I was sitting in a tiny hut in Mexico talking with a dignified older gentleman. Outside the ramshackle house, the sun shone on the empty desert. The ocean lapped the nearby shore. There was no traffic, no noise, no shops, no phones.
“The Americans, the Germans, and the Japanese are the hardest-working people in the world,” the man said.
First, I was startled that someone in this very remote place would be so astute. Then I wondered: Is this a good thing?
With all our mobile toys, we don’t ever have to stop working in America. We can be connected 24/7. Maybe we can squeeze in a few extra obligations after-hours. Or, we might be caring for parents and children, and sometimes spouses and grandchildren. Even if we’re retired, we’re programmed to run hard and fast.
But look what it’s doing to us. We’re stressed; we’re overweight; and we’re dog-tired.
Sex life? What sex life?
Ian Kerner, a well-known sex therapist, cites a recent study by the National Sleep Foundation in which one-quarter of American couples say they’re often too tired for sex.
Mary Jo Rapini, one of our medical advisors, recalls encouraging a couple to take time for a romantic getaway. “Oh no, who’ll plan that for us?” they asked. Well, “usually the couple enjoys planning these things together,” she said.
“We don’t have the energy,” they responded.
Think of sex as the canary in the coal mine. It’s one of the first things to go when life gets out of whack. But if you ignore that quiet little loss, pretty soon the bigger stuff suffers, like good health and relationships.
If sex is just another obligation, or you’re too tired to even think about it, you need a life/work balance adjustment. If you don’t have some other physical or psychological problem, such as a thyroid condition, chronic fatigue syndrome, serious relationship issues, or hormonal imbalance, you shouldn’t be too tired for sex.
So, if stress, overwork, overcommitment, and the general pace of life, has killed your libido, consider this:
Allow time for sleep. Right now. Nothing else matters if you’re chronically sleep-deprived. Re-assess your involvements. Try to delegate tasks. Cut back on work. (Doctor’s orders.)
“A good night's sleep every night—more so than exercise and a healthy diet—keeps our sexual engines humming,” says Barry McCarthy, PhD, a Washington, D.C., sex therapist.
Give yourself an hour to unwind before going to bed in the evening. Turn off the TV and all the other screens. “It’s terrible to have a television in your bedroom, which should just be for intimacy and sleep,” says sex therapist Sherri Winston.
Spend that time relaxing with a book. Share a cup of herbal tea. Cuddle with your honey. Take a bath.
Exercise. Regular, moderate exercise is part of the work/life balance thing. Can you walk 30 minutes a day? Maybe with your partner? Can you find a gentle workout video? (My favorite now is hot yoga, but I have friends who spend 20 minutes a day with our old pal Jane Fonda.)
Exercise makes you feel better. It helps you lose weight.
And guess what? It helps you sleep better.
De-stress. Yeah, I know this sounds impossible. But you have a choice: You can continue to worship at the altar of overcommitment, at which you will offer up your health, your intimate relationships, and your quality of life.
Or you can bring your life into a healthy balance, and probably live longer—and have a lot more satisfying sex.
Need more persuading? Stress releases cortisol, a hormone that decreases testosterone, of which we women have precious little in the first place. Thus, stress directly hammers our sex drive even before the sleep-deprivation sets in.
Follow your rhythms. If you’re exhausted at night, why not have a little afternoon delight? Or maybe sex in the morning? Testosterone levels naturally rise a little then, so that might be the opportune moment to turn up the heat. Caress and cuddle at night and save the sizzle for the morning.
Just do it. You know how you may not be in the mood, but a little nibble on the ear, a little stroke on the thigh… and, well,… maybe…
Libido is like a puppy. Give it some loving, and it will follow you home. And sex begets more sex. You have to do it to want it.
When I recall the tranquility I felt in that simple hut in Mexico, I wonder if we somehow took a detour on the road to the good life. Maybe we can learn something about simplifying, cutting back, enjoying the little things, and loving each other from people who don’t have many possessions, but who probably sleep very well at night.
Dr. Barb DePree, M.D., has been a gynecologist and women’s health provider for almost 30 years and a menopause care specialist for the past ten.