Don’t enjoy sex? You’re not alone

7th July 2017

By Imogen Robinson

There are times when it feels like we live in a society that is completely and utterly obsessed with sex. Porn is ubiquitous, and now the internet offers anything and everything to those who may not have had easy access to it before. Yves Saint Laurent’s recent ad campaign came under fire for being ‘porno chic’. Studies, often contradicting each other, come out on a near daily basis informing us that we enjoy work more if we’ve had sex the night before, or that all our shagging has created super gonorrhoea (which, as the most recent update suggests, is no laughing matter). Women’s magazines are full of hints and tips and ways of making our sex life better, often involving ice cubes, or whipped cream, or both. It is presumed that if you are single, you will be on Tinder.

And yet, for some women, and indeed for some men, this can all be a bit baffling. What if you have no interest in sex? What if you gain no pleasure from sex? Why is it presumed that everyone loves to make love?

Lucy* is 27 and says she rarely has sex at the moment, simply because she has lost all interest. “I don’t know if I don’t enjoy sex or if I do enjoy it,” she says. “But I can’t even imagine having sex anymore, I don’t feel attracted to people, I don’t masturbate.” She adds that she has developed a very clinical relationship with her own body, despite the fact that she used to enjoy sex. “I don’t know if it’s depression, or my medication, or maybe I am just not letting myself get close to men anymore,” she adds. “I have had sex twice in 18 months, and both times I was just extremely drunk.”

Similarly, 25-year-old Clothilde doesn’t enjoy sex either. In her case, however, it is more of a physical thing than a lack of interest. She simply feels nothing when she has sex, and never really has done. “I don’t enjoy sex from a physical perspective,” she said. “I don’t feel any sexual pleasure. I have never had an orgasm, and I don’t even feel different degrees of pleasure or levels of intensity. So I wouldn’t say I don’t like sex, but it usually just leaves me feeling quite indifferent. I don’t think I have any psychological reasons not to like sex, it is simply that I lack the physical enjoyment that should come with sex. It frustrates me because I feel the gap with the men I have had sex with. They enjoy it and have orgasms so it creates a disparity and makes me feel quite bitter.”

Dr Pippa Brough is a psychosexual therapist, and says plenty of women come to her either saying they can’t orgasm or they have lost their sexual desire. “I suppose the important thing from a medical perspective is to separate people not enjoying sex because of issues with a relationship from those not enjoying sex because they’re not interested and they feel there is a reason that is not physical.” If they have a suspicion that there is something causing their low libido but they don’t know what it is then they will get referred to a psychosexual therapist through their GP, or a sexual health practitioner. Pippa works with these women to see if they can understand what the causes could be. “Not enjoying sex can be not wanting to do it at all,” she says, “or wanting to do it but feeling no pleasure from it.”

Pippa adds that there are hundreds of reasons why this could be, and the reasons vary hugely between each woman. If the lack of sex drive is something new in a person, then it is worth working out what has caused the change. “It could be a whole host of things,” she says. “It could be childbirth, or after surgery. Sometimes it’s not that at all, sometimes it could be to do with work, or something from childhood. Not necessarily sexual abuse, but something else, something that affected a woman’s self esteem, for example.” She adds that loss is a big factor in a lot of people, “whether grief from loss of a loved one or something else”.

Lucy worries that not caring about sex is not normal, yet even when she does find herself attracted to people, it is never sexually. “I semi joke about being asexual,” she adds, “but I really do feel like that at the moment. However, I do want it to pass because I can’t imagine being with someone and a non-sexual relationship being enough for them. But then the idea of being close with someone is also terrifying for me.”

And yet, worrying about “normal” isn’t particularly worthwhile, either. At the Institute of Psychosexual Medicine, where Pippa is a specialist, they don’t even deal with “normals” at all. “It’s so individual,” Pippa tells me, “that you wouldn’t ever know what is normal. There can be mismatches within a couple, and if someone wants to have sex less often than their partner, then that’s difficult, but a lot of couples do work through that. But that’s just individual variation.”

Ultimately, low libido isn’t a problem unless someone thinks it is. “If someone came to me, for example for a smear test, and then said ‘Oh, by the way, I don’t enjoy sex’ the first thing I would ask is ‘Does it bother you?’ It’s only a problem if a woman feels like she would like help,” says Pippa. People’s libidos go up and down hugely throughout their lives, and their ability to enjoy sex can change at different stages. If someone is particularly stressed, or is going through a very busy period at work, it is highly likely that during this time they won’t even think about sex, and not be bothered by that at all.

Despite this, some people may feel a certain amount of pressure from society to enjoy sex, even though they have no interest. “I am thinking about moving somewhere very rural,” says Lucy. “And the only reason I can think of for not going is that it would put me far away from men and reduce my chances of finding a partner, and I am put off by the idea of being 30 and living alone. But having said that, living alone is exactly what I want — but I still feel pressured to at least pretend to be aiming for a nuclear family.”

Clothilde on the other hand said she doesn’t necessarily feel the same pressure imposed on her by society. In fact, while she does feel pressured to have a “normalised” sex life, she doesn’t think this necessarily urges or expects women to enjoy sex in itself (for better or for worse). “There is a gender disparity in this regard,” she says. “I have seen movies and read books and articles about women who don’t enjoy sex: we have a space to be visible and express ourselves, but don’t think such a space exists for men in our society. I think socially speaking it’s more accepted for women not to enjoy sex than it is for men.” This statement, of course, highlights the fact that while sex seems to be coming at us from all angles, female pleasure still has a bit of catching up to do with its male counterpart.

Pippa adds that there are certain pressures on both men and women to enjoy sex that didn’t necessarily exist some years ago. “Based on porn and other exposures, it’s something we are seeing a bit more of because access to porn is much greater than it used to be. For example, it tends to be men who watch it more, so their expectations of women can be skewed. It affects men and it also has an affect on women because if they hear or feel that they are not acting in a way they should do then they can feel inferior.” Pippa thinks that this sort of pressure from outside sources can make women feel they have to act in a certain way rather than just enjoy their time in the bedroom.

Magazines that post articles about things people should try in bed can also pressure people into thinking they should be doing certain things when they just don’t really feel like it. While these sort of articles can be helpful for some women and their partners, they are occasionally guilty of being very generalised. “I don’t think it’s bad to have a discussion about variety,” says Pippa. “But it’s how you describe that, and how you also alongside that say a lot of people enjoy sex without all those things. Also, it’s very different with different couples and for different people and magazines don’t always highlight how individual people are.”

Lucy hopes her feelings of indifference will pass and says part of it seems to be sleeping with people she has no connection with. “I remember having sex a few years ago and I would either just cry, or feel really outside of my body,” she tells me. “I wasn’t into it at all and I would feel so sick afterwards. I was pretty unhappy at the time, but I also became really aware of how intimate and close it was to guys I had no connection with, and how upsetting that was compared to being with someone you really like.”

Clothilde, too, does want to enjoy sex at some point, and has high hopes that she will, one day. Like Lucy, however, she mentions closeness as the thing she enjoys and even seeks, rather than the act of sex itself. “I have actually enjoyed sex with one person before,” she says. “But this enjoyment came after several sexual acts. It was mainly psychological, as I was completely fascinated by the person with whom I was having sex. I think I was enjoying the intimacy and the closeness to someone I considered so exceptional, rather than the sexual act itself. I wouldn’t give up trying to enjoy sex because I am still expecting some progress in the future.”

Of course, enjoying sex again after a period of not enjoying it is always possible. Pippa adds that it is also a case of knowing whether a person wants to work at enjoying sex again. “If people are enjoying masturbating but don’t really want to have sex with a partner, then it sort of implies that they are happy, but equally it might be something psychosexual,” she says. “If someone doesn’t masturbate or have sex and they’re OK with that, I’d be inclined to say you’re living how you want to live and you definitely don’t have a problem.”

For those that want to enjoy sex, you can, if you want to, seek help to understand what it is exactly that is stopping you enjoying it. “Psychosexual therapy would be about helping someone understand what’s going on in their mind, only you know in your subconscious what it is that might be blocking it,” Pippa says. “Most of the practical solutions that couples can get about enjoying sex are available on the internet. What a therapist will add to that is about uncovering what it is in this subconscious that is stopping you.”

In short, if you don’t have a sex drive and you don’t care, then this isn’t a problem, and you shouldn’t feel pressured to partake in sex just for the sake of it. If your feelings are presenting you with problems or unhappiness, however, then there is help available. As Pippa says, sex drives come and go and there is no “normal”. Seek help if you want it — but don’t worry about doing something just because you feel like you should.

*Not her real name

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Imogen Robinson

Editorial Assistant, The Femedic

Imogen joined The Femedic after working as a news reporter. Becoming frustrated with the neverending clickbait, she jumped at the chance to work for a site whose ethos revolves around honesty and empathy. From reading articles by doctors to researching her own, and discussing health with a huge variety of women, she is fascinated by just how little we are told about our own bodies and women-specific health issues, and is excited to be working on a site which will dispel myths and taboos, and hopefully help a lot of women.