In a society ravenous for sex, Brenda McHugh, a 40-ish, married mother of two and pediatrician in New Jersey has simply lost her appetite. Once, Brenda eagerly indulged in "great sex" with her husband.

Gradually, McHugh lost interest in sex. Even if she were in the presence of a smorgasbord of alluring men, McHugh feels she would not have the urge to merge. "Sexual desire does not seem to be a part of my nature anymore," she says.

McHugh is not alone. According to the findings of a NIH-sponsored survey published in the Journal of the American Medical Association (Feb. 10, 1999) 43 percent of women report recognizable sexual dysfunction. Problems range from not being able to have orgasms to having no sexual desire at all.

In fact, 35 percent of the estimated 40 to 50 million women who have sexual dysfunction have no or low sexual desire — what the experts call hypoactive sex drive, or HSD for short. By definition, women with HSD lack sexual fantasies, suddenly find sex uninteresting, and rarely masturbate. "They feel neutered — nothing turns them on," says Susan Kellogg-Spadt, director of sexual medicine at the Pelvic Floor Institute, Graduate Hospital in Philadelphia.

While women with HSD may not feel deprived without sex, a defining feature is that lack of libido causes distress. "I worry about losing my husband and am sad to be missing out on this natural — and pleasurable — part of living," says McHugh.

The devastating effect on women's self-esteem and a couple's relationship is compounded by the fact that ours is a hyper-sexualized society, says Kellogg-Spadt. "The media would have us believe that women are in sexual ecstasy simply by opening a bottle of herbal shampoo."