- Sex therapists report that a sexual desire gap is the number one sexual problem brought to their offices.
- The partner who feels less desire bears equal responsibility for changing the level of sexual intimacy in the relationship.
- Making more time for foreplay and taking action at the first hint of sexual desire can reignite a couple's connection in the bedroom.
When it comes to marriage, there's no question about it, sex is a tie that binds. However, for millions of couples, there is trouble behind closed doors. It is estimated that one out of every three couples has a sexual desire gap. Simply put, in these marriages, one spouse wants sex much more often than the other. And that spells trouble. In fact, sex therapists report that a sexual desire gap is the number one sexual problem brought to their offices.
If you are in a sex-starved marriage, you will probably want to read this post and the one that will follow because you will find them quite helpful. Whether you are the spouse who has the higher desire or the one whose interest in sex has flat-lined, you both need to be proactive if you want things to improve in your relationship.
This post offers 11 tips for the spouse whose desire for sex has seemingly vanished. The next post will offer tips for the spouse yearning for more physical closeness. Remember, it helps to approach this sexual divide as a team.
1. Make having a satisfying sexual relationship a bigger priority in your life.
There are at least two very important reasons that you should take your sex life off the back burner and pay attention to it. The first is your relationship with your spouse. Your marriage depends on it. Your spouse's feelings about himself/herself depend on it. Your future together depends on it. You have to stop thinking you can have a great relationship without satisfying sex unless your partner wholeheartedly agrees. Don't resign yourself to passionless lovemaking or a relationship void of true intimacy. Even elderly and chronically ill people can enjoy a robust sex life.
The second reason is that unless you are truly enjoying your intimate relationship, you are really cheating yourself! If you aren't all that interested in sex at the moment, you are probably thinking, "I don't feel cheated at all," but I'd like for you to take a moment and think back to a time when sex was more fulfilling. Really think about it. Wasn't it wonderful? Didn't it feel great? Recall what it felt like to be a more passionate, sensual person. Didn't you feel better about yourself? Wasn't it more fun?
When you think back to times when things were better between you sexually, you may ask yourself what happened to your passion and what caused this to change in you. You may also wonder if you will ever feel the same way about being sexual as you once did. Perhaps it's the seesaw phenomenon at work; the more one person does of something, the less the other person does. Well, this holds true for sexual issues as well. Since your spouse has been the one to focus on sex in your marriage and you have felt pressured about it, you have backed away. In fact, it's entirely possible that the cat and mouse dynamic in your relationship has dampened your desire, even fooled you into thinking you don't like sex anymore. But this isn't necessarily so. Your negative feelings or apathy may have more to do with the chase than sex itself.
In order to change this, one of two things must happen. Your spouse can stop chasing (and you better believe that this will be one of my suggestions), or you can become more proactive in making things better between you. Since you are the one reading this, I am going to strongly suggest that it is you who has to take charge of changing things. You need to start to figure out the steps you ought to take to feel more passion and desire. Make feeling sexier your pet project. If you don't, you are missing out on one of life's greatest joys, feeling truly intimate with the person you love. Don't shortchange yourself. Forget about doing this strictly for your partner or the marriage, do it for you!
How? Start by telling your spouse that you understand why s/he has been unhappy with your love life and that you are going to do something about it. If s/he replies, "I've heard this before," don't take it personally. This sort of response is based on hurt. Just reassure your spouse that this time things are going to be different and say nothing more.
2. Get a medical checkup.
To eliminate physiological causes for your lack of desire, a trip to your family physician or gynecologist may be in order. Ask if hormone replacement therapy such as testosterone would be appropriate. Evaluate whether side effects from medications or medical conditions are a factor in your situation. Discuss whether herbal remedies or dietary changes may be helpful.
3. Schedule an appointment for you and your partner with a therapist who is trained and experienced in the area of sexuality.
If you are a man whose sexual desire has plummeted due to your having sexual problems such as impotence or performance anxiety, a certified sex therapist can teach you many different techniques to overcome these difficulties. You might also consider taking a drug such as Viagra, which will help you have and maintain an erection.
I know it is really difficult for a man to admit he is worried about low sexual desire and even more difficult to ask for help in this area. But I urge you to do precisely that. You need to put your pride aside and get your sex life/marriage back on track. Your wife may be understanding at the moment, but if you put things off much longer, she might not be around.
4. Care about your spouse's feelings.
Although you have had very valid reasons for not being in the mood, I hope it's clear by now that your spouse has probably felt hurt and rejected because of it. I know this has not been your intention. Far from it. But part of the healing that must take place between the two of you involves your active participation in things that will help your partner feel better. Here are a couple of suggestions that might help boost your spouse's morale.
Flirt - If you think back to earlier times in your relationship, I bet the two of you were more flirtatious. I bet there were pats on the butt, a wink of your eye, a kiss blown across a crowded room, lightly touching each other in passing, a suggestive smile, a well-timed compliment about your spouse's appearance, and so on. This kind of playfulness is an important part of keeping passion alive. Put more energy into letting your spouse know that s/he is attractive by flirting.
Don't just say "no" - If you aren't in the mood, and sometimes you won't be, it's okay to say "no." You shouldn't feel bad about it. However, if you do say, "no," it's important that you make an alternative suggestion. Perhaps later in the day might be better for you. Or, just because you aren't in the mood yourself doesn't mean you can't do something to pleasure your spouse. Although your spouse might initially insist that the only way s/he is interested in being sexual is if your heart is totally into it, convince him/her otherwise. Since your sexual desire might always be lower than your spouse's, there is nothing wrong and everything right with the idea of your pleasing your spouse from time to time when s/he is in the mood. It does not have to be reciprocal. Convince your spouse that you really feel good about giving to him/her in this way.
5. Look for the small flutters.
Dr. Pat Love, the coauthor of Hot Monogamy, suggests that it is frequently the case that people with low sexual desire never experience earth-shattering sexual urges as do their more sexually-oriented partners. For them, it's more like barely noticeable, mild tremors. Rather than assume that the Tidal Wave will be the cue that it's "sex time," look for more subtle signs.
For example, have you ever had even a fleeting thought that your partner looks good tonight that you like his/her cologne/perfume, or that you find yourself attracted to someone on television and it puts you in a slightly sexy mood? If so, great. This is a wonderful starting point. Take an action. "When you feel even the slightest pulse of desire, follow through with it," says Dr. Love.
6. Put on your running shoes.
Joggers always say that the hardest part about running is putting on your running shoes. So too with sex. I wish I had a dollar for every time I've heard a person say, "I really wasn't in the mood at all at first, but once we got into it, I enjoyed myself." When people nudge themselves, even halfheartedly, to "get their feet moving," their pleasurable physical sensations often override any reason to resist.
Unlike the last suggestion where you are advised to look for the small flutters, I am now suggesting that you don't necessarily need to feel turned on at all in order to initiate sex or respond to your partner's advances. If you push yourself a bit, you will see whether the caressing and touching put you in the mood. Give it some time. You'll probably surprise yourself. So, get out those running shoes...just do it.
7. Focus on the exceptions.
In your quest to figure out what turns you on, you should focus on the exceptions. Identify what has worked to turn you on in the past. Recall times you were feeling sexier and ask yourself what you were doing differently then. Were you taking more time for foreplay? Were you having sex in different positions, locations, times of day, week, or month? Were you in better shape back then? Was your partner? Were you using sexual devices such as a vibrator? Were you more active in your life?
As you begin to ask yourself these questions, you will notice that some of the conditions for feeling more sexual are either no longer part of your life or even a remote possibility. For example, some people tell me that sex was better before they had children. As far as I know, having children is an irreversible decision. If some of the conditions are not doable, ask yourself, "What was different back then? How did not having children make things different?"
People often say, "things were just more spontaneous." Although it's impossible to be very spontaneous when you've added children to your lives, you certainly can plan for some spontaneity. call the in-laws or close friends, have them take your children overnight. Plan a weekend getaway. In other words, although it may not be perfect, you can rearrange your lives so that you can replicate at least part of what was working for you back then.
8. Experiment with novelty.
Sexual relationships often become boring when you do the same old thing over and over. Decide to become adventurous and try things you haven't tried before to see if you find them enjoyable. Explore and experiment until you know exactly what turns you on. Do you like back rubs, hot baths, sexy lingerie, certain kinds of touching, some positions more than others, moving slowly or speeding up? The possibilities are endless.
9. Talk openly about your preferences.
As you begin to figure out what you like and don't like, you have to commit to discussing it openly and specifically with your spouse. Don't be embarrassed. Unless you address this directly, you aren't going to get very far. Remind yourself about using action-oriented terms. For example, it isn't enough to tell your partner, "I would prefer we ‘make love' rather than ‘have sex.'" You need to be able to put into action-oriented terms what you mean by "making love." For instance, you might say, "To me, it feels like we are making love when we spend more time kissing and keep our eyes open," or "When you touch my hair or touch me lightly on my face, it feels more tender and that makes me feel as if we're making love." It might feel strange at first to be this specific about your sexual encounters, but your partner won't understand your needs unless you are.
Sometimes it's hard to put into words the things that turn you on. If so, offer a "hands-on" demonstration. Show your spouse what to do. If this is uncomfortable for you, consider reading an "improve your sex life" self-help book together at night. It will stimulate some great discussions and who knows what else. Although there are many books from which to choose, the one I most strongly recommend is Hot Monogamy, by Dr. Patricia Love and Jo Robinson. If the process of talking things out seems daunting, see a certified sex therapist.
10. Improve your self-esteem and outlook on life.
If personal issues are preventing you from feeling good about yourself and your life, it's time to give yourself a boost. You can't rely on your marriage to be the sole source of your happiness. Everyone must take responsibility for his/her own mental health. If you are feeling crummy, it's time to do something about it. Pamper yourself. Spend time with friends. Take a challenging class. Develop a new hobby. Exercise regularly. Cut back or eliminate alcohol and tobacco. Read a good book. Be kind to yourself. Take time to nurture your spiritual side. Find a good therapist.
Along these same lines, many times people stop being interested in sex when they stop feeling good about their bodies. A poor body image often makes people feel self-conscious and they will either avoid sexual encounters or be so tense they don't enjoy themselves. If you are one of those people, you need to do something to change the way you feel about your body. If you have gotten out of shape and aren't fit, it's time to start eating better and exercising. The benefits of being in shape extend far beyond your improved sex life. You'll feel better, look better, and increase the chances you'll stay healthy.
11. Work on your relationship.
If the dip in your sexual desire is due to negative feelings about your marriage or spouse, it's time to do something constructive about it. Stop blaming your spouse. You need to take responsibility for making things better so that you will feel more loving toward your spouse. Sign up for a marriage education class - learn new communication skills and methods for handling conflict. Find a skilled marital therapist to help you uncover real solutions to the difficulties you've been having. Again, if your partner won't join you, go yourself. You must get off dead center!
But don't wait until the issues in your marriage get resolved before you start putting energy into restoring your passion. Your marriage won't last that long. And here's a little secret. When you do, you may notice that the relationship problems and issues about which you were so concerned have totally disappeared.
All you really have to do is to tip over the first domino. Show your spouse more affection and attention, then watch the miraculous results. If you're the one wanting more sex, take a deep breath, more helpful information is on its way.
To find a therapist, please visit the Psychology Today Therapy Directory.