People say communication is the key to a successful relationship. No arguments here, but physical intimacy also ranks high on the list. Whether you’ve been married to a woman for over a decade or are a few dates in with someone new, sex plays an undeniably big role in how the two of you connect. So when your girlfriend, wife, or latest fling doesn’t want to hit the sheets, something is probably up.
Barring any major relationship issues, it’s easy to think she just isn’t feeling attracted to you. Before you start feeling too lousy about yourself, know there are some much more complex issues at play. We recently chatted with Cindy Barshop, former star of The Real Housewives of New York City and CEO of VSPOT Medi-Spa, and Dr. Carolyn DeLucia, a gynecologist who works with VSPOT, to talk about the reasons women might not feel like being intimate.
This duo had quite a bit to reveal and, while they acknowledged some complications are more difficult than others, they’re working to help women feel more empowered when it comes to their sex lives by seeking out appropriate treatments and maintaining an honest conversation with their partners. Acknowledging these complications is the first step to starting the discussion.
1. It isn’t a priority
It’s not uncommon for your sex life to suffer after starting a family, even if it’s just because your wife or partner is too exhausted to do anything but sleep after crawling into bed. And if your kids are close by, you might feel like you don’t have enough privacy to get busy between the sheets. “We’re distracted by the actual impact, emotionally, of raising a family and knowing those children are in the next room,” DeLucia explained. Worrying about your 3-year old hearing the two of you going at it definitely puts a damper on things.
And don’t forget about the possibility that many women are focused on their careers and may be flying solo as a parent. This was the case for Barshop. “I’m a mom of twins and I really wasn’t dating a lot,” she said. “I basically didn’t have the mindset to date. I was like, ‘I’m fine. I’ll do it later on.'” If a woman hardly has time to get together for dinner, it’s likely she isn’t going to make beeline for you bedroom.
2. Being intimate causes physical pain
In simple terms, most of us enjoy intercourse because it feels good. Yes, it’s also a way to connect with someone you care about, but the physical sensation matters a lot. If it doesn’t feel good, the desire quickly diminishes.
When women reach a certain stage in life, their bodies becomes less geared toward sexual activity as they leave their childbearing years behind. These changes can spell huge implications for the way sex feels. “What I’ve felt going through monopause is that the walls of the vagina were very, very dry and intercourse was painful,” DeLucia said. “And that’s going to affect libido. If it hurts, why in God’s name would you want to do it?”
3. It doesn’t feel the same as it used to
Even if intercourse isn’t outright painful for a woman, it can be lackluster after kids enter the picture. “After giving birth, either vaginally or by cesarean section, the anatomy is altered,” DeLucia explained. “With the change in anatomy of our vagina, the walls are stretched out and the bladder neck is weakened. There’s a definite change in blood supply as well.” If it doesn’t physically feel the same as it used to, you both may have to make some adjustments.
Breast feeding plays a role as well. DeLucia said, in her own experience, “it really felt almost like menopause how uncomfortable the changes in tissue were.”
4. She has a hormonal imbalance
Some of our topics so far have glanced over menopause, but there’s even more to the story. If your partner is just entering this phase of her life, it’s going to be a big adjustment for both of you. “Our hormones are going up and down and all around,” DeLucia said. “You have hot flashes and night sweats, and you don’t feel too sexy when you wake up drenched at night.”
Hormonal shifts have implications for younger women as well. “There are many hormonal changes in our bodies and irregularities, like polycystic ovarian syndrome, where you have an imbalance of not getting your period regularly,” DeLucia explained.
Even a woman’s diet and workout habits can drastically impact her hormones. “Patients who have anorexia or are just extreme athletes don’t have enough body fat to produce enough estrogen and their vaginas will feel menopausal, even though they are young,” DeLucia said. When this happens, a woman’s reproductive system shuts down and they’ll stop menstruating. If all that turns off, so does the desire to be sexually active.
5. She feels self-conscious about her body
Most people associate body image issues with teenagers, but even older women find themselves dealing with these issues, particularly if they’re comparing themselves to the way they looked 10 or 15 years ago. It was something Barshop definitely found herself worrying about. “I wasn’t in as good of shape as I was before, so there was a bit of a body image issue after being pregnant and giving birth to two girls,” she said.
Another thing a lot of women are too embarrassed to talk about is the change in certain bodily functions after childbirth. For many, controlling urinary function becomes a problem. According to Barshop, “It affects your everyday life if you have urinary leakage: what you wear, who you go out with, what you drink during the day, when you bathe, everything.” And yes, that includes sex. A female won’t be interested in being intimate if she’s worried about literally wetting the bed.
6. Her medications are getting in the way
Many medications come with a long list of side-effects, and sexual function is one of them. The biggest offenders in this department are antidepressants. DeLucia said many of these types of medications, particularly selective serotonin reuptake inhibitors like Zoloft, cause libido to drop. And these medications aren’t just reserved for those who suffer from depression. “We use antidepressants to treat PMDD or premenstrual dysmorphic disorder, women who suffer terribly before their periods,” DeLucia said.
Lastly, DeLucia mentioned certain blood pressure drugs can also interfere with sexual function. This can be a real challenge because cardiovascular disease itself often makes it difficult to engage in intercourse. If a sudden drop in sex drive coincides with your partner starting a new medication, you may have found the culprit.