How Is Your Sexual Relationship?
Sex in Marriage & Committed Relationships
By Richard J. Loebl, LCSW, BCD
If the answer is “okay” or “pretty good,” you’re in the majority. Studies show that about ¾ of married people report satisfaction with their sexual relationship. Regarding frequency, young married couples have sex an average of twice a week. Over time, that number falls to once a week. But numbers can be deceiving. Younger men frequently complain about frequency. Women complain about the lack of romance, affection, and emotional connection before and during sexual activity. The couples we see in marriage counseling and couples therapy tell us that sexual problems in their relationships are roughly equal to the amount of general relationship distress they experience.
A “Normal” Sexual Relationship Doesn’t Exist
Back in the 1950’s Dr. Kinsey proved once and for all that there is no such thing as a “normal sexual relationship.” And sexual satisfaction comes in many different shapes, sizes and types. Many couples struggle with sexual issues or problems, and these problems are magnified when there are other types of relationship distress, such as anger, fighting, emotional disconnection and distance.
- Sometimes only one person is satisfied with the sexual relationship – sometimes both are unhappy.
- Most couples have difficulty talking about sex together – and they are even uncomfortable talking about sex in couples therapy.
- Sexual satisfaction can occur with or without a positive emotional connection.
- The “experts” (psychotherapists, counselors and sex therapists) often have very different beliefs, theories, and treatments.
What Do the Experts Say?
Experts who specialize in relationship distress, couples therapy, and sexual problems in relationships offer different, sometimes conflicting explanations and theories. A recent edition of one respected journal (Psychotherapy Networker, Jan/Feb 2016) provides a good overview:
- The sexual revolution of the 1960’s and 1970’s was incomplete. Many of us continue to struggle with sexual problems in marriage and relationships. We often fail to integrate sexual and emotional intimacy, and we don’t know how to talk about our feelings and needs. (Mary Sykes Wylie)
- Fixing emotional issues when there is relationship distress doesn’t necessarily improve sexual satisfaction. “Good intimacy doesn’t guarantee good sex.” Emotional and sexual needs are not always in alignment. (Esther Perel)
- Sex improves when the relationship bond improves. When couples are accessible and responsive to each other the increased security provides an improved ability to reach out and connect at all levels. (Susan Johnson)
- Michelle Weiner-Davis describes the “sex-starved marriage”. Especially when there is relationship distress, there is a widening “sex-desire gap”. This leads to anger, less intimacy generally, less friendship, and even infidelity.
- Desire naturally wanes over time. Sexual satisfaction can be rekindled, and sex doesn’t have to start with desire. Desire can be generated from sexual contact. (Suzanne Iasenza)
Couples Therapy for Sexual Problems in Relationships
Years of experience and research show that sexual problems in relationships often improve with marriage counseling and couples therapy. When there is relationship distress, sexual problems also need to be addressed. There are highly effective counseling and therapy methods, such as EFT (Emotionally Focused Couples Therapy) that helps couples with all aspects of emotional and sexual intimacy. At the Relationship Center of South Florida we use many of the counseling methods suggested by experts in our field, such as:
- Helping couples talk about their sexual needs, preferences, and fantasies.
- Specific exercises for improving arousal, desire, performance and mutual satisfaction.
- Discuss fears and other emotional blocks that get in the way.
- Improve emotional intimacy and feelings of trust, security, and positive emotional connection (friendship) – leading to improved physical intimacy.
- Address past emotional wounds from sexual trauma, such as boundary violations and prior sexual assault or abuse. Focus on feelings of shame, guilt and remorse.
Sexual problems in relationships and general relationship distress can result in serious problems such as infidelity, separation and divorce. These problems can be addressed in a safe, positive manner, resulting in improved emotional and physical intimacy. For more information about couples therapy and sexual satisfaction in relationships please contact us today.