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Why Isn't He 'Up for It' Anymore?

FARAI CHIDEYA, host:

There are a lot of myths about the sexual lives of married couples. One is that the woman is the most likely to claim the headache when it's time to go to bed. Well, it turns out that many husbands are shutting down and turning off when it comes to their sex lives. It's all in a new book called "He's Just Not Up For It Anymore: Why Men Stop Having Sex and What You Can do About It." The authors are Bob Berkowitz and Susan Yager-Berkowitz. They're married - to each other - and they're with me now. Welcome.

Mr. BOB BERKOWITZ (Author): Thanks. Good to be here.

CHIDEYA: So let me ask you this, Bob. You guys wrote another book together called "What Men Won't Tell You but Women Need to Know." So why did you decide to write this book?

Mr. BERKOWITZ: Well, you know, there are 40 million Americans who are in sexless marriages, and you touched on it in your introduction. There is this, you know, wrong-headed idea that if there's a sexless marriage, it must be the woman, and we kept hearing over and over and over again that men are also shutting down.

What we found out from some of the top experts in the country is that half the time indeed it is the husband who stops being interested in making love.

CHIDEYA: I'm going to ask you another question before I turn to Susan. Now, you did this survey where you got 4,000 responses, but you say, and you're a journalist, and I'm quoting you: Our approach was journalistic rather than scientific. Why do such a big survey then?

Mr. BERKOWITZ: Well, you know, we had to find a self-identified population. These were folks who said yes, we are in sexless marriages where the husband is the one who shut down physically. and we couldn't just go to the whole world and find out, pinpoint people who are in this relationship. We wanted to do in-depth research on these people who said this is our issue.

Ms. SUSAN YAGER-BERKOWITZ (Author): But I think we also might add to that, we didn't necessarily expect to get more than 4,000 responses to our survey. We put the survey out there, and the responses started pouring in.

Mr. BERKOWITZ: It was like a waterfall of responses. People were dying to get this off their chest. Women were embarrassed, ashamed, and they felt that their self-esteem was in the gutter, and men never talk about this, not to their wives, not to their best friends, to no one.

CHIDEYA: Susan, what were some of the things that you found both on the men's side and the women's side?

Ms. SUSAN YAGER-BERKOWITZ: Well, the men - the first thing I want to say is that on the women's side, the main reason they gave when we said why do you think your partner or your husband has shut down - the main thing they said, almost 70 percent, was I don't know why.

On the other hand, on the man's side the guys did know why, and they gave us reasons. Clearly, they're not speaking to one another. The men said things like I'm angry - a lot of anger. I'm depressed. I'm bored. The number one reason the guys gave - she's not sexually adventurous enough. A lot of them said she's gained a lot of weight. So they had very specific reasons, and a lot of them, however, seemed to be pointing the finger in the direction away from themselves.

CHIDEYA: Let me ask you about that one specific thing. Sixty-eight percent said I've stopped having sex with my wife because she isn't sexually adventurous enough.

Ms. YAGER-BERKOWITZ: Yes.

CHIDEYA: First of all, do you buy that that's true; and secondly, what does adventurous mean, and how can couples even figure out what it means to a man and a woman?

Mr. BERKOWITZ: For one guy, he told us, said look, I'd just be happy if we turned the lights on when we made love. But we suspect that most of these men are saying she is no longer showing any passion, any interest, any positive reinforcement for our love-making - not to say that they're bringing much to the bed, either - and it spills over into anger and recriminations, and what these men do is that they shut down physically, emotionally and verbally.

CHIDEYA: Susan, what's the process - if you're a woman, and you talk to specifically heterosexual couples in long-term relationships, either married or not married - but if you're a woman and your life partner, the man in your life, just shuts down, how do you even start asking the right questions or going about asking things in a way that actually produces some change as opposed to just, you know, what the heck is going on, you idiot? You know?

(Soundbite of laughter)

Mr. BERKOWITZ: Bad approach.

Ms. YAGER-BERKOWITZ: I think the first thing you have to do is treat it as a we problem. Sit down with your partner and say, sweetie, I miss that part of our lives. It's very important to me. It was a wonderful part of my life and I'm sorry it's gone, and we have to find out a way to solve the problem. The first place to start would be really on the physical side. There are a number of reasons, physical reasons, why a guy may be shutting down. Find out what's going on. Is he taking medication for depression, for diabetes, for hypertension? Any of these medicines may have libido-lowering side effects.

CHIDEYA: What about intimacy? Where does emotional intimacy come into play? I wanted to ask both of you that. Susan, why don't you kick it off?

Ms. YAGER-BERKOWITZ: There are a number of issues to be addressed when it comes to intimacy, and one of the main ones is there are men who are afraid of it. They may be able to make a commitment to a woman and marry her and then suddenly be terrified and withhold sex because they're so afraid of intimacy, of being intimate with this woman that they love. The fear of losing her is so tremendous that they're afraid to go that extra step. One of the things that surprised us a lot was how many women said the sex stopped on the honeymoon or within the first year of marriage, and intimacy often is the reason for that.

Mr. BERKOWITZ: You know, it's almost as if some of these men are saying I'm going to leave you before you leave me, because they're so afraid of being left. Their fears of abandonment are big-time, and so one of the ways that they demonstrate their independence or their, you know, fear of being left is that they withdraw sexually, intimately, emotionally. They just pull back a bit.

CHIDEYA: All right, my final question. I know you guys have been married for a decade, and the obvious question is, have you guys ever have to deal with I'm just not up for it anymore?

Mr. BERKOWITZ: Well, look, once in a while every couple has had that issue. You know, nobody's consistent. As you say, we just had our tenth wedding anniversary last July, and things are working out pretty well for us.

CHIDEYA: Well, congratulations. Thanks Bob, Susan.

Ms. YAGER-BERKOWITZ: Thank you.

Mr. BERKOWITZ: Thanks so much for having us.

CHIDEYA: Bob Berkowitz and Susan Yager-Berkowitz are the authors of "He's Just Not Up for It Anymore: Why Men Stop Having Sex and What You Can Do About It." Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.

NPR transcripts are created on a rush deadline by an NPR contractor. This text may not be in its final form and may be updated or revised in the future. Accuracy and availability may vary. The authoritative record of NPR’s programming is the audio record.

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