A common complaint from my patients is they want sex but they don’t get much – or any. At first this sounds a bit superfluous or petty. On the list of life’s needs – security, a stable income, good health, etc. isn’t the lack of sex petty? I take the matter seriously. According to one study ~ 70% of people who file for divorce list ‘lack of sex’ among the top reasons for incompatibility.
Sex is more than a mere physical act; it symbolizes intimacy, trust, and the absence of loneliness. The person who wants sex often doesn’t clearly ask for it. To initiate sex they creep up upon sideways crab-like using indirect speech acts on the hopes their partner connects the dots and responds in kind. Alas this is all easily deflected.A blunt ‘I want to have sex, do you want to have sex?” (with a blunt ‘no” response) is too hard to do for most people. In the disappointment of being sex-deprived emotions arise such as anger, bad behaviors, and laments to others who will listen. Sometimes the sex-deprived person starts acting out, becoming monstrous or distant or whiny, which further reduces the chance of consummation. They often have affairs – not because the sex-deprived person doesn’t love their partner, but they are acting out on unconscious revenge.
The discussion of ‘why are we not having sex’ is a very difficult one to have. Getting a ‘no’ response is too often painful to chance the topic. A lot of the avoidance is based on shame: it hurts to feel sexually unwanted. It brings up ones worst fears – is there something wrong about me?
Let’s look now at the sex-rejecting partner. He or she often has a problem they are not sharing. They might be thinking “I might be more interested in sex if you were more interested in my day, or if we spent more time with my family, or you weren’t so (fill in the blank)”. Sometimes they have desires not brought up “I might be more interested in sex if we did more cuddling or if you were open to some role-playing or an open relationship or (fill in the blank).” The person deprived of sex usually hasn’t had any opportunity to hear these matters at all or not in a matter of fact no argumentative process.
Marriage counseling sometimes helps – provided the therapist doesn’t take sides and can get both to own up to their own contributions and not let the session turn into a catalog of complaints against the other.
Back in Michigan I knew a sex therapist named Brian. Brian often recommended “the letter exercise”. Both members write a letter titled “What I want from sex”. The letters are to be honest, matter of fact, and forthcoming. Afterwards, each would read the other’s letter, taking it seriously and in earnest. From these manuscripts they would negotiate to find some common ground. Brian was Jewish; he often recommended something I was not aware of: in Orthodox Judaism G-d commands couples to have sex every Friday. Brian would counsel couples to do likewise– maybe not Friday per se but at least once a week regardless. What an idea! He explained this outside order bypasses issues and excuses to enhance the possibility of regularity and comfort of having sex while the couple works things out.
Every couple has different wants and levels of libido. There will always be distractions like children, the internet, and work. Regardless, it is hoped despite distractions and inner-issues something so important as sex and intimacy can be processed without fear or shame towards the goal of a more loving and satisfactory relationship.