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Why Your Lack of Sex Drive Isn't a Disorder

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These days, women are bombarded with self-help articles, books, toys, even food recommendations that promise to not only whet their sexual appetite, but take their sex life from ho-hum to hot-and-steamy. And now that female sexual dysfunction is the hot topic du jour in the scientific community, it's easy to assume that having a "meh" attitude toward sex is abnormal. But being that a woman's sexual responsiveness is hella complex, how can you tell if your laid-back libido is defective—or just different?

"One of the biggest misconceptions about sexual desire is that if a woman doesn't want sex as much or in the same ways as her male partner, something must be wrong with her," says sexual health consultant and educator Celeste Holbrook, Ph.D. We've been taught to think about sexual response and arousal based on a model that's distinctly male-centric, leading many women to feel a sense of inadequacy if they don't feel like orgasming all the time (which, ironically, can in itself lead to a lack of desire). (Maybe that's why female viagra doesn't work.)

If you want to have less sex than your partner does, neither of you is necessarily outside the norm. But by not honoring your internal rhythm and desire and comparing it to a man's, you'll inevitably feel like you're the one who's falling short, says psychologist Anjhula Mya Singh Bais, Ph.D. "Using male sexuality as a marker for low libido in women is like saying the woman has a dangerously low penis count," says Holbrook. Straight-up, women get aroused differently than men and their desire should be compared more like apples and oranges—both fruit, but very different in taste, texture, and look, she adds.

In reality, there's no such thing as a "normal" sex drive—it varies from woman to woman (and man to man, for that matter). It naturally fluctuates over time based on a number of factors, including physical and emotional well-being, major life changes, and (not surprisingly) the quality of your relationship. Experiencing issues in any of these areas can affect your sexual desire, according to the Mayo Clinic, and usually, there's a combination of these causes at play. This is why the criteria for female sexual dysfunction is so broad and can't be measured as objectively as, say, erectile dysfunction can, leaving many women confused AF about whether what they're experiencing is a dry spell or a full-blown drought.

Fortunately, there are a few ways to determine whether your libido is actually out of whack, or if you're letting societal expectations run your sex life. Behold:

Become one with your sex drive.
"The biggest killer of sexual arousal is responsibility, so understanding one's own sexual desire will be forever intertwined with the responsibilities in her life," says Holbrook. Understanding how to manage and let go of the responsibilities you feel as a partner, employee, mother, and woman can help you get back in tune with your libido.

Start by putting small habits into practice that keep romance top of mind—after all, how are you supposed to get turned on (like, ever) if every thought in your head is related to unsexy things like deadlines, bills, and errands? Create a post-work (or pre-nookie) ritual to let your bod know it's time to chill out. Read a dirty book to rev your engine. Practice meditation so that the next time you do get busy, you can control your mind's tendency to wander into stress-filled territory. "In the end, arousal begins when you can lay down your responsibilities and you're free to become vulnerable," says Holbrook.

Regular downtime will give your libido the opportunity to do its thing, helping you gauge whether your lack of sex drive is generalized or situational. For example, do you lack desire in most sexual circumstances or only at certain times—say, after working a double-shift or when your partner doesn't pick up the slack around the house? "There have been studies of women tested for desire where their bodies are reacting to a desirable situation, but their mind is saying no," says Dawn Michael, Ph.D., author of My Husband Won't Have Sex with Me. "They have desire, but may not have it for their partner for various reasons."

Check in with your doc.

If your desire has taken a sudden nosedive but your relationship (or life in general) is on solid ground, a checkup can determine if there's an underlying medical reason your libido's MIA, says Singh Bais. Everything from thyroid problems to antidepressants to low self-esteem can cause lulls in desire, and dealing with these issues can help you turn things around.

Rate your distress level.
Ultimately, the way to know if you have a desire disorder is if your lack of libido is causing you distress, affecting your day-to-day life, or hurting your relationship. If you're not bothered by where your sex drive sits on the Richter scale, then you probably don't have a disorder. (And if you're unsure, you can take this handy Decreased Sexual Desire Quiz.)

On the other hand, if your distress is legit but it's caused by outside influences—guilt trips from your partner or perpetually comparing your sex drive to the elusive status quo—it may be time to take a step back and define your libido on your own terms. If, deep down, you don't have a problem with your sex drive and your doc has cleared you of any potential medical issues, you should embrace your individuality and find your sweet spot, including the type and amount of sex you want to have. You should never be under the burden of thinking you have to have sex a certain number of times per week or else you're a cold fish. (And here are five signs you're having sex for the wrong reasons.)

"Sexuality is so variable, and that's what makes it exciting and profound," says Singh Bais. "Through (pressure-free) experimentation, you'll come to know what you like and discard the rest." Preach.

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