It’s quite common to think of sexual attraction and desire when you think of romantic love. It seems that the steamy, aching feelings that rise with sexual desire pair so perfectly with that crazy first stage of love. It’s also the way that it’s told in all the stories—that true love will automatically lead to good sex. The truth is, it turns out that lasting sexual desire is ruled by somewhat different forces than what shape a strong love and relationship.
When it comes to sex, what’s love got to do with it?
It’s easy for there to be more sexual desire, arousal, and attraction at the beginning of a relationship because of how prominent dopamine is during that time. Early in a relationship, more dopamine is released whenever you have contact with a new partner, causing you to pay more attention to them. This also results in an easier release of other neurotransmitters that play a part in driving sexual arousal. But it is clearly known that different parts of the brain light up when someone feels love than when someone feels lust. Interestingly, feelings of lust can lead to increased feelings of love, but not the other way around. Yes, you heard that correctly.
So what increases sexual desire?
Instead, cravings for sexual stimulation and activity are shaped by lots of different things—expectations of what you’ll get out of it, your ideas of what sexy are, previous experiences, and desire to get continued physical arousal to name a few. Isn’t it wonderful though when you can get that from someone you love, someone you have fun with, someone you trust, and someone who you like as a person! This is why a long-term romantic partner is a great choice for a long-term sex partner. But so many couples find that their sex life seems to peter out, even if they find they are strongly in love and that everything else is going well.
Sexual desire works differently than love.
In order to keep sexual desire strong, it’s important to exercise ways to keep both your intimacy and your sense of adventure strong. As I discuss in my book Wanting to Want: What Kills Your Sex Life and How to Keep It Alive, you cannot expect that sexual desire will continue to beat strongly without some attention and effort on your part. Those couples who expect that it should just come automatically and spontaneously—even after children, or during times of stress—are in for a rude awakening. Unfortunately, many of these couples start to think that they just aren’t attracted to each other anymore and give up on the relationship (or at least the sexual relationship).
Both love and sex require nurturing and attention.
There are specific interventions that are necessary to keep your overall relationship on track. These include supporting each other emotionally, mutual respect, connecting positively with the other person, and understanding your partner’s point of view. But for sex, what’s needed is feeling open to the other person, being able to focus on your own erotic space, and eliminating those things that interfere with your experience of pleasure (even if they are just in your head). In fact, what’s needed for a good sex life can sometimes seem selfish to some people, but really works for the good of the couple. So it’s true when they say, “What’s love got to do with it?”
My issues start with low self esteem and Being extremely self conscious. Especially now after having 2 babies back to back. The man I’m with has told me more than a few times My V isnt tight anymore and I continuously catch him on a porn application for his phone he downloaded, problem is he’s on it about 7-10 times a day. Being told “I’m loose” & catching him constantly getting turned on by smaller more confident women. As a result I have lost all sexual interest in him… How should I handle this situation?
Amanda – there a couple of things going on here, but each need to be addressed. First, you can tighten the opening of the vagina by doing Kegel exercises like I describe in this article. There is obviously some anger and resentment about being dismissed by him and him watching porn. This is fueling more insecurity on your part (how would you know the women in porn are “smaller” than you?). You should read my book Wanting To Want which starts to address some of these issues.
Wow, I needed this – and I’ll now be looking for your book! Just reading this gives me a good idea of all the ways I’ve gone “wrong” – and I did think that maybe I’m just not attracted to my partner of ten years (Married for eight, and we have three kids ages 1mo to 5 years.) Thank you!
Tiffany, great! Hope it is helpful for you.
Well I’ve have had self esteem problems all my life because of my weight problem but when I met my bf at the time I was my smallest he didn’t mind it ofcourse when I got a little bit bigger he prefer it problem was in our relationship we hardly have sex. now a year later had a baby and him and I haven’t had sex in about six months and I try to kerp him satisfied with oral sex but of course I get nothing in return. No intimacy we are always fighting. I’m so depresses he makes me feel selfish for being depressed. I do alot for him and he does alot for me but sex wise it’s confusing he is very sexual person he loves me so much yet we hardly have sex.
I wrote something about this in my most recent blogpost.
I think, sometimes there is just no remedy.
Raffaella – Yes, it’s true, sometimes there is just no remedy. It depends how long the negative dynamics have gone on and how willing each partner is to work on the issue. Each person in a couple may be on a different page and not necessarily want the same things in the sexual relationship. I just want people to know that there are very common reasons why people create distance between each other. If you know what’s happening, you can make a choice as to whether you want to address it or not. Thank you for your thoughts!
If you don’t have sexual desire, you’re probably asexual. It is NOT, I repeat, NOT A DISORDER OR PROBLEM! If you want to learn more about asexuality, go visit AVEN at asexuality.com. The definition of an asexual is the following- an asexual is a person who does not experience sexual attractions.
oh and this is not the Amanda from above. This is Amanda J. Not spelling out full last name 🙂
Amanda J. – many people start off with desire that disappears over time. I would not call those people asexual. What I am referring to in this article is those who have lost their sexual desire they once had. They would not be called asexual. But you are correct about asexuality – it isn’t a disorder – but it is different from what I am addressing here. Thank You.
Hi Dr. Castellanos,
Does regular ejaculation help men ward off prostate cancer ? I have heard conflicting theories on this. I have seen different opinions on the web concerning this subject also.
Tom – studies demonstrate that regular ejaculations increase blood flow to the prostate, flush out the fluids, and decrease the incidence of prostate cancer. Here’s a link to references from Harvard.
Thanks Doctor. Sorry to ask this question on two different pages of yours. I lost my other page when I upgraded my pc and had difficulty getting it back, but I have it now. Certainly, all men can use your above information.
Thanks again !!
Hi, I stumbled across this while searching for some help.
It’s a slightly different situation, my girlfriend and I were together for 2 years. We both love each other very much but have been split up for nearly 5 months because she isn’t sexually attracted to me.
She says she finds it difficult to be both sexually and romantically attracted to someone, she had it once before me too so we can confirm its not just me. Before me her longest relationship was only 2 months. We’re both 21, and she does get horny etc and since the break up she has had sex once. But she said it was horrible because it wasn’t me. And yet when we were together, there was no way I could turn her on if she wasn’t already horny, the gentle caresses that would usually turn a partner on just tickled her. And it was clear that she was not feeling the lust that I felt. The only way that I could get her to climax was through oral, and she says she mostly enjoyed other things I did (though not enough to climax, and I’ve had a fairly successful past history of being pretty good in bed, so I don’t believe it’s my technique but rather her lack of sexual attraction to me, though I did try different techniques/situations/kinks/positions etc for about a year until I accepted defeat). But she said that even the oral made her feel slightly strange.
So long story short, here we are 5 months later and she is completely miserable without me. And I really really miss her. We were so good together in every single way except for that! But it’s just too big a thing for us to go without. And it was also bringing me down and making me feel useless and repulsive.
I guess what I’m asking is whether you think there is any way to change this or help her with her issues or whether we both just need to accept that our love for each other is not enough.
I can’t give you personal advice, but when people feel this way, there is often some anxiety keeping them from having full desire for the other person. If someone can reach orgasm with you through oral, that means that there is some window into the eroticism. This sounds like a situation for a sex therapist to help you both with.
Every relationship I’ve ever been in, the sex is great at first. The pattern I’m seeing is that once I truly fall in love, sex almost feels wrong with that person and I have NO desire with my partner anymore. I still love them, It’s like I respect the person too much to have sex with them. Ultimately the relationship ends because of it. This has gone on for 30 years. Why do I feel sex is wrong with a person I love? Thanks for any help.
I would highly suggest that you explore this with a qualified sex therapist who is good at psychotherapy.
In every long term relationship i have the same problem that over few months i start to feel lesser sexsual atteaction to my partner despite i have strong love for them. I have no errection problems but i sometimes choose better to masturbate then to have sex with my partner. Over time it is deal breaker. I do masturbate regularly but not too much. Do you have any suggestions? What kind on specialist should i have to looking for?
I would suggest that you speak with an experienced sex therapist. Try AASECT or SSTAR.
Thanks I al already doing that 🙂
On the first year we are together(before our marriage) we are great together in bed.
He seems to love me but why he dont want to have sex with me? He cuddles me but do not want to have sex. I’m very confused, Is he gay? or he loves me but not actually his type in bed or he respect me so much that cant bear to have sex with?
He say he cant because we dont have privacy in the house with the children around.I think if that is the issue we can figure things out like going to a hotel or something. But I cant see any effort that give me an impression that he just dont want to.
I am starting to give up on him and find my own happiness. Im thinking of leaving him when my children are ready to accept and understand.
I feel rejected, neglected and unhappy with him all these years. Im searching reasons why not to so I search the web and find your article.
What do you think about his behavior?
It sounds like you would benefit from an experienced sex therapist. Try AASECT or SSTAR.
I love my wife tremendously but for years now have had no desire for sex. I am 66 and she is 53. She feels shunned and unloved. I don’t know what to do.
I would recommend that you go to sex therapy, and also that you be evaluated for any metabolic issues by a functional medicine physician.
What’s up doc? My partner and I have been together for about a year. Before that, we both have been single for a number of years. When we first got together, we had sex a few times a week. A few months later, she moved in with me. Little by little, it’s been getting difficult for me to get aroused when she wants sex. Whenever we start to have sex, sometimes I can get it up without an issue. Other times I can’t. When I cant, we’ll talk about it and she keeps thinking it’s her. I keep thinking it’s me! We both have a little anxiety and self esteem issues because we are both a little over weight. By the way, her sex drive is significantly higher than mine. We love each other very much and it kills me when I make her feel not wanted. My job is pretty stressful and I’m hoping it’s not the cause. How can you be in love with someone and have little to no desire to have sex with them? Please help. Any advice is welcomed. Thanks!
There is probably another source of anxiety or stress affecting arousal. Anxiety, stress, and negativity are the enemies of sexual arousal.