Q I'm a woman in my 20s, and I've been dating the love of my life for two years now. We are incredibly happy except for—guess!—we have different sex drives. When we first started dating, I initiated sex all the time and enjoyed it, but as soon as I started on birth control, my libido evaporated. After a nightmarish year of trying different methods, arguing with doctors, and hurt feelings, I decided that it wasn't worth it, and we've stopped using any hormonal birth control (we're using condoms).
But months later, I still have almost no interest in sex or masturbation. We have sex once or twice a week, but it's physically boring. I put on my game face and endure it. I enjoy pleasing him, but it does nothing for me. It hurts him that I'm not interested in sex and that he can't arouse or please me. I want us to have a healthy sex life, because I love him and he's worth it. Could this still be the birth control? Did I somehow flip the off switch?
Please help, Dan. My doctors are all sex-negative and don't see the problem, and I want to enjoy sex again. —Not Horny, Not Happy
A Your problem doesn't sound like a case of differing sex drives, NHNH, but like a healthy sex drive that's been derailed.
"Birth control pills can decrease sexual desire if they substantially lower testosterone levels," says Cindy M. Meston, professor of clinical psychology at University of Texas at Austin and author of Why Women Have Sex. "The pill supplies a steady dose of hormones, so that the body stops producing its own unsteady, cyclical dose." The pill keeps your estrogen level high in order to prevent ovulation, while also "increasing the sex-hormone-binding globulin (SHBG), which binds to testosterone, thus blocking it from being 'read' by the body."
Testosterone plays a huge role in female libido, and blocking testosterone doesn't do your libido any favors. And while most women who experience a severe drop in libido on the pill bounce back a few months after they stop taking it, some women aren't so lucky.
"One well-regarded researcher, Irwin Goldstein, found that after stopping the pill, SHBG remained high in some women and testosterone levels didn't go back up," says Meston. "It's not common, but it could explain this woman's situation. The best thing for her would be to go to a gynecologist, urologist, or endocrinologist who specializes in sexual medicine (make sure they actually know what the hell they're measuring) and have all her reproductive hormones measured. If she's low in testosterone, she can take testosterone supplements."
That means you'll have to fire your current sex-negative doctors, NHNH, and find yourself some new, sex-positive ones—and you'll have to stick with them.
"She needs a good doctor to monitor her closely, as too much testosterone causes bad side effects in women—side effects like facial hair growth."
I also shared your e-mail with Debby Herbenick, PhD, sexual-health educator at the Kinsey Institute and author of Because It Feels Good, and she feels there's a chance your problem isn't hormonal.
"In working with people, what I more often have found—and wrote about in my book—is something I call a 'cycle of dread.' I know that sounds 'magazine-y' but it's the best way I can think of to describe it, and this woman seems to epitomize it."
A cycle of dread—let's call it COD—can kick in when someone keeps having sex she doesn't want to have or isn't enjoying because she feels she must.
"Sometimes, it works out all right—once they start going, it feels better. But quite often, they don't want it, they do it anyway, it sucks ('physically boring,' 'I put on my game face'), and they do it anyway and keep doing it."
And COD, like SHBG, can flip your libido's off switch. So what do you do if COD's the issue?
"She should work with her partner," says Herbenick. "Talk about the situation, acknowledge that sometimes she doesn't want sex, or that type of sex." Herbenick believes a temporary "ban on intercourse"—or taking "vaginal off the menu," as I've recommended in similar circumstances—"can help couples learn to touch each other again with pleasure."
I think you should take the advice of both of our guest experts: initiate a ban on intercourse for now, NHNH, because you're not doing you, your libido, or your boyfriend any favors when you put on that game face and go through the motions, and go get your hormone levels checked.
Q What does a person do when an LTR starts to feel stagnant or boring or dull?
—Partnered but Jonesing
A A person experiments (with partner), cheats (on partner), or breaks up (with partner).
Q I have a dilemma. Even though I was born in 1972, people always assume that I'm in my mid-20s. I tend to attract girls in their early 20s, and when they ask how old I am, I counter with "How old do you think I am?" They invariably guess an age that I haven't seen in more than a decade. When I tell these 21- to 23-year-olds the truth, it's a complete turnoff. Just last night I had to endure—that's endure, not Ensure—my third brush-off at the hands of a hot 21-year-old girl in a row!
So what's an apparent senior citizen like myself to do? Do I just wait hopelessly for the dreaded question to come up? Do I blurt out "I'm old" as soon as a woman walks up to me? Do I take measures to try to look my age?
You're probably wondering why I don't just go for women closer to my own age. Here's why: women my own age tell me that they're looking for serious relationships and I look way too young for that and they worry that my looks mean I'm a total player! —You're Only Using Numbers, Girls
A First, YOUNG, maybe your problem is the lousy puns. Endure/Ensure? That would earn you a brush-off from me.
But if older women aren't interested because you look too young, and younger women aren't interested because you are too old—if you're actually being discriminated against based on your age/looks—then you have a license to lie to women, young and old.
Let younger women think you're in your 20s until they get to know you better. Then disclose and apologize for the deceit without being too abject about it. You had cause. As for women closer to your own age, well, instead of telling them you're very nearly 40, YOUNG, let 'em think you're a twentysomething with a thing for older women. Then if a puma—or panther or cougar or otter or whatever—decides to dump you because she's getting too attached and the (presumed) age difference is simply too great, bust out your birth certificate, apologize, and propose.
Two years ago an openly gay student at Hudson High School in upstate New York ran for prom queen. He won—but school officials denied him the crown. This year two openly gay students—best friends, both boys—at Hudson High ran for prom king and queen and won in a landslide. School officials didn't stand in their way—in fact, they'd encouraged them—and Charlie Ferrusi and Timmy Howard got their crowns. Congrats to 2008's rightful prom queen, Augie Abatecola, congrats to this year's prom queen and king, congrats to the school officials who learned their lesson, and congrats to all the students at Hudson High.