by Barry and Emily McCarthy
Reviewed by Mac Marshall, PhD
“The most disruptive sexual problem is low desire.”
Do you find that you have little desire for sex with your partner? As a couple do you have sex only a few times a year, if at all? Does one of you want more sex than the other, resulting in arguments, recrimination, blame, and hurt feelings? Are you convinced that your “sex light” has gone out? Do you wonder how to bring back intimacy in a marriage? To rekindle desire is to revitalize, reawaken, and reignite it, and that is the focus of Rekindling Desire (3rd Ed.) by Barry and Emily McCarthy. Their motivation for writing this book is to provide “new insights, support, and hope for couples facing desire problems, a no sex or low sex relationship, and desire discrepancy.”
In our youth and young adulthood, most of us experience spontaneous desire, driven by our hormones. Typically as we age, the hormonally triggered desire for sex becomes less pressing. Many people begin to feel less sexy, less desirous, in and beyond their 40s. That doesn’t have to be the end of sex! We can revivify the relationship by understanding “responsive desire.” Learning to give each other sensual pleasure, including plenty of touching, will stimulate responsive desire for sex in both partners.
Rekindling Desire will be of particular help to those in low-desire relationships, or to couples where there is a discrepancy in desire, with one person pursuing sexual connection while the other distances. It offers thorough explanations of what sex therapists have found to be effective for resolving sexual problems and dysfunction resulting from low desire.
This 247-page book is organized into three parts: Awareness (5 chapters), Change (6 chapters), and Relapse Prevention (4 chapters):
- When and Why Couples Lose Sexual Desire. “Desire problems can occur among all types of couples and all age groups.”
- Whose Problem Is It? Hers, His, or Ours? “Sexual desire and desire problems are best understood as a couple issue.”
- Turnoffs: Poisons for Sexual Desire. “A myriad of psychological, bio-medical, and social/relational factors can poison desire.”
- Finding Your Voice: Celebrating Female Sexuality. “The biggest mistake people make is to define female sexuality narrowly. Sex does not equal intercourse. Sexual satisfaction does not equal orgasm.”
- The New Male Sexuality: Confronting Autonomous Sex Performance. “For the great majority of males…sexual dysfunction causes low desire. The main male sexual dysfunctions are premature ejaculation (PE), erectile dysfunction (ED), and ejaculatory inhibition.”
- Being an Intimate Sexual Team: Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style. “Your couple sexual style has two dimensions: first, how to balance each person’s sexual autonomy (“sexual voice”) with being an intimate sexual team; second, how each couple sexual style integrates intimacy and eroticism.”
- Building Anticipation: Bridges to Sexual Desire. “The prescription for sexual desire is positive anticipation, an emotionally intimate relationship, nondemand pleasuring, erotic scenarios and techniques, sharing orgasm, feeling emotionally bonded and satisfied, and maintaining a regular rhythm of sexual contact.”
- Attachment: Enhancing Intimacy. “The essence of intimacy is feeling emotionally open, securely attached, and personally valued.”
- Nondemand Pleasuring: Let’s Play Touchy-Feely. “Pleasuring includes affectionate, sensual, and playful touch, both inside and outside the bedroom.”
- Challenging Inhibitions and Avoidance: Be Sexually Present. “It is both an individual and couple task to increase awareness and challenge inhibitions.”
- Creating Erotic Scenarios: Vital Sexuality. “The essence of eroticism is scenarios and techniques that increase anticipation, subjective and objective arousal, and erotic flow. This includes, but is not limited to, intercourse.”
- Maintaining Gains: Keeping Sexuality Vital and Satisfying. “The core of relapse prevention is awareness that intimacy and sexuality need continual time and energy.”
- Intimate Attachment: Enhancing Your Bond. “Intimacy dates are a powerful resource for preventing relapse and reinforcing relational satisfaction.”
- The Erotic Marriage: Lusting for Life. “You need to challenge routine and mechanical sex, which is a death knell for desire. Eroticism….must be actively cultivated.”
- Valuing a Satisfying, Secure, and Sexual Relationship. “Commit to maintaining a vital sexual bond. Try to go no longer than 2 weeks without some kind of sexual contact. Sex cannot be taken for granted or treated with benign neglect.”
Each chapter is packed with information and also includes a case study, an exercise, a summary, and key points. This is a book you’ll want to study, not read quickly.
In Barry and Emily McCarthy’s view, rekindling desire relies heavily on a couple’s ability to engage in frank, clear, nonjudgmental communication. They see their book as an adjunct to therapy for those who wish to reawaken intimacy and passion in their relationship. “This is a book of ideas, guidelines, and exercises, not a ‘do it yourself’ therapy book,” they state. “It is not a substitute for sex, couple, or individual therapy.”
Barry McCarthy, PhD is a professor of psychology at American University, a diplomate in clinical psychology, a diplomate in sex therapy, and a certified couple therapist. He is the author of over 100 articles, 33 book chapters and 21 books. He has presented over 450 professional workshops nationally and internationally. He received the SSTAR Masters and Johnson award for lifetime contributions to the sex therapy field.
Emily McCarthy received a B.S. degree in speech communication, and her writing and wisdom provides a balanced humanistic perspective. This is Barry and Emily’s 14th co-authored book. They have been married for 52 years.
Purchase Rekindling Desire (3rd Ed.)
Mac Marshall, PhD is a retired anthropology professor, researcher, and author who is delighted to explore sexuality studies at this time of his life.
Have you made your New Year’s Resolutions for 2018? I’m not talking about those tired (and usually abandoned) promises like go to the gym, stick to a budget, and stop junk food snacking. I’m talking about Sexy New Year’s Resolutions — changes and commitments that will give you a richer, more joyful sex life, especially at our age. And they’re fun to put into action!
You may know that I write a monthly “Sex at Our Age” column for Senior Planet. Usually I answer a reader’s question in this column, but occasionally I take a different path. This month, my Sexy New Year’s Resolutions offer you 14 tips and lifestyle changes that will make a huge difference if you follow them fully. Here are some examples. (Read the others here.)
Redefine Sex. Change your definition of sex to whatever activities arouse you and bring you sexual pleasure, partnered or solo. Embracing a new definition of sex expands your possibilities for pleasure. Read this account of one reader’s experience.
Track the Tingle. For quicker, easier, and more satisfying arousal, figure out what time of day you feel most sexually responsive. When you feel the “tingle” – that quiver of erotic possibility – set aside time to indulge yourself sexually or schedule that time on your next free day.
Self-Pleasure Frequently. Solo sex is real sex, and it’s good for your general health, your sexual health and your sense of well-being. Give yourself sexual pleasure, whether you’re in a relationship or not. You’re celebrating your body’s ability to give you exquisite pleasure.
Just Do It. This is for you if you enjoy sex when you do it, but you rarely feel desire in advance. You’re experiencing “responsive desire”: your desire follows physiological arousal instead of preceding it. So just do it, and your desire will kick in.
Exercise Before Sex. Increasing your blood flow with physical activity isn’t only good for the heart and muscles — it’s also good for sexual function and pleasure. One of the best things we can do to speed up arousal and orgasm is regular exercise, especially before sex.
Sex Before Food. Eating before sex sends the blood flow to your digestive system instead of your genitals. Have sex first, then eat. Sexual arousal will be easier, orgasms will be more reliable, and you will relish that meal afterward.
Use Your Words. Learning to talk about sex is the key to getting what you want. A long-term partner is likely to continue doing what used to work, even if it doesn’t work for you now, unless you redirect the action. A new partner wants to know how to please you. Speak up.
Have Sex More Often. Difficulty with arousal and orgasm is a good reason to have more sex, not less. The penis and the clitoris require blood flow for engorgement. The more you engage in stimulation – partnered or solo — the more easily the blood flows to the genitals.
Committing to a year of resolutions is daunting, I know. But did you know that it takes just three weeks to make or break a habit? So how about selecting two or three of these resolutions and committing three weeks to seeing how they work for you? Chances are you’ll want to keep doing them. Let me know!
I used to be eager for sex, easily aroused. My desire dipped after menopause and now barely exists. I can go weeks or more without desiring sex or thinking much about it. The funny thing is, if I get started, I like it, but it’s so hard to get in the mood.
The number one sex problem that I hear from women is the lack of desire for sex. They do still enjoy sex once they get started, they tell me, but they’re seldom in the mood ahead of time. It isn’t just a problem for women—many men also report decreased desire—but for women, it’s the primary complaint. The problem is that if we wait for the mood and don’t make sexual pleasure a priority, we’ll rarely have sex.
There are lots of reasons that you may be feeling decreased desire, but let’s cut to a solution that works first, and figure out the reasons afterward:
Instead of waiting for the mood, start getting yourself sexually aroused—on your own, with a partner, or with a vibrator. Just do it. The physiological arousal will trigger the emotional desire.
That’s the opposite of the way it used to work! When we were younger, our hormone-induced sex drive bombarded our brain and body with desire—especially during our most fertile times. This was simple biology. A glance, a thought, a murmur, a fantasy, or a touch sparked the mood. Once in the mood, we opened ourselves to the pleasures of physiological arousal. We got turned on, our arousal built, and we crashed joyously into orgasm.
But now, this all works the other way around. Instead of waiting forever for the mood to strike, we can induce the mood by letting ourselves get physiologically aroused as the first step. Arousal will lead to mood and desire, instead of vice versa.
Here are your new mantras:
- Desire follows action.
- Use it, don’t lose it.
- Just do it.
“You may have just saved my marriage,” a woman told me after I gave this suggestion at a presentation. Try it—you may feel the same!
I can’t emphasize enough how important it is to approach our sexuality in this new way: Relax, start getting physically aroused, emotional arousal will happen, and voila, we’ll be in the mood. So the key is to commit to regular sexual pleasure, partnered or solo.
How does this translate to real life? Here are some tips:
- Schedule sex dates with your partner and/or with yourself at least weekly, more is even better.
- Exercise before sex for faster arousal and easier orgasms.
- Create rituals with your partner that signal sex would be welcome.
- Allow plenty of arousal time — no rushing, no goals except pleasure.
- Make sexual arousal and orgasm a habit, whether you’re partnered or on your own.
I plan to write more about this myself, and there’s a good section already in The Ultimate Guide to Sex After 50: How to Maintain – or Regain! – a Spicy, Satisfying Sex Life which I hope you’ll want to read. — Joan
women. Could a desire pill really work? Do we even want it?
interviewed one of the top sex educators, Ellen Barnard, co-owner of A Woman’s Touch Sexuality Resource Center.
trials, most in phase 2 trials. No drug has been approved for the treatment of
low desire for women, also known as Hypoactive Sexual Desire Disorder (HSDD).
medications that are being investigated are designed to either overcome
inhibition or lack of motivation, or flood the person with such strong physical
sensations that she cannot ignore them easily. Or they manipulate the reward
system of the brain in ways that increase
the drive toward that sexual jackpot.
being more interested in sex is safe, healthy, or would even be effective over
the long term. Many of the drugs being investigated have a variety of side
effects, and some are quite undesirable. Testosterone can cause excess hair
growth, acne, lowering of the voice, and a decrease in good cholesterol, for
example. Other drugs show the potential for abuse, either by the woman herself or
by a partner who hopes to have a more willing lover.
seemingly so easy for men?
and their issues have many of the same origins as women’s do. However, we live
in a culture that reinforces men for a high interest in sex, and generally does
not see a high interest in sex to be a positive thing in women, unless a woman
is less interested in sex than her partner, and that lower interest causes
tension between them or distress in her. But even with culture condoning high
desire for men, approximately 20% experience low desire. For more info, here isa good overview.
interest. So it’s an idea, not a physiologic process, though it results in a combination
of brain and body responses. Desire may be first recognized as a thought, or it
may be a thought in response to a physical feeling. Many women believe that we
should feel something first, that sex starts with a twinge in the vulva or
elsewhere in the body, that she interprets as sexual interest and then allows
to blossom into more sexual interest and then maybe into sexual activity. If physiologic
signal is not as obvious because of aging, health, or stress, she may no longer
get the signal, and so she does not notice the thought.
loop that tells them that sex will hurt, and so they shut off any thought of
sex to avoid the pain. If a woman is able to get rid of the pain, she will
still have to convince her subconscious that sex is safe. Once she does that,
her thoughts of sexual interest often become more frequent.
in a healthy, rewarding relationship, the thought of sex is a safe thought and
is likely to mean that she will experience pleasure if she acts on that
thought, so she pursues sexual activity. Sex requires the feeling of safety. When
there is tension, distrust, fear, anger, etc., the mind does not perceive sex as
safe or pleasurable, so will not express desire.
(and men as well), you can see that it’s pretty complicated to consider a
medication to address the root causes of most of these issues.
is that drugs do best when there is a single, knowable cause for a symptom and
the drug directly addresses that cause by reducing or removing it. Sexual
desire is complicated, varies a lot from person to person, and has many moving
parts. The idea that a drug could be developed to change desire is pretty
far-fetched once you understand it that way, and one of our biggest fears is
that you end up with a drug that has pretty wide effects and some nasty,
unintended side effects.
address desire issues in ways that give individuals more control and more
understanding of their mind and body connections so that they can do their own
problem-solving and not be reliant on a pill or a doctor. Most people
can increase their experience of desire through a combination of getting
healthy, having a good body image, having a safe and trusting intimate
relationship, getting enough sleep, lowering stress and distractions, reducing
pain, and learning how to have pleasurable sexual experiences on a regular