Tuesday, March 20, 2007

When I fall in love: Libido and people pleasing

Caveats, warnings, (1) it's written in code. (2) this isn't about people who live with abusive spouses. (3) some people do change for the worse and it may not be possible to love them forever. (4) that's okay, (5) yes, you will find permission to think about sex in this post, so if you have a problem with that, use your own discretion about reading on.

Now can I write already without everyone getting all upset?

The song, written by Edward Heyman and Victor Young, came out in 1952. Doris Day sang it in the movie One Minute to Zero. I wasn't born, not yet, but would be soon. Others re-recorded it, most memorable, Nat King Cole and Johnny Mathis, crooners of the highest order.

Woke up with it yesterday for some crazy reason, and didn't want to lose it:

When I fall in love it will be forever
Or I'll never fall in love
In a restless world like this is
Love is ended before it began
And too many moonlight kisses
Seem to cool in the warmth of the sun

When I give my heart it will be completely
Or I'll never, never, never give my heart
And the moment I can feel that you feel that way too
Is when I give my heart to you

Boy, he's going to hate me for this.

F.D. bursts through the door, purposefully strides through the hallway to the kitchen for his second cup of the day. I've been looking at him carefully recently, admiring his features, seeing through the gray, thinking he hasn't changed very much over a couple of decades or more. His basic personality, the guy I married is still very much there.

Change, you should know, comes up all the time in therapy. A patient had said to me just the other day, The things I loved about him when we first met I can't stand anymore. I said to the patient, Let me take you back there. Let's get a better look.

We change, but we don't change all that much. Change is not all that predictable and not usually permanent.

For many of us, for sure, our libido changes, sometimes a lot. When I trained in sex therapy at the Loyola Sexual Dysfunction Clinic in Maywood, Illinois, Domeena Renshaw, one of my doc/psychiatrist mentors, said many things that made sense at the time and make even more sense to me now. She talked quite a bit about something called "focus." Focusing on one's own sexual arousal is key in sex therapy. Quit thinking about everything, eveyone else. Think about what you like. Pay attention to yourself.

This is hard for some people. Especially when we're conditioned to thinking of the other person. We want HIM/HER to be happy. (or we'll get rejected?!)

Some people are so out of touch with their own needs and wants that they'll deny even having them.

Ironically it can lead to conflict. A person tries to please a partner but assumes too much and ends up doing the wrong thing. Not only is he upset because of the energy wasted, but his dissatisfied partner isn't happy, either.

You can see how the marital problem would get played out in the bedroom. He's thinking he knows what she wants, she's thinking she knows what he wants (or if they're gay/lesbian, etc., you can change the genders). But in fact, the guess work is just that. Thinking only about the other person isn't necessarily good for marriage, or for sex!

You have to focus on yourself.

Domeena really pushed the idea that a person's arousal, one's libido (in this case
drive for sex) is one's own responsibility. This was a super big concept in the early 80's and should be even now, but our popular culture persists in selling the notion that arousal is what happens when one is lucky enough to have scored an experienced lover. He'll (she'll) take you there, so to speak.

I read this all over the blogs.

But think back. When you fell in love? When I fell in love? How was that libido? Perfectly marvelous, I think. The object of our desire didn't have to do anything. All he or she had to do was cast a glance in the right direction. You had me at hello, we say.

Now it takes an hour and a half.

It's his fault? It's her fault? My fault? Your fault? We've changed so much?

That libido. We had it, remember. It was a natural thing, like breathing, an "awakeness". Food, unimportant. Sleep, who cared. But play, share feelings, gaze, flirt, make-out for hours? Now we're talking. I'm in love.

Libido is technically "drive." Freud said we were born with 2 of them, one for aggression, one for sex, love. This is probably the best thing we can learn from Freud. The rest is commentary.

So how do we get back a drive for making love? We want that physical desire but it's elusive, feels like it's gone forever. We weren't supposed to have lost it in the first place, you know.

But we do, of course we do. Over time it's easy to get tired and cranky and out of touch with being a sexual person. Stress, depression, anxiety, too many substances (legal or otherwise), and certainly, certainly anger derail our attention. We defocus. And our coping strategies, especially eating too much, will likely steal it away.

Add to that relationship problems.

And add to that, What you don't use, you lose. Those neurological pathways need travel or they atrophy.

And the guys aren't all that different. Women often complain to me that their male partners are always ready to go, always in the mood, still. After twenty or thirty years of marriage, sometimes, they'll be complaining about this. They're wrong, of course. Young guys, sure. They should be ready. But as men get into their 30's, 40's, 50's and above, they need a lot of touch and attention. And touch and more attention. Physical attention.

But they were born with an organ to look at and play with, whereas some women, MANY women don't know where their sexual organ, the clitoris, is (is this a bad word? in some cultures it's removed surgically, like a circumcision).

So women will say that they aren't instantly aroused like men because they can't see their arousal and really don't even feel anything close to arousal. A healthy guy wakes up with a morning erection. Normal physiology. A woman, unless she has trained herself to pay attention to her body probably won't wake up and go, hmmm, my body's surely aroused. We're in a fog, most of us, I think. We don't see anything different about ourselves in the shower, either, except perhaps more cellulite.

A guy's arousal (think code) is pretty obvious and it can turn him on, make him feel sexual. He wants to share that information and we're likely going to say, "Shut up, go away, I just woke up." But he's just being friendly. Childish sometimes, but friendly. (This depends on context, of course, we're not talking about meetings in a bar, we're talking about meetings in your closet).

Sometimes you might see a little girl who is obviously very in touch with her sexual feelings, maybe she's rocking or being demonstrative in some other way. Parents will discourage that behavior instead of saying to her, take it under the covers. We're embarrassed by it.

Then as adult women we wonder where our libido went. We sublimated it for many years, woke it up with romantic love, then let it go back to sleep. We then continue the tradition by encouraging our daughters to sublimate theirs, too.

De-sublimating isn't so easy.

I'm not going to even try to minimalize this, but within the context of a committed, tepid to warm relationship, add love, affection, communication and caring, and a person's libido can be coaxed back to life. It can be coaxed back to life with no relationship at all, actually, with a little personal attention.

Satisfying sex with a partner for sure requires good-excellent communication about what is pleasing, what feels good. Mind reading (can't stress this enough) fails in the bedroom, as it fails everywhere else. Everyone's different. What pleases one person is ticklish to another. Words are good. Demonstrations, better.

So it's all about that, in the end, when we're talking about resurrecting a libido in the context of a relationship. It's about polishing the relationship. A few tweaks of change, a few actions and words, and a libido can literally spring to life.

But even if you live alone, a little attention to yourself is a good thing. A lot of attention is better. It's like watering an almost dead plant.

But it's there. The drive is there (although it might be latent) . We're born with it. As long as we're breathing, even in menopause, it's there. Different, perhaps. Oprah had a show on this topic recently, so it must be true, with Nora Ephron who wrote a book. Maybe check out her book. I haven't read it.

As a therapydoc, however, I push the good sexual relationship in marriage as a good thing, because it's marital glue. And it's fun. It's supposed to be fun. It's one of those things, maybe the only thing that a couple does exclusively together, and nobody else needs to hear about it, except perhaps a local sex therapist, who is going to tell both of them, by the way, that it is not only their relationship they have to improve, but their focus. Especially her focus, most likely. It starts with people focusing upon themselves and where they're at to get where they want to go.

So if a woman wants that kind of relationship, the one she sees on television where the guy flirts with his wife and she flirts back and we just KNOW they're going to skip dinner and probably go right to bed, well, that woman has to find her libido, her sexuality. That feeling.

It's within her reach, literally. I'll tell you to begin the search early in the day, be more like he is in that way, more focused on yourself and your physiology, your physical feeling of arousal. And keep it all day long. It's okay. When you're hungry for food, wait a few minutes, don't eat so fast. Think of that other drive. Less fattening, more fun. In some ways, more satisfying.

Oh, and one more thing. Sure, he can be a part of the search committee. Why not? But you had best direct him. Guys need a LOT of direction.

And maybe sing to him, When I fall in love, it will be forever. He may need some encouragement, too, if it's been awhile. You could get scary.

Copyright 2007, TherapyDoc


BlondeSwtP said...

I agree with your analysis :) My husband and I surely have our fun & flirtations while I am in my 30's and he is in his 40's. I am glad I waited to marry later - I know I didn't understand the touch & efforts aspect when I was younger. Okay now my labido is thinking about it :o)

Anyhow ... only a few more days & it will kick in more. We took an hyatas the last week with his step kids here. The first couple weeks were fine & then we had some chaos which makes me think that yep, having children surely makes marriage fun & challenging :)It is a plus.

therapydoc said...

I didn't even mention how having kids is a real libido buster! How being tired is a libido buster. How after 10:00 pm is a libido buster. Or is that 9:00?

See how everything conspires against this?

Anonymous said...

If you are in a partnership, isn't "libido" a joint responsibility? Even if we take responsibility for our own libido -- isn't part of that sharing it with our partner? I've always found that it really helps when both sides make an effort to understand where the other side is coming from (so to speak...) It just seems like most of this post is directed at women.. even the part about men needing more touch and attention as they become older...

Yes! Absolutely! a woman should pay attention to her body. That said, it is really really REALLY nice when her partner (think code -- without prompting or "encouragement") pays attention to her body as well... What a turn on that can be, non? -- when he shows that he not only remembers, but he's willing to try branching out in new and different ways.

Thanks, TD, always putting food for thought on the table!

therapydoc said...

Yvette, I agree with you. I am attempting to debunk certain myths, mainly that it's his job. He probably needs training is all. And of course, if he understands her, then surely it helps her rise to the occasion.

I knew I'd get in trouble for slanting this towards women. Men do complain about problems with libido, too. Often. But they at least know where to look for help.

Enough with the jokes.

80%, 80% minimum of all sexual problems are relationship problems.

And my bet is that the majority of those are due to anger, the other 49% fatigue.

Anonymous said...

Great post, Linda. Raising children really did knock out my libido. Then I got hit with midlife stuff, began exercising regularly which helped me reconnect with my own body and pay careful attention to my body, not just how it looked but how I felt, how does exercise make me feel, and I became a new person sexually. I woke up. My husband is thrilled. And our marriage is stronger than it had been in years.

Paula said...

Yes, anger is the biggie. What do you think about today's sexual atmosphere, where porn is available everywhere? My experience with men in my life and others around me is that men are now expecting the woman in their life to be temporary, and they feel entitled to trade in for a newer, younger model when the old when starts looking shopworn and they can no longer envision themselves as having porn star sex with that woman. I believe that men no longer value women as partners, mothers of their children, lovers, whatever unless they look (and act) like Jenna Jamison. I find that attitude widespread among men, no matter how old, grizzled, unattractive, unpersonable they are.

therapydoc said...

Paula. It can't be. But I do hear about this attitude/devaluation sometimes. Could be the mark of a crumbling civilization. I know that all men are not this way.

I'm not sure where women would look for men who do not objectify women, but objectification is reinforced at home and certainly is the point of pornography. Rape can be a consequence.

I think that foregoing a sexual relationship for a long time to assess if what you want in the future with a man is even possible is one solution to the problem. When we get to know people as humans, not just sexual partners, we get a real sense of their values and beliefs.

I'll post more about pornography another time. Thanks for bringing this up.

Anonymous said...

This is such an excellent article. You have hit on some key points that both men and women need to realize. If what you wrote was more understood, there would be less problems in marriage, less affairs and a lot more fun going on!
Great job! I am sure many will learn from what you wrote today.

Anonymous said...

Being married (not now) to a sexual anorexic & narcissist for 22 years can be a libido & self-esteem buster.

Thank goodness I am no longer dating and done with all that (too much PTSD) but I will see that libido can get a lot of people in trouble. Even in reverse.

Good post.

therapydoc said...

Sexual anorexic! Wonderful.

We'll have to get to that, and speaking of anorexia, we'll have to get to that, too.

Thanks for commenting, Barbara.

Anonymous said...

Posting anonymous not because of what I may say about myself, but about others, who wouldn't want to know it is them I'm talking about.

This is a really interesting blog to read for a teenager, especially this post. Me and a couple of my friends (only a couple, for many still pretend that it is better to not mention 'it', that they never have sexual thoughts at all... :/) were talking almost a week ago about sex and masturbation, about how older people (including our parents, especially our parents) seem to shun it. Like they almost pretend it doesn't exist, and that children (including teenagers; for even at 15/16/17, we still are quite childlike in ways) have neither desire nor inquisitive nature!?

Anyway. I clicked on this post thinking it was perhaps something to do with defining 'love', rather than love in a very sexual sense.

It's true what you say - I remember some of my friends in primary school, and myself as well, fitting the description about the little girl in this post... and yes, it was always discouraged, not talked about. It's the same with children I babysit - they really are quite sexual, curiously so, only without so much of the objectification with which perhaps many teenagers and adults attach to the ideas of sex. And yet people still pretend that they aren't, at all, because they don't know how to handle it, or just don't want to handle it. (God knows being a parent must be difficult, but communication without overriding embarrassment seems a pretty key area to parenting...)

I often wonder how much we can escape the way our parents behave. Can we remove ourself from their stress, learn to take some exercise (even, indeed, sexually,) as a kind of relief, rather than shunning a partner, or being angry unnecessarily with someone? How much in their shadow are we?

So yes, very interesting blog.

therapydoc said...

Well, Anonymous, great comment. The answer is that we differentiate as we age, we become different from them. Keep the good, toss the bad. That's the Primary Objective.

But staying objective on all of that is essential. That's where family therapy, or just going back to the source, your parents, and talking to them, helps quite a bit.

What's Going to Be with Our Kids?