Sex and Marriage
WHAT HAPPENED TO THE SEX?
GOOD SEX IS IMPORTANT: It’s central to a marriage—its survival and its satisfaction. The difficult and complex union of two people is affirmed and stabilized with good sex. Good sex leaves each partner feeling emotionally and physically connected. It generates positive, affirming thoughts about the other and about the marriage. And, it promotes generosity, empathy, and commitment.
A DESIRE GAP? We know that married couples—both same-sex couples and heterosexual couples—struggle with sexual issues and with desire itself. It is estimated that one out of every three couples has a sexual desire “gap.” In these marriages, one partner wants sex more than the other. The trouble here is that this gap typically leads to a shutting down of sexuality and eroticism in the marriage.
OTHER ISSUES: In some marriages, there may not be a desire gap, but there may be other issues preventing the couple from having a healthy sex life. Aging effects the libido of both men and women, making sex more difficult more painful in some cases. It also makes orgasm harder to achieve and it impacts a man’s ability to achieve and sustain an erection.
And then, there’s desire itself. An important part of sex, but often quickly lost in a marriage or relationship.
WHAT HAPPENS TO DESIRE? Why does desire flee the marital bed? Experts point out the inverted relationship between marriage and desire, between marriage and sexual excitement. They underscore what for some, is the obvious—that it’s tough to get excited about someone who makes you feel safe, secure and comfortable. Desire and erotic longing, they point out, often operate outside the bounds of familiarity. They look at marriage and they throw up their hands in frustration. “If you want to preserve your sex life, don’t get married,” they seem to be saying.
A SEX-LESS COMFORT ZONE? Others point out that couples can slip into a sex-less comfort zone that often masks hidden fears and unhappiness. Shying away from sexual intimacy is a way to keep yourself at a distance from your partner, to shield yourself from closeness and the disappointment or anticipated disappointment of failure in intimacy. It’s a way to protect yourself.
SEX BECOMES A BATTLEFIELD: With couples who have slipped into a comfort zone in which intimacy and sexual activity are shunned, the marriage is likely to be unsatisfying. It doesn’t come as a surprise that anger, resentment, pent up rage, disrespect and a host of other difficult feelings—all show up in the bedroom. Sex becomes the battlefield where withholding or rejecting behaviors, selfish or insensitive actions express the entire panoply of marital difficulties.
And so here we have two fundamental scenarios—in which desire fades, and in which, quite possibly, resentments and disappointments seek expression. In many instances, these two scenarios are not necessarily distinct. More often than not, they overlap.
LONGING FOR INTIMACY: Intimacy and the pleasure of contact with the other is something we all long for. If you’re struggling in a sex-less marriage, feeling disappointment or feeling lonely but want to connect with your partner again, compassionate, skilled help is available. Find a clinician experienced in both sex-therapy and marriage counseling to provide specially tailored treatment to you and your partner.