Sex - where did it go and why?
What the heck happened to us?? We used to have sex so much more, and now . . . .
The sexual connection in many a relationship is the first to founder under any stress or tension. Couples find themselves bickering. They enjoy each other's company less. And they don't make the connection that their lackluster sexual activity is a huge part of the problem.
Many people with a healthy level of desire find themselves more irritable and prone to temper flare-ups when they’re sexually frustrated. A malaise sets in, having an insidious effect on the overall relationship. At best, relationships become more like business partnerships. Or one in which partners are often in each other's presence, but not connecting with each other.
For some people, sexual desire does have its own internal engine that just keeps chugging along seemingly without the need for fuel. For others, desire needs fuel. These two types are usually in a relationship with each other. The result is that both end up feeling rejected.
This doesn’t mean you’re in the wrong relationship. It means you need to take care of your relationship.
Prioritize your sexual relationship
If you've gotten off track sexually, ask yourself “am I making time to enjoy sex? “ Or is it one of those things that's just supposed to happen between the sheets? There was a time at the beginning of your relationship when neither one of you had to think about 'making time' for sex. It did 'just happen' because you were willing to give up sleep, be late to work, forget about paying bills or doing the laundry.
We love being infatuated and the novelty of sex with a new romantic interest is intoxicating. After the drug of infatuation wears off, we begin to feel our fatigue from staying up too late. Work deadlines return to their earlier importance. This is reality, not a problem with your relationship. This doesn’t mean that sex is all downhill from here.
Try the following and see what happens:
Invite your partner to bed before you’re exhausted.
Find each other for some naked time when your toddler is napping.
Eat lunch scantily clad on a Sunday afternoon.
Get a babysitter to take the kids out for the afternoon when you still have some energy.
Make your appetizer an intimate moment at home before you head out to dinner - don’t think you’ll feel amorous after a big meal with drinks.
Mix it up, be creative. Add an element of surprise. Arrange to meet your partner for dinner and have a hotel room key in your hand. Bring flowers for no special reason.
People often say that their stressful lives get in the way of having sex. If your tendency is to tighten up under the strains of financial or job pressures or parenting young children, you most likely withdraw from your partner. If these stresses lead to arguments, then resentment builds.
The truth is that sex can be the perfect antidote to feeling overwhelmed and tired. Connecting with your partner has a way of making you feel that ‘all is well’. Make the time.
The myth of spontaneity
There's a lot of mythology around 'sex has to be spontaneous to be exciting’. Think back to those first moments in meeting the love of your life. You imagined what that first sexual experience was going to be like. You thought about it. Hmmm . . . . . what would be the perfect date that would lead back to my apartment? If I end up with my clothes dropping to the floor, shall I be wearing black or red underneath?
This is not spontaneous. This is a plan. Think about how much fun that was!
With the demands of work and family, sexy thoughts may not be top of mind when your partner is looking at you in that inviting way they have. There is a bridge, however, between what you’re occupied with at any given moment and your desire.
What is it that can spark your desire? A hot bath? A conversation with a glass of wine or tea? A walk outside together? A foot massage?
You may be one of those many people who feel desire after you’re touching and being touched. So the question isn’t “Do you or don’t you feel in the mood?”, it’s “Are you willing to engage with your partner and see what happens?”
Watch out for those pesky and oppressive expectations. Maybe the stars just aren’t lined up for both of you to reach the top of that arousal ladder. It’s so important not to have any expectations of what has to happen in this physical encounter. If you expect that you or your partner has to have an orgasm, it’s a buzzkill - that particular mountain may be just too hard to imagine climbing from the bottom. The journey along the way is full of sensory delights. And, who knows, maybe you’ll end up reaching the summit after all.
The art of flirting
Remember how you flirted with your partner when you first met? You showed interest. You paid full attention when they were talking. You gently teased. There was no sarcasm. You were playful. You enticed. You looked into their eyes. You wooed.
You dressed in a flattering way. No walking around the house sweaty in your gym clothes. Or your baggy sweatpants and t-shirt. Or your flannel pajamas.
Everyone likes to be romanced. Yet it recedes because you let it. Smiles beget smiles. Enthusiasm for each other creates that spark. Leave suggestive notes for each other. Or a text that is simply, “Thinking of you with love - or lust”.
Do you make your partner feel desired in the way they like and respond to?
Greet each other with a full-body hug. Look into each other’s eyes. Kiss, not peck. Don’t walk in the door with a heavy ‘hi’ that expresses your woes of the day. Your woes can wait. Let them know you’re glad to see them first.
What About kissing
Kissing too often becomes a lost art when the infatuation recedes. Along with its decline goes a lot of pleasure. Do you skip this sensuous part and make a dive for each other’s erogenous zones? That can be fun, but if it’s your only move, it’s boring over time.
Kissing is one of the most intimate aspects of sex - and arousing. Do you know why you stopped kissing? Whatever the reason, it’s a habit to kick. You’re denying yourselves a lot of pleasure.
How to get kissing back into your sex life? Kissing sessions are a good start. Mirror each other’s kiss - she kisses you in a particular way and you kiss her back in the same way. Start with your lips, move to nibble faces and necks. It can be awkward at first. Anytime you do something new, you feel awkward. Gather up your courage, do it anyway. It’ll reap rewards on the other side of awkward.
If all of the above doesn’t put the spark and spice into your intimate life together, read on.
The complicated part - sexual baggage
Many of you have complicated feelings about your sexuality. We all get a boatload of messages about sex as kids. These messages come from parents, the media, peers. Some are verbal, some are simply the roll of an eye or a tightened facial expression. Some are positive and some are negative but rarely neutral.
An earlier romantic experience may have caused lasting harm. You may have been devastated by a break-up. Even if it was many years ago, you might have difficulty trusting your partner. This can feed into not being fully comfortable sexually.
During the early phase of a relationship, ingrained negative messages take a vacation from your psyche. You may feel your most uninhibited. You love the freedom you feel to be daring and so does your partner. Over time as the infatuation wears off, inhibitions return. What’s happened is that shame or discomfort is resurfacing, requiring a backing off from your new-found adventuresome self.
You might not have the most positive feeling about your body and therefore don’t allow yourself to enjoy the pleasure it can bring you. Families and culture are full of ideas of what your body should look like, often describing only a few real people. It should be perfectly proportioned, not overweight, fit, and buff. You might have grown up with messages that your body wasn’t ‘right’, were made fun of for not being athletic, were judged for eating too much. If so, those negative judgments can be a huge influence on how you feel about your body.
If you were sexually abused in the past, your body is likely to have shut down on its ability to experience a pleasure. It’s very difficult to develop trust in your adult relationship. You may or may not have specific memories crop up, but your body remembers because we have implicit memory. Implicit memory is memory that is held in our cells but not necessarily in our conscious awareness. This means you might freeze when touched or loathe sexual touching without knowing why.
Sexual trauma also includes what many people think of as minor inappropriate touching. This can be just as profound on your ability to enjoy sexual pleasure. If you dread sex, don’t enjoy sex, or ‘go through the motions’ of sex, there may be some reasons hidden in your background.
Untreated depression and anxiety often interfere with desiring and enjoying sex. Both take up a lot of emotional bandwidth and block energy and enthusiasm for sex. Sexual pleasure requires relaxation and being in the present moment. This is a tall order for someone whose mood is hijacked by depression or anxiety.
It’s a common misunderstanding that sexual desire in everyone has an innate life of its own. You probably suffer from this common illusion because there was a time early in your relationship when sex seemed effortless and enjoyable.
As time goes on and conflict in your relationship emerges, job or family stress increase, sex commonly takes a back seat. However, you can revitalize your sexual connection by prioritizing your intimate time together, creating romantic moments, and paying attention to what your partner finds sexually energizing.
Spicing up your sex life does require stepping up to the challenge of feeling the discomfort inevitable in making changes. It’s not so easy to say to your partner, “Hey, let’s mix it up a bit. We’ve gotten lazy or into a rut. What would you like?” Despite your discomfort, this is the path towards pleasure, connection, and fun.
If this seems too daunting or there seem to be more significant blocks, help is available. Don’t be shy about seeking it. You’re entitled to the pleasure that your body was designed for and the intimate connection that sexual satisfaction offers.
If you're struggling with your sex life, we're here to help. Check out our Imago Relationship Workshops and Imago Relationship Therapy.
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This blog post was written by Deborah Fox, LICSW.
Deborah is a clinical social worker with over thirty-five years of experience in private practice in Washington, DC. She is an AASECT Certified Sex therapist and a Certified Imago Relationship Therapist, providing individual, couple and group psychotherapy, as well as clinical consultation.
Deborah has lectured on sex therapy and couples therapy at The Washington School of Psychiatry, The Institute of Contemporary Psychotherapy and Psychoanalysis, and the Integrative Sex Therapy Institute in Washington, DC. She conducts seminars and consultation groups on couples therapy and sex therapy. She is passionate about integrating sex therapy and couples therapy and enabling couples to experience greater intimacy, both emotionally and sexually.
Visit Deborah at her website too!