Straight Talk Advice

Jan 28, 2014

Low libido affecting intimacy in young couples

Dear Straight Talk: I'm 24 and not sure where to turn. My boyfriend, 26, wants to move in together and make things permanent, but so many coupled friends complain that they hardly ever have sex and there is little intimacy when they do. Some of them are in therapy for it. Is this the fate of being born into the "porn" generation? Are there any solutions? I appreciate your thoughts. — Jody, Monterey, Calif.

Hannah 22, Tiburon, Calif. Ask me a question

I have definitely noticed this too! Sex is so common it has lost its intimacy. Pornography has pulled it out by the roots. Everyone is quick to sleep together, but the philosophical talks, the person-to-person connection, the lasting love, most are unwilling to do that. Most say they aren’t ready to “settle down” they're too young, they want to have fun. Therapy probably is the best solution. That and keeping your hopeless romantic side alive.

Nicole 23, Santa Rosa, Calif. Ask me a question

I've never been into porn, but I once dated a porn user. Solo sex was so familiar that having sex with me was super uncomfortable. He didn't want me to see him and felt like he was on stage. A friend says her partner (they're both 25) is more into heart-love than sexual love. She complains that if she suggests sex, he's agreeable, but she always has to initiate. Another factor is technology: We're never really alone in the bedroom anymore. If there's awkwardness, a million distractions are a click away.

Carlos 18, Farifax, Va. Ask me a question

The problem is age-old: lack of communication, the rut of routine, forgetting the small things that add spice to your relationship.

Lisa 26, Sacramento, Calif. Ask me a question

I see this happening and experienced it myself. For some couples the problem may stem from porn, but I was just fed up with my [then] husband. If I can't communicate, I cut myself off emotionally, which cuts me off sexually. You must agree on open, honest communication! Start by communicating these concerns!

Brandon 22, Mapleton, Maine Ask me a question

If you do move in together, don't overdo the sex! My girlfriend and I dated long-distance and went so crazy our first week living together that we didn't even want to THINK about sex afterward. The next few months were awkward. We got past our intimacy breakdown by doing a lot more things together, almost becoming like best friends with benefits. Now things are great again, we cook and play games together and love going on dates. One thing about the “porn generation”: three-minute missionary sex isn't enough. Be open to toys, lingerie and trying new things. If you're not getting much out of the trade, speak up! If a guy truly loves you, he wants the intimacy to be mutual.

Dear Jody: Low libido in young men and women is at epidemic proportions. Most people have no idea. Causes are multiple: poor diet, stress, lack of exercise, insufficient sleep, birth control pills, antidepressants, alcohol AND lack of buildup (from both porn and easy hookups), and “pornography imprinting” which has made solo mechanical sex a go-to over partnered sex fused with emotional intimacy.

Today's teens may eventually struggle with even lower sex drive due to earlier access to smart phones and other internet sources where porn viewing essentially “shocks” and “imprints” the ultra-complex (and now we know, quite fragile) physical-neurological-emotional sexual system of the human being. (More discussion below.)

You're nearing a good age (25 and up) for a successful long-term relationship or marriage — and yes, there are solutions. A good therapist can be critical for turning off the porn (internally, too) and reconnecting sex with emotional intimacy and a real partner. If you love each other deeply and agree to see a therapist if needed, improve your diet, get exercise, and (summarizing the panel's great advice), communicate openly, connect emotionally, create juicy longing, work through awkward periods, and keep a spicy and distraction-free bedroom, your sex life can be terrific!

Editor's Note: Porn has ruined sex and sexual intimacy for so many young people. One in three college-aged men reports erectile dysfunction and many young women today report low sex drive as well. Poor diet and lifestyle play a role, but don't account for the precipitous drop in sex drive since the age of mainstream internet porn.

Parents: Please do your kids the biggest favor of their life and give them "dumb" (non-internet) phones and keep the internet in a public part of the house until they're 18 and graduated from high school. Both girls and boys (and especially boys) tend to "imprint" their first sexual experience — and I guarantee, you don't want them imprinting on solo sex in front of a computer watching porn stars get off in unusual ways. 

Once they are adults, it's almost inconceivable that they won't be exposed to at least some porn, but they will be less likely to "imprint" on it. Their first sexual experience will hopefully have already happened and will have involved, if not an actual person-to-person experience, at least the fantasies of one in one's own imagination. (Warning: Porn can have negative affects at any age.)

A panelist sent me the Huffington Post article "18 Things Every Woman Should Have Been Told About Sex But Probably Wasn't." Number 3 reads: "You can have as much sex as you want, with as many people as you like." This kind of advice is common today for girls — and it's good advice for the important task of ending slut shaming. Unfortunately, it is also a recipe for low libido! What we really need is for girls to be empowered (not for avoiding shame, but for creating a satisfying sex life) to say no to porn and to most hookups. Less random sex gives a person more space to discern a good partner, creates longing, which builds up hormonal levels, and leads to more satisfaction when two people do (finally) have sex.

People deserve a good sex life! Girls are the main sexual gatekeepers, always have been, and guys will follow them. I've had young men tell me that they wish the girl they liked would have held them off longer. Their remorse had absolutely nothing to do with shaming her, it was because they missed out on the sexual buildup, which would have led to more satisfaction when they finally did have sex.

This generation has big challenges to regain sexual drive and sexual intimacy. Many don't even realize there's a problem but any internet search will show you there is. To the young people reading, a good sex life is totally worth working for! The solutions mentioned above will help make it happen. —Lauren

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  1. By Katelyn, age , from Huntington Beach, CA on 01/28/2014

    Jody—Your boyfriend wants to “move in and makes things permanent.” Does that include marriage? Because let me tell you right now, anyone can have sex – strangers, friends, lovers – but no one knows true intimacy like an actual, married couple. You know why? Communication and expectations. People who know how to satisfy – and surprise – one another in life outside the bed have less problems getting intimate in bed. That, and they focus on each other’s desires rather than what the culture (porn, movies, magazines, etc.) says sex should be like.

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  2. By Colin, age , from Sacramento, Calif. on 01/28/2014

    Honestly I think the problem here is that people want sex to be something that it isn’t.  Sex is a fun thing to share with someone you trust, but if your expecting it to be “perfect,” you’re deluding yourself.  People who want to think that sex should give their lives fulfillment, and are upset that it isn’t, need to take sex less seriously.

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  3. By Lennon, age , from Los Angeles, CA on 01/28/2014

    I’ve got a different perspective entirely: I argue that, for the most part, our concept of intimacy has been molded by media. The most likely culprit is TV and film, but graphic novels and books always weigh in here, with novels behind the graphic because novels don’t actually project images at us. Life, unlike (most) films, is sloppy. It’s unconfined, imperfect, and without a soundtrack. But mainstream film has impregnated us with a warped idea of what intimacy. Sure, sometimes your timing can be perfect, but most of the time it’s not.

    It’s that and the amount of time we’re plugged in to work and/or other things. Cells phones, laptops, et al. vie for our attention constantly. Companies want more users and more engaged users, which means apps are constantly pinging smartphones with little alerts and updates. When most people can contact most others at the drop of a hat, it’s harder to disengage and just be with those who are actually there.

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  4. By Katelyn, age , from Huntington Beach, CA on 01/28/2014

    Regarding the Huffington Post article: “18 Things Every Woman Should Have Been Told About Sex,” and #3: “You can have as much sex as you want, with as many people as you like.”

    I’m honestly not sure how to address this mentality without sounding close-minded and misogynistic. The current prevailing mindset is that pre-marital sex is OK because:

    1) it “strengthens” relationships, not damage them;
    2) it’s part of expressing one’s sexuality and physical love;
    3) it’s more effective to have safe sex than to teach abstinence;
    4) women have full control of their bodies, so abstinence is slut-shaming.

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  5. By Caite Mathis, age , from Albuquerque, NM on 01/30/2014

    Once again, this is a fabulous column and contribution.  It is important that there is awareness on this subject in all generations!
    Thanks again panelists and Lauren!  I will share this.

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  6. By A.L., age , from Roseville, CA on 01/31/2014

    I see nothing wrong with having a close relationship without having sex.  My girlfriend and I are openly gay.  We are close and affectionate, but do not have sex because we don’t feel ready for it yet.  However, everybody assumes that we’re sexually active with each other just because we’re gay, and it really bugs me. We get all kinds of cruel comments. People don’t assume that a straight guy and girl are having sex just because they’re dating, but they assume that gays who date each other are constantly having sex.  My girlfriend’s mom won’t let us have sleepovers because she assumes that we would have sex.  I share a room with my 13 year old sister, who has no problem with my being gay, so there’s no way we could be having sex in a sleepover at my house with my sister right there in the room, but that doesn’t convince her mom.  And if we wanted to have sex, we could find a way so banning us from having sleepovers is not what is stopping us.  For now, we are happy with our close relationship without having sex.  I really think that too much importance is attached to sex.

    A.L.

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  7. By J.D., age , from Huntington Beach, CA on 02/02/2014

    A.L. is right.  I am also gay and in my experience, everybody assumes that gays are promiscuous and constantly having sex and will have sex with any gay person.  In fact, my girlfriend and I are not having sex while many of my straight friends are having sex with their boyfriends.  Many people also think that gays are sexually interested in straight people when nothing could be further from the truth.  Many girls are openly uncomfortable about undressing with me in the locker room or at slumber parties when I have no sexual interest in seeing their bodies.  Anyone who thinks differently can ask my straight stepsister who shares my room on visitation and has no problem undressing in front of me and has been doing so without incident for 5 years.  I even sometimes get dirty looks in the girls’ bathroom if you can believe that, as if they think I’m there looking for sex when I’m just there to do what everyone else does in the bathroom.  I really wish that everyone would realize that we are no more promiscuous than anyone else, and have no sexual interest in straights.

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  8. By K.S., age , from Oroville, California on 02/17/2014

    To the Editor, and then to the writer of the original post:

    To the editor on women being the sexual gatekeepers:  More satisfaction from sex rests equally on both parties shoulders.
    Men can say no, and I have known men who have said no because they knew sex as well as the relationship, would be better if they waited, or they simply weren’t ready, despite their partners being ready and very willing, or in one case, even pressuring them to “seal the deal” with sex.

    I think when we make comments like these it is highly counterproductive.  We are perpetuating idea that men cannot control themselves, and more so, that they are absolutely not expected to.

    By viewing women as the “sexual gatekeepers” and viewing men as too weak to say no whenever it is offered, we are forcing women into a position of “responsibility” beyond what is in their realm to control. Men are responsible for their own actions- men need to be taught this, and men also need to be taught that it is okay to say no.

    We hypersexualize our males. We place a societal expectation that women be selective and say no. Yet we place not only the societal expectation that men will be sexually promiscuous , but also a societal pressure to make them so. Boys who do not engage in sexual activities early, or are unable to “get laid”  are seen as having a defect, an undesirable trait or appearance, or some flaw in their character. They are encouraged to be players, admired by their peers if they can “get girls”, or at the very least not socially ostracized for having multiple partners as many women are. We simultaneously encourage promiscuous sexual behavior in men, while releasing them of their responsibility for their sexual actions. ex. “Boys will be boys” “That’s just how men are”

    A woman’s should not ever be held accountable for a man’s actions. If the man wasn’t ready and felt they had sex too soon, he shouldn’t penalize the woman for saying yes because she /was/ ready and and he /wasn’t/. He should penalizing himself for saying yes and listening to his body, when his mind and heart wanted something else.

    To the writer of the question: I personally experienced the same thing after moving in with my partner, at least for a little while. I think the problem was that at first, it was so exciting to see each other and have access to each other that we wanted it all the time, and when we overdid it and got bored of it for a while, it became routine. We felt we HAD to have sex every night because it was what we previously done.

    It became something common, like being able to go to the fridge to get a drink whenever you want it. But with some very good communication, some planned alone time for us each, and openess to new ideas in the bedroom, we were able to revive it and not become platonic roommates.

    Sometimes, you both just have to just agree to say no one in a while and cuddle instead. Or you need to set it up to be special, maybe with a candlelit dinner, or even sharing a workout routine or jog together. Yoga, I’ve found can be ridiculously sexy and have you both naked trying things you’v never tried before. Building the act up with a lot of foreplay and then backing off, and then more foreplay and backing off again can help with building the tension to get a really steamy session going too, but so can giving each other back rubs with no ulterior motives. I guess what I’m saying it, when you live together, don’t try to force sex because you think you need to be having it, that expectation will lead to routine “we’re doing this because I feel we have to” sex that will lead to “could we maybe just not bother tonight?” non-sex. It’s okay to not have sex as much as before you moved intogether, and moving intogether doesn’t have to be a death sentence for your love life.

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  9. By Geo., age 20, from Atlantic coast on 11/09/2015

    @KS:
    “A man should not ever be held accountable for a woman’s actions. If the woman wasn’t ready and felt they had sex too soon, she shouldn’t penalize the man for saying yes because he /was/ ready and and she /wasn’t/. She should penalizing herself for saying yes and listening to her body, when her mind and heart wanted something else.”

    ^^Truer words have never been written.
    We all need to understand this

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  10. By Geo., age 20, from Atlantic coast on 11/09/2015

    @KS:
    “A man should not ever be held accountable for a woman’s actions. If the woman wasn’t ready and felt they had sex too soon, she shouldn’t penalize the man for saying yes because he /was/ ready and and she /wasn’t/. She should penalizing herself for saying yes and listening to her body, when her mind and heart wanted something else.”

    ^^Truer words have never been written.
    We all need to understand this

    “Women are responsible for their own actions- women need to be taught this, and women also need to be taught that it is okay to say yes or no.”

    I’m sure you agree with this KS, don’t you?

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