He fancies me but doesn’t want sex 

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My husband and I are in our late 40s and have been happily married for eight years, but he has gradually become less interested in having sex. Every other area of our relationship is good and he assures me he is still happy and attracted to me. Can that really be true? Has his libido decreased?

It is natural for libido to decline with age but it is less common for men of your husband’s age to have no interest in sex. Your husband is probably acutely conscious of the fact that he is not getting any younger and he is almost certainly aware that ageing causes a gradual decrease in testosterone, which can have a negative impact on libido and sexual function.

The tendency to focus exclusively on biological causes is not helpful, though. Most studies that look at sexual difficulties in men are conducted with university students (because it is easy to find them on campus), or with older men seeking treatment for sexual problems (because it is easy to find them in clinics). There are far fewer studies of domestic sex in middle-aged men who have been married to the same woman for decades, and those that do exist present a much more complex explanation for decreased sexual desire.

In 2016, relationship therapist Dr Sarah Murray conducted face-to-face interviews with 30 middle-aged men, with an average age of 43, who were all in long-term heterosexual relationships. For the majority of participants (73%), the need to feel desired by their partner was described as having the largest impact on their experience of sexual desire, and the most significant evidence of their partner’s desire for them was when she initiated sexual activity. The men in Murray’s study also appreciated receiving compliments about their physical appearance and they responded to their partner’s enthusiasm for sex. When Murray repeated the study in 2021, nearly all the participants said that feeling desired was very important to their sexual desire.

Although these findings sound like common sense, a lot of women don’t realise how much they rely on men to make the first move and they forget how important it is to communicate to their partner that they actually want sex. Men need some indication that their partner is interested in them. This is particularly true if a man is also harbouring concerns about sexual function. A man who is worried about his lack of sexual desire needs reassurance that if he tries to engage in sex and he fails to live up to expectations, he is not going to be judged or humiliated.

It is also important to help your husband to understand that the causes of low libido are hardly ever purely biological. Pressure at work, family obligations, relationship conflict, ill health, anxiety, alcohol, tiredness or a nasty gas bill can take the joy out of sex at any age, but when everyday stressors are exacerbated by fears about sexual function, it can leave men feeling anxious and impotent.

Being realistic about natural fluctuations in sexual desire can really take the pressure off. In fact, accepting the inevitability of these fluctuations during the course of a relationship can help to maintain desire. Likewise, knowing and talking about the fact that these differences often work themselves out naturally over time was found to be the best way for a couple to address any discrepancies.

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