When the man no longer wants sex: guest post by Jason Kae-Smith

I often hear from readers of both genders who are unhappy about the lack of sex in their long-time relationships. Does sex have to go when we get older? What if it goes for one person, but not the other? 
We hear frequently about women losing the desire for sex in their relationships. Though not as commonly voiced, sometimes it’s the man who stops wanting sex with his partner. 
When I read sex therapist Jason Kae-Smith‘s article in Contemporary Sexuality on this topic, I emailed him immediately to ask for permission to excerpt it for you here. Your comments are welcome!
— Joan

He’s Just Not That Into It 

By Jason Kae-Smith, LMSW, CST 

Jason Kae-Smith

After months of his wife’s pleading and an eventual ultimatum, “Ted” (not his real name) found himself sitting somewhere he’d never imagined—the office of a sex therapist. The three-year journey leading up to this day was painful; a strained effort along a cumbersome path littered with resentments, accusations, and much confusion.

As Ted told his therapist, “I just don’t get it. I love my wife. She’s intelligent, she’s compassionate. She’s a wonderful mother to our children. She’s my best friend and I love hanging out with her. I just don’t want to have sex with her anymore.”

It turns out Ted isn’t alone. In the United States, there are an estimated 10 million men in sexless, heterosexual marriages. And while many would assume that women’s lack of desire is the main culprit, recent trends indicate that it is just as likely the men who have lost that loving feeling. Many sex therapists are seeing an increase in heterosexual men coming to them for problems with desire, some noting that the percentage of men with low desire now outweighs the percentage of women.

Calgary sex therapist David Hersh, EdD, observes, “When I first started and I would see couples with discordant desire, it was mostly the woman who wasn’t interested. Now about 55% of these couples are seeing me because the man has lost interest.” Several therapists queried confirmed a similar trend in their practices.

It’s not clear if there are actually more men experiencing low desire or if it’s just that more men are now seeking help. Hersh says he believes the latter is the case. “Now, men are more informed about the condition. Traditionally there was a double standard where ‘real men’ always wanted to have sex. But you’re not so strange anymore if you don’t want it.”

Ricky Siegel

Sex therapist Ricky Siegel agrees, stating, “I think there’s little doubt that the most obvious factor to the issue of low desire in men is that ‘Real men are not supposed to have low desire!’ So where it has become an acceptable script for women, it’s one of the things that men suffered about in quiet shame.”

In 2008, Bob Berkowitz and Susan Yager-Berkowitz published the results of their survey of over 1300 men who identified as no longer having sex with their spouses. The respondents listed several reasons for their loss of interest in sex, some of which included emotional struggles with things like depression and anger. Others reported they began avoiding sex because of problems with sexual functioning and eventually lost interest in sex altogether. And while many men initially suspect their loss of libido might be a result of low testosterone, research findings, such as those reported by Sari van Anders in the May, 2012 issue of Archives of Sexual Behavior, continue to suggest this is more often not the case.

Despite his assertion that everything was okay, “Derek” told his therapist that he reluctantly agreed to a session because, “I love my wife and I will do this if she feels it is important.” Derek’s wife “Cindy” was concerned because recently Derek had stopped initiating sex with her, something that she said was “unusual” for him.

Derek said was likely due to stress or perhaps “getting a little older” but when Cindy was invited to talk about experiencing her own sexuality, a different kind of narrative began to emerge. Cindy stated that in the beginning of her relationship with Derek, “Sex was okay but I was never all that into it.” But she added, “Lately, something happened. And now it’s like I can’t wait to jump on this man.”

 It turns out that “something” was her reading the best-selling 50 Shades trilogy. Cindy’s sister had turned her onto the books and to Cindy’s surprise the books turned her on, prompting her to embrace and embody her sexuality like never before. After some contemplation, Derek finally conceded that Cindy’s sudden interest in sex had a surprising blanketing effect on his desire for her. “I don’t get it,” he said. “I mean, this is what I always wanted. But when it happened, and all of a sudden she’s wanting to go to the sex store and buy toys and try new things—I don’t know, I guess it kind of turned me off.”

When it comes to treatment, experts often recommend a physical examination (just to be sure) and then consultation with a sex therapist. But what can therapists do to help men get their mojo back? Fortunately, those who practice and write about clinical sexology are continually developing ways for therapists to think about and respond to requests for help. The traditional model is to look at problems in the relationship first. One of the current trends in therapy is to go right to the sex.

As for Ted, the specific course of his future sessions will be guided by the choices he and his therapist make as their therapy conversations unfold. Today’s session marks a turning point in his journey, a change of direction toward the possibility of getting out from underneath the weight of low desire.

“This was good,” he told his therapist at the conclusion of their meeting. “It feels good to get this off my chest.” He added, “I guess I feel a lot more hopeful, like this isn’t just the way it has to be when you get married and are with someone for a long time.”

 Jason Kae-Smith is a certified sex therapist with a practice in Grand Rapids, MI. Among other things, he is interested in ways people are able to give value to sexual pleasure throughout their lifetimes. The article from which this is excerpted first appeared in Contemporary Sexuality, the journal of American Association of Sexuality Educators
Counselors & Therapists (AASECT).


  1. Anonymous on November 22, 2013 at 12:52 pm

    The phenomenon the article describes is not the man who's just given up trying due to being turned away too often. This man, like my husband, has just seen his desire dwindle away. His wife, like me, has initiated plenty — and talked with him about why he just isn't interested. He, like my husband, has gamely 'gone along' with trying, despite not feeling particularly motivated. That doesn't work too well.

    It's a real problem. I wish the article had gone into it further — or take this man's story further.

  2. Anonymous on November 27, 2012 at 12:35 pm

    While I do appreciate Dan's thoughts – as I do the entire post topic – perhaps women no longer initiate due to the notion that men prefer younger, firmer, or ????.

    If she no longer initiate, there is a good chance she is tired of taking 'No' or 'wait' for an answer.

    Perhaps she has decided that all those fantasies mean that she is not desirable – – after all sex should have more meaning than an oil change.

  3. Joan Price on November 17, 2012 at 10:19 pm

    You're absolutely right, Dan. Men as well as women want to be desired, want to be wanted, want sincere passion.

    It's so important for people in relationships to avoid taking each other for granted and to make an active effort to appreciate each other, continue to court each other, and nurture the passion.

    In both Naked at Our Age and Better Than I Ever Expected, I give a bunch of ideas for keeping a relationship passionate or reviving one that has lost its mojo. I hope, Dan, that you'll share those ideas with your wife.

    I agree with all that you say except that I don't think you can generalize about women not initiating sex. Many of us do. I think we need to keep talking out loud (or commenting on blogs!) about this.

    It's up to us to let our partners know that we love and desire them. If that's missing in our relationship, a good therapist can be life-altering.

    I invite more of our readers to comment. This is an important discussion. Thank you, Dan, for keeping the conversation going.

    • Dan on November 20, 2012 at 1:13 pm

      Well, how about women treat us like men and don't be afraid to tell us the truth. Gently would be OK but truth we need here.

      At 64 I'm on Low T therapy now (thankfully! …daily compound cream for more T; pills to inhibit E.; cost me $111 a month!) for Hypogonadism, which as many as 60% or us guys have over 65 and don't know. My T was 85, not the 600 to 800 it should have been. After she'd brought up Hypogonadism, I had to ask my doctor, a woman, to examine me and tell me if my balls had shrunk. I had to ask my wife (after 5 months on T therapy and wanting to know how this had happened) how long she'd noticed they'd gone to half the size…"Oh, over the last two years." What? Two years you protected my ego!

      Yes, my doc and my wife protected my ego. Both are Wonderful people; but I wish we guys put it out there that we want the truth more than we wanted nice strokes (pun, sure) all the time for our ego.

      Low T and low desire are devastating and sneaky, unlike ED. We guys need to be brave, vigilant and ask early and often. Had my doc not (finally) hit me between the eyes about depression, drinking more, muscle loss (my butt moved to my gut) I'd still be depressed, missing Mr. Morningwood, generally angry and bitchy all the time and blaming my wife for way too much stuff.

      I don't want to take the hit here but I think I must: we guys…if we want it…we have to protect wanting it; especially as we age. Grumpy, dull, even dead marriages are the fruit of low desire. Our kids/grand kids pay dearly here; our friends pay. I divorced my last wife because she wouldn't get help with this…and now I was doing it. Shame on this guy. Me.

      Thank God for you Joan and Jason and your work…that you make us face this stuff. Hats (and pants) off to you both! Keep blogging.

  4. Dan on November 17, 2012 at 1:23 pm

    Hey Jason, and Joan. Yes, guys, older guys. Flagging desire. Big problem.

    As one in his mid 60s and a guy, and married, I've read a lot of books of late on BDSM and now I'm researching dirty talk. There's genuine pith here for me in this stuff I think. But as a vanilla guy I ask why? I think you've hit on some of it…like the 50 shades thing (super bad writing but outrageously popular) when you speak of your client, a guy who admits he no longer initiates. What do we older men want? And why do we stop wanting? The issue is not so much stuff like kink or the nasty words thing (yet I find both exciting) so much as simply to want to be desired. We want passion. Like in the song: I want you to want me/I need you to need me. Sincere passion. That's what I want from my lover and wife. And what I what I want to bring. Not easy, because it must be reciprocated to endure, right? How to make that happen? I'm not sure.

    I've a question. Why do older women not initiate more? Why do we see it as a guy thing to initiate? When we were young, yes. Biology does this for us. But now?

    Honestly, we older guys would bring it more if older women showed us they wanted it more, wanted us more, wanted life more, wanted more passion in their lives in general. I think we owe this to ourselves to bring it. I think we owe our spouses, too. No? Joan, Jason…your thoughts? Help.

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