Too Stressed for Sex?

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Women, Sex, and Marriage

Unfortunately, most studies show it's women who are likely to lose that loving feeling. In a national survey of more than 3,000 people between the ages of 18 and 59, researchers at the University of Chicago found that 22 percent of women have low sexual desire compared with just 5 percent of men. Since then, thanks in part to the success of Viagra and similar drugs among men, doctors and researchers have set about uncovering the physical causes of women's sexual lows.

But the problem has proved stubbornly resistant to quick fixes, leading a growing number of experts to believe that the cause may lie not in our bodies but in our overextended, overstimulated and overscheduled lives. When Carol Rinkleib Ellison, a clinical psychologist in Oakland, California, surveyed more than 2,600 women for a recent book, Women's Sexualities , she found that, of the 1,600-plus participants who said they had a major sexual concern, 34 percent named lack of desire as the No. 1 issue -- a problem that many blamed on fatigue and emotional overload. "Clearly, there's not a pill, cream, or spray that's going to cure that," Ellison says.

Men's sex drives seem to be less affected by outside pressures. Researchers at The Kinsey Institute for Research in Sex, Gender, and Reproduction, in Bloomington, Indiana, recently found that stress and anxiety lessened desire for 28 percent of the 919 men they surveyed, but they also found that nearly as many -- 21 percent -- said it actually increased their interest in sex.

"Men are more likely to see sex as a stress reliever, whereas for many busy women, their husband's desire is just another demand on their time and energy," says Alice Domar, PhD, director of the Mind/Body Center for Women's Health at Boston IVF.

When one partner back-burners sex, experts say, it almost always creates marital tension. "Sexual rejection feels personal," says Weiner Davis. "You know you still love him, but he may not be so sure."

Such couples are also missing out on a primary method of bonding. "Jeffrey and I are nicer and more tuned in to each other the day after we make love," says Carolyn. "Maybe it's because we've shared something that we don't share with anyone else."

Experts agree that physical intimacy breeds emotional intimacy. "When it's scarce, couples stop kissing hello, sitting next to each other on the couch and laughing at each other's jokes," says Weiner Davis. "You can't afford to be complacent about a ho-hum sex life."

Continued on page 3:  The Physical Reaction

 

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