"Since the advent of sex therapy by Masters and Johnson," says therapist Lonnie Barbach, "a new sexual problem has become evident. An increasing number of couples are seeking sex therapy as a result of what they consider a lack of sexual desire or interest."
Generally considered "the most difficult sexual problem to treat because its causes are numerous and complex," lack of sexual interest may stem from stress, fatigue, illness, medication, discrepancies in desire between partners, media-generated "great expectations," individual psychological problems and problems with nonsexual aspects of a relationship.
For couples trying to "reconnect" in a fast-paced society, Barbach offers these ideas:
* The Past Hurts Exercise. Make a list of all the hurts your partner has perpetrated that still arouse anger and pain. In turn, share the list, one item at a time, without interruption from the listener. Then go over each item a second time, emphasizing the aspect that was particularly painful. See if a pattern of vulnerability develops.
* Caring Days. Formulate a list of 10 "little things" your partner does, or could do, that in your mind demonstrate caring -- such as a kiss first thing in the morning or a call from work during the day. Skip things that seem more like a chore, such as washing the breakfast dishes. Discuss what each item means to you. Then see if each partner can fulfill four items on the other's list each day. (No extra points for more, stick to four.)
* Creating a Mood. Take some time to stimulate interest. Sit quietly and recall pleasurable intimacies of the past. Call your partner during the day and make plans for that evening.
* Unblocking. Create time and plan activities together. Coordinate bedtimes so at least a few nights a week you go to sleep and wake up together. Avoid bedtime fights by agreeing not to discuss -- after a particular hour -- issues over which you are likely to disagree. If negative thoughts arise, close your eyes and "imagine a voice yelling the word stop."