One of the most common issues sex therapist Aleksandra Trkulja sees in female identifying clients is a loss of sexual desire. If this is you, you're not alone. Here, we explain why desire fluctuates and how to manage a loss of libido.
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Most clients worry they are alone, that this indicates a serious issue with their functioning, or that it’s a permanent loss.
The good news is; it’s super common. In fact, it’s normal to see changes, and fluctuations in sexual response and function over your lifetime.
So while it can be distressing for many, it’s a regular part of life in a human body.
And unless there has been some kind of physiological damage, a loss of sexual desire is manageable.
Before I give you practical strategies on how to manage sexual desire. It’s important to understand why it fluctuates.
The system responsible for desire in your brain and body is called the Dual Control Model of desire.
In your body you have a bunch of ‘stop’ and ‘go’ signals. When you’re thirsty, hungry, sleepy, and horny.
But unlike the rest, sexual desire isn’t necessary for survival. So it won’t happen without context. For many of us context is not the priority when it comes to eating, drinking, and even sleeping (e.g. all those people who can nap anywhere).
Desire works differently. Imagine that it works like a car. It has an accelerator, a brake pedal, and a handbrake.
The accelerator is the ‘go’ signal your body gives for sexual desire when the context is right. This might be a clean room, soft lighting, someone sexy, good conversation, or affectionate touch.
This is called your sexual excitation system (SES). When it recognises a sexy context, it hits the accelerator for sexual desire to occur.
Your brake pedal works in the same way, but for the wrong contexts, or stressors. This might be dirty laundry on the floor, screaming children, worrying about STI’s, unwanted pregnancy, or a nagging partner.
This is called your sexual inhibition system (SIS). When is recognises these un-sexy contexts, it hits the brake for sexual desire to stop.
The sexual inhibition system also has a handbrake.
The handbrake represents chronic stressors like a history of trauma, and performance anxiety concerns (like worrying about erection or orgasm).
Stressors that can hit your brakes can be internal (body image concerns, self-critical thoughts), or external (relationship or family stress, work stress, health or money concerns).
If these stressors are present, your handbrake will be up. Which means no matter how hard you put your foot on that accelerator, that car will only go so fast. It’s being slowed down significantly by stress.
The last thing you need to know about the Dual Control Model of desire is that; everyone’s accelerators and brakes vary in sensitivity.
Some people have touchy brakes, and stiff accelerators which will make sexual desire harder to experience.
Some people have touchy accelerators and stiff brakes, which will make them resident hornbags.
All of this is ‘normal’. That is to say, variability in function is the norm.
+ Complete a Sexual Temperament Questionnaire to find out what’s happening with your SIS and SES.
This will help you to understand whether you have touchy brakes or accelerators.
With this information, you can validate that you’re not ‘broken’, you just have sensitive brakes, or a stiff accelerator. For some people it will take more for sexual desire to occur. And that’s okay!
+ Complete a sexy context worksheet to identify what contexts turn you on, and which ones turn you off.
This will help you to understand what may assist in taking the pressure off the brakes, and putting pressure on the accelerator for sexual desire to flourish. With this worksheet, it can be helpful to identify tangible things that you or your partner can do to help this process. Be sure to share your results and discuss with partners.
+. Manage your stress! The research shows that the number on thing hitting our brakes is stress.
Complete a Stress Worksheet to understand the signals your body is giving you when it’s stressed, and identify tangible things that will help you process stress.
Stress management looks different for everyone, but a combination of self-directed activity, and support from others is a good place to start. Remind your partner that if they help to reduce your stress, it benefits both of you.
Desire is an intricate system influenced heavily by your context, and how you’re managing stress.
It’s important to remember that if you have experienced a loss of sexual desire, it’s not that you’re broken or defective. It’s just that your context and stress management can improve.
Your sexual response and function is supposed to fluctuate. So if you are stressed, and struggling to have sexy contexts, be gentle with yourself.
Maybe being a sex goddess isn’t compatible with mum-life, so re-work what intimacy looks like considering the circumstances have changed.