The most embarrassing question I’ve ever had to ask my therapist was about sex but it wasn’t what you think. I was in college and I’d been going through a period of extremely low sex drive—it was a touchy topic that I wasn’t 100 percent comfortable broaching. I was supposed to be a perpetually horny Millennial, blindly swiping into oblivion while my avocado toast habit slowly ate away at my savings, but instead I wanted to cry when someone tried to touch me. I felt like I woke up one day and realized I’d been wearing pants backwards for the last six weeks. All I wanted was to make sure no one else could tell, and for me to get my pants back on the right way as soon as possible.
I just wanted to know: What was wrong with me? Normally, I considered myself baseline boy-crazy as much as any other young woman raised on rom-coms and insecurity, but lately, I just hadn’t been feeling it. I found myself canceling dates at the last second or just rudely letting conversation die when friends mentioned the “perfect guy friend” I just had to meet. Like, mmm, no thanks, Stacy. I bet he’s great, but my weekdays are packed with four hours of self-loathing, and I just don’t really have time to onboard someone else to that process right now.
It can be really frustrating and confusing to stumble into a period of low sex drive when you’re young—especially when dating and sex are all you ever hear your friends talking about or in movies. I didn’t know how to vocalize that my sudden disinterest in dating was more than just a packed Google Calendar I hadn’t anticipated, but a broader thing that I spent my nights trying to push out of my head.
Picture this: You’re at a party and you run into a friend you haven’t seen for a few months. You start catching up and it’s not long before they ask if you’re currently seeing anyone. I get it, I totally empathize! There’s nothing wrong with asking someone if they’re dating anyone, especially when that can be a big marker of time. Plus, it’s always fun hearing your friends get all cute and giddy when describing their new boo!
But at the same time, when you aren’t dating anyone or you don’t have a bunch of fun dating disaster stories you feel like telling, it can make you feel really self-conscious of your situation. Just think about how singledom is portrayed in movies and TV: a self-deprecating pit stop before your fairytale ending. You’re supposed to want to GTFO out of there immediately if you know what’s good for you.
When you reach the point of setting reminders on your phone to eat three square meals a day, orgasms don’t rush to the top of your priority list.
When I did finally bring it up to my therapist after practicing my question in my head 14 times, she said it was normal and that I’d find the right person to be intimate with eventually. I nodded, unsure if she truly understood my question, but figured it was therapeutic enough that I had finally vocalized my issue. In hindsight, it’s clear why I suddenly didn’t want to have sex anymore. I’ve always struggled with anxiety and depression, and in my case at least, my dwindling libido is probably related to the two. When you reach the point of having to set reminders on your phone to eat three square meals a day, orgasms don’t just rush to the top of your priority list anymore. Makes sense when you think about how crying over the stress of a missed Amazon return window and sex probably require the same amount of physical labor, are equally as satisfying, and you usually only have the energy for one.
Eventually I pulled myself out of that hole through the power of positive thinking and yoga (just kidding — I went on enough Lexapro that a drop of my blood could render an entire music festival’s worth of ecstasy useless) and almost as suddenly as that wave of disinterest hit me at first, I woke up one day and didn’t want to cry at the thought of someone touching me.
But anxiety and depression aren’t static things, and even though you can feel a little better sometimes, it’s not always permanent. Medicine can stop being as effective or outside stressors can send you into a rut. There’s a constant management process to try to stay one step ahead of it. Lately, I’ve been feeling the same way I did in college, but of course, the surroundings are different now.
Having gone through that weird shame-spiral of “Why am I not feeling the way other people feel?”, I know now that it’s not the end of the world if I don’t feel a desire to date or have sex on the same level of my peers.
Here are the bad things about going through a low-sex drive phase: You feel like your life means nothing without the desire to change your single status, you’re suddenly very aware of the cultural obsession with dating, and you’re lonely. Not just lonely in the “no one to date me” way, but lonely in a platonic way. That’s always been one of the hardest parts of having a low libido for me. You feel like you can’t connect or relate to your friends who are happily wrapped up in Tinder dates or relationships. You feel lazy in a new, embarrassing way. So you’ve had your whole life to practice procrastinating a paper or for an exam. Now you’re doing the same with texting people back and masturbating. You could seriously do it anytime, you tell yourself. You start canceling Tinder dates and blocking people the same way John Green says people fall asleep: slowly and then all at once.
If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self not to panic.
Here are the good things about your lack of sex drive: You have more energy to dedicate to other, more productive things. You know what’s not gonna snap at you and ask you why you never go down on him? Those Gladwellian hours you put toward knitting or writing or cooking or even binge-watching Netflix! You learn that your currency in the world is not based on fuckability, and that loneliness I mentioned before? It forces you to take a look at yourself and deal with shit you’d otherwise be pushing off as one-off problems you have with different guys, instead of big-picturing it and looking at yourself.
If I could go back in time, I would tell my younger self not to panic. Right now, I’m all about trying to be productive and turning the hours I could spend spiraling over a “What are we?” text or the perfect first-date outfit into productive stuff, like playing the Sims, or counting how many Carpool Karaoke clips I have to watch until every single one of my YouTube recommendations has James Corden in the thumbnail.
For now though, I’ll hold on to the fact that this current period of low libido is just like most sexual experiences: better (and a lot less embarrassing) the second time around.
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This article originally appeared on Cosmopolitan.com. Minor edits have been made by the Cosmo.ph editors.