When Being “Turned On” Turns Off

Over the past fifty years, according to expert Sexologist Maha Nasrallah, human sexuality has been researched by sexologists. Becoming sexually aroused and ultimately participating in sexually stimulating activities such as fantasy, masturbation and intercourse, involve a sequence of physical and emotional changes – what is referred to as the Sexual Response Cycle. This cycle is defined as having four distinct phases: Desire, Arousal/Excitement, Climax/Orgasm, and Resolution. In real life, however, sexual response does not always work so clearly and easily. Sexual difficulties are often the result of this cycle being interrupted at any one of the stages for one or many reasons.

Having sexual thoughts or wanting to be involved in sexual activity is the first step in sexual response. Stimulation of the senses usually triggers desire and this can be anything like seeing someone good-looking, smelling an appealing scent, being kissed or hugged, tasting sensual food, or hearing sexy music. Emotional sources such as feeling loved or wanting to feel loved, wanting to show commitment, or wanting to share pleasure can also activate desire. Often one of the sexual complaints individuals or couples have is a lack of sexual desire, and this can happen for many reasons. For example, hormonal or biological changes such as menopause or other age-related changes can diminish one’s sex drive. Some medical conditions, diseases, or medications could also influence one’s arousal levels. Alternatively, more stress-related factors such as increased workload could potentially decrease one’s subjective sexual desire rather than the physical or genital ability.

Other influencing factors can be relational difficulties and one or both partners may start to feel like sex has become a duty. It is no mystery that in such cases identifying and addressing what has changed in the relationship is needed. For example, one of the partners may start to feel like his/her needs are no longer being met, or alternatively, that his/her needs have changed. Feeling unappreciated or incompetent, or experiencing other negative beliefs such as low self-esteem and self-appreciation combined with a personality trait related to a high degree of self-control are likely to create an obstacle for true closeness. Recent studies have also shown that there is a strong connection between sexual desire and relationship satisfaction, and satisfaction within the relationship seems to also be associated with satisfaction with the power equilibrium such as the division of labour in the household. For example, when a woman feels like she is struggling with trying to balance the family life with the work load, this imbalance may cause her to feel unvalued, which in turn interferes with the desire to be close. Other issues such as miscommunication or the lack thereof within the relationship might also be involved. Not wanting or refusing sex is therefore sometimes used as a way for the individual to distance him/herself. Communication is of essence to enable the couple to understand each other’s needs and thus try to fulfil one another.

On a more profound level, at times some of the underlying issues can stem from more personal and sometimes painful issues such as childhood sexual abuse. As a result of the abuse, the person may have led a very isolated life without having had the opportunity to develop the ability to really connect with others and allow people in. Avoiding sex is sometimes used as a coping strategy by limiting potential additional negative experiences such as “failing” sexually or being rejected. This way the person also reduces the risk of feeling inadequate or ashamed. For many people who have been victims of abuse, shame is a familiar feeling, as experiencing pleasure has become linked to shame for them; this seems to be related to intimacy dysfunction and inhibit the desire for closeness or pleasure. Regardless of whether or not any abuse has occurred, some couples simply avoid allowing themselves to be exposed and vulnerable and thus fail to connect at a truly profound level, possibly due to a deeper fear of intimacy.

Whatever the reason, when sex becomes an obligation, it is often accompanied by strong feelings of anger towards each other and towards themselves for making their partner feel this way. Feelings of guilt for not being able to meet their partner’s needs also come up and can have a negative influence on the relationship. In the end, it appears that the general theme hovering over the lives of many individuals with low sexual desire is related to the inability to really achieve intimacy. So if what used to turn you on has turned off, don’t be afraid to take a deep look inside and search in the darkness within you – after all, you need to find the light to switch it back on.

If you have any sexual issues and would like to discuss them with our Sexologist Expert, Maha Nasrallah, we can put you in touch.