Psychology Melbourne Blog

News and Insights from the Science of the Mind

The dynamics of sexual desire and relationships

Edited by Jill Wright,

Last week's program on ABC Radio National's Life Matters which looked at research by sexologist Elaine George on declining sexual desire among many Australian men - largely the result of stress and fatigue - probably won't be too much of a surprise for anyone who has struggled to maintain the elements of a healthy personal and family life while coping with the demands of the modern workplace.

But for any man struggling with the stereotype of virile Aussie blokes constantly hungering for sex, it could provide important insights into the sexual dynamic and possibly remove barriers to seeking professional help.

While it's very encouraging to have the ABC promoting more open discussion of these issues, however, could we suggest perhaps that the national broadcaster might put a little more effort into finding helpful links for further exploration.

While the article touches briefly on the theoretical model of sexual response advanced by Canadian sexual medicine pioneer, Rosemary Basson, for instance,  there is no attempt to elaborate.

And although Sydney-based GP-turned-sexual-specialist, Dr Rosie King, is mentioned, there is no reference to the fact that Dr King's Where Did My Libido Go, which looked at the problem of desire deficiencies in Australian women, is something of a bookend to this study.

The program mentions Dr King as the source of the pursuer-distancer model, but she would probably be among the first to acknowledge that particular theory, also known as the demand-withdraw model, arose from much earlier research in family systems and relationships.

That dynamic is important not only in the field of sexual relations, but also for relationship counselling. How many couples suffer from a situation where the partner who desires more emotional closeness or sexual intimacy sets off to pursue the partner, who typically withdraws to create a more comfortable distance ... which sets off a cycle of the pursuer trying harder for contact, and the pursued backing farther away?

At Psychology Melbourne, the knowledge of those patterns and the research by John Gottman in his so-called "love lab" often inform the work of our relationship specialists. And in the same publication, the Huffington Post, columnist Terry Gaspard also looks at the the way this can work in the bedroom.

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About the editor, Jill Wright

Jill Wright (MAPS, AAFT, AICD) is the Director and Principal Psychologist at Psychology Melbourne. Jill was twice elected General Director of the Australian Psychological Society and established the Study Group Network. Find out more about Jill Wright.