Sex isn't a big deal

Sexual appetite disorder: No sex is (not) a disaster

When Franziska notices that her husband wants to sleep with her, her body tenses. Will I do it or I will not do it, she then asks herself. A couple of times such a situation has escalated into a panic attack.

"Sex is absolutely the worst problem in our relationship," says Franziska. The 37-year-old psychologist has been with her husband for 20 years. The couple have two children and one big problem: they like to have a lot of sex. Your desire, on the other hand, is almost zero.

It's an extreme burden for the relationship. "I'm constantly under pressure," says Franziska. When her husband wants to sleep with her, she does him a favor and constantly violates her own boundaries. Sometimes she also says no. "It's not an intuitive decision, but a rational one. It depends on how long ago it was." If it's been too long, she feels that sex is her duty. Sex - for Franziska and her husband that means above all grief and arguments.

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Sex? No thanks!

What Franziska and their relationship suffer from is called sexual appetite disorder, also known as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD). Affected people have little or no sexual fantasies. They rarely or not at all react to erotic stimulation with sexual desire.

As a psychologist, Franziska has observed that her lack of pleasure and her reaction to certain touches could point to traumatic experiences in the past. However, she cannot remember anything. The therapies to which she has therefore undergone have also failed to shed any light on the darkness.

Franziska feels inadequate, as if she is not a real woman. She cannot give the man she loves what he wants. Even though they've tried everything from sex toys and porn to medication. Franziska had her hormonal balance checked. All the best.

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Who is bothered here?

If Franziska were single, everything would actually be fine. She could very well live without sex. The lack of pleasure usually only becomes a problem, a disorder, within a love relationship. Many couples rely on sex therapists like Gertrud Wolf.

Wolf isn't a huge fan of the term sexual disorder. The focus on the sexual dysfunction leads to the fact that the actual problem is missed: the cracked self-esteem.

She has the couple describe a typical situation: in the evening in bed, he touches her. She turns away, signals that she doesn't want to. "How does that feel?" Wolf then wants to know. "Inadequate," "pressured," and "unloved" are some of the most common answers, says the therapist. "These couples usually have no sexual problem at all. Nobody says 'I don't know what to do with my sperm'. What bothers them is the feeling of being unloved and being rejected."

Wolf has a problem with the word "disorder" for another reason. A certain behavior is thus pathologized, sexual pleasure declared the norm and displeasure a disturbed deviation. "I would see that as a disruption as little as possible," she says. "That's crazy. That would be like accusing your neighbor of being too quiet and therefore having a disturbance."

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Do not feel like? No problem!

That is why Wolf urgently advises people like Franziska to take the pressure off. "The important message is, 'It doesn't matter! We don't have to have sex to feel complete'." Instead, the focus of therapy should be on strengthening the patient's self-esteem.

Some couples, says Wolf, find a very creative way of dealing with their different levels of lust. She tells of a married couple who hardly have sex anymore because they don't feel any desire. She therefore allows him to sleep with other women. In this way they both pay tribute to their needs and love for one another.

For Franziska and her husband, a solid marital crisis has brought about a new approach to the topic of sex. Sex hasn't been the biggest problem since then. The physical approaches are more cautious and Franziska allows herself a "no" more often. Her partner is helping her with this. "My husband pays a lot more attention to my body signals."

Still, Franziska says that if anyone should get the idea to completely abolish sex, she wouldn't complain.

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