How to spark the ho-hum sex lifeWritten by Dr. Clifford Penner
What's inside this article
As sex therapists, we often hear stories from husbands or wives who are suffering in a sexually deprived marriage.
It might be a rejected husband saying:
"I’m a loving husband. I help with the kids; I do the dishes. I have a beautiful wife who has no interest in having sex with me. Nothing I do makes any difference."
Or it could be the frustrated wife saying:
"Everything I read talks about the husband who wants sex all the time and the wife who avoids it. Our situation is just the opposite. We’ve been married less than a year. We had sex a few times on our honeymoon and only a few times since then. I attend to my appearance; I haven’t gained weight; I wear sexy nighties and light candles in the bedroom; but nothing woos him."
It might be the husband of the frustrated wife expressing his negative feelings:
"I’m not sure what has happened to me. I used to love sex, but not anymore. If she doesn’t want it, I am relieved. I know it makes her feel that she is unattractive to me, but she is good-looking and a good wife. I love her deeply."
Or it could be the wife of the rejected husband sharing her guilt:
"I know my husband deserves more, but I just don’t desire sex. It isn’t about him. It is just that by the time we both get home from work and get the kids to bed, all I want to do is sleep. I feel guilty, but my bad feelings about myself only seem to shut me down more."
A sexless marriage
What is a sexless marriage? Technically, it’s a marriage in which the couple has sex fewer than 10 times per year. Beyond the raw statistics, however, the disappearance of sex is about the frustration, dissatisfaction and differing sexual desires that have gone unattended and caused distance and despair. Often, one spouse feels uncared for while the other feels his or her sexual needs are ignored. "Duty sex" may become the short-term answer, but that uneasy compromise never works long-term.
So why are couples of all ages and stages not having sex or not having it very often? The reasons for sexually disappointed marriages usually fall into three categories: health, history and home.
All the effort in the world won’t make a shred of difference if physical and medical issues haven’t been corrected.
- Hormones: Testosterone is the hormone for sexual desire in both men and women. Total testosterone measures both bound-T and free-T. The "free" is what’s available for sexual functioning. If your free-T is below normal or in the low normal range, you will benefit from testosterone replacement.
- Medications: Hormonal birth control can help or hinder desire. Medications for the heart and high blood pressure, as well as antidepressants and other medical treatments, can suppress desire.
- Illness: Both physical and emotional illness will drain sexual drive.
- Poor physical fitness: Being out of shape can leave a person sexually lethargic.
- Painful intercourse: Certain physical conditions can undermine sexual pleasure and reduce desire.
What each spouse brought to the relationship, as well as a couple’s history with each other, will impact their sex life.
- Past abuse and trauma: These painful memories often lead to sexual aversions and lack of self-esteem.
- An unhealthy childhood: Having been raised in an alcoholic or emotionally abusive home creates incredible resistance to sex in marriage. The vulnerability of letting go triggers internal conflict.
- Sex or pornography addiction: An unhealthy obsession with sex undermines intimacy in marriage.
- Unfaithfulness: A past affair and other breaks in trust make it difficult to desire sex with the spouse who violated the marital commitment.
Some of the relationship and lifestyle patterns that stifle sexual desire include:
- Sexual demands: When one spouse’s desire is higher than the other’s, the gap between them will increase over time.
- Dysfunctional relationship patterns: The need for control, feeling unloved and uncontrollable anger all form a sexual wedge between spouses.
- Busyness: Demanding careers or overscheduled personal lives often precludes time and energy for intimacy.
- False expectations: The belief that you have to be "in the mood" or that sex should always be ecstatically intense lead to a lot more waiting than "sexing."
The lack of an ongoing, mutually satisfying sexual relationship has serious consequences. It creates emotional and spiritual distance between spouses and makes them vulnerable to extramarital affairs. It also increases friction in the rest of the marriage. Although sex is not the machine of the marriage, it keeps the machine running smoothly.
What you can do
What can you do about a sexless marriage? Start by assessing your situation and determining how you got to this place. Discuss the possible causes with each other or a therapist. (If your spouse is unwilling to work toward mutual fulfillment, you may need to seek professional help by yourself.)
Even if you no longer desire sex, become intentional about your sexual relationship for the sake of your marriage. God’s design is for you to be deeply connected at all levels with the person you chose as your lifelong partner. Embracing this design will bring wholeness and greater fulfillment to your marriage.
Lighting the fire
You can create the best possible conditions for sex by scheduling regular times to connect with your spouse. Follow these simple steps to foster closeness and spark desire:
Fifteen minutes per day:
- Connect emotionally; share your thoughts and feelings.
- Connect spiritually; read Scripture and pray together.
- Connect physically; kiss passionately for 30 seconds without
One evening per week:
- Go on a date.
- Caress one another.
One weekend per year:
- Get away together or spend time together at home without any
Devote the weekend to nurturing your relationship.
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