I am in a 20-year relationship that, in general, is really good. The problem is that the sex has virtually disappeared, even though we both love each other a lot.
We even went to a couple’s therapist but it didn’t do any good. The therapist didn’t want to talk about sex (he seemed uncomfortable) and so we didn’t.
On a recent” Oprah” special, she said that the better the intimacy, the better the sex. But that’s not true for us. We are a loving gay couple with a saggy sex life.
Bored in bed in Kensington
Dear Mr. Bored:
I apologize on behalf of my fellow therapists; many doctors and psychologists aren’t comfortable talking about sex and don’t encourage their clients to do so. Sex is a wonderful, vibrant part of life, and to ignore it is unwise and counter-productive. Not all of us therapists are sex-positive (yet). I am comfortable talking with my clients about sex, and encourage you to find a therapist who can do the same.
Traditional psychological theory pretty much follows the “Oprah” line: sex and emotional intimacy are inextricably interlinked. That theory can be summarized by the following equation:
Sex problems = emotional problems.
But, is this really true? It doesn’t sound like it is for you and your partner. To look at other possibilities, I recommend you and your partner check out the book: “Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic” by Swiss Psychologist Esther Perel.
Perel believes that we all want someone who is financially sound, emotionally stable, ambitious, caring, hip, sexy and passionate. However, she says, “those qualities don’t go together in the same person. It’s like you’re looking for four different people rolled into one”.
Sound familiar, single folks? Most of us are torn between security and adventure. We want stability but we also want excitement…in the same person. Perel says that “the body wants experiences that are very different from what the mind wants. Psychology is so focused on the talking cure that it disrespects the body” and the body wants excitement in bed, not just someone to do the dishes with.
Perel says that part of the solution is talking about sex, masturbation, and fantasy with your partner. It can be a conversation with just the two or you or with a good therapist who is comfortable with such a lively discussion.
I agree with Ms. Perel: it’s not that we expect too little from our partners; we expect too much. We expect our partners to solve our loneliness, excite us in bed, and empty the dishwasher. We want to be married to a superhero in bed and an accountant when it’s time to pay the bills. Who can live up to such expectations?
So, how do you work with dull sex in your relationship? I don’t recommend all those self-help books that encourage you to jack up the libido by stuff like making a sex date or renting a dirty movie (oh please). Perel’s advice is to talk less and be a bit more distant. This raises an interesting question: does a bit of distance enhance sexual/emotional intimacy, or destroy it?
The idea of “healthy distance” in a relationship means that each person needs friends of their own and activities they do on their own. It isn’t emotionally or sexually healthy to share everything with your partner.
A desperate groping for emotional closeness may kill your sex life. Why not try a bit more autonomy? You can turn to your partner and say, “you’re abandoning me” or you can be willing to change yourself and your role in your relationship.
Things often become a lot less pressurized when we stop expecting our partner to be our “everything”: a wild animal in the bedroom and a stable, down-to-earth shoulder to cry on. We can’t get it all from one person and it’s a setup for failure to try.
I have a friend who told me that if feels like she’s married her husband three times: their relationship has shifted and changed that much in the 17 years they’ve been together. Hint: they were BOTH willing to CHANGE. Are you? Is your partner?
I suggest you experiment with the suggestions from the Perel book and really TALK with your partner about what you want from sex and masturbation.
Discuss your fantasies. Rather than deepen your emotional intimacy, why not focus on deepening your sexual connection? And consider lowering your expectations of each other; less emotional pressure always leads to better sex!