Amid last year’s storm in a teacup when Davina McCall talked about keeping her husband happy in the bedroom, one reaction that didn’t seem to emerge was what happens when it is the man who doesn’t feel like sex.
This is not as unusual as pop culture would have us believe.
As stereotypes reduce us to mere caricatures, it’s easy to think that the woman is always the one pleading a headache, and with a bigger desire to nurse a glass of wine and a TV boxset than get adventurous beneath the sheets. While men, of course, are always up for it and think about the horizontal tango every minute.
In reality, more and more women are finding that it is their male partners who utter “not tonight dear” at the invitation for a little intimacy.
A third of women more interested in sex
A north American study, conducted by Dr Irwin Goldstein, who is the president and director of The Institute for Sexual Medicine, has found that one in five men has an “extremely low” sex drive and nearly 30% of women have more interest in sex than their partner.
While UK stats are not easily available, Murial, in her late 40s, says that in her social circle, this is a common issue. “My friends have all experienced their husbands turning their back on them in the bedroom, and it’s caused a lot of tension,” she says.
Murial’s own relationship is currently facing this dilemma. She says that it has left her feeling lonely and isolated within her marriage. Her husband is 57.
“It’s personal, isn’t it? You might be feeling annoyed with your husband for shutting you out like this, but you don’t want to blab about it either,” says Murial.
A marriage without sex
Mariam Prag, a counsellor who works with couples, provides further insight into just what a challenge this dynamic can raise in marriages.
“So many emotions come up for women when their husbands spurn their advances, from rejection to annoyance. It can cause major issues that put a lot of distance into the relationship,” says Mariam.
But to be fair, wouldn’t this be the emotional fallout for men too if they are faced with constant rebuffs by their wives?
Mariam affirms that it is and that she treats couples too where the men are the ones being turned down repeatedly. But she finds that an extra layer of emotional complexity does add itself to the dynamic when it is the husband refusing sex. This is due in large part to those dreaded stereotypes.
She explains: “Women are lead to believe that men always desire sex, so when the man in a woman’s life repeatedly says no to sex, apart from feeling rejected, she will also start to question whether there is something wrong with her.”
Health issues and your sex drive
Relationships, especially long-term ones, come with challenges and tough times. Raising kids, paying off mortgages, building careers, dealing with ill parents: married couples often find themselves in a maelstrom of activities that demand their attention and sap their energy.
However, persistent refusal from a man to engage in lovemaking needs to be taken seriously. Apart from the damage it can cause to a relationship, it could also be an indication of latent health issues that should be investigated.
Depression and stress need to be ruled out, as well as a dependency on alcohol or drugs.
Some medication also affects sex drive and it makes sense to investigate whether that is the case.
Undetected chronic illnesses could also manifest themselves as a low libido in men. Of these, diabetes is a big culprit, and can diminish sex drive in both men and women.
Hypertension and cardiovascular disease contribute to a low libido by restricting blood flow around the body, including, crucially, to the genital organs.
How to deal with low libido
Although the topic of low sex drive among men is undeniably a contentious one to discuss between couples, the best way to deal with it is through open communication.
“Speaking about it, to each other, takes some of the sting out of it and helps a couple figure out where to go for help,” says Mariam. “Keeping it bottled up inside leads to recriminations, resentment and, in some cases, separation.”
GPs are effective as the first port of call in dealing with this issue.