As a sex therapist, people sometimes email and call me to ask if I can answer a "quick question" for them. Human sexuality is complicated, and a "quick question" generally has a convoluted answer. However, sometimes I am able to provide a general answer or offer a starting place for those seeking answers. When I polled my students, friends and family about "quick questions" they would like answered by a sex therapist, I was flooded. I narrowed the submissions down to two.
INTEREST IN SEX IS GOING, GOING, GONE
I am a 40-year-old woman, married 18 years, with twins, age 15, and a 12-year-old. I am a stay-at-home mom. I spend a lot of time driving the kids to their activities every day. My husband continues to be very interested in having sex, but I couldn't care less. I'm nowhere near menopause, but I think my hormones are off or something. I have no awareness of desire anymore. What's happening to me? I still love him very much.
This is a complaint I hear from a lot from women. A recent study published by the National Institutes of Health found that the prevalence of sexual dysfunction among all women is estimated to be between 25 and 63 percent. Those figures are even higher for postmenopausal women, at 68 to 86.5 percent. Also, sexual dysfunction is more common in women (43 percent) than in men (31 percent). Further, the Global Study of Sexual Attitudes and Behaviors found that between 26 and 48 percent of women over 40 reported a lack of interest in sex.
To answer your question, you could be experiencing a lack of desire for many reasons. Part of the sex therapy process would be to uncover these reasons and develop ways to increase your desire. Being a stay-at-home mom is a full-time job and exhausting. Are you getting enough sleep? Lack of sleep can lead to reduced testosterone levels, which may contribute to a low libido or feelings of fatigue. Was your libido always low, or has it declined over the course of your marriage? It is not uncommon for a person's sex drive to change over time. Fluctuations in libido often coincide with stress levels, major changes in your life or your relationship, or hormonal changes. How is your relationship with your husband? Does he make you feel guilty for not having sex? Does he help out enough with the kids and around the house? If you are harboring anxious feelings about needing to have sex, or feeling resentment toward your husband for not helping enough with the kids or house, the last thing you will want to do with him is be intimate.
Sex therapists use a process called sensate focus with couples experiencing situations similar to yours. Through sensate focus, couples are given a series of homework assignments geared toward rebuilding intimacy and trust in a relationship in an environment with reduced pressure and anxiety. The exercises begin with nonsexual massages and gradually work up to sexual touching and intercourse.
The fact that you love your husband is not indicative of how much sexual desire you should have for him. However, loving your husband is a great foundation and will help resolve this issue with more ease.
SURPRISE! WIFE FINDS HUSBAND IN HER BRA
I came home early from work one day last week and found my husband sitting in the family room dressed in my bra and panties and watching a sexually graphic movie on TV. He got really angry that I "caught" him. Is this common? What's going on with him? I am horrified.
First of all, cross-dressing does not mean your husband is gay, bisexual or transgender. Most men who cross-dress are heterosexual and married and simply enjoy the practice. There are varying estimates of the prevalence of male cross-dressers in the United States, ranging from 2 percent to 10 percent. In a study published in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality (Reynolds & Carson, 2008), researchers found that most of the heterosexual men who engaged in cross-dressing did so to achieve a feeling of "comfort and peace." Men in the study said they cross-dressed to fulfill a biological, genetic or innate desire.
There have been several studies focusing on the wives of cross-dressers. One of these studies, published in the Journal of Psychology and Human Sexuality (Reynolds & Carson, 2008), found that most wives did not support their husband's cross-dressing, but rather tolerated it. Generally, the wife's biggest source of anxiety about their husband's cross-dressing was that other people might find out.
If you and your husband were to pursue therapeutic services, it is likely that a therapist would first explore the feelings you both have about his cross-dressing. Often issues arise in relationships due to a lack of communication. You may be horrified by his cross-dressing because you do not understand why he does it or what it means about him. If you are given the space to ask questions and he is given the space to answer your questions, you both may feel more at ease with his cross-dressing. In the therapy session, you both may be asked what it would take for you to tolerate his desire to cross-dress. Most of the time, compromises must be made in order for both partners to feel as if their needs are being met. For instance, you may be able to work with your husband to set limits on his cross-dressing activities so you are more comfortable with his behavior.
Rest assured, your experience is not unique. In our society, gender norms are quite black and white. Any sort of behavior that does not fit into our rigid expectations is seen as taboo. The best thing to do in your situation is to learn more about cross-dressing, whether that means reading up on it or seeking the assistance of a sex therapist.
Dr. Katie Schubert has master's and doctorate degrees in sociology and gender studies from the University of Florida and a master's degree in clinical mental health counseling from Adams State University in Colorado. She is a certified sex therapist, providing therapy to individuals, couples and families on issues related to sexuality, sex and gender in St. Petersburg. To submit questions for a possible future column, email them to [email protected] or mail them to 233 Third St. N, Unit 204, St. Petersburg, FL 33701.