Relationships

Ask Erica: How Do I Get My Sex Life Back?

Ask Erica: How Do I Get My Sex Life Back

Wellbeing columnist Erica Chidi is here to answer our most pressing questions about sex, health and overall wellbeing. Today, she’s tackling the topic of finding your libido during hard times…

Q. I’ve been going through a really rough patch the past year: I lost my job, it took forever to find a new one, and then my dad was diagnosed with a serious illness. Among other things, all this has taken a huge toll on my sex life. I’ve been with my husband for many years now, and sure, we’ve had our ups and downs sexually. I know this doesn’t seem like a big deal in the grand scheme of things. But right now, it feels like one. Even if I could get a little bit of my libido back, I would feel more normal. Any advice? — Neha

A. I want to start by saying I’m sorry you’re going through such a rough time. Everything you’re describing is really challenging stuff. It’s commendable — and impressive — that you’re even taking the time to notice this shift within yourself. But I do want to encourage you to stop worrying about it.

There are two major factors at play here: First, stress. You’ve been dealing with a great deal of it lately, and stress affects all sorts of important things, like sleep cycles, eating habits, self-care — all of which have a huge effect on your sex life. What you’re experiencing right now is a very normal, natural reaction. So do give yourself a break.

All this acute stress is compounded by another very normal, natural thing: Desire in a long-term relationship. In her excellent book, Come As You Are, Emily Nagoski, PhD (which is a great read, if you’re up for it) she outlines two forms of desire we typically experience: Spontaneous desire and responsive desire. Pretty much everyone experiences spontaneous desire at the beginning of a relationship, when thoughts of sex and the urge to have it pop up readily, without prompting. And for most men, spontaneous desire continues as the relationship progresses. But for most women (not all, but most) spontaneous desire wanes as time goes on, and they begin to experience responsive desire.

This is the kind of desire that’s ignited by external factors: Loving touch, connection, nice smells, a good meal, someone stroking your hair, a hand on your lower back. It’s all the intimate, non-sexual things a partner does that turn you on. We live in a culture that says desire is always spontaneous and constant — that if you love someone, you should always be ready to jump into bed, and if you’re not, there’s a problem. But the fact is, the majority of women need a stimulus to respond to.

And it goes without saying (or it should) that that stimulus needs to happen in a stress-free environment. Right now, that’s just not where you’re at. So, while I want you to remember the importance of emphasizing responsive desire — and talking about it with your husband — I also want to remind you that you that there’s no rush. There can’t be. When you’re dealing with major emotional and mental strain, the first task is to focus on your overall well-being. Prioritize nonsexual pleasure and self-care: Taking baths, going for walks, being with friends, watching fun stuff on TV, listening to podcasts. It might seem antithetical to boost your sex drive by watching a goofy comedy, but really, it’s nourishing you. It’s loving and supporting yourself in a holistic way. And that’s what will — eventually — lead you back to the place where you’re truly ready to enjoy sex.

Once you get back to that place, you can start to think about the specific things that ignite your desire. What makes you feel comfortable and safe? Aside from directly sexual or penetrative touch, what can your husband do that’ll help get you in the mood? Is it stroking your knee? Is it holding you close while you watch that goofy comedy? Or maybe it’s turning to a book or a movie to provide some inspiration. As a Cup of Jo reader recently commented, “I recently started reading romance novels as a form of escapism and it reminded me how fun and, well, sexy sex can be.” Whatever it is that makes you feel good, share those things with your husband.

But first things first: Just focus on feeling better. Remember, there’s no hurry.


Ask Erica

Erica Chidi is the CEO of LOOM, a wellbeing brand closing the reproductive and sexual health knowledge gap for womxn. Through her book, Nurture: A Modern Guide to Pregnancy, Birth and Early Motherhood and her work as both a doula and health educator, she has guided thousands of people in their transition from pregnancy to parenthood. Erica also educates people on pleasure, relationships and self-care by providing an inclusive and shame-free perspective. She began her practice in San Francisco, volunteering as a doula within the prison system. She continues to work with organizations that serve marginalized communities.

Thank you so much, Erica! Do you have a sex, health or wellness question you’d like Erica’s help with? Please let us know in the comments.

P.S. How often other people really have sex and 12 great reader comments on sex.

(Photo by Lumina/Stocksy. Erica’s photo by Julia Chesky.)

  1. caitlin says...

    Come As You Are was life changing for me. It gave me permission to try and understand my sexuality and desires and to understand the biggest piece of all — there is nothing wrong with me when I don’t want to have sex.

    It’s great if you can get your partner to read it also. Mine isn’t so much a reader but he participated in my lectures ;p

  2. M says...

    Should I be concerned if there are already issues regarding desire and libido only a year into a relationship? My libido has always been super high, but not so much in this relationship. My partner is kind, funny, so good to me, and understanding, but I rarely feel physically attracted to him. Since the beginning, sex has never been completely satisfying (mostly, honestly, because of how quick it is). We are in our 30s, and I want to have a family. But it makes me sad and confused to think that, at 33, I may never again have great (let alone mind-blowing) sex. Should I be concerned about this continuing to be an issue, or is it fairly normal in long-term relationships? If this is a problem now, is it a reasonable dealbreaker? It is important to note that our first experience of living together has been when we were literally confined to our apartment (except to take out the trash or buy food/medicine) for over three months here in Spain.

    • Jane says...

      Have you never felt that attracted to him, or has the initial desire waned with time? If the former, never having really felt that physically attracted to your partner is a major red flag – you’re not going to wake up one day and find those feelings have changed. You might be able to stifle the desire for genuinely enjoyable sex (and genuine attraction) to have kids, but fast forward a few years down the line and it’s a recipe for discontentment and divorce. Asking here indicates you’re already not happy with the situation.

      That said, I’m just a random person reading here; I could be off base. Trust your intuition, whatever it’s telling you.

  3. Kristin says...

    This post brought tears to my eyes. Thank you for sharing.

  4. Kiely says...

    Some of these comments are breaking my heart, mostly being they touch a nerve that I am immensely struggling with. I have the most wonderful boyfriend in the world – truly ticks all the boxes, and gorgeous to boot! – and I’ve completely shut down sexually recently. I keep thinking, is it the stress of finances (constant), our jobs (lost, gotten back, now redundant again), plus a plethora of my underlying mental health/general issues coming to surface during our intense lockdown time together (Ireland, so, 130 days and counting) that are the problem? Is there something wrong with me? I really, really appreciate content like this. Thank you so much for dipping in to it.

    • M. says...

      This. All of this is relatable. (Very similar situation, but just a hop away in Spain.)

  5. Joanna says...

    Hi! What about sex after infidelity? I always appreciated your and your reader’s view on everything. But when searching about “infidelity” on your blog, not much is coming up…

    • Sarah says...

      Agreed, I think infidelity would be a fascinating topic…that and open marriages

  6. Kara says...

    What a singular relief to have something you feel be articulated in words you can use to explain yourself and hopefully help make things better! (Specifically re: spontaneous vs responsive desire.)

    • Rebecca says...

      Yes! I have never heard it explained in these terms. Makes total sense. I feel the same as you Kara. Maybe my husband will finally get it if I use these words.

  7. Such a helpful post! and so nice to hear that we shouldn’t be expected to have to have sex if there isn’t something available to stimulate us first. I’ll remember that!

  8. Lauren E. says...

    Thank you so much for covering topics like this. My husband and I deal with our own issues because of his childhood trauma. Therapy has saved his life, but it has had a profound effect on his adult relationship with sex. We’re navigating it but it’s hard. Add to that trying to get pregnant, and it occupies a lot of my brain space. I’d love a post on TTC in this same vein.

  9. Sharon says...

    Sorry to post this shallow comment on such a meaningful post, but… Erica’s jumpsuit in that last photo! Where is it from??

  10. suki says...

    I had a very active sex life in my 20’ss and early 30’s but then it stopped as I aged into the very real “invisible” stage. I haven’t had sex in 20 years. I’m considered attractive but now I’m older. I’m so sad to think it is a very real possibility that I may never have sex again. Any advice in your next column on how to process that? Self-service is not the same.

  11. Maddie says...

    This made me cry, in the best way. Reading this made me feel validated. Thank you Erica for reminding me that I am important as a person, not just as a sexual being, that self care should come before worrying about sex.

  12. Agnès says...

    It is such a relief to read you Erica. I feel normal! Thank you.

  13. Nona says...

    Mara, you’re not alone! I share many of the feelings you describe. My husband has bipolar disorder which leans towards stronger depressive episodes, and his interest in sex ranges from low to nonexistant (probably due to both side effects of meds and depression itself). When we do have sex there’s so much pressure on it that it’s often more stressful than fun. Often when people discuss the impact of depression on libido it’s assumed that with understanding and treatment it will all go back to normal in time, but for people with chronic mental health struggles sometimes this IS our normal. It is so hard as a partner of someone whose struggles are likely to be life-long. I used to greatly enjoy sex, but after 10 years sometimes I feel like giving up on this aspect of my marriage. I second the request for more discussion on CoJ about relationships that don’t follow the expected gender norms when it comes to desire, and how to cope when your partner’s loss of desire is really long term.

    • Robin says...

      I third this request! My husband also battles depression and when he’s in a depressed episode, he has no interest in sex. It can go on for years. I feel rejected and unattractive, even though he assures me that I’m not the problem. It’s really really hard to sit back and accept things when he’s depressed. I just stay patient (and frustrated) and know that eventually, even if it takes years, he will get better.

    • Mara says...

      Thank you so much, Nona. I too experience such pressure when we do have sex (“OMG we’re having SEX! It’s that time of the year, better make this really good! … Til next year!”) that I spend most of the time encouraging my husband than letting myself go to enjoy it. I would love it if @COJ revisited this issue. There are surely other women out there who experience this — it’s very hard to talk about, especially when experts, society, whoever tells us some variation of “for most men, spontaneous desire continues as the relationship progresses.” That men are “supposed” to be nudging us for sex while we say we’re too tired, not in the mood this time, had the kids all day, etc. Mental health issues and their decimation of the libido are widespread, and many of us are trying to make peace with a sexless relationship due to this.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      love these comments/requests. we’ll definitely address them. thank you so much for your openness and honesty. xoxo

    • LCK says...

      Adding another voice to this chorus. Please do present a post on this! Though even hearing that other people encounter this in their relationships helps me feel less alone.

    • Jacqueline says...

      Also chiming in! My husband also has depression and low libido. It is also our normal and it is so, so hard. Just reading this subchain of comments feels so encouraging. It’s great to know I’m not alone. I’ve often looked for support online or just someone to talk to who gets it, but it’s so hard to find. Of course I would find it here on COJ! Looking forward to whatever you and the team do to illuminate this, Joanna. Hang in there everyone! I don’t know you, but I am thinking of you all.

  14. Molly says...

    totally felt the same way! Whoa Erica, you are an amazing human being.

  15. Elle says...

    After 10 years of marriage and as nursing my third child is starting to taper off, I feel some libido starting to return.

    I’m trying to unpack the lies about sex I’ve believed over the years. For example, a movie or book can really ignite my “spontaneous desire” (hello Normal People as a few have mentioned) and that passion when you’re falling in love. But it felt like cheating (non-infidelity way). Shouldn’t I be able to want my husband without needing that input? Fantasy? I’ve never been able to climax without imagining other things in my head. Another thing I’ve felt is “failure”. I also think my Christian upbringing has affected what feels “correct”.

    I’m tired of feeling what I suspect is unnecessary guilt/failure!

    • Laurie says...

      A friend once wisely said “it doesn’t matter where you get your appetite as long as you eat at home!” :)

  16. Sarah says...

    What a compassionate caring response.
    I feel like I could translate this to many areas of my life. Thank you:)

  17. Kara says...

    My libido went down the hill while trying to conceive for over 2 years, and letting the calender dictate when we had sex (and positions). Now pregnant: sex feels uncomfortable for me physically and for my husband mentally: so basically no sex. I sometimes wonder if and when my libido will come back after giving birth…

    • Megan says...

      The MuTu system really helped me in this area. I went to pelvic floor PTs and they were helpful but the MuTu program was what really changed the game. Take heart! There is hope!

    • Caitlin says...

      Kara I just wanted to say that I HEAR YOU. Trouble conceiving sucks and took such a toll on my sex life. It took a while, but for me I’d say about 8-10 months postpartum (after each kid) I started to feel back to myself and our sex life followed suit in returning to normal. It wasn’t bad or non-existent the whole time before that, but definitely less and less natural.

    • Kara says...

      Megan and Caitlin: thank you! I feel less alone and a bit more hopeful!

  18. Mara says...

    Very interesting read. My husband must be in the minority whose spontaneous desire has waned over the years (we’ve been together for 13 years). We had incredible sex for five years until he had a major bout of depression, and what felt like overnight, we went to having sex rarely. About once a season is where we are now. :( Not that I’m trying to initiate — my sex drive has also waned a bit due to a stressful and toxic job situation that I’ve been trying to get out of for five years now, and I think my husband absorbs a lot of my stress. Interestingly, when we leave the apartment to travel, especially abroad, our sex life is like it used to be. I often feel incredibly alone, because all of my friends’ husbands are eager to get busy at least once a week (oh to only have that!). I’m holding out hope that leaving my toxic work situation will help things for us both, and also that it’s possible for our sex lives to turn around again after eight years of nearly nothing. Thank you for addressing this important question!

    • Anna says...

      Thank you for this, Mara! I feel like it is such a cliché that “for most men, spontaneous desire continues as the relationship progresses”. I am really desperate right now because my boyfriend of five years has had absolutely no desire for the last months and I am constantly rejected, which feels awful. Sex was such a fundamental base of our relationship, we used to make love whenever and wherever we could for years! I do not know how to handle this- it is so important for me to be physically close to him, and to feel desired by him. I know several women who have experienced similar situations.

    • Gina says...

      Hello COJ
      After reading these two responses and I am sure there are more in the same camp, I would like any thoughts on this. My situation is vastly different. How do you address a relationship when there isn’t any? This is due to health reasons and I know I am not alone. Curious?

    • R says...

      I can relate. My very long-term boyfriend’s spontaneous desire has definitely waned and I’m not particularly interested in being the one to get things going either. We occasionally talk about it but I don’t think it bothers him that much, even though the lack of desire makes me really sad.

  19. Jessica says...

    This was such a balanced thoughtful response, I always enjoy your point of view Erika. I second the recommendation to read Come As You Are. That book is truly mindset changing. It may help stoke your libido, but more importantly, once you understand the physiological under pinnings of desire, it helps to take the pressure off when your desire isn’t forthcoming.

  20. Emma says...

    I needed to read this. Thank you!

  21. Miranda says...

    ” But the fact is, the majority of women need a stimulus to respond to.”

    Where does this fact come from?

    • Robin says...

      I also wondered about these statements. When I was reading this article, I felt it was perpetrating a myth – that men are horny creatures always ready for sex, and women have lower libidos and would prefer warm baths over sex. This may be the case for some couples, but for myself and many of my friends it’s the opposite. I have a much higher libido than my husband, and he requires a lot of stimulus to get in the mood, whereas I still feel spontaneous desire for him. We’ve been together for 10 years. Where are these facts coming from, are they good, peer reviewed studies? Or anecdotal observations from sex therapists who treat women with low libidos?

    • Elisabeth says...

      Dr. Nagoski’s book (Come As You Are), which Ms. Cohen cites, is very much research-driven — I’d look for the particular studies in the book. It’s an excellent read!

  22. Sarah says...

    Thank you, Erica! What a compassionate and thoughtful response! I think I’m going to enjoy this well-being column very much.

  23. Kate says...

    I have to confess that I almost did not read the post. I’ve been under a lot of stress for the, I don’t know, almost past two years now, I guess. (Stuff that is often beyond my power to change but affects my life in a huge way.) And I was afraid that the advice would be a sort of ‘just do this and that and ta-da, problem solved!’ I was somehow so relieved to, first, read the question, and second, the actual response. Just – Thank you!

  24. AV says...

    This is a wonderful response from Erica but I wonder if i’m beyond hope. It’s been over 3 years of a dry spell between my husband and I (I can barely even bring myself to type it) :(
    I’ve never had much of a sex drive. In this time we had a son, I had PND and severe anxiety but he’s a toddler now. We talk about having sex but it just makes me anxious. I’m the heaviest I’ve been and not used to my new body shape, I know I should not care and embrace the miracle of my birth-giving body but I can’t love it just yet. I feel bad for my poor husband, I want to reignite things but it feels so far removed now.

    • Daisy says...

      I am so sorry that you are going through this. I have body image issues myself and for the longest period of time just hated having sex. We have mirrors in our bedroom and hubby loved to watch. I would get turned off just by looking at myself. It has taken infinite time to get to a place where I am Thankful for my body and enjoy sex. With all my heart, I wish that you find a way forward to resolved things.

    • Alyssa says...

      Hi Av :) I’m not an expert, but just speaking from personal experience here, you may want to take the pressure off having sex with your partner and, instead, focus on yourself. Sex is such a mental thing and any anxiety is going to keep you from really enjoying the experience. Take a bath and listen to a sexy podcast, read a sexy book, experiment with toys and vibrators. I think self-love is so important and once you feel more comfortable loving your own bod, you’ll feel more at ease initiating something.

    • anon says...

      you’re not alone — 4 years for me and my husband. In that time we had a baby, my sibling died, and I started an SSRI. I don’t know when or how this will change…but I think about it all the time.

    • Candice says...

      Probably going to sound odd to some, but sometimes, like just go with it on the assumption that it could be cool if you try it. Like kale or spinach or pinion soup or hiking or yoga or whatever. Maybe it’ll be pointless and just fun for one or maybe it’ll be fun for two lol. Sometimes I do this if my partner initiates and I’m not really in the mood. Sometimes I initiate when I’m not in the mood out of curiosity as to what will happen in that situation! Ha! Usually that happens when I think, mmm probably a good idea to make a move. Silly but hey, sex can be experimental lol. The thing is, when I do this maybe it’ll be a little / lot awkward, maybe it’ll be boring, maybe it’ll be good, maybe it’ll be great! It can turn out any of those ways. Who cares!?! (As long as it’s safe.) It’s just sex. I say as long as the only issues are the ones you describe (not to minimize them because I have them too and they are tough!!!) just treat it like going to cvs and do it lol. Maybe it’ll be cool.

    • Candice says...

      Ps. I’m pretty simple on making a move. I either give physical compliments or I buy some new lingerie. I’m not really into being complicated about it. I’m too awkward lol. Maybe before the sex piece buy some comfy lingerie and wear it as PJs.

  25. AJ says...

    Erica, everything you write is a soothing gift. I had no personal need to read this advice per se (as a queer very single woman! Haha) but just love soaking up your words and witnessing your kindness. You are so, so good at what you do. Love and peace to all needing it right now x

  26. beth says...

    Just a quick note, ladies, if your libido continues to be sluggish for longer than you might think is just a down patch, get your thyroid and thyroid antibodies checked! I was diagnosed with Hashimoto’s thyroiditis last year- it was so amazing to find out the symptoms I’ve had for years that had seemed so vague- feeling increasingly tired, foggy-brained, migraines, dry skin, lower and lower libido- these were all signs that I was actually getting increasing sick. Hashimoto’s is unfortunately one of the most common autoimmune diseases there is, but with dietary changes and medication for your thyroid, everything will come roaring back to life. Anyway, it is not going to be everybody’s problem, obviously, but I ignored my symptoms for way too long, and was too embarrassed to mention the low libido to my doctor! That is what embarrasses me now!

  27. Lila says...

    Thank you Erica, for all your writing and advice, always. You are a shining light in these times!

  28. Laurilee says...

    In the times of the internet being a kind of shitty place, this is just a lovely and supportive post followed by lovely and supportive responses. ❤

  29. Breanna says...

    Thank you for this new column.. It’s incredible to hear women discuss such common things happening with our bodies.. just writing your story out, helps to normalize things. It takes away the shame and embarrassment, when it never should have been there in the first place.

    Thank you.
    B

  30. Soph says...

    I’m thankful that my sex life is okay right now but I just wanted to chime in to say, wow! Erica is so cool. Thanks for featuring her and her work here.

  31. Karen says...

    Thank you for this sensitive and thoughtful response. I sometimes feel shame — shame! — for not wanting to have sex at all times. I want to add one thing to this conversation, and that is: perimenopause. Can we please talk about this? I am in my mid-40s, happily married to a man I find very attractive, but my sex drive has declined noticeably in the last couple of years. My amazing psychologist is the one who said it might be related to perimenopause, and suggested I talk to my OBGYN. I did, and my OBGYN said it might be case, that it wouldn’t last forever, and most importantly, that it’s perfectly normal. All this shame — just because NO ONE EVER TALKS ABOUT THIS! On TV, in films, women who don’t want sex are broken women, women who need fixing. But it turns out that diminished libido is just a natural part of aging. Why does no one talk about this?! I’m baffled! Cup of Jo, please, PLEASE run a post on this!

    • Jane says...

      Oh my goodness Karen – I am in EXACTLY the same boat and I really hear you when you describe the emotion relating to lack of desire as shame. I’m in my late 40’s, and also find my partner very attractive but I NEVER want to have sex any more. I feel like I have lost part of myself and wish it was discussed more…as none of my peri-menopausal friends seem to feel the same. Dear Cup of Jo team, I am echoing Karen’s request for Erica to run a post on how to cope with lack of desire during this phase of life, please!

  32. Catherine says...

    Thank you VERY much for this. It hit home in such a way, I had to read it twice. <3

    • Justine says...

      Totally agree!

  33. Emily says...

    Thank you, thank you, thank you! I lost my sex drive after the birth of my son which wasn’t a great birth experience and have experience postpartum and other bouts of depression that have TOTALLY gotten rid of my sex drive. I thought during those times that it was for good. Thanks to the internet and reading other women’s stories, I knew I wasn’t alone, and that was so comforting. I remember when my sexual desire came back in full force and I explored ALL OF IT and realized that it was such a beautiful opportunity to really get to know my own desire. And sometimes, here and there, a little porn goes a long way;)

    • Emily says...

      p.s. I once asked a lover if things were all good under the hood — after having children and going through a divorce I thought my vagina was broken. He assured me it was not. Just wanted to give anyone hope who thinks it may be. What an amazing, regenerative, life, love and pleasure giving organ!

  34. Toni Wakefield says...

    Thank you for this thoughtful and supportive post-really a fantastic perspective..

  35. Daisy says...

    I hate to admit it but I recently read 50 shades of Grey series and the 2 additional Christian Grey versions to boot and it has gotten me in the mood and initiate sex. I used to call that book 50 shades of headache in the last, Lol. The headache irony is not lost on me.

  36. Emily says...

    I love this post. I have been really struggling with not having libido, and having trouble orgasming, during the pandemic. I actually decided to read Come As You Are as a result and learned so much. Of course we need to listen to and respect our unique bodies and how they work! Of course if we’re facing immense stress, sex may not be what we want! But it’s hard to grasp that without hearing it from an expert.

  37. Patricia says...

    I just had a mastectomy in April, with reconstructive surgery six weeks later. I am still healing — physically and mentally — and as a follow-up to this column, I would love if Erica would address sexual desire and sex after breast cancer (or other body-altering medical treatments, diseases, or accidents).

  38. Isabella says...

    Thank you for this thoughtful and well-informed post! I recently began to emerge from a 3-year bout with depression and noticed my sex drive twinkling back as my general well-being improved. I’d been worried throughout that time about how to “fix” my libido, but with the clarity of hindsight I can see that there was a much larger issue with my mental health that my low sex drive was merely a symptom of. If I had a friend in similar circumstances now I’d encourage her to just be *kind* to herself and focus on healing and addressing the underlying issues in her life, and trust that the vroom-vroom would come back when it, and she, was ready.

  39. J. says...

    I love that every single contributor, essayist, columnist, writer, or person who writes on Cup of Jo — all with such different voices and styles– somehow still makes you feel like you’re talking to a close friend who never judges you and always leaves you feeling understood, warm, and full (does anybody know what I’m talking about?! people who leave you fuller vs. emptier?). It is such a testament to how powerful and beautiful this whole COJ universe is!!! Thank you, Erica, and thank you Joanna and team!!! Reading this blog is one of my favorite moments of calm/joy in my day.

    • NN says...

      Hear, hear! Me, too. Thank you to the entire CoJ team and every writer. (Thank you, too, to Erica. Her book helped me so much when I was expecting my baby–and after.)

  40. Caroline says...

    In reading the question, I immediately thought of Come As You Are— it’s a fantastic book and really helped me feel so free and accepting of my own sexuality in the months that I was simultaneously postpartum and post-divorce. I would also add to the actionable advice Erica gives about dealing with stress to read Burnout by Emily Nagoski and her sister Amelia Nagoski. I’ve read and reread that book (and listen to their podcast, Feminist Survival Podcast 2020) more than a dozen times since I bought it about 16 months ago— I even pulled it out again today to help me work through some COVID/work stuff. That book is a GAME CHANGER and absolutely empowering.

  41. B says...

    I loved how informative this was – I had not a clue about women needing external stimulus, but it makes so much sense!

  42. K says...

    Erica’s response was so gentle and loving. Reading it makes me feel so taken care of.

    • Sophia says...

      Just want to echo this. Thank you, Erica!

  43. Lana says...

    And nursing! Nursing zaps you’re libido like a bolt of lightening.

    • Faith says...

      Yes! I feel so torn about wanting to keep nursing my baby (she just turned one) and wanting to get my libido back (amongst other things). It was amazing how quickly it returned after I stopped nursing my first child — in case that’s helpful for those struggling right now.

  44. Laurie says...

    Also don’t underestimate the potential negative effects of certain medications on your libido- especially hormonal ones, such as the birth control pill! I seriously thought there was something wrong with me for a long time. Went off the pill for other reasons and guess what- problem solved!! Wish I had known so much earlier.

    • Joanna Goddard says...

      Couldn’t agree more!

    • Wendy says...

      Also, many anti-anxiety and anti-depression meds can have a strong effect on libido.

    • a.n. says...

      gosh, yes. i was on the pill for a decade before i decided to stop, and when i stopped, i was like “oh. oh WOW. i DO have a sex drive, it was just hidden for 10 years behind that pill!”

    • L says...

      Amen to this. I wish the hormonal and mental side effects of the pill were more widely discussed. I completely lost my sex drive and became much more emotional. I tried to talk to my doctors about it but they made me think I was crazy or that I had no other options. After several years, I finally decided to go off it –against their advice – and could actually feel my “self’ returning. I wish I’d done it sooner. Though I also ended up getting cystic acne, it was worth it.

  45. C says...

    I love her thoughtful and comforting response!

    I’d love some insight into sex and intimacy after infidelity. Counseling has been a God send, but we’re still struggling with how to get started with intimacy again. It’s a huge hurdle for us right now.

    • H says...

      Hey C! I hope you’ve already looked at Esther Perez- her books/podcast/blog/ted talk we’re all super helpful for us when we were dealing with an infidelity. Also, I loved Thomas Moore’s The Soul of Sex and Soul Mates. Both really beautiful books from a Jungian perspective. I hope you and your partner are being gentle with yourselves and each other. I’ve been in a relation for 16 years and we’ve both stepped out. It was really traumatic both times, but it does slowly heal.

    • H says...

      Sorry- Esther Perel, not Perez! Weird autocorrects.

    • TF says...

      Yes! Would appreciate ANY Cup of Jo discussion on infidelity.

    • C says...

      Thank you for the recommendations, H! I’ll look into them.

    • S says...

      I would NOT recommend Esther Perel. In my experience, she is a cheating apologist who completely glosses over the trauma caused by infidelity and betrayal. If you want to get into sex and intimacy after infidelity there is only one way: find yourself a partner who isn’t a cheater! Otherwise, you’ll spend the rest of your life with a small seed of worry in the back of your head, never feeling truly safe and secure. There’s no hope for real intimacy like that!

    • A therapist says...

      S, Esther Perel is not an infidelity apologist. Investigating some of the reasons why an affair may have occurred is not the same as justifying an affair. Nothing justifies a betrayal. However, many people (on all sides of a betrayal) are looking for insight into the complex dynamics of affairs so that they can heal, with or without their partners. While I agree that some people display certain patterns (like cheating) repeatedly, there is no hope for changing these patterns without understanding them — and many partners want to work through these issues with a partner. It’s not always as simple as “once a cheater, always a cheater, get rid of them, goodbye.

    • A doctor says...

      Therapist, I agree that it isn’t always that simple. However, as a gynecologist, I cannot tell you how many women I see who stay with cheating partners and then discover that their partners were still cheating only when they get an unexpected STD. Particularly women who are more religious and feel stuck/pressured to work through infidelity because of a “forgiveness” narrative that is strongly pushed on them. I always advise my patients that if they are in this situation they should use protection when returning to sex with previously cheating partners. I realize it can definitely make things awkward and less “intimate,” but it better than a surprise diagnosis. I feel like it is the responsible thing to do. I hope therapists are always encouraging caution!

    • H says...

      I wanted to chime in again to say yes to both the doctor and the therapist! I have cheated physically (I was 24 and deeply depressed) , my husband had an emotional affair a few years later, and we both made it out on the other side, healed some childhood traumas, and are very deeply in love. We are now in our late 30s with two kids. I also know someone who is a serial cheater and liar, and it is very much an addiction for him. I feel bad for his partners. I think you have to trust your gut, find a therapist you trust, and also practice safe sex, especially if you have the tiniest worry in your head that your partner is cheating.

    • B says...

      I highly recommend the book What Makes Love Last by John Gottman!

  46. Katrina says...

    I had a baby in January and six months later, sex is still super painful. I’m breastfeeding and I know that can make things particularly dry, but it seems like no amount of lubrication is enough. My body kind of feels like parts have shifted and positions that were great before feel terrible. I pushed for five hours, so I’m sure my pelvic floor was rocked. I keep reading about how great pelvic floor therapy can be, but is there a quarantine-friendly way to go about this? Or some YouTube video or website that explains the right way to go about kegels?

    • Rachel says...

      Hey Katrina, https://pelvicguru.com/ Pelvic Guru is a great resource for finding a local Pelvic Health PT! Their Instagram account has a lot of helpful information, too. A big part of pelvic floor physical therapy is education- which can be provided through telehealth, and many pelvic PTs are offering telehealth appointments. The American Physical Therapy Association also has a provider finder tool and you can search for a Women’s Health physical therapist under “find a specialist.” https://aptaapps.apta.org/APTAPTDirectory/FindAPTDirectory.aspx I hope this helps!

    • Amanda says...

      Hi Katrina – I think that I pushed for about this long, too, and had a not-so-bad second-degree tear. I did about 6 sessions of pelvic floor physio (mostly, let’s be honest, because I was having trouble with peeing) and it really helped. The other thing that helped was time. Sex definitely wasn’t normal at 6 months, but by a year it was pretty much back to usual (I was still breastfeeding at a year, too). I don’t know what will work for you, but I wanted to give you some hope!

    • Hollye says...

      Katrina, I just wanted to say I pushed for four hours, and my pelvic floor was super shot as well! I highly recommend finding a pelvic PT if you can, but if not, I do think it will slowly get better! Mine did. We started trying to have sex again two months postpartum, and while the intimacy was really wonderful, I had some pain and just general weirdness until about 9 months postpartum. That’s when I really felt fully back in my body sexually. I think on top of the pain, I felt a kind of psychic detachment from that area- which was probably my brain’s way of coping with four hours of drug-free pushing. :-) Lube, vibrators, and being really really patient with myself also helped. And finding other ways to physically and emotionally connect with my partner. Good luck, and congratulations! Your body did something miraculous.

    • Amber Leigh says...

      Hey Katrina, I saw your comment and thought – this is exactly what I went through after having my baby so wanted to share my experiences for what it’s worth! I’m 14 months postpartum and still breastfeeding and was struggling with all the same things you mention! I ended up finding a Pelvic Floor PT that I felt safe visiting but totally understand that’s a v. Personal choice! We wear masks, they have distancing in the waiting room and everything is sanitized regularly. I would say I’m not 100% at ease but I was desperate to find some relief for this situation. Some insights – chronically tense pelvic floor muscles are a thing so breathing exercises to help you relax them are really helpful. Kegels are important but so is learning to fully relax the muscles which isn’t always easy to do! I found some YouTube videos to help stretch and relax the pelvic floor before I found the PT. My PT recommended a topical estrogen cream because for the temporary vaginal atrophy caused by low estrogen while breastfeeding and this is intended to help with that. I haven’t tried the estrogen yet but apparently a lot of women find that this helps a lot. I also discovered the product Rosebud https://rosewoman.com/products/honor-regenerating-balm?variant=8633472319553 it’s pricey but it’s really soothing and the reviews suggest it works great for a lot of women. Anyway, all this is to say I feel like I understand what you’re going through and know how disheartening it can feel!

    • b says...

      Check out Lynzy and Co on Instagram (@lynzyandco). She has four kids and is a physician’s assistant. She talks a lot about post-birth recovery at all stages.

    • Maria says...

      I really recommend going to a womens health physical therapist if there is one near you. Or whenever you have the chance. I went to one after my second baby and the whole experience was incredibly helpful and eye-opening. In the meantime, femfusion fitness and Shelly Prosko on YouTube are both great.

    • Sarah M says...

      Want to second what Rachel says– seek a professional. It’s way more than just kegels and you don’t want to mess around with your lady parts and Dr. YouTube! Alysia Montaño, track star/Olympian/momx3, has been super open about her pelvic floor recovery journey on her Instagram feed and in interviews: https://www.themotherrunners.com/interview-with-recore-founder-celeste-goodson/

    • Caitlin says...

      Check out @ladybirdpt on Instagram!

    • Megan says...

      Check out MuTu! I’ve loved it during quarantine. Really woman centered and gentle. Works on healing your body from the inside out. And increased libido to boot!

    • Lindsay says...

      I just want to say I went through this with my oldest almost 14 years ago and it was so hard. I felt so much shame about it and am so thankful there is more openness and resources available now. The one silver lining in it all was that my spouse and I got a lot more creative the second time around and our sex life got infinitely better going forward. However with our first we basically were not sexually intimate until I stopped nursing at around a year. We got through it, but I wish I had gotten more help or had more research to help me feel more normal. Sorry you are going through this.

    • Anne says...

      Hi Katrina,
      I haven’t had a baby but have been in pelvic pain PT for over a year and can’t recommend it enough. It is so so helpful! In most European countries women postpartum receive this as part of the post natal care because it’s so important. My PT place, specialized in pelvic PT is back and running, with lots of social distancing in place and it feels safe to go. I have various creams and ointments, estrogen, lidocaine (can help for acute discomfort) but actually the most helpful and what I use daily as a way to moisturize and relieve itchiness in my lady parts is vmagic (https://vmagicnow.com). It helps soothe and is all great ingredients. Good luck!!

    • Ari says...

      Hi Katrina – I highly recommend my former yoga teacher’s online courses on the pelvic floor: https://www.jessgruber.com/freepractice
      Jess is great! Best of luck. Things do get better, but in my experience it wasn’t “going back”, but rather “through”.

    • Hannah says...

      Like everyone else said, a Pelvic Floor PT is so life changing, and I wish it were more normalized here. It’s not as scary as it sounds and hopefully someday it will become a standard part of postpartum care. Also, I learned when I was nursing that besides just being dry, your vaginal PH changes & a lot of lubes felt like they were burning/sticking. https://sliquid.com/shop/sliquid-organics/organics-aloe-based/natural-gel-sliquid-organics/ This stuff worked like a treat! I wouldn’t feel bad about certain positions not working either, that can change on a weekly basis for me. The important thing is to communicate that the best you can and not feel like something is “wrong” because it wasn’t comfortable. You’ve got this! Don’t feel like this needs to be your new normal.

    • Kathy says...

      Hi Katrina. Not disagreeing with any of the other super helpful suggestions, but just wanted to add that 6 months is still super early postpartum! I think for me it was around 6 months when sex stopped full on hurting, but it was another few months (and weaning) before it really felt normal again. I remember being so relieved. I think what your experiencing is perfectly normal for many many postpartum people. I know it doesn’t make it any less frustrating though!

    • Shelley says...

      I signed up for a monthly workout app called every mother and i have seen some improvement for sure with my pelvic floor and core muscles! The workouts are easy and quick each day because lord knows I do not have any time with two ages two and under!

    • Amy says...

      For anyone about to have a baby or very recently had one – you may want to consider seeing a chiropractor post-birth. I was sort of anti-chiropractor beforehand, but my midwife suspected that my pelvis was lopsided after causing pelvic pain (in my case I was always carrying my toddler son on the same hip during pregnancy, not a difficult labour).

      With the hormones still in your system and keeping your ligaments loose for a few weeks post-birth, it’s possible to have a chiro shift the pelvis back into alignment. Unfortunately, once those hormones are gone, that’s significantly harder to adjust unless you happen to get pregnant again.

      My MIL’s friend has a lopsided pelvis that went undetected until she was in her 60s and now she has a lot of trouble walking, so I’m so glad my midwife pointed me to a chiro to make sure everything was where it was supposed to be before everything tightened up again!

    • Katrina says...

      Dear Rachel, Amanda, Hollye, Amber Leigh, B, Maria, Sarah M, Caitlin, Megan, Lindsay, Anne, Ari, Hannah, Kathy, Shelley, Amy:

      Thank you so much for your generous advice. I’m overwhelmed by your responses. One of the toughest parts of quarantine (and not living near family) has been not being able to form a kind of postpartum tribe for myself. Your support and kindness is appreciated more than you know.

      And thank you as always COJ for creating such a warm, wonderful place on the internet.

    • Trish says...

      Just want to add my 2 cents regarding pelvic floor therapy. Long story short, after three traumatic c-sections, and a hip surgery, I had continued pain in my hip, pelvis and low back. I just could not get functional in every day life or exercise. Honestly, I’ve had pelvic pain, and pain with intercourse off and on for my entire life of sexual activity. Finally, my regular PT convinced me to try pelvic floor therapy and it was a huge help in getting me over my hip pain. On top of that, I realized that all the pelvic and intercourse pain I had was NOT normal, and I didn’t have to feel that way. It gave me such relief in ways I didn’t even know were needed. I wish that seeing a pelvic floor therapist was suggested/mandatory after the 6 week postpartum checkup, particularly for women who have had a c-section. The pain and problems I could have saved myself had I known about this option earlier. Go, ladies. Go!

    • Emily says...

      Hi Katrina,
      I’m so glad people are chiming in. I wish I’d known more with my first. I was under the misguided opinion that after 6 weeks everything should be healed … it takes much longer! If only I’d known that time heals and to be patient, I wouldn’t have panicked as much. Thinking of you – this is hard!

  47. Veronica says...

    Erica, thank you so much for talking about responsive desire. My husband is quick to write off the possibility of sex if I tell him I’m tired or if we’ve had a long day, but just jumping in and trying usually gets me ready to go. It has been a game changer for us.

  48. Nicole says...

    I loved reading this. Such a thoughtful and manageable approach to something many women experience.
    I highly recommend Erica’s book to anyone who is currently expecting or trying to conceive. I don’t know how to put into words how much peace it brought me. She has such a beautiful way of explaining all the nuances of pregnancy and labor. She is such a gifted writer.

  49. This was a really excellent response. I read that book but do not remember the concept of responsive v spontaneous sex drive! That makes total sense that men never lose spontaneous sex drive. And it’s harder to come by responsive drive when life is turned upside down… plus I’m 20 weeks pregnant right now and it’s so dang hot/humid… and it’s harder to find the energy/patience for grand or sweet gestures in a marriage – at least in my situation. I love my husband but I feel like we both lack patience right now as our energetic, boundary-testing 2-year old really uses up any reserves we have!

    • NH observer says...

      You are twenty weeks pregnant in summer with a two-year-old in the midst of a pandemic — you should candidly give yourself a huge pat on the back each and every day!!!

      (I realized after typing this that it might sound unintentionally sarcastic — just want to clarify that I totally mean it!)

    • Breanna says...

      please, please, please.. give yourself a huge break. Enjoy your pregnancy, honestly – sleep. Sex will come back in a year or two in full force. Focus on you & your relationship with your husband. You’re life is about to change, enjoy the ride. 😊❤️

  50. Faith says...

    What a thoughtful response! Love this new column. :)

  51. Gin says...

    Great post, but also where is the outfit from Erica?

    • Jane says...

      Second this! Love it

  52. Sarah says...

    This is such a beautiful, comforting read. I’m sure a lot of us are in the same boat right now. I agree with shows or movies – Normal People did wonders for our sex life recently. I have a strange confession, too. Something that always gets me back in the mood when I’m in a rut is reading gay male romance. There’s something so refreshing about a sexual encounter where I don’t identify with one person specifically. I can appreciate dominant or submissive roles without getting in my own head about past encounters or gender dynamics. It’s a pure delight, try it!

    • CG says...

      Hear, hear! Normal People, firing up stressed out COVID couples everywhere.

    • Kara says...

      I’m intrigued to know if the show is different than the book because the book did the opposite for me haha! Like it was so intense and heartbreaking to read all about Marianne’s life and how it all manifested in traumatizing ways in her sex life that I was literally telling my husband to get his hands off me the nights I spent reading it. Just a warning for anyone hoping for a sexy romance novel when they pick it up after seeing how others are reacting to the show version. (I really liked the book and their relationship was beautiful (and heartbreaking) so it’s definitely worth reading!)

  53. jennifer says...

    Your response, Erica, was so deeply wise, gentle, strong and loving all together–so much so that I have tears rolling down my cheeks. It touched me deeply. I, too, have been noticing my desire going downhill this year and been wondering about it. This year my husband had a stroke, he applied for and started a new job, my siblings and I realized my parents needed to file for bankruptcy and the pandemic hit (we have two young children).
    Just … thank you for your words and for sharing with us.

    • Isabella says...

      Jennifer, just sending you hugs. You’ve been through so much in a short span of time — I hope that you’re being gentle with yourself and are doing alright.

  54. Rachel says...

    I second the recommendation for reading Come as You Are. This book is very approachable and dispelled many of the myths regarding sexuality I didn’t even know were myths. As a future health care provider and feminist, I thought I had a pretty healthy relationship with my body. This book taught me so much, and its ethos of “all the same parts, organized differently; all normal” is true for so many areas of life. Run, do not walk, to get yourself a copy of this book.

  55. Blythe says...

    Thank you so much Erica! This response was so insightful and applicable to many of us right now. I’d been thinking that something was off that I wasn’t in the mood as often as I once was. But with both of us working from home full time and handling care for an infant, I’ve felt zero desire lately. Also, I’d never heard of those two forms of desire! Thank you so much Erica for sharing your knowledge with us! xoxoxo