It can go like this: You want sex and your partner doesn’t. Or your partner wants sex and you don’t. Or it seems like neither one of you want sex and are more interested in watching Netflix. What’s up with that? You know that you love each other and yet the idea of sex is just not that exciting and that seems somehow wrong. What then? The issues of sexual desire, unmet erotic needs, mismatched libidos, and the ravages of time in a long-term relationship or marriage are among the most common rants of the sex unhappy. I know, not only because I work with hundreds of women who are living it right now, but because I have been a sex unhappy wife. I had the guts to do something about it, managed to stayed married (33 years this summer). Yes, I was a child bride.
Couples can become sex unhappy for so many reasons. We have: mismatched time clocks, work pressures, family pressures, our sexual tastes can change over time including what turns us on, and married sex can fall into a boring routine. As my husband so clearly put it in an interview: “We knew exactly what was going to happen every time we had sex.” And then there is self-image: Many men get concerned about their erections as they get older, and many women get sexually shut down by their relationship with their own bodies. Illness can change our bodies and our sexual appetites: It can be a lot to deal with breast cancer or prostate cancer and face some very real shifts in how we function in our bodies erotically. One thing is for sure, the sex unhappy marriage is a painful place to hang out in.
As a sex unhappy survivor, I think it’s important to understand that it’s normal for sexual desire to wane a bit in a long-term relationship. I don’t think people are always honest when they participate in surveys about how often they have sex and that creates a feeling that “something must be wrong with us.” People don’t want other people to know what is going on in their bedrooms. It’s scary. They worry about being judged, or that they or their relationship is somehow broken.
As a sex coach, I personally think there is a lot more to marriage than sex—but that sex is still an important part of marriage. The fact is, my husband and I have a beautiful marriage. We are life partners. And we don’t have sex twice a week. Sometimes a months goes by. It’s true. And I have other outlets for my sexual expression. I have cultivated that – and have helped other women cultivate that as well. But that doesn’t mean that we are not physically affectionate with each other every single day. We hug, hold hands, kiss, cuddle, and sleep spooning around each others bodies. We communicate openly about our desires, even the parts of our sexual desires that simply don’t match up. We have figured out a solution to make room in our marriage for all of it in a way that works for us. I am no longer a sexually unhappy wife, and I have my husband to thank for that. A part of that is not what he gives me directly—but how he allows me to be in the world.
Being sexual with each other is a choice. And you need to be willing to put aside time, and attention for each other. This is all about doing something different and breaking the pattern that you are in. If you have reached a place in your relationship where you are ready to try on making a change from sexually hungry to sexually satisfied: I have some tips!
1: What is true is that we talk a lot about sex—but rarely to the person that we are having sex with. Having the sex talk, especially if you are unhappy, is probably the most vulnerable conversation a couple can have. Often we feel shut down around the sex conversation because we worry that our partner won’t accept our true desires, or worse—that they will judge us or leave us. Just do it. Sit down and open the conversation with your partner. Have a sex inquiry with them. Ask questions such as “What would you like that you are not getting?”
2. Talk honestly about being sexually bored. It happens! Honestly, sexual boredom is one of the biggest reason we stop having sex with each other! Perhaps it’s time to take your sexuality with your partner out of the bedroom. And let’s be clear, I’m talking about way more than having sex on the kitchen counter (even though that can be fun!). It may be time for a “SexPloration Vacation”. Have you ever taken a sexuality workshop together? Or planned a private couple’s sexuality retreat with sexuality experts? Here’s the thing, no one really teaches us how to touch, speak our desires, and play erotically. Most of us learned about sex being quiet and quick. It was about shame, not getting pregnant or caught or catching an STD. Even if your sexuality evolved with more sexual freedom than that – most of us never learn to play erotically. Everyone needs to shake off the sexual cobwebs from our relationship. Trust me, you’re not going to do this by reading a book or simply wishing for something different. You actually need to take action and that could take some courage, time and money. It’s so worth it.
3. Stop thinking about intercourse and put the focus on outercourse. Buy a massage table! Learn about giving and receiving erotic massage to each other! Really! I do this with all of the couples that I work with – and it’s a winner! Putting your attention on each other on a massage table is a brand new experience for many people. And with some creativity the massage table can become a brand new sex toy in your home!
4. Play sex games that involve asking each other questions! There are many sex games on the market that invite communication and playfulness. Explore them.
Have the courage to do something different. Sometimes you just have to lean into your fear and do it. I did it. And trust me, my little adventure into becoming sexually whole is not ordinary. Still, the world didn’t fall apart. My husband didn’t leave me. There was a little drama and a few tears, and the conversation about our sex life is ongoing.
You can have a sex happy marriage even in a long term one. It takes a lot of vulnerability, less talk about being unhappy and more action into changing your situation! And remember, sex is like our economy. It has its ups and downs—but that doesn’t mean you can’t be in it for a very happy and fulfilling lifetime.