I receive a lot of messages from men who are in ‘happy but sexless’ marriages. For the record, I won’t become involved with a man whose wife doesn’t know or approve of his extra-marital activities, and not because I’m judging the husband. I’m not. I simply try putting myself in the place of the wife; how I would feel if I discovered my husband was having an affair. I would be devastated. So, I cannot in good conscience take part in something that would cause another person that kind of pain.
Having said this, I want to acknowledge what the husbands are going through. Men are more sexually driven than women as a general rule. It’s a matter of biology. Men also suffer far fewer hormonal fluctuations – or physical life events – that negatively affect their libido. So, I get it…that except for unusual circumstances, sex is virtually always on a man’s mind.
A woman, by contrast, can vary greatly in her desire at any point in her life.
But I’m not here to talk about estrogen. At least, not today. I’d like to talk about something much trickier, and much more fundamental to a woman’s sensuality…her self-concept. Self-concept and self-esteem are not the same thing. A woman’s self-esteem (how GOOD she feels about herself) is a part of her self-concept, but only a part. Add to this her identity as: a professional, a caretaker, a mother, a lover, a spiritual role model, a healer, a friend, an advisor, (did I already mention caretaker and mother?), a follower, a peer, a partner, an advocate, and oh yes, a mother.
I realize that men’s identities revolve around many of these same things. But there is one key difference between men and women on this point, and it is often overlooked:
Men are generally far better at compartmentalization than women are.
Why is this important?
When part of a woman’s identity changes, either as a result of age or circumstance, her whole identity changes. It is all connected. Some of you may have noticed the emphasis above on ‘mother’ (yes, I did rather bludgeon you over the head with it, but with good reason…it’s that important).
When a woman reaches the age when her children are becoming self-sufficient, she experiences a powerful shift. After spending roughly twenty years putting her children’s needs above her own, she is faced with the reality of attending to her own needs and interests. But she is no longer the same person she was in youth, so what does attending to her own needs and desires look like?
- In a society that worships youth, she realizes she’s no longer the pretty (or sexy) ingenue. Every commercial for anti-aging products reminds her that nobody likes wrinkles, and she has accumulated a few.
- Her body has physically altered, and if over the age of 40, her metabolism has slowed. She has to work harder to maintain her shape; and again, messages in the media abound when it comes to the feminine physical ideal.
- If children have recently moved out or married, she may be mourning to some degree
- She has probably spent very little time thinking about what she wants to do with the rest of her life (outside of children and career), and now that she has time for herself, she is utterly befuddled what to do with it.
Put all of this together. And stir. Oh yes, and let’s sprinkle shifting hormones on top.
She feels overwhelmed, frustrated and stuck; hardly a state where the brilliant, strong, loving, devoted woman you adore is likely to shine with renewed sensuality, a lust for life, or a sense of ‘owning who she is’. And remember our little friend, Self-Esteem? Nowhere to be found when a woman is trying to redefine herself.
The upshot: Sexy does not live at this address. And when a woman doesn’t feel sexy, she doesn’t desire sex. This is true despite the numerous reassurances by her partner that she is very desirable. Like the saying goes, ‘you can lead a horse to water’… you can tell a woman all day long how sexy she is, but you can’t make her believe it. She has to do that for herself.
This isn’t to say that partners can’t help. They most definitely can. That’s a topic we’ll cover in its own post.