A new study published in the BMJ Open finds that women living with their partner are over twice as likely to lose sexual interest compared with men. The research investigates some of the factors that may influence sexual interest.
The study was carried out by researchers led by Prof. Cynthia Graham, of the Centre for Sexual Health Research at the University of Southampton in the United Kingdom.
Prof. Graham and colleagues examined data from the third National Survey of Sexual Attitudes and Lifestyles – the largest scientific investigation of sexual lifestyle in the U.K. – to see how a lack of interest in sex varies by gender.
They also examined what psychological factors are associated with this phenomenon.
The team examined the responses of 4,839 men and 6,669 women aged between 16 and 74 years who reported having lived with their romantic partner for at least a year. Those interviewed were either in a same-sex or opposite-sex relationship.
More than 34 percent of the women said that they lacked interest in sex, compared with 15 percent of the men. Additionally, over 60 percent of the women interviewed and over 50 percent of the men reported feeling distressed by their dwindling sexual desire.
Some of the factors associated with a low sexual interest, for both men and women, were having had a sexually transmitted infection in the previous year, having experienced non-consensual sex, being in poor mental and physical health, and not feeling emotionally close to one’s partner during intercourse.
Prof. Graham and her colleagues also uncovered a series of factors that were associated with the lack of sexual interest exclusively in women. They found that women who had had three or more partners in the past year were less likely to lack sexual interest than women with only one partner.
Living with children under the age of 5 and “not sharing the same sexual likes and dislikes” as their partner were both listed as reasons by women whose sexual interest was lacking.
Having been pregnant in the past year and having at least one young child were also associated with low sexual interest in women, but not men.
A lack of the partner’s “sexual competence at first sex” was also strongly associated with women’s subsequent dwindling interest in sex.
Interestingly, both men and women who found it easy to approach sex in a conversation with their partner were less likely to report a low sex drive.
Prof. Graham comments on the results, saying, “Our findings show us the importance of the relational context in understanding low sexual interest in both men and women.”
“For women, in particular, the quality and length of [the] relationship and communication with their partners are important in their experience of sexual interest,” she adds.
Co-author Dr. Kirstin Mitchell, of the University of Glasgow, also weighs in.
“The findings on the strong association between open sexual communication and a reduced likelihood of sexual interest problems emphasize the importance of providing a broad sexual and relationships education rather than limiting attention only to adverse consequences of sex and how to prevent them.”
The researchers write that the strengths of the study include having used nationally representative data to assess sexual interest in men and women. To their knowledge, few other population-based studies have investigated this as well as the many relationship variables tackled in this study.
But they also note that the information about sexual interest was collected and evaluated with one single item – that is, the question that asked participants whether they had lacked sexual desire for at least 3 months in the previous year.
Also, the study could not establish causality between the lack of sexual interest and the variables studied.
“[The study] highlights the need to assess and – if necessary – treat sexual interest problems in a holistic and relationship-, as well as gender-specific way,” concludes Prof. Graham.