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The truth about a low sex drive (no, you’re not broken)

“Not tonight, honey!” has become a cultural cliche for the stereotype of the frigid housewife and the neglected man. People assume that if a woman has a low sex drive something is wrong with her. Either she’s purposely holding out or there’s something physically off.

But a new study shows that it might not be either, saying that a woman’s sex drive isn’t necessarily lower than a man’s — it’s just different.

“Women’s interest in sex is extremely complicated,” said John Randolph, M.D., a professor of obstetrics and gynecology with the University of Michigan Health System and one of the study’s authors, to CNN.

That complexity, and the lack of understanding of it, is a big part of the I-have-a-headache problem, he says. We live in a culture that’s highly geared toward satisfying a male form of sexual desire. Previous research has shown that men are primarily visual when it comes to sex so huge industries have sprung up (no pun intended) to sell porn, lingerie, toys and other visually stimulating things.

Since they work so well for many men, a lot of pressure is put on women to “be the cool girl” and join in. Yet when we don’t respond similarly we’re told there must be something wrong with us, usually hormonal.

To examine that idea, researchers followed 3,300 women over 10 years asking about their sex lives and taking blood to check hormone levels and other biomarkers. What they found was surprising: Rather than sex being all about hormones like most of us assume, a women’s desire to do the horizontal mambo has much more to do with our emotional well-being.

So if we don’t want erotic pictures or crotch-less panties, what do we want? “Women who reported that they had fewer sad moods and reported being more emotionally satisfied in their relationship had more sexual desire than those who did not.”

That we want to feel happy, secure and loved is hardly surprising information for most women but it does help settle the debate about why there is no Viagra for women yet. “It’s not fair, I know,” Randolph concedes. “A lot of people would probably rather just be able to take a pill.”

While I can sympathize with wanting an instant libido-booster pill — it would be nice to be able to switch from HGTV to HBO at will — unfortunately there’s no quick fix. Instead Randolph suggests working on any underlying mood disorders and relationship problems with counseling and medication. While that might feel depressing to some, I find it very reassuring. Just because we don’t have a magic sex button doesn’t mean we’re broken. It just means we’re not men.

More on sex

How to revive your sex drive
3 Common libido busters and how to fix them
The sex-starved marriage: When libidos don’t match

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