Intimacy is not the same as Sex
Intimacy is something that occurs both inside and outside the bedroom, but sex isn’t necessarily required for intimacy. For most people, the issues around sex, have to do with arousal (body function), desire (psychology function), and having a person’s conditions met for sex. If any one of these areas is not being addressed or there isn’t an environment for couples to discuss these topics, sex can become problematic. Read What is sex?
One of the biggest challenges to a couple’s sex life is the beliefs and expectations they have about desire, “normal” sexual behavior and how they believe a male or female body should behave during sex. People often do not receive accurate information about sex, desire and arousal. In most cases our knowledge about sex comes from when we are adolescent. Having unrealistic expectations can set an individual or couple up for problems. Often sex problems are more a problem of expectations or beliefs about sex than a problem that someone’s body isn’t working.
Issues that get in the way of Sex and Intimacy
· Body image
· Beliefs about sexual acts
· Religious beliefs
· Alcohol or Drug Use
· Unrealistic expectations about how your body or your partner’s body works
· Unrealistic or too many conditions for sexual intimacy
· Child Birth
· Stress at work
· Medications for psychiatric issues or physical health issues (SSRIs, Heart medication etc)
· Unresolved conflict in the marriage
· Not liking your partner
· Not finding your partner attractive any more
· And Power!
What People What from Sex: Fun & Pleasure
Most people do not think about the purpose of sex. Our sexual needs and requirements change as we get older. What you want from sex today probably is a lot different than what you wanted when you were a teenager or in your twenties.
The reasons or purpose we have sex for, is often socially constructed. We get message about how much we “should” want sex, or what “normal” sexual activity “should” look like or how our bodies should respond to certain sexual touch etc. Often these messages that we have received and internalized may or may not be realistic or actively reflect how your body works or what you want.
Ultimately to want to have sex and to go through with sex, it does need to be reasonably pleasurable and fun. If sex is not fun or the expectations is that it won't be fun, or even more enjoyable than watching a TV show people will probably not choose to do it. Also what is fun for one person may not be fun for their sexual partner. So if sex is not fun and pleasurable and couples do not have space to discuss how to create fun and pleasurable sex, it may stop happening in a relationship or power struggles may ensue.
Sex is not just intercourse
For many people, problems arise because they have somehow decided that there is a hierarchy to sex. They narrowly define sex as intercourse. Every other sexual act outside of intercourse is just foreplay and whatever else they do in the bedroom doesn’t count if they don’t have intercourse. People also qualify their orgasms as well. For a lot of people if they don’t orgasm through intercourse somehow it doesn’t count or it’s not as good.
This narrowly defined definition of sex can create problems for couples especially those that have partners that find sex painful due to endometriosis, lower back pain or other issues that create painful sex.
Not all porn use means addiction or problem behavior
Porn use is highly controversial with many people ascribing meaning to it that does not reflect any clinical research about it. One thing that people do not understand is that Porn is probably not the problem. Many people falsely believe that if they can get their partner to stop using porn that they will now desire their partner. However, it doesn’t work that way.
People use porn for a variety of reasons and taking it way will not necessarily redirect that sexual activity back to their partner. Understand the motivations behind porn use can be helpful a couple to see how their relationship needs to change to provide a satisfying sexual experience for both partners.
Difference between Desire and Arousal
Many people do not realize that these are two distinct function and they do not go hand in hand i.e. just because I desire you therefore I should automatically get aroused and if I don’t then therefore I have a problem. Desire is both a psychological and emotional state. It is a very complex issue that is probably the least understood clinically as well as least research (due to ethical issues). To date there are no drugs that create desire.
Arousal is a physiological response that is tied to how your body works. Arousal is influenced by medications, physical health (such as your cardiovascular system) and age.
Arousal may happen even if you have no desire, for example someone is doing all the right things, but you do not want to have sex. The same is true in the sense that you may desire to have sex with someone who you find attractive and want but your body is not responding as you want. Neither one of these is necessarily a sex problem, but may be more relationship or individual related to stress, unrealistic expectations or beliefs.
Love & Sex
Finally many people turn sex into a test because of the meaning they give it. In many cultures there are messages that if you love someone you should automatically desire and become aroused for that person.
This belief is not necessarily an accurate reflection of how sex works and can set up a couple or individual up to think they have sex problems, when in fact it may be relational, stress or anxiety related or some other issue.
So if a person is older, under a lot of stress at work and only getting 5 or 6 hours of sleep, it is unrealistic to think that they’ll be able to respond sexual to a partner, even if they would have desire and love their partner very much. A body is not designed to have sex under these conditions.
The problem arises by the meaning given when this person cannot perform, such as “you don’t love me or if you loved me you’d be able to overcome all these psychological and physical demands on you and get aroused.” this can create problems in a couples trying to have sex. But often this is a life problem not a sex problem.
If you are not having the satisfying sex life you’d like with your partner, counselling either individually or as a couple can help facilitate open the dialogue to a new experience