Talking about sex may keep desire alive

couple in bed talking

Ana Sandoiu 
A new study published in the
BMJ Open finds that women living with their partner are over twice as likely to
lose sexual interest compared with men. The research investigates some of the
factors that may influence sexual interest.
The study was carried out by
researchers led by Prof. Cynthia Graham, of the Centre for Sexual Health
Research at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.
Prof. Graham and colleagues
examined data from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles
– the largest scientific investigation of sexual lifestyle in the U.K. – to see
how a lack of interest in sex varies by gender.
They also examined what
psychological factors are associated with this phenomenon.

Factors linked to a lack of
sexual interest

The team examined the
responses of 4,839 men and 6,669 women aged between 16 and 74 years who
reported having lived with their romantic partner for at least a year. Those
interviewed were either in a same-sex or opposite-sex relationship.
More than 34 percent of the
women said that they lacked interest in sex, compared with 15 percent of the
men. Additionally, over 60 percent of the women interviewed and over 50 percent
of the men reported feeling distressed by their dwindling sexual desire.
Some of the factors associated
with a low sexual interest, for both men and women, were having had a sexually
transmitted infection in the previous year, having experienced non-consensual
sex, being in poor mental and physical health, and not feeling emotionally
close to one’s partner during intercourse.
Prof. Graham and her
colleagues also uncovered a series of factors that were associated with the
lack of sexual interest exclusively in women. They found that women who had had
three or more partners in the past year were less likely to lack sexual
interest than women with only one partner.
Living with children under the
age of 5 and “not sharing the same sexual likes and dislikes” as
their partner were both listed as reasons by women whose sexual interest was
Having been pregnant in the
past year and having at least one young child were also associated with low
sexual interest in women, but not men.
A lack of the partner’s
“sexual competence at first sex” was also strongly associated with
women’s subsequent dwindling interest in sex.

Talking might help

Interestingly, both men and
women who found it easy to approach sex in a conversation with their partner
were less likely to report a low sex drive.
Prof. Graham comments on the
results, saying, “Our findings show us the importance of the relational
context in understanding low sexual interest in both men and women.”
“For women, in
particular, the quality and length of [the] relationship and communication with
their partners are important in their experience of sexual interest,” she
Co-author Dr. Kirstin
Mitchell, of the University of Glasgow, also weighs in.
“The findings on the
strong association between open sexual communication and a reduced likelihood
of sexual interest problems emphasize the importance of providing a broad
sexual and relationships education rather than limiting attention only to
adverse consequences of sex and how to prevent them.”

Strengths and limitations of
the study

The researchers write that the
strengths of the study include having used nationally representative data to
assess sexual interest in men and women. To their knowledge, few other
population-based studies have investigated this as well as the many
relationship variables tackled in this study.
But they also note that the
information about sexual interest was collected and evaluated with one single
item – that is, the question that asked participants whether they had lacked
sexual desire for at least 3 months in the previous year.
Also, the study could not
establish causality between the lack of sexual interest and the variables
“[The study] highlights
the need to assess and – if necessary – treat sexual interest problems in a
holistic and relationship-, as well as gender-specific way,” concludes
Prof. Graham.
Kayode Ojo
Kayode Emmanuel Ojo is the Co-Founder and Managing Director at SHEFFA Limited. He is presently studying Computer Science at the National Open University, Victoria Island, Lagos.