You’ve been with your husband or partner for years, gradually settling into a routine of sex once or twice a week — the all-night passion of the glory a distant memory — but lately he seems to want more and more sex.
Do you oblige to avoid an argument?
Do you refuse?
Or is there a middle ground?
It’s an issue faced by many couples, when the early days of passion are inexorably followed by an exhausting period of baby and child-rearing, and later again, by what can be a difficult menopause.
There can be times when a couple can’t find the time to connect emotionally, and this can cause problems, says psycho-sexual therapist Eithne Bacuzzi, also a relationships counsellor with Relationships Ireland.
“Sex can become clinical, and even be described as a chore. If a couple disconnects outside the bedroom, there is a strong chance sex will become a problem in the bedroom,” she says.
Also, the frustrations of day-to-day living can throw your sex life out of balance, says Donal Gaynor, a psychosexual therapist at the Coombe Hospital.
Money problems, which highlight different values, attitudes, beliefs and assumptions can be a major stress, he says, while parenting or child-rearing, job-loss or in-law relationships can all cause friction.
“If the emotional intimacy isn’t there, it can affect physical intimacy,” he says. “You have to have communication and understanding in the general day-to-day relationship to maximise a good sexual expression. If you don’t have it in your general relationship, it can lead to an unsatisfactory sexual life.”
With some couples, early dishonesty about sex can cause problems later on, says relationships counsellor Mary Kenny, adding there can be an early — and unacknowledged — sexual incompatibility.
“Often the root cause is dishonesty between couples. You start off with dishonesty about the level of sexual gratification you’re enjoying and this dishonesty becomes the norm and you cannot go back from it.”
Instead, she says, the ‘dishonest’ partner may comply — apparently willingly — with a request for more sex or a kind of sex they don’t really enjoy.
“It can be either men or women who are obliging the other partner, either with the amount of sex or their sexual preferences,” she explains.
“There may be some discussion about it initially, but then it can go underground and be ignored as a result of external stresses.”
Though the ‘obliging’ partner may express dissatisfaction with the sex once they become more secure in the relationship, this doesn’t always lead to a resolution of the problem, she warns.
Many couples fail to talk through their problems, says Anne Colgan, a psychotherapist, who works in the area of psycho-sexual difficulties.
“Sometimes, they don’t know how to tackle the problem — or people go into defence mode,” she says.
Differing sex drives between men and women can be given as an explanation for sexual incompatibility, but the belief that men are always up for sex and that it’s women who always get the headaches is a myth, says Bacuzzi.
“Sometimes men are not as interested as women — there’s a myth that it’s always women who are not in the humour, but men can become quite scared when women are full on and this can cause erectile dysfunction. “I’ve come across guys who are actually reluctant to go into the bedroom because of the sexual expectations of their partners.
“It is very important to say that every sexual problem is a couple rather than an individual issue,” she says.
However, any couple will have times when one or other does not feel like making love, says Colgan.
“You may have a very good sexual relationship in your marriage, but there may be times when you don’t feel well, or you are tired. That does not cause any harm.”
Certainly, if you’re having problems, you’re not alone. A Durex survey on sexual behaviour last year found that 50% of Americans were dissatisfied with the length of time spent having sex, while in 2010 it emerged that just 44% of couples surveyed for another Durex study were satisfied with their sex lives.
Whatever about short-term accommodations, it’s really not a good idea to engage in ‘obligatory sex’ long-term, say the experts, but neither does it help to continually refuse it.
“People do have sex when they don’t feel like it, but I don’t think this is a great idea,” says Bacuzzi, who says ‘obliging’ can result in resentment or even dyspareunia (painful sex).
“It diminishes you as a person,” she warns. “It’s okay to not want to have sex sometimes — we all have the right not to feel sexual.”
Short-term, says Gaynor, one partner may willingly have sex with the other — perhaps to make them feel good or bolster their self-esteem — but that should not become a pattern. Sometimes, obliging can help, says Colgan, but only as long as it’s mutually beneficial and you enjoy it.
“You may like to give your partner pleasure and feel satisfied that you have given him or her pleasure — but this will only work in the context of a loving, and respectful relationship,” she points out.
Having sex under obligation does not resolve an argument, warns Gaynor. And it’s generally not satisfactory either for the person who is giving, or often, for the other partner.
But while a partner is entitled to refuse sex, if the situation continues, it should be investigated, he adds, because, long term, it could lead to relationship breakdown.
Bacuzzi suggests couples take the pressure off and engage in cuddling or slower touching.
Creating time for each other and prioritising the relationship outside the bedroom is also a good idea, she says — for a woman sex can be linked to how she is understood, valued and appreciated, all of which happens outside the bedroom, whereas males become aroused very quickly and may not be as emotionally connected.
If there’s an issue, you need to talk it over, says Kenny — a long-running problem with sex can be a sign of deeper problems, either within a couple’s overall relationship or with one of the partners. Communication is a key factor, she stresses. If you find it difficult to talk to each other about problems in your sexual relationship, seek help, because long-term, it can lead to relationship break-down.
“It’s great if you can be open and talk to one another about sex,” says Kenny, adding that if a sexual problem continues for months, it can be a sign of a deeper issue.
“Try to accommodate each other and be honest about what you like and don’t like, because if there’s something wrong and it is not discussed, that is when infidelity can often become an issue for one partner.
“I have had couples whose relationships have broken down and we have traced it back to a lack of communication about sexual issues.”
Discuss your feelings over a cup of tea — don’t talk it over at the last minute in bed. It’s very important to express how you feel, says Colgan. Explain that you are ‘really tired’ tonight and perhaps tomorrow or the next day.
However, she warns, if this ‘dry spell’ continues long term, you may need help.
Relationships are about having your needs met, she emphasises, and when a person doesn’t want sex, it’s because their needs are not being met in another area. It may be a lack of respect or affection, or control issues over money, but whatever the root of the problem, she says, it requires discussion and negotiation.
“Negotiation can be difficult. You have to reveal what you’re feeling and that can be difficult, so this may work best in a therapeutic setting.”
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