As a sex therapist, I’m privy to what really happens in other people’s bedrooms. In fact, I’ve written a book called Wanting Sex Again to help women with low libido. After seeing thousands of clients, I know that for most women, sexual desire is the most difficult aspect of sex to hang onto in long-term relationships. We’re a bit like Porsches with a broken starter. We can have marvelous, multiple orgasms once we’re in bed, but wanting to go to bed is our problem. Practical and relational problems inhibit desire.
What used to be hot sex, in marriage, can devolve to a dull simmer. Ten o’clock pm, wash up, pull down the sheets, first, second, third, thrust…thrust…thrust, wash up, yawn, sleep. Women feel inadequate against the media’s message of ever young, ever ready and ready fast. Without her husband’s exciting energy to propel the experience, women believe they take too long to get aroused (average is 40 minutes). Throw in hormonal changes, childhood injunctions, and sexual dysfunction and the stew starts to be tasteless and unappetizing.
I was invited as a guest speaker to a group of married women complaining they had lost their libido. After listening to them for about a half hour, I thought I was in the wrong group – they were the bawdiest, lustiest bunch of women I had come across. “Yeah,” they replied, “we’re horny, except not for our husbands.”
New romances, open relationships or affairs do have incredible sexual heights that we may forfeit to remain faithful. I don’t deny that we are bowing to stability over excitement when we choose monogamy. Yet, I’ve seen that those other lifestyle choices have their own set of problems, chaos, and losses.
I doubted that many women in that group were proposing to have affairs. But more than a few were facing relational and sexual disappointment. Relationally, marriage by midlife can be rife with the damages of the power struggle years. Women need a deep sense of connection in order to be motivated sexually in marriage. Without a marriage’s emotional success, a woman’s desire to stay sexual with her husband may wane.
We need closeness and autonomy in life. But in marriage, one partner often chooses only one end of the spectrum. For instance, one partner will find greater importance in closeness, cooperation, home, talking, feelings and stability. The other will value more highly: space, autonomy, work, actions, and adventure. The genders may flip-flop their positions over sex. Often men pursue closeness through sex and women feel uninterested in bed. Unfortunately, the distance between spouses gets polarized; each feeling deprived by the other. It’s the distance of unhappiness.
Sex gets caught in this trap. Men seldom fight the power struggle on the sexual field–because they have so much testosterone, they are driven toward sex. (Though with the dawn of internet porn, I will say that some married men are choosing to be sexually independent.) Mostly though, wives are afraid that if they meet their husband’s needs for sex, he will go off happily without meeting her needs. The good news it that this stage prepares us for real love by stripping away our own blind-sighted projections of a prince and allowing us to love and be loved by a real person.
Between the relational risks and practical dilemmas, it’s hard to be married and still doing it.
How and Why to Still Want To Do It
1) Do it regularly. Peak sexual experiences spring from the foothills of steady love-making. If we aren’t doing it much, it would be rare to have an incredibly hot experience ever. Orgasms build desire in women.
2) Stay juicy. Especially as we age and pass menopause, orgasms and intercourse keep our genital tissue lubricated and elastic. We have to use it or lose it. Our sexual possibilities depend on regularity. Ask your doctor about the usefulness of vaginal estrogen even if you’re not on hormones.
3) Buy a vibrator. Occasionally, use it in lieu of the natural, (much) longer, female arousal pattern. Arousal often precedes desire in women. She wants to once she gets started. Substitute electronics for foreplay every once in a while.
4) Develop personal eroticism. Women are socialized to be the object of desire not to own desire for themselves. Years into marriage, we worry about being the slut who wants it, who asks for touches that really work, who knows her own body.
5) Try aggression. When you are feeling blasé, turn the tables on yourself. Often being the aggressor, kicks arousal into gear. If you’re never the initiator, you’re relying on chance synchronicity to have sex when it is good for you – odds are better if you take the reins.
6) Resolve the power struggle. Forgiveness is the restart button. Continuing to react from fear of being taken advantage of will insure a continuing distance between us. Act intentionally. Request instead of complaining. If things are truly unforgivable or if you’re married to mean, destructive or addicted, rethink the commitment.
7) Form stronger attachment. We are not simply soulmates. We are creatures of the body too. Oxytocin, the bonding chemical is released when we have orgasms in each other’s presence. Women often want to feel close by talking before sex. As an alternative: have sex first; talk second.
8) Heal the past. Love stands outside of time. Marriage alone offers an opportunity to be genuinely known over a lifetime and hence recreates family. Married sex deeply reaffirms a primitive part of our beings that we are loved. It answers the unrequited needs for affection and touch from our childhoods.
9) Don’t deny the inevitable. Vulnerability to the loss of our partner keeps desire alive. We take for granted a long love. But all love stories end badly. In fact, the deeper the love the more tragic the ending and we protect ourselves from this knowledge by complacency. Yet the reality of our temporal relationship gives sex its edge.
Laurie Watson is an AASECT certified sex therapist and licensed couple’s counselor. She is the Author of Wanting Sex Again – How to Rediscover Desire and Heal a Sexless Marriage, You can follow her on Twitter and Facebook.