have veto power. If they're not in the mood, it doesn't happen. There's an unspoken agreement: the person with the lower desire expects his or her spouse to accept it, not complain about it, and also to be monogamous. In my years in working with couples, that's pretty much an unfair and unworkable arrangement.
What are the major reasons for these kinds of problems?
They fit into three categories: biological, emotional or relationship-oriented. [First], the biological reasons. There are many physical conditions that contribute to low desire, as well as the medications that treat them. It's a fairly well-known fact, for example, that most antidepressants dampen desire and the ability to be aroused. A cardiovascular disease of any sort is a problem too, as well as some of the medications that treat it. Hormonal fluctuations, such as testosterone, also affects sex drive. So it would make perfect sense for any man experiencing a drop in desire to start by visiting his physician and having a thorough check-up. That's step number one.