“It is said that sex is 20% of a marriage when it’s going well, but 90% when it’s not,” says Dr Stephen Snyder, a sex and relationship therapist based in the United States. For couples on this side of the globe, we may not talk about our sex lives as openly as others do – but we’re well aware its an important part of the bond between us and our spouses. On that note, sometimes when a couple struggles with communication and a lack of mutual understanding, it could be worth addressing their sex lives and other things related to it as well. Let’s dive a little deeper.
A sexless or nearly-sexless marriage are terms often used to describe when married couples might only have sex a few times a year or even on a “quarterly basis” (and this could mean anything from foreplay to penetration). Nothing wrong with that if it works for you, but for some couples, at least one person in the relationship may secretly wonder if everything is alright.
If you happen to know anyone who experiences this, it’s important to understand that it’s actually more common than we realise and to be aware of the many reasons this could happen. It could be due to a person’s upbringing, a bad first few experiences, religion and family planning issues, or demands that come with raising a family and career. Sociology associate professor Denise A. Donnelly from Georgia State University studied sexless marriages. Through her research, she found that many individuals in a sexless marriage could also be dealing with guilt, issues with the human body, or feel that sex is “dirty” or only for procreation.
The New York Times Bestselling Author, Dr Kevin Leman, who wrote Sheet Music, shares in his book that “A fulfilling sex life is one of the most powerful marital glues a couple can have. If your husband is sexually fulfilled, he’ll do anything for you. He’ll take a bullet, he’ll race a train, and he’ll do whatever it takes to make sure you are okay.”
To the men, Dr Leman says that when a woman knows that her husband views sex as a special gift to give to her and if her husband will learn to become a selfless, sensitive and competent lover, it has the power to get a woman fired up and ready for some hot action!
Since we know sex is a crucial part of marriage…
How can I understand my partner better when it comes to sex?
Sometimes the first step towards understanding what someone truly needs, is by first understanding where they are coming from and empathising with them. For women, the greatest deterrent of sex is weariness. An estimated 24 million American women say they don’t have time, are too exhausted, or just aren’t in the mood for sex…” reveals Dr Leman. Doing it “later” can soon become “never”.
On the other hand, for men, the greatest deterrent of sex isn’t exhaustion, but a lack of imagination on his wife’s part. Men also need to feel pursued. If his partner isn’t able to communicate how much she wants to be with him, he tends to lose interest. The challenge for a woman is to find time and energy to constantly pursue her husband.
What then can couples do to improve their sex lives?
Protect your schedule.
Make time for each other and for sex. If you already know you’re going to feel tired by 9pm, then bring your schedule earlier so you’ll finish dinner, doing the dishes, and sending the kids to bed by 8pm. That leaves you with a good hour to ease into playtime with your partner in bed. Sometimes this might even require cutting down on your To Do list throughout the day just to reserve energy and time. Try setting aside a day of the week till it making time becomes a regular thing. This naturally gives both of you something to look forward to, without the need to justify this allocation of time.
Do nothing, together.
For couples who haven’t really been in action for awhile, or those who don’t have a habit of sharing their feelings, this is a slow and safe start. For anyone who’s primary Love Language is Quality Time, this would be extra meaningful for that person too. Dr Snyder recommends just slowing down and spend time in each other’s presence without any distractions. This means giving yourselves the permission to sit quietly and bask in the moment together – appreciate each other’s gaze, hold hands perhaps, and just be physically present with each other but without any expectations for sex.
“We often get so wrapped up in our emotions that we lose sight of the simple elements of the experience — our breathing, the sensation of our bodies against the mattress, the temperature in the room…” he says.
“If this does lead to feelings of arousal – even if its just psychological arousal (which he describes as a “hypnotic, dumb-and-happy feeling that makes you resent if the phone rings”), just enjoy it for its own sake. Arousal isn’t all-or-none. Sometimes it can be rather subtle – a private, inward thing,” Dr. Snyder explains.
“Too many couples assume that every time they get aroused, they have to extinguish it with an orgasm — as if arousal was something irritating or unpleasant. Instead, think of arousal as something warm and nourishing.”
If this is something you haven’t experienced in a long time, surely you’ll want to let that feeling prolong a bit more!
Sex as an expression
There are many other fun ideas that couples can try in order to improve their sex lives of course, but that’s a story for another day. More importantly, you need to know that whether you’re having sex every other night or once every few weeks (or months), there is no such thing as a “sex quota” which defines what a healthy relationship is or isn’t. The key point to remember here is that as a married couple, we are first emotionally invested in our marriage, and then sex is an expression of that emotion. This is true for both men and women. If your love tank is empty, it will be hard to give yourself to your partner wholeheartedly – no emotions barred.
As Dr. Snyder puts it, “What ultimately heals a relationship is usually not the sex. More often, it’s the time you spend in bed just being in the moment together, doing nothing at all.”
Contents of this article was based on Sexless Marriage, and What To Do If It Happens to You by Dr Stephen Snyder, first published on Sexuality Resource, When Sex Leaves the Marriage by Tara-Parker Pope, first published on The New York Times, and Sheet Music by Dr. Kevin Leman.