Why People Stop Having Sex (continued)
How To Stay Sexually Faithful
With Your Current Lover For The Rest Of Your Life -
And Really Enjoy It!
I haven't really touched upon sexual dysfunctions so far,
but it is obvious that some sexual dysfunctions make a couple stop having sex.
(By sexual dysfunction I mean things like premature ejaculation, loss of
erection, low sexual drive or inability to reach orgasm.)
Oddly enough, however, premature ejaculation
does not usually stop a couple having sex! In my experience as a therapist,
premature ejaculation may leave a man feeling slightly inadequate as a lover,
and it may leave his partner feeling frustrated if she has not had an orgasm,
but it rarely leads to sex stopping altogether.
Perhaps this is because premature ejaculation is
most often seen in younger men, whose sex drive is so high that a little thing
like coming quickly is unlikely to stop them having sex.
Some men are
unable to ejaculate during intercourse, which can certainly lead to the death
of sex in a relationship. Men who thrust for upwards of an hour without
reaching orgasm and ejaculating are lovers whose partners very quickly tend to
get turned off!
For one thing they are sore. For another they are
irritated and rarely enjoy an orgasm themselves. One has to ask, of course, what
dynamics are at work in a couple where a woman who is so dissatisfied with the
level of sexual pleasure she is receiving does not assert herself so that things
In many cases
low sexual desire is simply a sign that
somebody has turned themselves off sex.
Don't misunderstand me: I am not suggesting that people do this deliberately,
although I guess that can happen where a man or woman is more or less
consciously using sex as a power tool within the relationship.
Much more often, low sexual desire is a sign that
a person has turned themselves off because their dissatisfaction with the
dynamics of the relationship or the sex they are having is too great.
You may think it's surprising that we can turn ourselves
off. And yet we turn ourselves on, do we not? Have you ever made a conscious
decision to have sex or masturbate?
And have you then set the scene, by
preparing the room, setting aside enough time, getting the oil and lotions
ready, running a bath, seducing your partner with dinner or a slow, relaxed
evening in by the fire? If we turn ourselves on sexually in this way, what is there to stop us
turning ourselves off sexually?
Think back for a moment to the days when you were
a teenager. When I was running a sexual advice service in the early days of the
Internet, I received question after question from teenagers who wanted advice on
reducing their sexual drive, or finding some way to stop having erections so
Although I received fewer e-mails from teenage
girls on how to stop getting so turned on my suspicion is that this was only
because the signs of arousal are less overt for teenage girls than they are for
teenage boys; having an unwanted erection many times a day can be a major
embarrassment, while a pair of damp panties is not.
And what causes those spontaneous erections, the
damp panties, the ready arousal, the need to masturbate, the constant sexual
In short, as you may recall, almost anything: a
glimpse of a small area of flesh, the site of the girl's bra strap, or a flash
of her belly; a group of boys playing sport in athletic vests and shorts; a
sweaty team on the league basketball or netball pitch; a suggestion of sex in
the movies; a fleeting fantasy; a pair of closed curtains in a bedroom window;
all these things - and thousands more - were enough, consciously or
unconsciously noted, to arouse us, to promote sexual desire.
And yet what did we do? We turned ourselves off;
for even as teenagers, it is inappropriate to give expression to all the sexual
stimulation we get as we go through life.
As we get older, we become even more turned off.
Sexual stimuli assault us from every side: we may fantasize, for example, about
our work partners and colleagues, or about our friends' partners.
Or we may have sexual fantasies provoked by
films, television, and magazine articles, especially in these days where the
cult of the celebrity seems to rule popular culture. But we do not act upon
What do you do when you feel a surge of sexual
attraction to a stranger, an attractive member of the opposite sex on the subway
or the bus, or in the parking lot, or the grocery queue?
What if you catch sight of somebody who really
turns you on? As a responsible adult you certainly do not give way to sexual
desire and start acting it out - especially if you are already in a long-term
relationship. Instead, you turn yourself off.
And in turning ourselves off, we lose much of the
potential excitement of our own sexuality, and that of the people around us. I'm
not suggesting, of course, that it's appropriate to respond sexually to the
touch of an attractive man or woman on the subway.
What I am saying is that I believe we do
ourselves a grave disservice by numbing ourselves to sexual stimulation in this
way, because when we go home to our long-term partner we are turned off
Yes: we are turned off sexually, and it takes
much more effort to move back into a sexual place than it would if we were open
to our sexuality and ready to accept that we are sexual beings, all of the time,
everywhere we go - and no, of course we do not have to respond to the sexual
stimuli we receive on the way.
At least, not at the time we receive them, and
not with the person concerned. What we can do is to take that arousal home and
bring it into our lives with our partners.
Loss of erection - erectile dysfunction -
is a common enough problem. Whether it happens all the time or just
occasionally, or anywhere in between, it can be a major blow to your sexual
self-confidence and really put you off sex - losing one's erection is seen by
most men as a loss of manhood or masculinity.
One of the more serious reasons why people
become sexually inhibited within relationship is that they have experienced
sexual abuse in childhood. Sometimes it is possible to overcome sexual abuse
with the support and love of one's partner; at other times professional therapy
may be needed.
Certainly experiencing some of the sensual
exercises which we described in later chapters within a loving relationship and
with the support of a trusted sexual partner can make massive steps in
overcoming sexual abuse. In simplistic terms it's a matter of breaking the
association between sex and traumatic experience, and replacing it with an
association between sex and pleasure.
Of course in practice things are a little bit
more complicated than that, because people who are sexually abused in childhood
may actually find that they become sexually aroused during the abuse and
therefore develop a strong sense of guilt around sexual activities.
If they also feel shame about their sexuality and
sexual desires then it becomes proportionately harder to free up the psyche so
that sex becomes truly pleasurable.
How do you see your body? How do you think
your partner sees your body? We live in a society where there are very
prominent images of the desirable male and female body peddled all around, in
every media that we look at. The increasing frequency of anorexia may be related
to the peddling of thin female body images in magazines read by impressionable
In any event it is fair to say that many of us
have issues about our bodily appearance or about the appearance of parts of our
body; for women in particular the appearance of the genitals can be a source of
fear and shame.
And of course, it is not just the appearance of
our bodies that can bother us; if we imagine our bodies have an unpleasant smell
or disgusting secretions, then we fall just as much into the trap of wanting a
perfect body as do those who believe that they are too fat, or too thin, or that
their breasts are uneven, or their penis is too small, or that -- well, whatever
your particular hang-up happens to be!
There are rather a lot of men and women who
have an aversion to parts of their own or their partner's body. Some men
have a strong aversion to the vagina, so much so that they cannot look at it all, or even bear to touch it - at least
not with their hands! But this problem is no joke, for acceptance of one's body
is about as fundamental a sign of acceptance of oneself as it is possible to
And if one does not accept one's own body, it is
impossible to imagine anyone else accepting it. From there it is but a short
step to declining sex because you are frightened of your partner's response to
what you look like, smell like, (or even sound like), as you make love. We shall
look at ways in which people can become more comfortable with their body and
their partner's body later in the website.
How is your communication? Communication is
one of the most challenging things within relationship. There are so many
reasons why it can be difficult to express your needs, wishes, and desires. And
nowhere is this more true than when it comes to the arena of sexuality.
Whether you believe that your partner is open to
experimentation, or fantasy, or sharing your innermost secret sexual thoughts
and desires, it is still incredibly difficult to express your sexual needs in an
assertive way while still respecting your partner's boundaries. Some of us
cannot do it at all.
Some of us can do it only with aggression. Some
of us avoid conflict; some actively search it out. In any event, not being able
to talk about sex is certainly one of the reasons why sex diminishes within a
relationship. Each partner feels that their needs are not being met, but hasn't
got the capacity to express what it is that they actually desire.
Or each partner secretly resents something that
is happening within the relationship or chooses to say nothing for fear of
conflict or disrupting the apparently harmonious surface of the relationship.
Again, we look at communication skills in a later section of the website.
High on the list of reasons why sex becomes
less frequent (or faithfulness is called into question) in a long term
relationship is that
sex has become boring! And yet when you think of the number of ways in
which human sexuality can express itself, this hardly stands up as a sound
reason for lack of sexual expression between two people in relationship. The key
to sexual boredom is not to find another partner!
The key to dealing with sexual boredom is to
overcome the routine that you have established with your current partner;
overcome in the sense of "move beyond". Getting stuck in a sexual rut is very
common: it happens because we have certain beliefs, whether we are aware of them
or not, about the right way to enjoy sex.
The most obvious indicator of this would be if
you try another sexual activity of some kind and you come away from it with a
sense of guilt or shame.
Sometimes this sense is so subtle that you have
to search for it, but if it is there, this is a good sign that you might not be
as sexually liberated as you like to believe. In any event, getting into rut
because it is comfortable or easy is exactly how sexual boredom begins. The
answer is simple! Try new sexual activities! We have a whole section on sexual
techniques which will offer inspiration and new ideas to overcome sexual
And if you are doubting that this will help your
sexual relationship, think back to the days when you were a teenager or in your
early 20s perhaps, and you found almost any sexual activity exciting: petting,
frottage (i.e. dry humping - the safest sex there is!), deep kissing, fingering
genitals over clothes, under clothes, or through clothes, oral sex in the back
of the car, masturbation at any time of day or night... and so on!
Why do you think those activities were so
exciting then, and you're not doing them now? Surely it's not because your
capacity to be excited by them has diminished? It's much more likely that you've
simply got into a sexual rut and you have simply given up trying them.
This may be the time for experimentation! There's a peculiar experience that people can
have within long-term permanent relationships: the experience of being
lonely. Sometimes the keenest sense of loneliness within a relationship can
be during sexual activity.
It's bizarre that an activity which is supposed to
bring us closer than any other human activity can actually be conducted with one
partner psychologically at a distance so great that the other partner feels
isolated and lonely.
And yet this is very common: it probably afflicts more men
than women, in that men can be more threatened by intimacy, feel more invaded,
and feel their boundaries being dissolved more easily than women, who perhaps
are brought up in a way that makes these experiences more familiar and so less
threatening to them.
It's also entirely possible that psychological distance can
come from a desire to be a perfect lover: that
the perfectionist in bed is
more obsessed with technique and bringing his partner to orgasm than with
The truth is that these men often do not know how
to communicate intimacy and love, and they offer all kinds of excuses as to why
it doesn't happen. It's also true that some people do need psychological space
and a relationship can be very "suffocating" at times.
Nonetheless this does not really explain the
psychological or emotional distance between two lovers as they enjoy the most
intimate of human acts.
And yet at the same time is it possible that some
of us expect our partners to be more intimate, communicative, and present during
sex than at any other time in relationship? Some of us do need closeness and
emotional contact for a sense of reassurance and safety. The secret, of course,
is always is to find the right balance.
Some authors, particularly John Gray,
have described what is almost a dance between the man and woman during
relationship, where his need for distance is satisfied by emotional withdrawal
followed by a return to intimacy, a cycle that can threaten women who have a
fear of intimacy abandonment or loss.
They may respond to this cycle with cloying
behaviour that "threatens" the man. As always, the answer to these issues is to
develop communication skills, so that each partner knows what the other is
experiencing; but without training in the necessary communication skills, it can
be hard for us to find a way of expressing what is going on to each other.
And some of us do not even know what we need in
relationship. We look at some ways in which these issues can be helped later in
At this point I want to return briefly to the subject of
fear. Perhaps the biggest inhibitor of our sexuality is fear.
encompasses fear of pregnancy, fear of sexual inadequacy, fear of loss of
erection, fear of not being aroused, fear of not being good enough, fear of a
partner responding negatively to our bodies or our sexual advances, fear of
intimacy, and fear of exposing ourselves to another person, as well as the fear
of feeling our sexual needs and desires.
This may sound strange, but the truth is that our
sexual experiences with a lover, particularly in a long term relationship, are
the experiences that bring us most closely in contact with our deepest needs and
Perhaps, then, it is no wonder that we find sex
such a frightening and overwhelming prospect, and even more understandably,
something that can disappear all too easily from even the best relationships.
Fear of rejection, fear of not meeting the
partner's expectations, and fear of not being able to perform are among the most
common emotional barriers to intercourse.
Some dysfunctional people harbour
feelings of guilt over their sexual needs, or lack the skill or desire to
stimulate their partner. Even mild anxiety can impede or disable sexual
performance. Ignorance and inexperience contribute their own problems.
"Frequently, for instance" reveals Dr. Helen Singer Kaplan in Psychology Today,
"neither spouse knows where the clitoris is or recognizes its potential for
eliciting erotic pleasure. (Surely this must have been an old article?)
They have intercourse as soon as the husband has an erection, and he ejaculates
without considering whether his partner is ready.
Such couples genuinely wonder why the wife does
not reach orgasm." I'd guess this probably doesn't apply to you, but if it does,
there is plenty of information on this website to help you.
Finally, you may simply not know why you have
stopped having sex.
Perverse though it sounds, many couples find themselves
in a situation where they stop having sex just because it is more comfortable
not to have sex or take the trouble to initiate sex. As we shall see, a way to
deal with this is simply to program sex into your diaries.
This, bizarrely, can not only help you to enjoy
sex, but it can also help you to rediscover the joys of spontaneous,
uninhibited, playful sex!