Living: It’s More Than Physical

 

When I was a newbie therapist eons ago, I had difficulty asking a couple, who were in the office for marital therapy, about their sex life. Raised way before the sexual revolution and when bras were never mentioned, much less burned, sex had always been a somewhat taboo subject and certainly not a topic one spoke about openly. I had some maturing to do before I could comfortably talk about this very normal activity among happily married couples.

Sex is normally an enriching and pleasurable experience for both the married and unmarried folks among us. Intercourse when you’re single is presumably less complicated as you don’t have all the niggling little irritations of maintaining a life that contaminates married sex: “How can I be expected to be loving and sensuous with someone who forgot to take out the trash and doesn’t really like my mother?” “Could you please stop sleeping in those rags of leftover T-shirts?”  Not to mention that sometimes married folks can be a little lax in the personal hygiene area, which sorely dampens sexual attraction.

A healthy sex life is generally indicative that the people in the relationship are dealing openly and frequently enough with the trials of a relationship and that no seething resentments are being harbored. Resentment will sap a libido about as quickly as a lava flow and does damage accordingly. If you have a dwindling sex life, check out yourself and your partner for lurking unspoken resentments.

Most often when a couple comes to therapy reporting a communication problem they generally also complain that their sex life is infrequent and uncomfortable. And when a couple reports an inactive sex life, I find that communication also has failed them. In my profession, unless there is a medically induced equipment failure, an anemic sex life is a relationship issue, not a physical one.

In my book, I call sex “the opiate of the married” because couples that experience great physical attraction and pleasure will work to keep that activity frequent. Believe me, in a marriage with so many life interruptions, including the children who populate it, it can be very difficult to recognize that life can be messy and inconvenient, and all that’s going awry is not the fault of your partner. Blaming leads to resentment, the aforementioned killer of libido, and also indicates people who are not taking responsibility for their own decisions. It is far easier to blame someone else for your own dilemmas, isn’t it? When you’re a grown up, you quit blaming and start figuring out your own contributions to your life situation.

What I see in couples who enjoy a healthy sex life is two people comfortable with their own sexuality, who do not feel guilty or “bad” because they enjoy having sex with their partner/spouse and couples who can both initiate the activity and handle the rejection if that’s the occasional response. Couples who enjoy the sexual part of their relationship also are not fearful of communicating what they need sexually from their partner. They are not ashamed to suggest certain adjustments or additions to the activity and don’t mind giving a few instructions as to when, where and how to intensify an action. And their partner is not insulted about having this information relayed; in fact, he or she is often eager to follow and please. The sharing and receiving of sexual information indicates security in both self and the partner. Healthy sexual partners love getting new information that is going to enhance the experience and in no way do they feel criticized or deficient, because they didn’t already know that an adjustment was needed.

No, I cannot tell you how many times a week a couple “should” have sex, if their marriage is in good shape. Age and circumstances are variables that change and must be considered before any judgment is made.

Let’s consider two healthy people between ages 30 and 40 who are having sex once a month. That is probably not a good sign; this couple probably isn’t connecting well emotionally or isn’t making the relationship a top priority. From what I hear in the office, few couples with jobs, kids and the usual other frustrations of modern life are having electrifying sex on a daily basis. My best estimate is that good relationships between people who love each other and consider the relationship integral to their sense of wellbeing are engaging intimately at least twice a week.

Sexual intimacy belongs to the two people who have made the commitment to “live long and prosper” and know that keeping that part of their marriage vital is necessary.

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