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London - Throughout their married life, Paul and Susan Bearley had always enjoyed a fulfilling physical relationship.
Even after 35 years and three children together, they were still making love several times a week. So when Paul, a PE teacher, suddenly lost interest in having sex, Susan feared he was having an affair.
“If I made an advance, Paul would say things like ‘I’m not in the mood’,” says Susan, now 57, from Sutton Coldfield in the West Midlands. “I’d think: ‘Is there something wrong with me? Is he going off with somebody else?’
“We’d always said if we met someone else we’d be upfront. I was preparing myself for him telling me he’d met another woman.”
It was only when Susan, a site manager for a school, found Paul, now 59, in their bedroom in floods of tears that she realised something altogether different was going on.
“By this point, the symptoms had been going on for a few months,” she says. “He said he couldn’t understand what was wrong with him. Not only had he lost his sex drive, but he was exhausted all the time, had put on a lot of weight and was suffering from extreme mood swings.”
Susan forced her husband to see his GP, who ordered a blood test to check Paul’s testosterone levels.
Paul says: “My testosterone levels were almost non-existent, which the doctors think was a result of a bad bout of flu I’d had that had knocked out my ability to produce it.”
He was prescribed three-monthly testosterone injections, which he now has to have for life.
It was after the second jab that Paul noticed his sex drive returning and his other symptoms disappearing. “It was an amazing feeling when my libido came back,” he says.
Now, four years after his problems began, Susan says she and Paul make love up to five times a week.
She adds: “For months it felt like I’d lost my husband, but six months after starting the injections he was a new man. It was like having the Paul I first met back again.”
Paul adds: “It’s definitely difficult for a man to admit he is having problems in the bedroom. I’m so glad it could be sorted - those months were the worst period of our marriage.”
Paul might have felt alone, but he’s certainly not. There’s evidence that more and more men are suffering from a low libido.
The common perception is that men constantly think about sex and are always ready to make love. But a recent survey for online pharmacy ukmedix.com found 62 percent of men turn down sex more frequently than their female partner, with a third admitting they had lost their sex drive.
Another poll revealed one in four men is no longer having sexual intercourse at all - and the figure rises to 42 percent for men over 55 - while a quarter said they had been affected by erectile dysfunction at some point in their lives.
Dr David Edwards, a GP specialising in sexual issues, says the impact of low libido on a man and his relationship can be devastating.
He says: “Sexual problems are the most common cause of men crying in my surgery. I saw a man recently and his low libido had destroyed his previous relationship. He’d suffered with it for 12 years, and only came to me because his current partner said she would leave unless he sought help.”
Lucy Bowden and Stuart Brown certainly know how a low libido can push a couple to the edge.
After seven months living together, they’d begun having blazing rows about trivial things such as who’d failed to buy teabags.
Both knew the real problem was much more sensitive - Stuart had virtually stopped wanting to make love. They got to the point where Lucy was reluctant even to give Stuart a cuddle in case she faced yet another rejection.
“When we first got together, our sex drives were fairly equal,” says Lucy, a 36-year-old corporate fundraiser who has been with Stuart, 40, for two years.
“Then, suddenly, everything changed. We went from having sex several times a week to once every two or three weeks, then less.
“As much as you try not to, you can’t help thinking ‘he’s fallen out of love with me’. When sex did happen, I felt under pressure to make it brilliant. If it wasn’t happening, I’d feel even worse. It became stressful, instead of a pleasure.”
Like most men, Stuart found it acutely embarrassing to admit that his sex drive was waning.
He says: “Lucy would try to initiate love-making and I’d make an excuse and say I didn’t feel like it, or that I was too tired. I’m an engineer in the building trade, and there are lots of guys who boast about what they’ve done and how often. I didn’t even feel like having sex, and that made me feel low, that it was me being ‘weird’.
“But after a few months it got to the point where I had to tell Lucy that it wasn’t a problem with her but with me, and thankfully she was very supportive.”
Low libido can have psychological or physical causes, and sometimes a combination of the two.
Illnesses such as diabetes (50 percent of men with Type 2 diabetes are testosterone deficient), a pituitary tumour called an adenoma, Klinefelter’s (a genetic syndrome affecting one in 500 men) and chronic conditions such as renal problems and cystic fibrosis can all affect testosterone levels.
Some medications also dampen libido, such as anti-depressants and beta blockers, which are used to treat anxiety and high blood pressure. As Paul discovered, it can also be a result of illnesses such as flu or glandular fever.
But the way we now live is also playing a part. Rising obesity levels are pushing up the number of men affected by low libido.
Dr Edwards explains: “If you have a big fat belly the testosterone gets bound to the fat, and that will lower levels of it.” Testosterone levels also decline naturally over the years - sometimes called the andropause or ‘manopause’. Some doctors feel this is happening at an earlier age.
Dr Malcolm Carruthers, founder of the Centre for Men’s Health, has been treating men with libido problems for 25 years.
He says: “I do believe testosterone deficiency is becoming more common and happening younger.
“It used to be mostly men in their 50s, but it’s now men in their 40s, or even 30s. Large studies done in America show that every decade there’s a decrease in testosterone levels by as much as ten percent. I believe the same is happening in this country.”
He adds that rising oestrogen levels in the environment - caused by hormones from the contraceptive pill finding their way into the water supply and food chain - may have a counter-effect to testosterone.
Research has also shown a link between exposure in the womb to gender bending chemicals such as bisphenol A and phthalates, (found in some food packaging and other plastics), and lowered testosterone levels. Dr Carruthers also believes the pressures of the dire economic climate are having a detrimental effect on men’s libidos.
“Stress can cause a decrease in testosterone production, and an increase in stress hormones such as cortisol and adrenalin, which causes resistance to testosterone.”
A quarter of people surveyed for Good Housekeeping magazine last year said they were making love less often than they were 12 months earlier, with men blaming their lack of libido on money worries.
Financial stress and lowered libido are things Neil Shah, 38, from West London, knows all about. Ten years ago he was the MD of a failing recruitment company employing 30 people. “For about a year I was struggling to keep the company going and I was under immense stress,” he explains.
“I wasn’t sleeping or eating, and I completely lost my libido. I’d recently got married, and though my wife and I had always had a good physical relationship, that side of things just disappeared.
“My lack of libido contributed to us splitting up, and though we did get back together again, we eventually divorced.”
After Neil, now single, was forced to put his company into liquidation, he went travelling to try to recover from his broken marriage and failed business.
The break helped him realise the impact that stress had had on him, and inspired him to set up the Stress Management Society, a not-for-profit organisation offering support for those affected.
He says he’s noticed increasing numbers of men complaining that impaired libido is one of the problems they are facing in these tough economic times.
He says: “There’s a clear link between stress and low libido. When a person is under severe stress they go into survival mode. Oxygen is diverted to the heart and lungs, and away from the sexual organs. Reproduction is the last thing the body wants to engage in.”
He adds that lack of sleep also contributes to libido problems - a fact confirmed by a University of Chicago study which revealed that men who sleep for fewer than five hours a night for periods of more than a week have the testosterone levels of someone 15 years older.
So what can be done about a low libido?
Dr Edwards says wives and partners are vital in turning the situation around because without their support, men are unlikely to seek professional help.
“Only a third of men with erectile problems come forward for help. To admit that your sex drive is waning isn’t a macho thing to do, so women have a vital role in getting their partners to seek help.”
Dr Edwards adds that low libido should always be investigated, and testosterone levels checked, to rule out any underlying medical condition. However, because some men have a higher natural resistance to testosterone than others, diagnosis can be more complex than a simple blood test, and consequently many men go undiagnosed, he says.
“I believe only one percent of men who could benefit from testosterone treatment are getting it at the moment. The way to diagnose it is by listening to the patient, their history and symptoms. If symptoms disappear when you give a course of testosterone treatment, that’s the answer as far as I’m concerned.”
While men such as Paul need testosterone replacement treatment (whether it’s quarterly injections or a gel rubbed into the skin), others, like Neil, resolve their problems by making lifestyle changes.
Stuart turned to a herbal remedy to help him. When he and Lucy, who live in Brighton, talked the issue over, he realised his waning desire was probably down to recurring bouts of depression triggered by the death of his father 11 years ago.
His GP recommended antidepressants but, knowing they can impair sex drive, he decided five months ago to try KarmaMood, a supplement based on St John’s Wort, a herbal extract believed to lift mood. “St John’s Wort has helped with both the depression and my libido,” he says.
“Because I’m not wallowing in my own self-pity, I’m more upbeat and more up for sex. We’re having more of it, and I initiate it more often.”
Lucy says: “If you want a relationship to work, you have to work at it together and support your partner. I’m so glad I did.”
It seems low libido is a problem affecting an increasing number of couples for myriad reasons, but one thing is clear; if a couple can talk about it together, there is hope that it’s a problem they can solve. - Daily Mail