When Men Don’t Want Sex: America’s Best Kept Secret


Listen to you, Shine sisters! You sure know how to rock a sex poll. 

When we wrote about low libido in women, you set us straight on who’s got the “sorry, not tonight” problem. 

Pwsgirl writes: “Why do these articles/researchers always assume it’s the WOMAN who deosn’t want sex as much as her partner? In my relationship, it’s the other way around.”

Tadakatsu1600 says “I want sex more than my boyfriend does and I find it so humiliating. I cry myself to sleep sometimes.”

In fact according to our poll, the majority of you—49 percent—say you’re more turned on than he is. (Only 14 percent report the reverse is true, and 9 percent don’t really care about sex at all.) 

There’s nothing worse for the ego than when you work your naughtiest, most seductive, vixeny vavoom, and he just gives you a blank look with, “Um, I’ve got a big work day tomorrow.” Now come on, what are you supposed to think? Is he pulling a John Edwards? Is he on the down-low?  When Robin Williams joked, “God gave men both a penis and a brain, but unfortunately not enough blood supply to run both at the same time,” he was no doubt referring to inactivity upstairs. But what about when the nada, nada, nada problem is down below?

1. IT’S SO NOT ABOUT YOU. True, one good sexual rebuff can rip through self-esteem like a semi-automatic rifle, but take a leap of faith: He loves you and is attracted to you. “When a woman is rejected, she concludes she is undesirable to him. In fact the opposite is often the case,” says Michael Riskin, PhD, executive director of the Sex Therapy Center of Orange County, California. “Men have the greatest sexual problems with women they highly desire. The same guys will be fine with a casual sexual encounter as there are no consequences from failure, and therefore no anxiety.” 

2. MAKE SURE IT’S HIS LIBIDO. Sex therapist Gerald Weeks, PhD, a professor in the department of marriage & family therapy at the University of Nevada, Las Vegas, and co-author of Hypoactive Sexual Desire: Integrating Sex and Couple Therapy, points out that you and your partner may just have a mismatched sex drives, or you’re not in the mood at the same times of day (“sexual asynchrony”). Barring those possibilities, if your partner wants sex less than a few times a month, and really doesn’t initiate, Weeks says he could have abnormally low libido, also called inhibited sexual desire or ISD. And it’s pretty common—to the tune of affecting 15 to 20 percent of all men.  

3. BREAKING THE ICE. “Just thinking about low libido, let alone talking about it, strikes terror in men because it threatens the very foundation on which their feelings of self-worth are based,” writes Michele Weiner Davis in The Sex Starved Marriage. But you shouldn’t just shove this under the rug, Weeks says; when a man’s pilot light goes out, it often doesn’t relight itself. You could open a discussion with something like: “I love you and want to have sex with you, the way we used to. I’ve read an article about how 1 out of 5 men have this problem and I just wanted to start a conversation about what’s really going on.” 

4. RULE OUT THE PHYSICAL. There are many reasons your man’s steamy radiator may have gone stone cold. Very low testosterone levels, antidepressants, and blood pressure drugs can all drain the libido. Disinterest is also sometimes an unconscious male mind game to cope with erectile or ejaculation problems. “Sexual failure may be followed by avoidance (the man does not want to face more episodes of humiliation), which turns into ISD,” says Riskin. “His brain is telling him in essence: If you’re going to avoid sex, you might as well not have any desire for it.   

 5. GO DEEPER.  “Most cases of low male desire are not related to sexual dysfunction,” Weeks says based on his 30 years of clinical experience. When a man can’t express his anger and it becomes chronic resentment toward his partner, for example, that’s a real libido killer. And guys who are slightly OCD, typically obsessing over work or money—”that takes up a lot of brain focus, leaving little freedom to let desire simmer,” Weeks says. Sexual abuse and post-traumatic stress (many returning soldiers experience lack of desire) may also be culprits. Power dynamics, too. “A man whose wife earns significantly more than he does,” Riskin says, “may need to play the role of provider and protector in order to feel desire.”

6. GET HELP.  A good work-up by a urologist is a starting point. Testosterone therapy is available for men (it’s safe for them, Weeks says, unlike women.) And erectile problems can be an early warning sign of diabetes and heart disease. If nothing shows up, find a good sex therapist who will work with you both. “Low desire is definitely treatable, “says Weeks. “We have a good success rate.”