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There Are Two Types Of Low Sexual Desire In Women, Research Finds

Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
By Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor
Kelly Gonsalves is a sex educator, relationship coach, and journalist. She received her journalism degree from Northwestern University, and her writings on sex, relationships, identity, and wellness have appeared at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.
(11/23/20) There Are Two Types Of Low Sexual Desire In Women, Research Finds
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"Low sexual desire" can be a loaded phrase—it can sometimes imply there's a "normal" or "ideal" level of sexual desire that people should strive for, below which there is supposedly a problem. In reality, not being that interested in sex isn't inherently a cause for concern. It's only a problem for someone if that specific person feels it's a problem in their own life.

All that said, plenty of people do deal with lower libido and do find it distressing—that's true for about 9% of women between ages 18 and 44, according to one 2016 study1.

Now, a recently published study2 in the Archives of Sexual Behavior has found two distinct types of low sexual desire among women. 

The two types of low sexual desire in women. 

Researchers surveyed 508 women in long-term relationships, asking about how they feel about their relationship, sex life, and life in general. They found women's low sexual desire seems to come in two forms: There are "globally distressed" women and "sexually dissatisfied" women.


Globally distressed women

This group of women had low sexual desire (relative to other women), and they also dealt with both low sexual satisfaction and very low relationship satisfaction. In other words, these women had low desire, felt unhappy with their sex lives, and also felt very unhappy with their relationships in general. They also reported the highest general life stress of all the groups of women.

"A possible explanation for this pattern is that relationship distress was more primary for this group and may have developmentally preceded their sexual dissatisfaction," the researchers explain in the paper on their findings. In other words, this group of women was likely already dealing with problems in their relationship, which then put a damper on their sex lives.

When asked where they thought their sexual desire issues came from, these women tended to externalize the problem—blaming factors outside themselves or blaming their partners. The researchers say the pattern "points to a sense of hopelessness and relational discord."


Sexually dissatisfied women

This group of women also had low sexual desire (again, relative to other women), but while they dealt with low sexual satisfaction just like the globally distressed women, the group of women actually had pretty average levels of relationship satisfaction. In other words, their relationships in general were pretty good, and their issues were contained to the bedroom.

"These results suggest discontent with sexual, but not nonsexual, aspects of the relationship," the researchers write.

And notably, these women also had more average amounts of general life stress, in comparison to the globally distressed women who seemed to have a lot of general life stress. 

What women with low sexual desire have in common.

One of the biggest commonalities between the two groups of women with low sexual desire was their poor sexual communication, in comparison to a third group of women categorized as having average sexual desire.

"A large body of research shows that skillful sexual communication is strongly associated with sexual satisfaction in couples' relationships," the researchers explain. "It is possible that avoiding discussions of sexual topics, including preferences, dislikes, and concerns, may be one factor that contributes to low sexual desire in these groups." 

Notably, the two groups of low-desire women had similar levels of sexual desire, suggesting that just measuring how much desire a person has isn't enough to tell the full story of how women experience desire.

There also wasn't a group of women with low desire who seemed content with their sex life or relationship. "This finding supports the notion that women's sexual desire is strongly tied to the context of her relationship and that desire tends to be higher when women are content in their partnerships," the researchers write.

The bottom line.

Desire is complex, and there are many factors that can contribute to its decline, from physical factors to psychological factors to relationship issues

"It is possible that women with low sexual desire share a similar outcome but have followed unique trajectories to get to this point," the researchers write. "Our results suggest that women with low desire not only differ qualitatively from women with average desire but also from one another in meaningful ways."

If you struggle with desire, getting to the real root of your libido issues will help you make sure you're finding the right avenues for increasing your desire.

Kelly Gonsalves author page.
Kelly Gonsalves
Contributing Sex & Relationships Editor

Kelly Gonsalves is a multi-certified sex educator and relationship coach helping people figure out how to create dating and sex lives that actually feel good — more open, more optimistic, and more pleasurable. In addition to working with individuals in her private practice, Kelly serves as the Sex & Relationships Editor at mindbodygreen. She has a degree in journalism from Northwestern University, and she’s been trained and certified by leading sex and relationship institutions such as The Gottman Institute and Everyone Deserves Sex Ed, among others. Her work has been featured at The Cut, Vice, Teen Vogue, Cosmopolitan, and elsewhere.

With her warm, playful approach to coaching and facilitation, Kelly creates refreshingly candid spaces for processing and healing challenges around dating, sexuality, identity, body image, and relationships. She’s particularly enthusiastic about helping softhearted women get re-energized around the dating experience and find joy in the process of connecting with others. She believes relationships should be easy—and that, with room for self-reflection and the right toolkit, they can be.

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