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What's Getting in the Way of Your Sex Life

Why our sexuality changes and what to do about it

Your sexuality can change a lot throughout one lifetime. It can even change a lot throughout one relationship. Some of these changes can be for the better. Others can feel like they're for the worse. When these changes occur, many men and women tend to take the wrong course of action, shutting up or shutting down. You may shy away from talking to your partner or pull away from a physical relationship you valued. You might lose interest in sex altogether or turn against yourself and your body. When people face these challenges, what they'll often find is that talking about sex, while it may feel uncomfortable at first, can be the key to maintaining a healthy sex life and a positive sense of one's own sexuality.

So what are some of the changes that impact a person's sex life? These shifts can be physical or related to age. They can even be caused by medications that strongly affect one's sexual feelings and performance. Although these are often natural alterations that our bodies go through over time, people tend to view them as embarrassing or something to be kept secret. However, the opposite is true.

Talking about these changes, be it with your partner, a friend or your doctor can lead to more understanding and self-compassion and allows you to maintain a satisfying sex life. As your body changes, you can choose to take a healthy approach to these shifts without turning on yourself and giving in to your "critical inner voices," allowing them to tear you down or make you feel insecure. It's important not to listen to what your inner critic tells you about these changes or to allow yourself to shut the door on your sexuality.

In addition to physical adjustments, people of all ages often face an onslaught of psychological influences that can hurt their sexuality. This can have a lot to do with the critical inner voice, which every person possesses. When it comes to sexuality a person's inner critic often comments on their performance, their bodies or what their partner is feeling or not feeling. This "voice" keeps people in their heads instead of in their bodies.

When it comes to sex, most people tend to feel there are a lot of "supposed to's," as if they are supposed to perform this way or feel that way in a sexual encounter. These expectations are fueled by the critical inner voice and can lead people to feel self-conscious, insecure or disconnected when being physically affectionate. Many people can also be critical of their appearance, viewing themselves as too old/fat/unattractive/uncomfortable for sex. With all its input, your inner critic can negatively influence your sexual relationships and eventually prove the false notion that passionate relationships can't last long-term.

The truth is that intimate relationships don't have to lose their excitement. However, as people get closer, they tend to struggle with maintaining an alive and satisfying sexual relationship. Many people find it difficult to combine emotional intimacy and deep loving feelings with passionate sexuality. One reason this can occur, albeit mostly unconsciously, is that old issues from their past begin to surface. People may even start to experience "critical inner voices" about their sexuality that hold familiar themes from their past. For example, if you were hurt or rejected by the people who cared for you, you may have grown up feeling there is something wrong with you on a bodily level. You may have thoughts like "you are so unattractive, he/she is repulsed by you." If you felt a lack of affection as kids, you may feel desperate for affection as an adult, having thoughts like "you need to be aggressive. he/she is not going to come toward you." If you felt intruded on, you may have a tendency to pull away when someone gets close, thinking "he/she is so hungry towards you; you don't really want this."

When people start to get into their heads during sex, they lose a sense of connectedness to their partner. When they feel this distance, the sexual experience often doesn't feel as satisfying or worthwhile. With their head flooded with self-critiques and attacks on their partner, they may start to think about just getting through the sexual situation instead of enjoying it. Emotional closeness is the most important aspect of physical intimacy. Therefore, it becomes all the more important to bring your struggles to light and talk about what's going on.

When changes occur in you, be them physical or emotional, it can also affect your partner's feelings about him or herself. It may trigger critical inner voices in them like, you are bored with them or that they're unattractive to you, etc. Talking to your partner and exposing the destructive attitudes of your critical inner voices can bring you back to yourselves and can reestablish the closeness between you and your partner. Closeness, self-esteem and open communication are essential to lasting, healthy sexuality. They are also the biggest factors in sexual satisfaction.

When you open up to your partner about what's going on in your mind in regards to your sexuality, you allow him or her to know you on a deeper level. In a certain sense, conversation can be foreplay, as it allows a couple to feel for each other and get closer. While it may feel awkward or unnatural at first, very often, when they do open up and talk about it, there are major, surprising shifts in a couple's sexual relationship.

Too often, people let years pass without having a conversation about their sexuality. In addition to talking to your partner, you can confide in a close friend or a therapist. It's all too easy to feel alone in your struggles, but you'd be surprised at how many people relate to exactly what you're going through. Staying silent leaves room for your critical inner voices to fester and will make you feel worse and even like giving up on your sexuality. The more you talk, the better you are likely to feel, and the quieter the noise in your head can become.

When it comes to sex, the optimal experience involves feeling emotionally close to your partner, in touch with your body and in the present moment. I have found that by identifying and challenging destructive thought processes or critical inner voices that interfere with closeness and optimal sexual functioning, people can learn to combine love and sexuality and achieve that special combination that is so desirable in an intimate relationship. Taking a chance and talking to your partner can be the first step to achieving this goal.

Read more from Dr. Lisa Firestone at PsychAlive.org

Dr. Lisa Firestone will be presenting a weekend workshop on "Creating a Loving Relationship" Nov. 8-10 in Ojai, CA. The event is open to individuals and couples. Learn more here.


Read Dr. Lisa Firestone's book, Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships.

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