Can’t She See I Need It?

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About Gary Wilson & Marnia Robinson

Gary Wilson has taught anatomy, physiology, and pathology for many years. His wife Marnia is the author of Cupid's Poisoned Arrow: From Habit to Harmony in Sexual Relationships. Among other projects, they host the website Your Brain on Porn.


  1. I have tried all kinds of therapies but I can’t get my libido back… I am heading for a divorce fast.

  2. I think this article is seriously misleading. Sexual problems in a relationship are all about brain chemistry? Really? Nothing to do with unresolved relationship issues, chronic sleep deprivation, kids, fatigue, stress, hormonal changes, obesity (one’s own or one’s partner or both), libido-killing antidepressant drugs, back pain or other physical injuries, diabetes, menopause, erectile dysfunction, etc. etc.? Or how about just boredom with being with the same person for 10 or 20 or 30 years?

    • Why must this be an “either-or” discussion? Resolving the brain chemistry piece seems to help couples address other issues more easily. Otherwise they’re always fighting against their biology…and the resulting boredom that you mention.

      • Guess I’m just tired of reading articles that use biochemical reductionism as the explanation for every human thought and feeling. It’s how big pharma has sold us all those libido destroying SSRI drugs.

        I usually have a pretty good sex drive, but there are times when I’m feeling down about myself because I have a middle aged body and I don’t feel that sexy when I look at my stretch marks and so on. The more my partner does to make me feel like he still finds me hot, the more interested I am in sex. Otherwise, I completely lose interest because I feel crappy about my body. There’s an example of a phenomenon that has absolutely nothing to do with biochemistry and everything to do with psychology. And that’s just one issue that could be a factor in someone’s relationship. It’s an issue I need to work on by not letting low self esteem issues interfere with my relationship and not putting all the responsibility on my partner to make me feel good. Also, it’s an issue he needs to be aware of so he doesn’t do things that unintentionally undermine my self esteem. Because overall we have a very good relationship,and we both enjoy sex, and we want to make it work. He has his own issues such as a back problem. I think it would be a mistake for either of us to write off any libido issues as just being about differences in dopamine responses that we don’t have any control over.

  3. Dimitri says:

    If these hypotheses were true, I’d expect couples who have infrequent or unsatisfying sex to be more affectionate and closer bonded than couples who are subjected to the sinister curse of frequent, satisfying sex. Seven years into a happy monogamous relationship with plenty of ebb and flow sexually, I am able to report precisely the opposite. I can say from experience that having less frequent sex absolutely does not increase my partner’s libido. I have tried to follow advice similar to the authors’ in the past, and it lead me to a toxic, self-loathing place, and to a relationship with little affection and infrequent, bad sex.

    I suspect a religious anti-ejaculation agenda behind this series of articles. That’s fine. Everyone’s free to believe what they want, and to practice whatever religious austerities they care to. It can be fun to imagine that science is finally validating the wisdom of the sages. But it’s hard for me to take the scientific hypotheses presented here seriously, knowing that my own experience is so contrary.

    I have a little more sympathy for the author’s anti-porn argument, since I personally find porn off-putting and don’t watch it. Perhaps I’m terribly anomalous for that reason, though I doubt it. Still, without more solid evidence I’m not ready to preach the virtues of abstinence from porn when it never appealed to me in the first place.

    • We suggest more sex, not less. The examples in the article were just to show the ways couples sometimes try to cope with habituation. It’s great that you don’t have that problem in your marriage.

      You are exactly right in that couples with unsatisfying, or no sex lives are usually not very happy.
      We suggest in our book, and the numerous other articles, to have intercourse daily. Yes, daily. Preferably lasting at least an hour. See: Another Way to Make Love

      In addition to the daily intercourse, we suggest practicing daily “bonding behaviors” which involve a lot of caring touch and interactions. See: The Lazy Way to Stay in Love

      By the way, we are not religious.

      • I have no doubt that if you are in a relationship, in a career, in physical health such that you are willing and able to have intercourse every day for over an hour that of course your sex life is probably pretty satisfying. Being able to do that, by definition, means that you’ve avoided a lot of the usual daily challenges to maintaining a sexual relationship. From that I would extrapolate that if you want a good sex life, best not to have children, a long daily commute, or frequent vaginal dryness. Okay, I’ll get right on that….

  4. The mind is an “emergent” phenomenon, more than just the sum of brain chemicals. I don’t think the authors are suggesting that sex is all chemically pre-determined, but I kind of get that impression sometimes. I’m glad that the article reminds us that we have choices and strategies, because that says to me that we all have sexual agency. There are things we can do to make room for increased libido, and things we can do to contribute to more fulfilling sex. It’s quite discouraging and somewhat simplistic to say that one’s partner’s lower sex drive is “probably involuntary” because it’s just the way that brain parts work.

    I don’t get the feeling that the two authors are traditionally religious or anti-porn in a reactionary way. What I see in their writings is the use of scientific and quasi-scientific studies to suggest a particular set of sexual customs designed to make sex as sustainably pleasurable as possible without descending into addiction or boredom. A very worthy pursuit, I must say, more power to them, and I’m ready to explore anything that may work, but there’s something nutty going on here. (Now maybe that’s just my stubborn brain chemicals stuck in my pattern of false consciousness….)

  5. I just find the title of this article laughable. No one needs sex in the sense that you need it as an individual to survive. We do need it to continue our species, but not to survive as individuals. We don’t need sex like we need food, water, and air. We only want/desire it. But no one needs it.

  6. This seems to be scientific explainations for why some of the practices found in Kama Sutra and Taoism work.

  7. Henry Vandenburgh says:

    After monopause, my wife’s sexuality came back (we had a rough six year low libido [for her] period, during which, frankly, I had a lover.) But for my wife, sexuality came back at the once a week level. We’re now a very young 66 and 62. We were also going through tenure at two different universities, and tenure is hard on sexuality because of the constant pressure to publish.

    Sex is for us as satisfying as it once was when we were three and four times a week lovers. We usually take at least an hour on Sundays, and it’s indeed fairly tantric with lots of different activities.

    But she absolutely doesn’t want midweek sex. And my thermostat is set at about two per week. So masturbation has stepped in to fill the gap. So I think that, as appropriately during adolescence, it can play a positive role if used sparingly.

    • Glad you’ve found something that works for you. The risk for some is that masturbation to today’s hyperstimulating Internet porn causes escalation and increased dissatisfaction. It would be easier to steer safely for a middle ground if people knew what signs to watch for that indicate an addiction process at work in the brain. Again, bravo for you!

      • Henry Vandenburgh says:

        I sometimes feel that I have an advantage in that my sexuality was well-developed before porn. So, even though I’ve used porn at times, it’s not key. I often masturbate in bed with my wife, touching her, if she’s not interested in love making. Imagining ex-lovers or acquaintances also gratifies my poly-instincts sometimes.

        I do think erotica has potential as a permission giver, especially for women, but I agree with you that the addcitive potential of porn is very strong.

        I enjoy yours and Gary’s articles, even though I may quibble with them.

        • Who wouldn’t quibble with at least some of what we say? Your point about your sexuality being well developed before significant porn use is very important. I used Playboy, Penthouse, etc. now and then when growing up. Saw a few porn flicks at the theatre in my twenties. Like you, I always found the real deal far more interesting.

          However, today most boys are starting Interent porn at about the same time they start to masturbate – around 11 years old. What are the effects of using porn (of every possible flavor) for nearly every masturabtion session from 11 years old on – and not using your imagination? I think we are starting to see the widespread effects of this.

          Here’s a quote on brain plasticity:
          “Researcher Jay Giedd used MRI scans to discover that at the beginning of puberty (age 11 for girls, age 12 for boys) there is a genetically triggered burst of overproduction, creating a forest of new dendrites and synapses in several regions of the brain, providing the opportunity for billions of new connections. This burst of growth is followed by a dramatic decrease in the number of synaptic connections (called pruning), a process that proceeds until the mid 20s. The teenage brain loses about 7 to 10% of its gray matter. This pruning gradually creates a more efficient, better integrated brain.”

          Not only are teens’ brains more plastic, they also produce higher levels of dopamine in response to rewards. Additionally, teen brains have less executive control (frontal cortex development), which is necessary for self-control and forseeing the consequences of actions.

          • J.G. te Molder says:

            And not using your imagination?

            Nothing, no effect whatsoever. That’s because today’s porn is bad, my god is it bad, so unbelievably boring and bad.

            Watching porn doesn’t get you any satisfaction, at all, because it’s so bad. This also ties in with studies of people getting desensitized to porn, which isn’t true. They didn’t get desensitized, the pron got bad.

            Back in the 80s and 90s, porn created a fantasy world, a story that was being told, and the sex was an integral part of it. If you even get a story or a fantasy world today, the sex usually has nothing to do with the story, let alone being an integral part of the fantasy.

            Sex scenes have gotten horribly long, and with usually nothing interesting to show at all. Five minutes and more of nothing but a close up of a penis going into a vagina, it’s just as stimulating as a close up of steam train piston moving in and out. While the most interesting things, the full body, the face, the eyes, the expression of the couples pleasure, is barely shown.

            The only place where there is still some good to be had, is in kink porn. Why? Because there’s no way they can make kink porn without at least some the fantasy, the kink, being present on screen. (Not that they’re not trying to get rid of it as well, mind you.) Porn viewers migrating to kink and not having enough with the non kink stuff, is not a sign of the viewers growing desensitized, it’s a show of how bad the porn’s gotten. Get a 90s or 80s porn and you can get off just watching, but not today.

            Nope, without fantasy and imagination, you get nothing out of today’s porn. You want to get something out of it, you need an active imagination, and take the few interesting bits shown on screen, usually the actor or actress you think is really hot, and we’ve them in an elaborate, imaginative fantasy of your own; otherwise it’s pointless.

          • Cecil Westervelt says:

            I don’t even know where to start with how limited and misleading that answer actually is. It also stems from an automatic assertion that the sexuality of young males is harmful to start with.

  8. I really liked this article. I’m sure there are other reasons people don’t want to have sex, but for some couples this might be an issue. The idea that doing things that are more intense may actually make the sex go downhill is something I haven’t seen before. The idea that people respond differently to being satisfied is also fascinating. For a couple that has that problem, this could really help.

  9. As mentioned, one of the main reasons that couples slow down or stop having sex is when the electricity declines after they have been together a while. Maybe the stress of everyday living starts to get to them, maybe the relationship’s give and take kills the juice, or maybe there are unresolved issues that surface, and kill the buzz. Either way, to go back to the title of the post, you do not, in fact, “need” sex, and it is not your wife’s (or husband’s) job to provide you with the sex you ‘need,’ that is a sure-fire way to kill the fun. Does the bank give money to people who ‘need’ it? No, and your spouse won’t give you sex, for long, when you ‘need’ it. The odd thing is that if you pursue what you really need, like finding a creative outlet, taking risks to get a promotion at work, reaching out to friends for connection, stepping into more *authentic* masculinity (or femininity) then you will be emotionally happier and more attractive, you won’t need your spouse to sleep with you for you to feel good about yourself, and therefore his / her sex drive will be more likely to come back.

    I am an Executive Coach who has been taking on a lot of work with relationship issues. I can help men and women create better relationships. You can contact me via my website ( if you want to learn more.

    David Kaiser, PhD

  10. Cecil Westervelt says:

    From what I have observed, in the majority of cases, reduction of sex is about control.
    It’s used as a method of causing ones partner to be uncomfortable in order to get something else. The act of denial is the point itself.
    This is most often the case with females. Given that the general idea is that sex is a need for men, and they can’t do without it, that makes such a scenario pretty nasty.
    With males, I have observed a tendency to start feeling defeated, unwanted, unloved. the psychological cost of being sexually marginalized, rejected most of the time, putting forth effort, being the one to initiate and so forth, easily outweighs any and all benefits.
    There is a massive disparity in attitudes about sex. Male sexuality is demonic, and should be fettered and frowned upon. Female sexual liberation, however is all positive. This moves into relationships, and damages them.

  11. Some couples turn to a swinging lifestyle to keep their sex life alive. Many swingers claim this actually saved their marriage and keeps them from cheating. However, I’ve known some that have broken up as a result of swinging as well.
    I agree with Maria, there’s a whole variety of factors that come into play when sexual problems start to arise in relationships and the right one needs to be diagnosed first before you can start making an action plan.

  12. I had the same problem. I ended up talking to my girlfriend about it and she broke down crying about insecurities and that I was better than her. I’m glad we had the talk because straight afterwards we had sex and it was exceptional :)

  13. In my younger years (Early 20′s) I felt that sex was a vital part of a relationship. I would make myself initiate it, and continue until she was absolutely spent from it, before anything was ever done to stimulate me. Most of the time, I didn’t even finish, but just snuggled up and went to sleep. Most every time, I felt like I was just doing it because it was what I had to do. So, after awhile, I began studying why this was. Why, in effect, I could not ever get excited about sex.

    The answer came not in a single flash, but as after watching and noticing things. It just didn’t feel good mentally. Sure, there was physical reflex pleasure, but it wasn’t in my mind. Equipped with this, I just simply stopped trying. It has been over 3 years now (I’m in my late 20s now) since my last sexual encounter, and I don’t even desire it any more, and I am still in a wonderful mentally loving relationship that I enjoy.

    I know this is a bit off topic and rambling, but I would invite people to study their own selves, study why they want sex, or can’t respond to it. You might just learn something about yourself, and stop being so blasted focused on this dull, dreary sex nonsense.

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  15. Being in the right mood is very important when it comes to having good sex. It would do wonders if the couple can talk about their insecurities and solve any problems.

  16. When it comes to enhancing male or female libido, a lot of factors play their role. Simply taking a pill or using a sexual enhancement gel will not do the trick. Mood setting, relationship status, stress in life and many other factors are involved.


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