By Kerri Sackville – Daily Life
Many years ago, the marriage of a friend of mine broke down. Relationships are complex, but the biggest issue was her complete disinterest in sex. Her husband complained about their lack of intimacy, pleaded for sex, and finally asked for counselling. But my friend just wasn’t interested and, eventually, her husband had an affair.
It’s a common story. Except I changed one major detail.
It was my friend’s husband who was no longer interested in sex, not my female friend. She confided in me that they had had sex only two or three times in the past decade. A few years after her affair, she found the courage to leave her marriage, and is now in a satisfying relationship.
My friend isn’t alone or even unusual. I know several women who have had affairs or left marriages because their husbands had no interest in sex. Despite the old trope that it is women in long marriages who lose interest in sex, there are stats to prove this; including statistics from married dating site Ashley Madison, which found that a lack of marital sex is one of the primary reasons that women stray.
The majority of female users of the site describe their marriages as largely sexless, and most cite their partner’s lack of desire as the reason. Sixty four per cent of the women claimed to feel sexually neglected by their husbands and one quarter reported having sex with their husbands once or less per year.
And yet we rarely discuss the male lack of libido. Women are certainly comfortable discussing their own loss of libido, particularly after childbirth or menopause. “I’d be happy never to have sex again,” one middle aged friend told me cheerfully and though I don’t feel the same, I get it. There’s no stigma attached to being female and uninterested in sex. Married women joke with each other about “having” to have sex with their husbands, and married men joke with each other about how little sex they’re getting.
There is tremendous shame in being undesired. I think this is particularly so for women as men are supposed to want sex constantly.
When female celebrities such as Diane Keaton and Linda Hamilton come out as celibate, we barely blink. But the opposite is definitely not true. You never see women joking with each other about how little sex their husbands want, nor do men make cracks about desperately avoiding their wives’ advances. There is often embarrassment and secrecy surrounding the male lack of libido on the part of both the men and their wives.
Partly, this is because of the gendered myths attached to sexuality. There is still a pervasive belief that women lose interest in sex earlier or more often than men, and that men are enduring, crazed sex machines. We believe that women in relationships with men have unlimited access to sex but don’t want it, but men in relationships with women want unlimited access to sex but don’t have it.
Because of these myths, when a man doesn’t want to have sex with his partner, she can take it very personally. As one woman told me, “There is tremendous shame in being undesired. I think this is particularly so for women as men are supposed to want sex constantly. It does devalue your self-esteem when your husband doesn’t want to touch you.”
What’s more, male sex drive is inextricably linked to masculinity and power. The whole concept of “virility” links manliness to a strong sex drive; there is simply no female equivalent. A man admitting to having little interest in sex is akin to him admitting he is not masculine. When British footballer and “eligible bachelor” Gary Lineker recently admitted to having little interest in sex, it made headline news around the country.
The Ashley Madison survey found many respondents cheat for sex, rather than love and see infidelity as a way of getting their needs met whilst remaining married. And whilst it’s easy to see the study as an apologist for infidelity (after all, it is a website for adultery), it does shine a light on the old myths surrounding sex and gender.
No, not all men have strong libidos and no, not all women lose theirs. And whilst we are able now to acknowledge women’s libidos, it seems that men’s lack of libido is one of the last sexual taboos.
Kerri is an author, columnist and mother of three. Her latest book is ‘Out There: A Survival Guide for Dating in Midlife’.