by Michael Raitt -
SGN Contributing Writer
How many of you are in a relationship and feel frustrated and horny because you are only having sex once or twice a month or a couple times a year? How many of you have reduced the explanation of your minimal sex life to, 'We have different sex drives?' Active physical intimacy is an important component of every adult relationship, and sex is a key ingredient to physical and emotional well-being. Unfortunately, too many couples don't feel like the sex they want with their significant other is rewarding, and this leaves individuals in a predicament.
Ranging from your late teens through your '70s+, a healthy sexual appetite can be from several times per day to a few times a week or month. As long as you are physically healthy and all the sexual parts are working properly, you can look forward to an active, enjoyable sex life. (Of course, if things aren't working properly, seek medical consultation immediately.)
One thing that will always get in the way of a satisfying sex life is communication in a relationship. "How can this be possible?" you wonder. You can imagine the dynamic: both are happy, there is little conflict, things are going well, and sex occurs regularly. When there is conflict and arguments, sex dies off - "I'm not in the mood." If couples are not resolving normal relationship conflicts, then resentments build up and rather than talking about problems, individuals begin withdrawing and withholding sex either because they are angry, sad, and/or getting passive-aggressive.
Conflicts in relationships are normal. Every person has a different way of dealing with communication and conflict. Some are direct and get things cleared up. Others fear conflict and avoid it at all costs, which results in building tension that will inevitably come out sometime and somehow, and for many couples, it's through deadening the physical intimacy.
The goal is never to eliminate conflict between the two of you. The goal is how to resolve the issues so they are not festering and interfering and resulting in sexual withholding. Remember, how you work out disagreements and problems is indicative of how you respect one another. With mutual respect, self-image increases and trust is reinforced, and these make people feel sexier and safe to be sexual.
Healthy communication means there is a respectful, reciprocal dialogue between each person in the relationship. This exchange requires each person to stay engaged without blowing up or shutting down. There are two components to this kind of communication: First, practical skills about how effective communication occurs. These include such things as active listening, paraphrasing, and being curious. Second, managing the strong emotions that each has when hard topics are being discussed. Fear, anger, anxiety, guilt, and shame - these are all emotions that we all have when we are talking about issues in a relationship. The practical skills will not be effective unless and until individuals learn to manage the various feelings that come up for them.
Remember, upwards of 80% - 85% of communication is done through our actions and non-verbal behavior. Through everything you do, you have to ask yourself, "What am I trying to communicate to the person I love?" This applies to how we communicate with each other to solve problems, which effects how sex occurs in the relationship.
Finally, I encourage couples to start talking about sex with each other. It is amazing that adults can have sex with one another, but many cringe at the idea of having to talk about it. Slowly open up about your fantasies and desires to experiment. I know this is a huge risk for some of you, but it is necessary if you want to nourish an important part of your overall well-being and, potentially, the well-being of the relationship.
There is a group of people I respectfully and affectionately refer to as "pearl-clutching wharf-whores." The pearl-clutching part is the part where they feel it would be improper to open up and talk about their sexual appetites or interests. They act all prim-and-proper and vanilla. The wharf-whore part is the part that exists in these people where they have an active, curious, exotic side that includes activities, fetishes, and fantasies. For these people, these desires will likely never get talked about - let alone experienced. This is sad. There is a very broad range of normal, healthy sexual activity between consenting adults, and with good communication, these can be expressed and contribute to an exciting sex life in the relationship.
If one or both of you assess your sex life as being unsatisfactory, courageously look at the communication that is happening in the relationship. If you need help with it, find a professional who will support you both in the skills and self-management that is needed for effective communication.
If you know you are a pearl-clutching wharf-whore, explore that. Talk to a trusted friend or therapist and then talk to your significant other. Healthy sexual expression is healthy living.
Michael Raitt, MA LMHC, is a therapist and a contributing writer to the SGN. He writes a bi-monthly column in the SGN. If you would like to comment on this column, ask a question you'd like him to write about, or suggest another topic of interest, please contact him at firstname.lastname@example.org.
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