In a piece Tracey Cox writes for the Daily Mail, she pinpoints the three fears that are allegedly ruining women's sex lives. Among them: the fear that their low libido is screwing up their relationship.
This is a concern that has plagued women for what feels like eons. Is my libido low? Are our libidos mismatched? Where did I leave my libido? Is it underneath the couch, next to the dust bunnies and errant crayons?
This "problem" only becomes more pressing when you have kids. After all, it's tough to feel that compulsion to jump in the sack when blocks litter the floor, poop-covered onesies await their turn in the washing machine, your kid has been grabbing at your boob all day, and you've been daydreaming about diving onto your pillow-top mattress... for the purpose of enjoying eight uninterrupted hours of sleep.
Let me assure you, as a sex expert and a mom: your "low" libido is not the problem.
Hell, I wouldn't even classify it as "low." (Note my aggressive use of quotation marks around the problematic word.)
Back when I was writing sex advice for The Frisky, I labored to fix women's self-diagnosed sex problems, many of which seemed to come down to mismatched libido. After all, at the time, I myself was struggling with what I felt was a dearth of healthy desire. I didn't only want to fix those who had written to me for advice. I wanted to fix myself! I wanted to fix all of us! I wanted to fix THE WORLD of unsatisfactory sexual experiences.
Now, with the gift of hindsight, I see that all of the questions I received boiled down to One True Question: Am I normal?
Spoiler alert: yes.
When we talk about low libido, we fail to ask one simple question: low in comparison to whom? The truth of the matter is, there is no standard way of measuring libido. There is no standard for what is normal and what is not. If we feel disappointed by our level of desire, it is then considered low. Is this the standard by which we should be handing out diagnoses? (Second spoiler alert: no.)
Another interesting point is that our feelings around how much we desire sex are often colored by how much our partner desires sex. If we want it less than them, we feel guilt. We feel deficient. We feel broken.
Well screw that.
I could go on for a billion more words on the ways in which the pharmaceutical industry and the field of medicine and the media pathologize women's sexuality. It's sort of my wheelhouse, the thing I write about the most (aside from my daughter's penchant for eating carpet fibers and my husband's penchant for eating Cheetos for dinner.) Instead, I'll spare you the lecture and give you something you can work with.
I once wrote a tongue-in-cheek, GIF-laden piece on how you can set the mood when you're married with children. And I still stand by all of those tips. Especially the one in which I suggest you install a lock on your bedroom door.
But here are 10 more tips, a little bit more serious than my last set, on how to maintain intimacy with your partner when you are also a harried, over-exhausted parent:
1. Remember who you were before you were parents. Talk about things that are not about how to keep the baby out of the cat food or how a several-hundred-dollar Roomba might be worth it. Talk about culture and politics and work and hopes and dreams. And really listen to each other. Even when he's talking about web development and you're pretty sure he's just making up nerd terminology wholesale.
2. Try to be more positive than negative. Dr. John Gottman says he can predict a couple's probability of success simply by observing their micro-expressions. And while I have nightmares about what he might determine about my own marriage, a lot of his research does make sense. Especially his Positive-to-Negative Ratio, in which he states that there should be five positive interactions between partners to every one negative interaction in order to maintain a healthy balance. So instead of berating your partner for forgetting to rinse out the sippy cup, maybe compliment the way the lawn looks today. Because he is weirdly proud of his lawn tending skills. And that positivity is sure to generate some warm fuzzies.
3. Help each other out. Unsolicited. And don't act like you deserve a medal for your unsolicited help later on. Your partner will definitely notice and appreciate it, even if he or she doesn't say anything.
Is there something wrong with my marriage? No, no there isn't. We're just tired and rushed and forgetful.
4. Touch throughout the day. And no, I'm not endorsing unsolicited boob gropes... unless that's your thing. But have you noticed that you've stopped kissing each other hello and goodbye? Or holding hands for no reason? Or hugging? No? Just me? Is there something wrong with my marriage? No, no there isn't. We're just tired and rushed and forgetful. But an out-of-the-blue goodbye kiss is inordinately pleasant. You should try it.
5. Be easier on each other in the romance department. Sometimes, the best date can take place on the couch in your back room, with your favorite Netflix series and a couple beers.
6. Go places. And I don't mean that Mommy & Me swim class. Becoming a reclusive parent due to nap times or colic or any number of other things can really bring down the energy in a relationship. Make it a point to get out of the house as a family, even if you just go to Bahama Breeze once every few weeks to suck down boozy tropical beverages served in a coconut while your one-year-old chair dances to the live music.
7. Go places without the kids. Seriously. You will feel sooooo relaaaaaxed.
8. Dress nice when you go to those places. Because, surprisingly, your husband really will notice when you're wearing a nice top rather than the maternity top you've been trying to pull off as a regular tunic for the past two years.
9. Be open to other forms of sexual play. Sex is so much more than just intercourse. And pleasure is about more than just journeying your way to orgasm. So be open to going into things with an "everything-but" mentality. Because "everything-but" could always lead to "everything" and, even when it doesn't, you'll probably still have a good time.
10. Understand that desire and arousal are not always immediate. Men often experience spontaneous desire. Women can be a bit more complex and responsive. (Know that I am generalizing here like nobody's business.) So while I'm not advocating that you always give in to your partner's pleas for sex, even when you're not in the mood, I do want you to realize that the sex itself (and everything that entails) can often be what gets you in the mood to begin with.
So stop lamenting your low libido.
It's not low. You just need to find the right trigger.