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Tuesday 23 September 2014

Sex lives and the slump: downturn in our behaviour in the bedroom

The recession has led to less disposable income and more financial difficulties for most of us. The knock-on effects are obvious: stress, anxiety and depression -- symptoms that don't bode well for our behaviour in between the bedsheets.

Irish sexual therapists have observed a sharp spike in the number of clients with a lack of libido in the past two years, a trend that coincides with the economic downturn.

Straitened circumstances and job uncertainty has led to an increasing lack of desire among Irish couples. And the collective downcast mood has extended to our sex lives.

"Around 30pc of people mention part of the problem is sex (usually the lack of it) so there's a lot of yearning and rejection," explains relationship counsellor Lisa O'Hara of Relationships Ireland (previously MRCS).

"What is very interesting is that I have noticed, anecdotally, an increase in the lack of sexual desire among Irish couples in the past two years in particular."

But low libido can affect anyone at any stage. Just ask Robbie Williams. The Take That singer has revealed that he relies on the help of hormone injections to increase his sex drive. Although he's only recently married to American actress Ayda Field, the 37-year-old claimed in an interview that he injects himself twice a week to give himself a bedroom boost.

"I went to see a Hollywood doctor. Had my blood tests. He said, 'You don't need HGH. You've got the testosterone of a 100-year-old man'. And then everything made sense. It was kind of an epiphany that day. It has changed my life. I feel like I am getting a second wind," he said.

What surprises therapists like O'Hara even more is the number of men who are suffering from a lack of libido.

"The amount of men suffering from lack of libido is surprising because it is typically considered a female concern."

Psychotherapist David Kavanagh, of Avalon Counselling, agrees that loss of libido has become more

common in men than people realise.

"In general, one in three women have low libido and one in five men. It's much more common than people realise. Most women think that men are just animals and they are thinking about sex all the time, but one in five have no interest in it."

Doctors say stress affects men and women differently. According to Dr Richard Petty, financial stress and longer work hours can cause the level of testosterone -- linked to sexual function -- to drop.

"In the short-term, stress can increase levels of testosterone and this is useful to help people respond quickly to pressures and new situations.

"But chronic stress, which is ongoing, is a major factor in the decline of testosterone. "Chronic stress occurs all too frequently due to our modern lifestyles, when everything from high-pressured jobs to unemployment keeps the body in a state of perceived threat."

Financial stress can also have a profound psychological effect on a man's sexual desire, adds Kavanagh.

"A man's identity can often be bound up in his financial success. Men with no income can often feel like a failure. Feeling like a failure can impact on how you perform in bed.

"In this situation, I would encourage the partner to see the man as a success in areas of the relationship other than financial, and help him to reconstruct his identity."

Job loss, redundancy and extended work hours compound the issue. Due to conflicting work schedules, many couples are simply finding less time to connect in the bedroom. Alan [not his real name] recalls that his libido began to wane around the same time that he was made redundant from a Dublin-based IT firm.

"We [he and his long-term partner] used to have sex at least three times a week. When I was made redundant, my lifestyle changed considerably. I slept in until lunchtime and stayed up until three or four in the morning looking at job websites. I was borrowing money from her and she was paying the mortgage, so I felt like a drain. My self-esteem wasn't great and I just lost all enthusiasm for sex."

Many women, meanwhile, are finding that they are simply too exhausted for sex. "We don't go to bed at the same time," writes a member of rollercoaster.ie. "He likes to sit up late; I need my sleep and find looking after the little ones tires me out, so this doesn't help. I've asked him to maybe, one or two nights a week, come to bed with me, but this happens once, maybe twice then it's back to the old routine."

What's worrying is that loss of libido, over time, can compound the psychological factors that brought it on in the first place.

Sex contributes to an overall sense of wellbeing-- it releases endorphins, alleviates pain and even modulates appetite. Kavanagh adds that it also releases chemicals that are critical for the couple bonding process.



bonding

"When men have sex they release a chemical called vasopressin, which is a bonding hormone. It makes the man feel a connection and loyalty to his partner. It is this chemical that makes us stay faithful and the lack of that makes us feel less committed to our partner.

"Women produce the 'cuddle chemical' oxytocin, a powerful bonding hormone that makes women feel attached to their partners.

"Without sex we don't have those common chemicals that create the bond that people experience when they fall in love with somebody."

Remember that sexual desire has peaks and troughs. "During the life cycle of a relationship, the libido will ebb and flow like the tide," adds O'Hara. "When it's good it's really good and when it's not they realise it's just a stage."

However, an extended loss of desire from one or both partners can lead to long-term relationship difficulty. It's better to acknowledge that you're not in the mood before it pervades other aspects of the relationship.

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