I see many couples grapple with the issues of differences in desire and sexuality. There are so many reasons why partners stop connecting and shy away from sexual intimacy and intercourse. Assuming that you rule out any biological or medical reasons that would inhibit a person’s ability to have sex, the following are the 5 most common couples concerns around intimacy I see in my office:
1. Relationship issues and unresolved resentment
This is at the heart of many issues surrounding sexuality as you need to be able to feel a sense of safety, comfort and trust with your partner. Some couples struggle with recovering after a fight, or find they are on opposite ends when it comes to some major issues facing the relationship. Also the couple could be recovering from emotional injuries such as affairs, or breaches of trust that bring about keeping score, resentment and unresolved hurt. These couples are likely to avoid sex, use it as a source of power and punishment. You may shy away from sex if you don’t feel safe with your partner.
2. Sexual avoidance
Couples may not be getting the sex they want or like, have gotten bored with the routine, or there are larger sexual issues around desire and dysfunction that they don’t know how to talk about or where to begin. They often say, “I don’t want to hurt my partner’s feelings” and these couples tend to be conflict avoidant, so they back away from sexual intercourse and focus on the other aspects of the relationship that don’t cause as much stress. These couples don’t know how to talk about sex or sexual issues in an open way, or fear receiving feedback or criticism. They avoid, avoid, avoid.
3. Stress and fatigue
Parenthood, chronic illness, pressures at work, finances, caring for a family member or other life issues are just a few causes of stress and fatigue. Being in this state of mind wreaks havoc on your sleep, can cause irritability, depression, and substantially diminishes sexual desire. Many anti-anxiety and depression medications meant to help couples tackle day to day life also adversely affects sex drive and arousal.
4. Body image issues/Sexual perfectionism
Many people suffer from body image issues and shame around not having “the perfect’ body, and are preoccupied in trying to hide themselves, or avoid what they perceive as turning their partner off. Because they haven’t fully embraced and love their body, it’s hard for people in this state to feel that someone desires them, or difficult to stay present in the moment during lovemaking. Many women and men that I have seen also believe that they are not worthy or deserving or sexual pleasure until they look like the body ideal they hold in their mind. This prevents couples from being intimate as the person with body issues will often turn down their partner’s sexual advances.
5. Performance anxiety/Pain or discomfort during sex
This is a big area that is challenging for couples to navigate and causes a great deal of stress. For men, performance anxiety, whether it pertains to getting or maintaining an erection, or being able to last as long as he or his partner would like, may cause anxiety, disappointment and shame. For women, this could manifest into not being able to or pressure to orgasm, or painful or uncomfortable sexual intercourse. For both, feelings of inadequacy, or feeling like they cannot satisfy their partner often comes up and many couples choose to avoid sex altogether, because they perceive that this problem will never change, or have difficulty voicing their concerns, and talking about their feelings (and sometimes anger) surrounding their sexual life together
Do you or your spouse fall into any of these 5 categories? If you do, it’s time to take stock of the state of affairs in your relationship, roll up your sleeves and start having some tough (but meaningful) conversations. As I tell my clients, you have to be able to power through the discomfort for growth, so hopefully by highlighting the issues that keep you and your partner from connecting intimately, will lead you down the path to honesty, transparency and connection.