Dear Sex Counselor,
I suffer from a low level of sexual desire toward my husband, and it is not because I don’t find him attractive. Please help me find a way to improve or increase my cognitive sense of desire.
One of the more destructive myths that floats around out there is that sexual desire should come automatically, and should persist at a consistent level throughout the life of a relationship. In reality, nothing could be further from the truth. When interviewed, long-term couples who state that they remain interested in each other sexually talk about how they have to work at maintaining their desire and feeding their libidos. So it takes conscious effort to feed what you call the "cognitive sense of desire".
How can we do that? There are many different tools available to couples to them help focus back on your connection and feed the sexual side of your relationship. The basic philosophy used by sex therapists when faced with a couple whose sexual life has fallen away is to help them to focus more on all the ways they are connected, and to nurture their shared experiences of all five senses. So the first step is to increase the amount of contact you have with each other - not contact that is intended to lead to sex. Spend time looking into each other’s eyes and touching in ways that feel good but aren’t specifically sexual. The stronger intimate connection you feel, the more likely you are to want to be sexual.
Other tools that help to increase libido are erotic books and movies. You can read a book yourself, or read it aloud to your partner, or do both. This can introduce some new ideas into your sexual life, spark your libido, and help you express some fantasies you may have that you’d like to act out with your partner. Many books incorporate erotic stories, suggestions on how to spice up your sexual life, and encouragement for keeping the flames of passion alive between you. Erotic movies are also good tools for sparking the libido, as well as ways to allow you to articulate fantasies ("You know, I’ve always wanted to try that!"). There are tasteful erotic movies available, meant for women and couples, that show explicit scenes of lovemaking in ways that can inspire your libido without offending your sensibility.
Another fun tool is to get an erotic game that is designed to re-light the spark between you. Games can provide a structure for you to play with desire, flirtation, fantasy, and wish fulfillment, with the goal being to inspire lust and sexual connection between you and your partner. For some couples, that gets them out of their habitual pattern of "how we have sex" and into something a bit more playful. Changing the patterns of how you approach sex can be important when trying to make it more interesting.
Last, I want to encourage you to make time in your life for both sensual and sexual contact with your partner. It also is important to accept the natural ebb and flow that your sex life will take as the rest of your life has its ups and downs. If you’ve been experiencing a lot of stress, plan a vacation (even one at home - as long as there are no kids, no phone calls, and no interruptions for a couple of days) that will allow you to de-stress enough to be able to enjoy connecting again with your partner. It takes some work, but the outcome is so worth it!
The Sex Counselor