When I look at the stats page for the site, the most commonly viewed posts are the ones on Happiness and Sex. This makes a lot of sense as there is a correlation between the two. In long term relationships a couples sex life is generally a barometer of the relationships overall health.
Sex is a form of intimacy and is a manifestation of closeness and connection in a relationship. If your relationship is in a good place, then you have the sense of closeness and connection that leads to sex. And if you have that closeness you are generally pretty happy. So although it may not be entirely causal, more sex equals increased relationship satisfaction (note, that was causal – as in “being the cause of”, and not casual. If you’re interested in learning about casual sex you came to the wrong place).
There are all sorts of taboos about sex, but as a component of a healthy relationship sex is a great thing. Sex in a relationship provides a number of advantages physically and emotionally, for both the individual and the couple. So why is it such a difficult topic for couples, and why can it become a source of so much conflict?
In my previous series of posts on sex I talked about how sex can be a source of conflict due to differing sex drives; and that this is both natural and unavoidable. I talked about ways to deal with these differences, and how open communication in the relationship is the best approach to finding a happy middle ground, ensuring these differences allow sex to continue to enhance a relationship instead of damaging it.
I don’t want to rehash a topic that I’ve addressed already, but I recently came across a concept that made me want to look at this once again. That topic is a “Sexless Marriage”.
A Sexless Marriage is defined as a marriage (or any long term relationship) where the couple has sex 10 or less times per year. According to stats, 15-20% of couples find themselves in this state.
Differences in sex drive are normal, requiring compassion and understanding on the part of both members of the couple. A sexless marriage is an extreme though, and is generally a sign of more than just differing sex drives.
Because relationships have ups and downs which can impact feelings of closeness, it’s not uncommon for “sexual droughts” to happen occasionally in long term relationships. In fact it is fairly common occurrence in the first few years after children are born. When it lasts for extended periods of time however, it can become a serious issue and threaten the relationship.
Humans are sexual creatures, and there are many advantages to sex in a relationship. In a healthy relationship sex is a physical manifestation of the love the couple shares. It is a way of showing closeness and desire, and is a form of communication and sharing. It is a special activity that the couple shares with each other and no one else, and it is not just a physical act, but also an emotional and symbolic act.
The absence of sex (or sex being reduced to duty sex) is symbolic in a different way. When this happens it comes to symbolize a lack of desire, closeness, and a sense that the other persons needs don’t matter. But perhaps most significantly, it comes to symbolize a lack of love.
This is a pretty sensitive topic, so I will try to tread lightly here. To be clear, when I talk about sex here, I’m talking about sex as an extension of intimacy (with the idea that the absence of sex also means there is an absence of intimacy). When this happens it’s safe to say that a sexless relationship is bad news, and not good for anyone.
The frequency with which a couple has sex really isn’t that important (as long as it’s not an issue for the couple), and most couples find a balance that works for them. But sex still needs to be a regular part of the relationship. According to the definition of a sexless relationship, you need it at least once a month for “regular maintenance”. Less than that and I find it hard to believe it’s not an issue for the couple.
Once it becomes an issue the taboo nature of sex likely makes it a difficult one to resolve. It does need to be addressed though, as the cost of not addressing the issue is extremely high. Sexual issues are one of the leading causes of relationships breaking down, often leading to affairs or divorce. It’s something you kinda need your partner for. So if there is no sexual satisfaction within the relationship and no signs that will ever change, eventually people will start looking outside of it.
Breakdown of Intimacy
I’ve touched on some of the causes for the breakdown of sex before, but here’s a quick overview:
Life often gets in the way, and people find themselves too tired or too busy. People naturally have differing drives, where one person wants it and the other isn’t interested. If the gap is large, for the lower drive person this causes pressure. For the higher drive person being “shut down” hurts, and after a while they stop asking. Next thing you know a long time has passed.
Desire is related to hormones, and things like childbirth can make changes to a woman’s hormone levels to change in a way that desire fades (body image issues after kids play a role in this). This is apparently a common issue, and there are a number of books written for women that deal with this (one of the top ones is supposedly Great Sex for Moms, by Valerie Raskin).
This isn’t just an issue for women though (well, the childbirth part is). Dampened levels of desire can also affect men, with some of the main causes of lowered sex drives being depression, anxiety or even high levels of stress.
Another problem for intimacy is simply differences between men and women. For years I leaned towards the “nurture” side of the nature/nurture debate. I thought men and women were largely the same and it was socialization that made us different. But there are differences, and these are very evident when it comes to sex. It’s been said that:
Men need sex for intimacy, women need intimacy for sex.
That’s not entirely accurate. Some men seem to treat sex and intimacy interchangeably, but most understand that sex is only a form of intimacy. But there is an element of truth there as men definitely seem to place a greater emphasis on the importance of sex for intimacy then women do.
So what does this mean for the relationship?
Work on the Relationship
One thing to remember is that most sexual issues are issues with the relationships itself, and not issues about sex. You know the saying build it that they will come? Ideally the same can be said here.
I recently wrote a series of posts on rebuilding passion in a relationship. Your main goal should be strengthening your relationship, and as the relationship strengthens it should also rekindle the spark needed for sex. Sex is important, but a healthy relationship should be your goal (with sex as a nice bonus).
But what happens if you are working on the relationship and the intimacy needed for sex doesn’t return?
Tips for the Higher Drive Person
For the higher drive person ensure you understand what makes your partner feel valued and loved, and show them that. If you are doing your best to ensure the health of the relationship and your partner is still not showing any desire or interest in sex? At that point there’s not a lot you can do. You can’t “make” someone want you, and the low drive person pretty much holds all the keys.
Taking care of your own sexual needs may provide physical release, but sex is supposed to strengthen the sense of closeness and the bonds between a couple. So self-pleasuring isn’t going to do much for you here. I guess it could, but if you find you are sending yourself flowers at work or sending yourself suggestive texts then you are probably hitting bottom.
In all seriousness, being forced to take care of your own needs for an extended period of time will only damage your relationship. It will break down the bonds between you and your partner, and resentment will build along with a sense that your needs don’t matter in the relationship.
Due to this you need to get it out in the open and try to find a solution (waiting things out won’t work, and will only result in a lot of waiting). Be careful in how you approach this though. Your partner need to be able to understand that you do love them, and that you miss sex with them, and the closeness and benefits it provides.
Remember that your goal is a lifetime of love and happiness with your partner. Sex needs to be part of that and your needs have to matter in the relationship. But the relationship is the main goal.
At the same time, don’t lose sight of the fact that you and your needs matter too. You need to be happy in the relationship, and that can be difficult without physical intimacy. If your partner values you and the relationship, you will see effort on their part. If you don’t see effort you have a difficult decision to make. Can you stay in a relationship without intimacy? Some do, though I can’t see how that is good for anyone. But hopefully there are signs that your partner does want this to change.
So what about the lower drive person? That’s coming in Part 2…