My husband and I are going through a stressful patch in our lives, and our sex life has suffered. We know it’s important to be physically close and we miss the intimacy. I think I am more affected by it than him. What can we do?
When you are experiencing a difficult time, the last thing you want to do is turn “having sex” into yet another thing you feel stressed about, so I think that you should cut yourselves some slack.
While you both feel so delicate, the best way to stay physically intimate is to give each other a big, reassuring, full-body hug.
Touch, in any form, is a powerful healer. It reduces the amount of the stress hormone cortisol, increases levels of serotonin and oxytocin and is an effective cure for everything from a break-up to a bereavement.
Science agrees. In 2008, Holt-Lunstad, Birmingham and Light found that daily touching, or “warm touch”, led to a reduction of alpha-amylase, a biomarker for stress, in both partners.
Husbands in the intervention group also had significantly lower 24-hour systolic blood pressure compared with the control.
It is interesting that you are finding it more difficult to set aside anxious feelings than your husband is. Several studies confirm that women find it harder than men to turn off intrusive feelings of anxiety during sex.
Research into depression, which is twice as common in women as men, shows that when difficult life events occur, women have a tendency to continually go over the situation, a strategy that only serves to increase distress and anxiety. Rumination doesn’t help, but nor does trying to suppress unwanted thoughts.
Mindfulness has become a bit of a buzzword, but it is an effective technique for sweeping away intrusive anxieties. At the University of British Columbia, Vancouver, Dr Lori Brotto has pioneered the use of mindfulness in sex (more about this in her book, Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire).
But bar a crash course in mindfulness, the best way to counter rumination during sex is to use active distraction or concentration. That means engaging in intimate activities that require you to participate with your mind, as well as your body.
These might begin with reciprocal massages using warm oil, where the masseur must think about what they are doing while the person being massaged must concentrate on the sensations they are feeling.
If you want to have sex then, shifting away from passive sexual positions such as missionary and spooning and instead choosing positions that require you both to be completely physically engaged will help.
One that comes to mind is the Bridge position, which requires you to lie on your back with your knees bent and your parted feet flat on the bed. You then raise your hips so that your back forms a bridge shape and your partner kneels between your thighs.
This position requires you to work your core muscles and with exertion is an effective form of “active distraction”. You can also hold each other’s gaze, which deepens your emotional connection.
One of the best things about the Bridge is letting it go. It cannot be sustained indefinitely, and collapsing back on to the bed provides a physical release that contrasts with the strength of the posture.
Yogis describe the Bridge as “a transition to a restful state, a way to find stillness, strength, and surrender” — which is exactly what you and your husband need right now.
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