Health,  Life

Is Your Sex Life Fading? Unveiling the “Brakes” and “Accelerators” of Desire

Recently, a prevalent jest on Douyin ensues thus: “A couple part amiably ere retiring for the night, venturing into separate chambers.” This vignette portrays a conspicuously “unadulterated” alliance, resonating profoundly with numerous netizens.

The vogue of such vignettes elucidates the omnipresence of the “elephant in the room” phenomenon—when ensconced in a stable relationship for an extended duration, intimacy stealthily dissipates.

The recently en vogue Korean drama “Long Time No Time” delves into this quandary. A youthful couple commences with a fervent amorous life, only to segue into an austere state devoid of intimacy a few years hence.

It is not a dearth of yearning per se, but rather a dearth of yearning for each other: the matrimonial pair resorts to solitary acts of self-gratification; contemplations of donning provocative attire are met with equanimity by the husband.

This “frigid” state is also prevalent in neighboring Japan, renowned for its lascivious culture. A survey conducted in 2022 concerning the sexual lives of 8,000 Japanese individuals aged 20 to 49 revealed:

45.3% of women and 44.5% of men reported abstaining from intimate relations in the preceding year;

The proportion of women content with their sexual lives stands at 27.8%, while for men, it is 23.1%; 26% of women and 46.4% of men express a desire to augment the frequency of their sexual encounters;

Merely 13.0% of women and 13.2% of men reported engaging in sexual activities (including liaisons with commercial sex workers) at least once a week in the past year.

Whither has the libido fled?

In the present discourse, we shall explore: Is “coitus interruptus” an inexorable phenomenon in a protracted monogamous relationship? What precisely quells our carnal desires? How might one cultivate a tender, intimate rapport alongside a fervent sexual life?

Wherefore do we covet it? And wherefore do we eschew it? The “accelerator” and “brake” of libido

To fathom the evaporation of libido, a moment of introspection regarding the constituents of sexual desire may be warranted. In the late 1990s, professors Erick Janssen and John Bancroft, distinguished scholars in sexual psychology, posited a model delineating sexual desire into two facets:

Firstly, the sexual excitation system (SE), akin to the “throttle” of libido. It assimilates stimuli pertaining to sexual arousal from the surroundings—be it visual, auditory, olfactory, tactile, gustatory, or imaginative—and dispatches signals from the cerebral cortex to the reproductive organs, exhorting them to “arouse”! Though it operates surreptitiously, its presence often eludes conscious awareness.

Secondly, the sexual inhibition system (SI), tantamount to the “brake” on libido. It encompasses factors that stifle sexual desire, such as perilous or discomforting environs, experiences of sexual trauma, stress, anxiety, partner rejection, and the like.

As per this paradigm, sexual arousal necessitates the confluence of two processes: activating the accelerator and disengaging the brake.

Whilst the sexual throttle and brake are inherent in all central nervous systems (we are all cognizant of this!), individual variances in their sensitivity engender discrepancies in sexual temperament or disposition:

High throttle, low brake: Constituting approximately 2% to 6% of the female populace, individuals in this category exhibit heightened sexual impetus during periods of stress, contrasting with counterparts who evince diminished interest in sex under similar circumstances. Moreover, this disposition tends to correlate with a penchant for sexual adventurism.

Low throttle, high braking: Characterizing roughly 1% to 4% of women, this profile is typified by a heightened susceptibility to factors impeding sexual desire. Conversely, a diminished propensity for arousal necessitates heightened stimuli. Such inclinations may precipitate issues such as diminished desire and difficulties in attaining orgasm.

Moreover, archetypes typified by high throttle and high brake, as well as low throttle and low brake, exist, albeit most individuals gravitate toward the median value—manifesting as moderate throttle and moderate brake.

Individuals grappling with libido deficits or orgasmic impediments often erroneously attribute the malady to a paucity of “throttle”—akin to the protagonist’s wife in “Long Time No Time,” who endeavors to incite arousal by donning provocative attire, stimulating her husband’s erogenous zones, and rendezvousing in a love nest—whereas the preponderant predictor of sundry sexual maladies remains hypersensitive braking.

In the absence of redressing factors impeding sexual desire, vehicular progress may be stymied despite fervent acceleration, or worse yet, such exertions may precipitate vehicular damage.

Longing for a liaison? What applies the “brakes” to our libido?

Two overarching categories of “brakes” emerge:

Primarily, extrinsic perils in the milieu exert a conspicuous and profound dampening effect on sexual desire.

Foremost among these are stress, depression, and anxiety—commonplace afflictions that attenuate libido, impede sexual arousal, and may thwart orgasmic attainment.

In “Long Time No Time,” a woebegone couple contends with financial strife amidst South Korea’s economic downturn. Their modest abode, procured through loans, teeters on the brink of foreclosure as loan interest rates ascend unabatedly.

The wife, employed as a hotel receptionist, and the husband, a Seoul National University alumnus, grapple with entrepreneurial setbacks, the latter eventually eking out a living as a taxi driver (alas, the taxi succumbs to flooding in the inaugural episode, with the insurance failing to indemnify the loss); to economize, the wife subsists on scant fare, eschewing even a modest repast.

In an environment bereft of fundamental security, sexual desire finds itself subject to severe curtailment.

Secondarily, a distinct category of “brake” emerges—a more latent, chronic inhibition akin to a handbrake in an automobile.

Instances include:

• Body dysmorphia: Women beset by negative body image evince diminished sexual satisfaction, heightened risk aversion, and attenuated pleasure. One woman encapsulates the sentiment thus: “When I harbor self-assurance, arousal ensues with alacrity; conversely, when besieged by self-doubt vis-à-vis my physique, arousal proves elusive.”

• Sexual trauma aftermath: Survivors of sexual trauma evince altered cognitive processing pertaining to the sexual brake. Once-conducive stimuli may now be construed as threats by the cerebral cortex, triggering heightened inhibitory responses. Sexual trauma encompasses a gamut of unpleasant experiences, including sexual assault and gynecological surgeries. A confidant divulges the deleterious impact of HPV surgery on her libido.

• Accumulated relational discord: In “Long Time No Time,” the husband concedes that his waning desire for his spouse stems from her overbearing demeanor, which precludes his relaxation. Conversely, the wife grapples with self-doubt owing to her husband’s repeated rebuffs, culminating in a reciprocal diminution of desire. Both parties, thus ensnared in a quagmire of mutual inhibition, find themselves entrenched in a deleterious cycle of “sexlessness.”

Numerous other variants of “brakes” may exist, yet they invariably coalesce around a singular precept: fostering an environment wherein the cerebral cortex perceives the world as secure, pleasurable, and sexually conducive. Ergo, relinquishing the brakes invariably hinges upon trust—a shared emotive and relational bond predicated on mutual confidence.

In protracted monogamous relationships, ardor does not “manifest spontaneously” but “can manifest” provided…

The query persists: How might one augment desire within the confines of a long-term relationship? Psychologists specializing in gender dynamics proffer two prevailing perspectives:

• The “Maintaining a Comfortable Distance” doctrine, espoused by Esther Perel, posits desire as antithetical to love. While love craves intimacy, desire necessitates a modicum of separation.

• Conversely, the “Mutual Desire” theory propounded by John Gottman contends that desire emanates from profound, intimate connections. Enhanced mutual understanding and vulnerability engender a propitious milieu for sexual desire.

Though ostensibly disparate, these paradigms converge upon a shared modus operandi: bolstering throttle activation while assuaging braking.

A universally acknowledged verity emerges—we acknowledge that passion does not burgeon organically within a protracted monogamous liaison. Yet, we concurrently recognize that passion can indeed manifest—albeit contingent upon conscientious cultivation of the ambience. For some, this entails fortifying intimacy; for others, carving out space.

Sexual desire is akin to a garden—a gardener cannot compel blooms through sheer force, but can only foster an environment conducive to flourishing. Thereafter, nature takes its course.

Regardless of one’s current predilections vis-à-vis sexual congress, one’s sentiments remain valid; one is not aberrant.

In denouement, allow me to proffer an anecdote: When did the couple in “Long Time No Time” rekindle their carnal ardor? Following their divorce, upon liquidating their domicile.

Couples ensnared in the throes of postnuptial abstinence often find respite solely through divorce. Though ironic, this anecdote may proffer inspiration. In lieu of severance, might we not endeavor to assuage the brakes hindering desire within the confines of an extant relationship?

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