Sex is often THE big elephant in the room when it comes to long term relationships. It’s something that is in reality a very small part of a relationship (at least in terms of time spent), but it’s importance to the relationship bond cannot be overstated. Sex is easy in the early stage of a relationship when everything is new and exciting. As the years go by though, even in strong relationships the frequency usually decreases noticeably. Add any sort of issues or tension to the relationship and sex is often the first thing to go.
Here’s an interesting quote from Dr. Phil:
If you have a good sexual relationship, it registers about ten percent on the “important scale”. If you do not have a good sexual relationship, that registers about ninety percent on the “important scale”.
What constitutes a “good sexual relationship” is definitely a matter of debate, but if nothing else it’s safe to say that the idea behind that statement is correct. If you are feeling satisfied sexually then sex really isn’t an issue for you. But if you aren’t? Well, sexual issues can take on a life of their own.
A barometer of heath
Why do we enter into relationships in the first place? The stereotype on guys is that all they are really looking for is sex, and I’ll be the first to argue that relationships are about so much more than that. They are about emotional fulfillment, a desire to both give and receive love, acceptance and a sense of belonging. They are also about commitment, and building towards the future.
But at the same time yeah, relationships are about sexual fulfillment (which is actually different from sex, but I’ll get to that later). Although it’s only a part of a relationship I think everyone has an unspoken expectation that when they commit to a lifetime together, sex will be part of the deal.
Lets face it, physical attraction is part of what draws us together in the first place. When we first meet a potential “someone” and we are trying to determine if there is an emotional connection and if it will go anywhere, there is at least a part of us that is imaging and anticipating the physical one. This *could* just be a guy thing, but I don’t think so.
The quality of a couples sex life is actually a barometer for the overall health of the relationship. If you are happy with the quality of your sex life there’s a pretty good chance that you are also happy with your overall relationship.
Purpose of Sex
Sexual attraction is part of what draws us together, but what is the purpose of sex? Yes it’s needed for procreation, but that’s not the only purpose it serves. Why do we want it?
The easy answer is that it feels good (or at least it should). In a loving, committed relationship it also provides additional value, both to your own personal health and the health of your relationship.
For your relationship sex is important for both building and maintaining connection. This is actually hormonal, as sex causes the release of oxytocin (sometimes known as the “love hormone”). You know that relaxed sense of contentment after sex? That’s largely due to oxytocin. It can help with feelings of contentment and calmness while decreasing anxiety and protecting against stress. It’s also been found to help facilitate feelings of trust and attachment between people (Incidentally, all gestures of affection help with this too).
Beyond helping maintain connection, many researchers have found links between sex and other areas of health. Here are a few of the links that have been found:
- Lower blood pressure
- Mental health. Sex can reduce stress and help fight depression and anxiety
- Self esteem. Supposedly it boosts self esteem and confidence
- Pain relief. Headaches are a common clichéd excuse to avoid sex, but the hormones released can relieve pain
- Bladder control. This one is more for women than men, but sex involves the muscles used in kegels
- Sounder sleep. The same endorphins that reduce stress can help give you a better sleep
Some of these health claims seem a bit dubious to me. They make me wonder if it’s actually the sex that contributes to making people healthy, or if it’s just that people who are healthier tend to have more sex.
But hey, it feels good and it’s good for building and maintaining connection in your relationship – that much is fact! So if it happens to contribute to health at the same time, great. All the more reason to try and be a bit more active in the bedroom (or living room, or kitchen. Heck, even the pantry – whatever works for you), right?
Well, in spite of all the positives that sex brings to a relationship it can also be a great source of conflict.
One of the first potential problems is that everyone’s drive is different. Men *usually* have a higher drive than women, and most of this entry is written from that perspective. I recognize that’s not always the case though, so feel free to flip the narrative if applicable.
In a perfect world a couple’s sex drive is in sync, but perfection doesn’t exist. Even if you did find someone where your drive is very close, the next problem becomes that drive is not a constant. It’s going to fluctuate over time, and the odds of it fluctuating in the same way for a couple is pretty much non-existent.
So differences in drive are normal and to be expected. But beyond the normal fluctuations between people, there are additional things that can exacerbate this difference.
Things that “get in the way”
There are many factors that can impact sex-drive, and many of these factors seem to impact women more than they impact men.
Stress, anxiety and depression are things that can negatively impact drive, and stats show that women are 3 times as likely to be diagnosed as having issues with anxiety and depression.
Body image is also a big thing that can impact drive in both women and men. It’s hard to have sex with all your clothes on (plus it’s really not all that satisfying). If you aren’t at least somewhat happy with your own body it can be pretty difficult to be naked with someone.
Media images of Victoria Secret type bodies on actresses and models give women a very unrealistic standard to compare themselves to, and this contributes to body image issues. But to all the ladies out there, when you are obsessing over the need to lose an extra 5 or 10 lbs your guy is often pretty confused as to where it is supposed to come from or they simply don’t see why you need to lose it. I’m pretty sure your guy thinks you look great the way you are.
Guys have often been thought of as being less affected by body image issues, but studies have shown that this is increasingly becoming an issue for men as well.
Related to body image issues is child birth, which can affect women both in terms of both hormone levels and body image. The transition from woman to “mother” can often make it difficult for women to feel sexy again.
Sex drive is related to hormones, so even something like a womans monthly menstrual cycle affect drive, as it can send hormone levels all over the map.
Basically, it doesn’t matter what your drive is like. Because it’s not a constant and there are all sorts of factors that can impact it.
Causing additional stress on the relationship
If you’ve been in a relationship for any length of time, I’m sure you’ve had days where one of you has “wanted it” and the other one hasn’t. That’s normal. When it becomes a consistent pattern though, then it becomes a problem.
For the person with the higher drive, chances are they are feeling hurt. They feel rejected, and it can start to impact self image and self esteem. Does my spouse not find me attractive anymore? Do they not love me anymore? This can cause resentment, and a feeling their spouse is holding out on them and using sex as a means of manipulation or a weapon. They may also feel as though their needs don’t matter.
For the person with the lower drive, chances are they are also feeling hurt. In their case though they feel pressure. Instead of sex being this special activity that they share with their spouse, it starts to feel like a duty, or work. It’s something they “have to do”. Resentment will start to build here too, as they can feel like they aren’t valued and they are only wanted for sex.
Problems in your sex life can start to damage the overall relationship. And over time, this one act that can bring so much pleasure and closeness to a relationship can also threaten to tear it apart.
So how do we deal with this? Stay tuned for part 2…