ASK a couple about their relationship and they will talk for an hour. Ask them about their sex life and they will say very little.
Despite how much sex is written about, or discussed and seen on television and the internet, my experience as a sex therapist is that we are uncomfortable talking about our own sex lives. Yet, what happens or doesn’t happen between the sheets is often a barometer of what is going on at a deeper level in the relationship. Ignoring or glossing over sexual difficulties will only lead to further problems.
People look for sex therapy for many reasons — from impotence to failure to orgasm — but this thread of discomfort is common for most when talking about a private area of their lives.
We believe that sex is part of our hardwiring and we should intuitively know how to be in a relationship. So if, for example, a woman can’t allow penetration (vaginismus), it may take years before she will seek help. If she is in a committed relationship, the couple can delay seeking outside help in the hope it will improve. By the time she is in therapy, she believes she is abnormal and it’s a great relief to hear it is a common problem. Sadly, where the woman has vaginismus, a couple will often only seek help when they want a baby.
One of the most common difficulties is ED (erectile dysfunction), where a man is unable to get an erection or is unable to maintain an erection to have intercourse. There can be medical reasons — diabetes, high blood pressure, heart disease, etc — which need to be addressed, but my work with the couple is often to restore confidence. Interestingly, what originally caused the ED may not now be the reason it is continuing. Because shame and embarrassment often lie behind poor communication, the woman might think her partner no longer desires her. At this point, I then work with the problem in the context of the relationship.
A couple may arrive to see me because the woman can’t orgasm. There are many reasons why this happens, including perfectionism and not being able to relax. Many people come because there is no desire or there is a mismatch in desire for sex. In an ideal world, I would find the exact cause, but sometimes there are many reasons, some embedded in the relationship itself.
Attitudes and values affect how men and women approach sex. For men it’s often about performance, whereas for women intimacy is generally more important and they need to feel their partner finds them attractive.
Our beliefs are largely shaped by what we picked up in childhood and the pity is so many of these can be negative. Add to this the peer pressure to be sexual, which can lead to a sexual experience that a young person was not ready for, and you could be facing ongoing issues as an adult.
My work, at times, is challenging but the interesting part is that it is helping couples and individuals to enjoy this intimate part of life and, most importantly, that sex is about having fun.
*Marie Daly is a sex therapist with Relationships Ireland
* From next week, Marie will be answering readers’ questions. Please email us at firstname.lastname@example.org
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