Why men lose interest in sex, according to the experts
“Love, sex and intimacy are not the same”
You’d think humans would top the list of the horniest and kinkiest animals in the world. But we’re not even close. There are snakes who’ve got not one but two penises (so do lizards), pigs with 30-minute-long orgasms and male alligators with permanent erections. Maybe there does exist some secret superpower or fun fact about human sexuality. We’d never know, anyway, considering how fast we clam up when we have to talk about sex. You’d think it wasn’t just ape genes, but some mix-up with a Venus flytrap in human evolution.
If we’re to believe the traditional narrative, then men, driven by animal instinct and high libidos, are always ready for sex. Women feign headaches, use sex as a weapon or bargaining chip to get what they want or just aren’t interested. Men lose interest in sex? Oh pshaw, not possible. But that’s simply not the case, says therapist Shrishti Vaid-Kochchar.
It’s been four months since Ashima G had any kind of intimacy with her partner. This switch in their relationship is familiar to Priyanka Singh, 61, and Malvika*, 50 too who had spoken to Tweak India about being in sexless marriages (read about their experiences here).
“I thought it was normal. The longer you’re married, the less intimate you are. Three years ago, when my friend was complaining about not having had sex at all that month, I started thinking about my own marriage,” says Namrita*, 48. It had been over a year since she’s done the deed with her husband when we spoke.
We’ve heard from the women, unable to figure out why men lose interest in sex and what they could do to rekindle the fire of desire in their relationships. It was time to get some answers.
“People think it’s very easy for men. All it takes is a picture of a naked woman or a touch and our engines get a jumpstart. Maybe when we were hormonal pre-teens, it was possible,” says Arshan Dodhiwalah, a 37-year-old software developer from Bengaluru.
Shivansh Bhatia, 42, video producer, doesn’t remember what show it was or when he heard it, but one point made on TV has stuck in his head for years. “That sex for women, and the female orgasm is mostly psychological, whereas for men, it’s mostly physical. Even though that hasn’t been my experience, I’d tell myself that if something was wrong, then there was something wrong with me physically, as a ‘man’.”
An analysis of 64 studies on sexual desire conducted since the 1950s found that it is more likely for men to lose interest in sex in long-term relationships as opposed to women, contrary to what’s popularly believed.
The research, published in the Journal of Sex Research, said men expect their sexual drive to remain the same regardless of age, and get frustrated when they notice a change. They also feel pressure to always be ready to perform, notes the study.
“There’s so much machismo linked with having a high sex drive, that if it were to dip, then we feel ashamed speaking about it”, says 31-year-old Shaurya*, who has struggled with his sex drive for the past year since he started taking antidepressants.
It’s 2022 and we’ve been smacking down gender roles in true desi fashion with chappal in hand (unless they’re from the Tweak x Stoffa collaboration) but these feelings run pretty deep. “There are still these masculine ‘norms’ that men feel pressured to follow whether they are conscious of it or not. These explicitly state that if men lose interest in sex, it should be a secret. What will people say? What kind of man are you? They find it very difficult to talk about even with their male friends,” says Vaid-Kochchar. The men we spoke to shared the same sentiment. “The only time it’s come up, it was dismissed as a joke. No matter how close you are, we still feel embarrassed talking about these things with our friends because we fear a judgement of our manhood, whatever that is supposed to mean,” says Dodhiwalah.
Men lose interest in sex sometimes, it can be temporary or even for an extended period, and sexologist Dr Sharmila Majumdar stresses that it’s normal. “People aren’t having sex all the time — that’s not normal, it’s pretty unnatural actually.”
“When we better understand our partners (and ourselves), it’s the best starting point to addressing it, and how we can help each other,” adds Vaid-Kochchar. Putting aside the stereotypes and what we think is ‘normal’, we look at what the experts say about why men lose interest in sex.
Why do men lose interest in sex, according to experts
Majumdar highlights stress as one of the predominant reasons for a lack of sex drive in men. “Men are tagged as the breadwinners, and that stays in their mind. Even when their wife is working. It’s a very competitive world and the job market is cut-throat. With the pandemic, job loss and work from home put in place, the stress and competition have increased,” says Majumdar.
Getting into the science of things, research has shown time and again that high levels of cortisol, the stress hormone, causes testosterone (male sex hormone) levels to take a nose dive. Prolonged stress – psychological, emotional, social and physical – is termed chronic stress. While acute, or short-term episodic stress can have an impact on sex drive as well, it is temporary and experienced by everyone regularly in some way.
Unresolved chronic could be money problems, workplace issues, or even the loss of a loved one. Vaid-Kochchar says that sometimes we get so used to our high-pressure situations that we don’t even realise that our body is in constant alert mode and our hormones are completely out of whack.
Unrealistic expectations from a partner affect women as well as men. “It’s not only what we expect from our partner, but what men expect from themselves as well. They cannot match up to the standard they’re expecting when this standard itself is not normal,” adds Vaid-Kochchar.
Majumdar calls it performance anxiety. Being unable to match the seamless, sweatless, perfectly choreographed visuals of sex we’ve been looking at all our lives.
The anxiety of not living up to these unreasonable images that we have in our minds can put people off sex completely, says Majumdar, especially men.
Past trauma and abuse
“After 17 years of practice, only a handful of men have opened up to me about abuse, but there are definitely more,” says Majumdar.
Shrouded in secrecy, male sexual abuse, as a child and adult, is rarely spoken of. Studies are few and far between but one 2007 report by the Ministry of Women and Child Welfare found that one in every two children interviewed (53.22%) reported being victims of one or more forms of sexual abuse. More than half (52.94%) of those who reported their abuse were boys. And these are just the reported number from over a decade ago.
“People don’t consider male sexual abuse as abuse. It’s a messed-up thing to say. But we’ve been laughed at, dismissed and told, ‘well, you’re a man, you should enjoy the attention from women’,” says Daman*, 28, who was coerced by a woman into oral sex though he was inebriated. “It happened at a party. The girl said she was very drunk, and mostly just laughed it off. But consent goes both ways and I did not consent to such intimate acts. Only my therapist took it seriously. I do find it difficult to be intimate with women now, but I’m working on it,” he adds.
Ageing and male menopause
We’re finally talking about menopause openly, but have you ever heard of andropause? The existence of male menopause, medically termed andropause, has been debated time and again, but Majumdar says it’s real and happens in the late 50s.
Not just that, but after the age of 30, Majumdar says that androgen levels decrease every year by 5%. Meaning that testosterone levels decrease, in turn, impacting sex drive and desire.
She adds that a lifestyle which includes poor diet, smoking, heavy drinking and recreational drugs can speed up the ageing process. So what you would experience when you’re 40-45 can happen when you’re 30-35.
Children can be the light of your life but also the biggest time consumers. When you have a bawling 2-year-old lying between you in bed, it doesn’t make a very romantic setting. There is a sudden shift in priorities as you both work to keep this entity alive, well and thriving through its early stumbling years. Responsibilities skyrocket, between work, parenting and running a household that for both partners, sex and intimacy take a backseat and it can be a while before the spark of desire is ignited again.
There is another phenomenon that Vaid-Kochchar has picked up on. “We’ve deified motherhood to the point that after the wife gives birth, they’re viewed as beings with great sanctity. The ‘givers of life’ and all that. They’re no longer viewed as sexual beings in the eyes of their partner. This sanctity is not something that can be ‘defiled’ with sex, especially not sex for pleasure.”
That’s often when she has found men step out of their monogamous relationships to seek sexual connections with other partners. “It’s a mindset that is deep-rooted in our society, and we don’t really realise its influence until it happens to us.”
The Cleveland Clinic estimates an approximate one in every 10 adult males experience erectile dysfunction (ED) on a long-term basis. ED is the inability to maintain an erection firm and long enough for successful penetrative sex. Most men will have such an experience at some point in their life. But if it is happening more than 50% of the time, that could indicate you need a trip to the doctor.
Erectile dysfunction is complicated, in the sense that there could be multiple contributors to it which a professional can help you sift through and treat. Some of the causes of ED include high cholesterol, high blood pressure, diabetes, obesity, neurological disorders such as multiple sclerosis, trauma and injury, poor mental health and high intake of alcohol.
Majumdar stresses that it’s important to seek medical attention when you experience ED because it could be indicative of an underlying disease – a symptom rather than the issue itself, such as heart disease. She adds that most cases of ED can be cured given the excellent medications on the market today, provided that it’s pathological. Psychological causes, such as depression and anxiety can take a bit longer.
Poor mental health and body image issues
These things aren’t gendered, says Vaid-Kochchar. “We’re seeing far more body inclusivity for women and even some LGBTQI representation, which is fantastic, but the male ‘role models’ that are thrown at young impressionable minds are still very unrealistic and limited.”
Discomfort in their own skin can make men lose interest in sex as it drives up their anxiety, triggering lower self-esteem. “It took me close to five months of contemplation, making appointments and then cancelling, before actually going and seeing a therapist. It took another two months for me to tell my own parents that I was seeking therapy. They reacted as you’d expect from that generation, but I was later diagnosed with major depression and everything just made so much sense,” says Daman.
Despite the growing conversation to normalise therapy, studies find that men are less likely to seek help for mental health difficulties as compared to women.
There are several prescription medications that you may be taking that are actually impacting your sex drive. Some of them are pretty common too. Vaid-Kochchar says that not everyone reacts in the same way but it is something that should be looked into by a doctor if they feel a dip in their sex drive.
Majumdar says that medications like antihistamines, anticonvulsants, blood pressure medications, and antidepressants are among the common culprits.
This doesn’t mean that you give up on your medications completely. That is a conversation between you and your healthcare provider to find what is best for you and your needs.
What you can do to help your partner and yourself
Vaid-Kochchar and Majumdar both talk about the importance of picking your words wisely when you’re trying to get your partner to open up about what they’re experiencing. “It is a sensitive subject, as much as we wish it weren’t. So a little planning will be needed before you sit down to have this talk. Don’t accuse, communicate effectively,” says Vaid-Kochchar.
One way to do that is by swapping the ‘you’ with ‘we’ in your sentences. Instead of saying, “You are not interested in sex” you can change the sentence to “We are struggling and need help in the bedroom, maybe we should speak to someone?”.
Singling them out as the ‘problem’ is likely to put them into fight or flight mode. There will be moments in your relationship when either partner isn’t interested in sex, says Majumdar. Find out why, ask them about work stresses, what is distressing them and what you can help them with to ease the load. It may take some time considering most men are tangled up tighter than the yarn you bulk ordered during the pandemic because you wanted to start knitting again, only to get bored and abandon it in a bag somewhere in your storage cupboard.
While your natural instinct may take you towards sympathy, Majumdar says to fight the urge. You know what they say about kicking someone while they’re done? Don’t do it. What will help their self-esteem more is trying to understand the root of the problem, rather than displaying pity.
If there’s anything you take away from this, make it this one point Majumdar made – “love, sex and intimacy are not the same things”. “There will be moments in your life where you don’t have all three, and that is alright.” You can be intimate without sex. Cook or shower together, hug, take walks or a class together. Go dancing, go for dinner dates and cuddle. “If intimacy is alive, then sex can and will come back.”
A note of caution: This story is for educational purposes and contains inputs from experts and personal experiences. Please consult your healthcare provider if you’re in crisis for a treatment plan that works for you.
*Name changed upon contributor’s request for anonymity.