We all know what chores are: they are those necessary things that have to get done in order to help our lives run smoother. Or they are those things our mothers told us to do and occasionally, we complied. Many of us were told while growing up that sex is something to put off until marriage, with the expectation that once we said “I do” it was as much sex as we could have for the rest of our lives. This might be the case in some marriages, though certainly not all, and in some specific instances, sex can feel like a chore to one or both partners.
When one partner has a higher sex drive than the other, sex can feel like a chore to the partner with lower libido. In this instance, sex can also feel like a power struggle in that the partner with the lower drive feels obligated to have sex in order to keep his or her partner interested and motivated in the marriage. The partner with the higher drive might feel like he or she is forcing their spouse to do something that isn’t wanted or might try to solve the problem with satiating their need for sex elsewhere (either with other partners, through pornography, etc). Managing differing libido is common at some point in most marriages as hormone levels and desire fluctuate over time. Knowing other ways of achieving intimacy that aren’t solely focused on sex can be a great help.
When a couple actively equates sex with family building, the mystique and spontaneity of the act disappears. This is true if a couple is having sex every other day in order to become pregnant, is managing fertility challenges, or is trying to become pregnant again after a pregnancy loss. Each of these aspects has its own challenges, but they share the theme that sex is seen as a chore rather than something fun or an act of intimacy. In such a situation, it can be difficult for one partner to be “into it” or have a partner feel like there are expectations around performance.
There is truth to these concerns: when sex is a chore, it is hard to get excited about it and there are specific expectations around ejaculation. Trying to pretend that these conditions don’t exist can perpetuate them, so it is important for partners to talk about how they are feeling about these kinds of emotions impacting sex. When undergoing fertility treatment, a physician might make a prohibition to have sex as it could impact the retrieval process and create a pregnancy of multiples. In the instance of pregnancy loss, sex can be closely tied to the idea of pregnancy, which then reflects back to the fear of another loss. This pattern of thinking can be sexually inhibitive.
Having sex (or not) under conditions that someone—like a doctor– (or something—like ovulation) else is dictating is rarely sexy. Some couples are able to bring humor into the picture which can help. Others might bypass penetrative sex in favor of other types of sex or intimate relations. Above all, continual communication is key.