Michele O'Mara

Sex in Monogamous Relationships

Filed By Michele O'Mara | April 17, 2009 2:00 PM | comments

Filed in: Living
Tags: lesbian, love life, monogamous, rules of attraction, sex, sex advice, testosterone

Did you know that women are more receptive to sex when their feet are warm?

Lets talk about sex. After all, who doesn't like to talk about sex? This topic is so involved that I've written a three-part series on the matter to publish here on Bilerico Project.


The Basics

Our libido, the drive or want for sex, is determined in large part by our levels of testosterone, and generally most people fall into one of three categories.

High Testosterone: For High-T folks, the only requirement for sex is, "Is my heart beating?" Thoughts about sex are constant and there is no such thing as "not in the mood."

Moderate Testosterone (Mid-T): Sex is of interest on a fairly regular basis, but does not dominate all thoughts. Desire is present and when the circumstances and timing allow, Mid-T's are open and ready.

Low Testosterone (Low-T): Low T's have sex when the guilt builds up. There is no tension or anticipation building within - sex is not on the radar screen. Until he or she is actually having it, sex is not of much interest. In fact, for Low-T women in particular, it is necessary to get her motor going before she is actually motivated to have sex at all. If you are a mid to high-T partner then you'll want to reconsider your insistence that she want to have sex or worse yet, that she initiate. If it's up to her, you might be waiting quite a while, and it has nothing to do with whether or not she loves you!

Partner Compatibility

Sadly, the High T's don't always attract each other and at times end up with the Low T's, which can make for a frustrating experience for both partners.

Furthermore, it's nearly impossible for a Low-T to comprehend why a High-T is so "obsessed" with sex, and the High-T partner can't fathom why anyone would want to go "that long" without sex, therefore, there "must be something wrong with you, or something wrong with me because of your lack of interest." This is an unfortunate trap that keeps many couples hanging by their toes until they learn the truth about hormones and chemistry.

"But," the High-T protests, saying to the Low-T, "you wanted it all of the time when we first met." And it's probably true. How does that happen? In a nutshell, she's on drugs!

The Chemical Connection

Research has proven that when we are infatuated we experience an altered chemical state. Essentially, all infatuated people are on drugs. Self-produced drugs, that is. The only ingredient necessary for production of this mighty powerful substance is thoughts about our new found object of affection. This love cocktail involves a combination of chemicals - dopamine in particular.

Dopamine is a chemical messenger in our brain that is similar to adrenalin and when we get a rush of dopamine everything feels better, tastes better, looks better, sounds better, and we are on top of the world. When we think about the source of our desire we get a rush of dopamine that creates a high which we often associate with feelings of love.

Because of the fantastic side-effects of this love cocktail, infatuation is the drug of choice for sex addicts, love addicts, serial monogamists who enjoy many back-to-back short-term relationships, and those who struggle with fidelity within committed relationships. The side effects of this love cocktail include:

  1. Increased interest
  2. Increased libido
  3. Increased euphoria
  4. Pleasure seeking
  5. Pleasure Receptivity
  6. Decreased appetite
  7. Decreased defenses (see no issues with the other person)
  8. Positive Outlook

Mother Nature

As it turns out, Mother Nature is quite cunning and maybe even a little bit manipulative. When these feel-good chemicals rush through our system, our pleasure and reward center in our brain takes charge of our decision making. Having your pleasure/reward center in command is sort of like taking your child to a candy store, asking him what he wants for dinner, and encouraging him to make "good choices."

With the pleasure/reward center in charge of our decisions, it is natural to want to secure a commitment with this newfound love so that we can insure that we will always feel the rush we feel with all of this dopamine in our system. Just as given the choice, I'm sure my son would prefer I buy him the whole candy store, rather than just a candy bar.

The cold reality, however, is that once a commitment is secured, this chemical process (love cocktail of sorts) starts to slowly diminish and eventually (anywhere from 3 months to a year, typically) we return to our original base-line emotion, energy, outlook and libido. This, by the way, is how high-T partners often end up with low-T partners because for a while the low-T partner, who normally has a very limited drive is little-miss-can't-keep-my-hands-off-of-you!

I'm going to leave you hanging here, longing for more. Isn't that fitting given the topic? In Part II I will cover the importance of sex in our relationships and in Part III I will address what to do if things aren't the way you'd like for them to be. So stay tuned... and if you are a high-T, you might want to get your sweetie some nice warm footies - can't hurt, right?

(Find more of my suggestions on how to have a happy love life at my website - micheleomara.com)

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Dana Sullivan | April 17, 2009 2:57 PM

Haha, I used to feel frumpy for always leaving my socks on, but now I have a good reason!

i'm the high T & do a workshop called "uneven libidos" for those who are mismatched.

that said, i would love to hear someone address the issue that there is nothing *wrong* with the person who has the lower libido. nearly every sex column i've ever read is about how the high T gets the low T turned on... & something about that just bugs me, because i found the difference in my own relationship was all about me being less of a jerk about it.

For men, a testosterone blood count of about 500 is low. Around 1000 is high.

For women, some say 5 is low, and 50 is high.

'High' or 'low' relative to who?

So far, very nicely done. Catchy and good explanations.
(Retired MD)

It is false that T determines quantity of sex drive merely quality. Many women, myself included, have our T levels measured regularly, mine is at unmeasureably low levels and yet I have a fairly active sex drive.

A - I would be curious to hear more about the distinction you make between the "quantity" (presumably you mean how often you desire sex) of sex drive and the "quality" (is this referring to the intensity of drive - meaning sometimes I'm a little bit interested in sex, others I'm a lot interested?).

Toby and A - I agree that testosterone is not the be-all, end-all for our sex drive. Research simply points to the undeniably strong correlation between our sex drive and testosterone. As with all drugs (naturally produced or otherwise) each person responds differently to differing levels of substances. It's certainly not an exact science - and I'm certainly not a scientist. :) I think my point can be as effective to say some folks are high-drive, mid-drive, and low-drive if that language works better for you. That keeps the focus on the fact that we differ in drives and both are naturally occuring - one is no more healthy than the other - rather our drives are simply different.

On a related testosterone note, I will say that my work with hundreds of transgender clients over the last decade serves as a regular reminder of the power of our hormones. Many (frankly almost all) of my mtf clients on estrogen and testosterone blockers indicate a dramatic decline in libido correlating directly to the t-blocker and the addition of estrogen. On the otherhand, the opposite is true for so many (again, almost all) of my ftm clients who take testosterone. The physiological (and emotional for that matter) changes that occur with the addition or subtraction of testosterone are amazing.

Oh yes, hormones certainly have power. My point is just that it's not all about high vs low. Significantly increasing or decreasing someone's T levels such as in HRT is likely to have an effect on sexuality, but that doesn't necessarily mean that a high baseline T level means a high sex drive and low means low.

For example, I would expect someone with a low T baseline who starts taking T would be likely to be impacted more by it than someone with a high baseline -- even if their new T levels are lower than the individual with the high T baseline. As with any drug, the body gets used to it in some ways, so changes can be really noticable but observing differences in different baselines can be more difficult. All that's not even to mention the impact that estrogen levels can have on sex drive.

That's why I prefer to reference sex drive direclty. It just seems simplier and more accurate to reference high, medium, and low sex drive rather than T levels when most people will never test their T levels and even if they did it might not match their sex drive. But yes, you're right that the ultimate message is simply that people have different drives, and there's nothing wrong about that.

As an interesting side note regarding trans women with lowered sex drives, it's worth mentioning that the most common t-blocker, spironolactone, has sex drive repressing side effects that are completely separate from testosterone. It was my experience that removing internal testosterone production and ceasing spiro led to a higher sex drive, despite having the same or lower T levels. I've talked with a lot of other trans women, too, and while experience vary wildly, mine was not an uncommon one.

Just to say at the outset, I think the bulk of your article is actually spot on. I just come from a educational background where silence is the best supportive comment. Its only interesting if someone is wrong. ;)

I guess what I mean in quality verus quantity is that when I was objectively a High-T person my sex drive was like a need for food and any food would do. Now it is more specialized, where not any food will do, but just a particular type of chicken, pardon the illusion. If that chicken isn't present I'm almost indifferent to eating.

On your related note. Keep in mind that you are a professional and your interactions with trans people comes in a professional environment where you possess a certain amount of power and are quite possibly one step in acquiring hormones, surgery or other services. This combined with the lense of cissexism underpinned by straight up sexism creates a situation where trans people may not actually feel comfortable telling you the authentic truth, but rather feel safer spitting out an acceptable narrative, which will ensure them proper care. I'm not saying that your clients have deceptive intentions per se, just that trans people are inherently in a compromised situation where the only thing they can say may actually be a lie.

I know many trans people who stick to the classic narrative with professionals even if it smudges over lots of subtle details. I also know that in trans only support environments, this behavior is encouraged.

My definition of quality and quantity is a bit mixed from what you stated (not making either one of us 'wrong', just different).

'Quantity' would be how often you desire sex, *coupled* with the level of intensity with that desire.

'Quality' would be the level of intensity with that desire, *coupled* with the intensity of the orgasm.

For me, the two can't be completely seperated. Since i started hormone therapy some time ago, my 'quantity' has gone down, but my quality has gone up.

The level of intensity between the two is like a string stretched taught connecting them both, which can be snapped like a fishing line or played like a violin string. It depends on the effort made by my boyfriend and myself.

i don't know if that makes any sense to anyone.

It does, I think we are saying the exact same thing different ways. :)

First off, let me say that this is excellent advice. And much of it applies to non-monogomous relationships too. In fact, I've even seen some of the same information in poly-specific forums.

But also, like A, I'm going to challenge you on the whole testosterone connection here. When you talk to high-T folks and low-T folks, are they actually testing their levels, or are you just assuming? I think the dynamics of high sex drive and low sex drive you're talking about are very real, and I also know that T does have an impact on sexuality, but I really doubt that the translation is so direct as you say.

I've had my T levels checked regularly. When I went from levels hypothetically between 200 and 1600 down to 50, my sex drive dropped off. But when I went from 50 down to 12, my sex drive really increased. There might be other factors at hand, but my sex drive has stayed at that higher level for over a year now (along with my low T levels).

I've got a low sex drive partner, and I have no clue what hir T levels are, but the probability that ze is lower than 12 is very unlikely (I believe average female range is 20-80). So while you're advice for High-T / Low-T relationships is very fitting, our actual testosterone levels are probably Low-T / Low-T or Low-T / Mid-T.

Robert Ganshorn Robert Ganshorn | April 18, 2009 1:34 AM

Michelle you make me want to get a foot massage!

Years ago, when I was touring "The Forbidden City" our guide included a discussion of how the Chinese emperor was assured of a concubine who would be a responsive lover. They developed a foot massage using small rounded wooden paddles. The guide had done one of these massages as part of her training and assured me that afterwards "she was ready."

Thai foot massages are similarly inspiring.

David Phillips | April 18, 2009 9:52 AM

Good advice, but why dabble in exclusion with "in Monogamous Relationships"? The drone of overvaluing sexually-exclusive partnerships alienates not only poly folk, but also singletons, whether they are actively seeking a life partner or have chosen a celibate life or a sexually generous one. Besides, learning about stimulation and response is best done hands-on with real-time feedback, transmitting knowledge from one person to another, rather than from a how-to manual or video.

David, I value what works, and believe that each person gets to decide that, whether it's monogamy, celibacy, polyamorous relationships, whatever. No judgment here. I write about the work I do, so no agenda to exclude anyone. I just try to keep my focus to that which I know. While I've worked with a handful of polyamorous couples, it's not an area of particular expertise for me. You're welcome to add any thoughts about the affect of alternate relationships on sex-drives, or whatever you want included here... that's the beauty of these blogs; we all get to have a voice.

OK, Michele, so if one wants to increase his sex drive, should he finally respond to one of those emails about cheap testosterone from India?

I'm asking because I, er, have a friend who wanted to know.... :)

Alex - tell your (eh hum) friend to stay tuned to Part III (in two weeks, I hope) for what to do about a low-drive.