Baby, You Can Light My Fire

Treatment of Low Sexual Desire

by Karen Gless, Ph.D., MFT
Aalona Counseling Center

“Baby, you can light my fire” or so the song goes but what if that fire doesn’t seem to ignite? It is known that low sexual desire is a function of our minds and our bodies. What is not often known is that it takes a bit of detective work to discover what the cause of the low desire is and then what can be done to solve it.
First, it is important that a therapist’s basic stand be “sex positive” when it comes to sex. The stand to take with couples is that both partners count. When counseling individuals or couples, these are the attitudes that should drive therapy.

Blaming and Complaining

So what is going on when that fire doesn’t seem to ignite? Desire issues can come up for both men and women, and the reasons for lack of desire are varied. Let’s look at one couple to understand some parts of this problem. Susan and Dave came to therapy after being together for three years. At the first session Susan spoke up saying, “It’s my problem. I don’t understand why I don’t feel much desire for Dave even though I love him very much.”

Some people blame themselves for low desire and others blame their partner for the problem. The difficulty is that blaming does not solve much of anything. This is how Dave saw the problem, “Sex is important to me and sometimes I don’t think Susan even cares if we have a good sex life.” At that point it was apparent that the lack of desire issue had become a power struggle between the two of them.

As they discussed this issue with each other, it was discovered that the way they talked about low sexual desire only confused them and made them more upset. Their discussions seldom got further because they would get too upset. Then they would drop the subject until the next time they got upset with each other.

Calming Down

To solve a problem such as low desire, couples have to get to the heart of the matter and that takes some calm detective work by both of you. It is very difficult to resolve something when you are upset. Susan and Dave were staying with the discussion until they were both so upset that they would drop the issue all-together.

A priority is making the therapy office a safe place for couples to discuss these issues. An important skill for partners to have in these discussions is the ability to take a break when things get too emotional. It’s a time to relax and think about the discussion from a deeper and often more valuable point of view. Partners do well if they know self-soothing techniques such as taking a deep breath or not taking everything personally.

As for Susan and Dave the more they calmed down, the easier it became to solve the problem. In session they became less and less defensive and began really sharing with each other. One session, Susan was talking about all her responsibilities. Then she said that she was still falling behind at work even though she got to work an hour early and was only sleeping six hours a night.

Susan was severely sleep deprived. Sleep deprivation is a major cause of low sexual desire, especially among women. At this point Dave got interested in helping out because it could do some good for their sex life. We talked about ways Susan and Dave could do things differently so she could get enough sleep and yet do the things she really needed to do. Susan and Dave’s relationship has improved so much that each night at home they are doing things together to lessen each other’s stress levels and they both have more interest in sex.

You can learn more and get practical guidance in Dr. Gless’s Learning Annex classes!
For more information about Dr. Karen Gless, Sex Therapist, go to:
Aalona Counseling Center