Monday, October 19, 2009
His Low Libido
In this weeks edition of the problem page of the Sunday Times Style magazine, Aunt Sally is away and Ulrika Jonsson has taken over. She is answering a problem about a mismatch of libido or sexual desire. The problem goes a little like this – he wants less sex and she she wants more. She is aware of his “dysfunctional relationship with sex following an abusive childhood”. He has avoided intimate relationships and had “an addiction to pornography and short-term casual affairs”. He has managed to give these up through therapy. He is now trying to”relate at an emotional level”, however he is low on “libido and desire”. They have been together for three years.
In Ulrika's response, she refers to the fact that people have different libido. She also states that “sex and intimacy are different acts that require different emotions”. She states that the woman's partner is a “sex addict” which is according to Ulrika, “an intimacy disorder”. She then goes on to say that she understands the woman's feeling of rejection as “we [women] expect men to want to have sex all the time, so for a woman to be rejected, it becomes exaggerated – a double whammy”. Also Ulrika says that she is “ not furnished with the exact details of his past and what it is that led him down the path of pornography and casual affairs”. Ulrika states further “instinctively, I feel he has used sex in the past to numb unpleasent memories, intangibles such as failures, rejection, pain and criticism – all the things that make up his inner landscape”. And she goes on to recommend couple therapy to help the woman understand why he is behaving in the way he is.
While I agree with a lot of what Ulrika has said, there are a number of things that I would like to discuss further here. Not having seen the full letter, I am basing my comments on the abreviated version on the magazine. So here goes. My first thought is that the woman should consider how lucky she is to meet a partner and be in as she says herself “the best relationship of my life”. Attachment theory tells us how we as adults look to replicate in adulthood, the same close intimate relationship that we had as a child with a significant other whom we perceive as our secure base. It appears that this woman has indeed found her secure base.
The second thing to consider is that sex and intimacy are parts of the same coin. Intimacy is an exchange between two people where trust, love, commitiment, affection, honesty, compassion, respect, patience and most of all safe boundaries lie. Sex is the physiological and biological expression of all of the above.
This brings me on to the third observation that I would like to make, which is that sexual abuse cuts right through intimacy and the trauma of it has a profound effect on a life. It blurs the meaning of what intimacy is about. It is not surprising that a victim of abuse, her partner in this case, avoided intimate relationships for so long and engaged in pornography and short-term casual affairs. (Ulrika refers to this as sexual addiction. This is not to state that all victims of abuse will react in the same way.) Pornography avoids intimate relationships. However, her partner has been brave enough to face his demons and been able to have a commited, intimate relationship for three years. That requires honesty, patience, courage and a belief in oneself that can be sometimes beyond human nature.
I agree with Ulrika when she recommends that they both go for therapy to help each other understand, in a neutral environment, where they are coming from.
My final recomendation is that the woman explore in therapy what intimacy means to her. On the face of it, I wonder has she come to regard sex as being the same as intimacy. Maybe the root of the problem lies more with her than with him.