by Adam Maurer, LPC
One of the most common issues I help folks address in my work as a couple’s therapist is the secret to maintaining sexual desire in a long-term monogamous relationship. There are many challenges to this endeavor, but the biggest obstacle is dealing with myths about sex. I am here to tell all of you that great sex takes work! Often time folks are petrified that any challenge to the sexual connection means that their loving relationship is somehow “bad.” Relationship issues can impact a couple’s sex life, but it’s not necessarily that simplistic of a cause and effect. Our sexuality is an arena where many parts of ourselves meet, so it’s no wonder why understanding our erotic selves might be challenging. Sexuality in America is unusual because it’s used to sell products, from cars to instant soup, but we rarely teach folks how to explore their sexuality and then communicate about their erotic self with others. So, let’s examine some common myths about sex and ways to challenge them.
One of the biggest myths about sex is that it is a penetrative act and must include orgasm. This limited definition of sex hurts many folks and does not allow for people to appreciate the rich diversity of sexuality. What if the definition of sex was much broader? What if sex was defined within a monogamous relationship as any romantic or erotic activity you’d be uncomfortable to know your partner was doing with someone else? Then sex could include: sexting, flirting, holding hands, massages, intimate emotional connection, Hell…even a date might count as sex. Sexuality is a vast and diverse number of activities. Sex is physical, emotional, mental, and spiritual. When we honor all the ways there are to express our sexuality we increase the sex in our relationship. The myth of sex being merely penetrative and orgasmic creates lots of heartache for couples. When a partner asks for a sexual connection, and the other person assumes what is expected, this partner might reject the advance just because he or she does not wish to engage in the undefined act. Folks who understand what they really turn themselves on for are better able at communicating with their partner about their desires and longings. This allows people to better negotiate their sexual needs in the moment, and have more sex. A partner might not want to have penetrative sex, perhaps they had a big dinner or don’t want to have a shower, but deep kissing with mutual masturbation might be an option. When the definition of sex is expanded and communicated, sex becomes more regular in a relationship.
Another myth about sex is that when two folks simply love each other then, an erotic connection will just happen naturally until the end of time. This is absolute baloney, and I will tell you why it’s a bunk idea. People change over time! We have physical changes in our bodies, more or less sensation can increase or decrease pleasure. So, what was once an erogenous zone may cease bringing the same amount of pleasure over the years; while new hot spots may develop. Not only do our bodies change over time, but our sexual needs shift too. What sex means to twenty-year-old you might be entirely different than what it means to forty-year-old you. Partly because you’ve learned to have some of your needs or desires fulfilled in other ways. Since people change over time you have to update your partner about shifts in your sexual constellations. American culture doesn’t do a great job at teaching folks how to talk about their sexuality openly. If an essential feature of your relationship is that your partner is the only person you will connect with erotically then you’d better get good at talking about the sex you want to have, or you’re going to be disappointed. Nobody can read your mind, not even your partner of many years. You have to know your sexuality. Share it openly and often to keep your passion burning in your relationship.
The last myth I’ll address in this blog is the notion that more time together will automatically lead to more sex. The issue I have with the idea is that it assumes that merely being in proximity to each other will enhance your sex life when in reality it can hurt the erotic intimacy in a relationship. How do we desire something that we never get a chance to miss? A little space between you and your partner can increase your passion, just because sex is a way to reconnect. I think of it as a favorite piece of jewelry, you might wear it every day, and over time it’s just and a part of you; but misplace it for two weeks and the joy you experience in rediscovering it is astounding. When we give our partners some space to have a life as an individual, we fan the flames of passion for reconnection. We get to rediscover them all over again.
Maintaining sex in a long-term relationship takes work, but there are plenty of resources to help. Here are some books that I recommend to monogamous couples looking to work on their sexual connections:
“Hot Monogamy” by Dr. Patricia Love and Jo Robinson
“Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive In Committed Relationships” by Dr. David Schnarch
Talking about these issues with a sex-positive therapist can also be helpful. We have training that focuses on aiding clients in talking about sexuality and relationships. If you need some support in talking about sex in your relationship give us a call today to make a counseling appointment and we can connect you with couples counseling. If you liked this blog, check out some of my articles on sex and relationships: