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What It's Really Like To Have No Sex Drive

I just wonder ... am I normal?

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gif of lady looking around a field of grass
Paige Vickers
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The story would be sitcom-worthy hilarious if I weren’t sobbing in excruciating pain when it happened. I was recently rushed to the hospital because I felt like a bomb had exploded on the side of my stomach. The doctors immediately had their suspicions. “Do you think you could be pregnant?” one woman in scrubs asked me after I noted I had skipped a few periods. “Ah, no,” I replied. I peed in a cup anyway. An hour later, I staggered to the bathroom and did it again because she wasn’t convinced. Then the doctor returned: Seems I had all the symptoms of an ectopic pregnancy. Could I pee just one more time? “Look,” I shouted. “I haven’t been sexually active in more than a year. If I were pregnant, it would have to be a *##$@$* immaculate conception!”

I left that emergency room with a ruptured cyst and a serious blow to my self-esteem. Now the whole world — or, fine, anyone within earshot — knew what I had been trying to cover up for years: I have a low libido. Not only do I not have sex, I’m not interested in having sex. I could probably watch a marathon right now of the horniest hits on Cinemax and be more preoccupied with the bad acting than the steamy action. The heart-pounding, blood-rushing, hot-by-the-seat-of-my-pants thrill is MIA. My 25-year-old self, who once got it on with a guy on the dirty floor of my office after hours because I couldn’t wait one second longer, wouldn’t recognize me. Even my 35-year-old self, who would passionately make out with my dates on the street in the wee hours on a school night, seems like forever ago.

I don’t have a husband or partner. I wish. I’m convinced the stigma would be softened if I had someone in bed with me every night. At least I’d have ample opportunity to rekindle the spark. Or I could complain to other sympathetic coupled-up friends that the kids are making us crazy and I’m exhausted from work and we’re just too tired to do it anymore. It’s completely normal, they’d reply and nod. Instead, I keep it to myself and sleep by myself. I nod and smile during alcohol-fueled dinners with my attached girlfriends as they spill the tea on the most intimate details of their sex lives. I’ve escorted one friend to Victoria’s Secret on multiple occasions as she buys racy lingerie, wondering if that will ever be me again.

Meanwhile, I trudge to the occasional date in hopes that I’m so sexually attracted to the guy across the table that my problem will be “cured.” While the guy drones on about his career, I’ll think to myself, Could I picture eventually having sex with him? It used to be that even if the answer was borderline yes, I would take a chance and fool around — only to catch glimpses at the bright digital clock on the cable box as we rolled around on the bed. Is it time to go home yet, I wondered? Now I rarely get past the first date. It’s not that I’m appalled if the date flirts with me or outright hits on me — I’m actually quite flattered. I’ll effortlessly reciprocate the flirt because I ration that a flirt is just a flirt. I’ll even partake in a few chaste kisses. But I have no desire to take it further. I’ll beg off further advances with my standard polite lie: Sorry, no, I can’t have a nightcap because I must wake up first thing in the morning for an important meeting.

It’s cold comfort, but these feelings are normal. “There is a ‘use it or lose it’ philosophy,” says Kate Thomas, a director of clinical services at John Hopkins University’s sexual and gender clinic. “It’s easy to lose your desire when you’re not having sex.” Plus, she notes, falling estrogen levels decrease vaginal lubrication. My ups and downs also started to even out after my longtime doctor put me on antidepressants at age 41. She warned me of this side effect, but I chose to brush it off. I found it hard to believe that a low-dosage pill smaller than the size of a Tic Tac could have such a big effect on my sexual appetite. I was wrong.

The good news is that it is possible to get my groove back. “There are reasons to be hopeful for a robust libido, but you have to lower your expectations,” Thomas says. “You’re not 18 anymore.” The first step, which I admit I have never done, is to be evaluated by a sexual therapist. A professional can pinpoint my underlying issues and treat it. “You have to introduce sex back into your life and figure out what will get you aroused,” she adds, suggesting that I try to wear a slinky nightgown to bed instead of my usual oversized cotton PJs. Even lifestyle changes such as increased exercise (oops) and stress reduction (double oops) may do wonders. “The healthier we are,” she says, “the better we feel about ourselves and have more energy.”

I’ll take it. Indeed, sometimes I feel like I might as well be wearing a scarlet L on my chest. Hey guys, I know it seems like I have my life (and my finances!) together, but beware of me! Most of the time, however, I don’t think about it. Seriously. I’m preoccupied with my career, my family and the person who annoyingly throws loud parties across the street in my neighborhood. Life goes on, and hopefully a stimulating sex life will resume soon.

Besides, it does feel oh so good to finally confess that I have a problem. Maybe that’s a start?