A husband walks into the bedroom holding two aspirin and a glass of water.
His wife asks: “What’s that for?”
“It’s for your headache.”
“I don’t have a headache.”
He replies, “Gotcha!”
If you believe the typical jokes about marital sex, you’d think there was an intimacy drought in America’s bedrooms. And most of the time, the blame falls on the woman. Of course, this is just crass humor. In reality, one third of marriages struggle with problems associated with frequency of intercourse, with one study finding that 20% of married couples have sex fewer than 10 times a year. And don’t believe what you hear about women being the ones who aren’t interested in having sex. Contrary to popular belief, many of the country’s leading sex therapists report that low sexual desire in men is America’s best kept secret. But it shouldn’t matter whose fault it is. Sexual intimacy is crucial in starting and maintaining a relationship. Sex is not the end-all, be-all, but it is important for couples to communicate their love for one another in a physical way. So when one half of the relationship is not interested in sex, it can cause frustration, resentment, and anger. We have discussed sex in marriage here at The Flip Side Blog and we have even offered some unique approaches to spicing up your sexual relationship (Love and Sex . . . and Sex and Sex), but let’s take a look at the causes of this problem and find some strategies to make it better.
First, the causes. Sometimes it’s medical (e.g. low hormone levels or medication side effects), but for the most part it’s due to emotional factors. Sexual arousal can be impacted by past traumas, negative body image and other emotional and relationship problems. For men, this manifests itself in erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation while women may not lubricate or feel excitement when they are sexually stimulated. Whatever the reason that couples stop having sex, it leads to problems. While women are troubled about a lack of sexual energy, it rarely drives them to questions their basic femininity. But men, on the other hand, feel that if they’re not having sex they’re somehow less of a man. For many men, sex is connected to feelings of self-worth and how they perceive their value in their relationship. And to make things worse, they refuse to talk about it.
So while this all may feel daunting and overwhelming, the good news is that kick-starting a sluggish sexual relationship is a very achievable goal for couples. After reading this article, the first thing to do, of course, is to begin a conversation about it. Here are some tips on how to broach the subject in a constructive and solution-focused way:
Keep your expectations realistic. As I told the couple who came to my office asking for help achieving mutual, simultaneous orgasms, don’t complicate your sexual relationship with unnecessary goals and unrealistic fantasy. Have faith in your partner to work with you and develop a more realistic vision of your sexual needs that works for both of you.
Be creative. What changes are you and your partner comfortable making to keep the passion alive in your relationship? Many couples allow their sexual relationship to become routine and predictable, even boring. Intercourse should not be the only behavior in your sexual repertoire and orgasm should not be the only goal that determines sexual satisfaction. Just remember that creative does not mean kinky. If your partner offers a suggestion that makes you uncomfortable, that idea should be taken off the table.
Communicate. If your partner doesn’t know what you want and what makes you feel good, you have to let them know. Talking about your passions and fantasies as well as your fears brings you closer, strengthens your relationship, and creates more options for each of you to meet your needs.