‘I can’t remember the last time we had sex…..’

Relationship therapy often involves talking about sex.  Some couples talk about it in their first session,  others much later, but  it’s rare to come across a couple, or an individual, who is struggling with their relationship but having a ‘good’ sex life.  I do remember one couple, a long while ago, who continued to be sexual partners even when they couldn’t cope with living in the same house and were deeply upset with each other, but they were one in a hundred of the couples and singles  I have worked with.

Being unhappy in our relationship is not the only thing that affects our sex life; far from it.  There are lots of reasons why we start to have less sex.  Nobody can sustain the mad passion of the first few months of a relationship when coping with the everyday demands of living together.  There’s going to be a Saturday night when one wants to watch Match of the Day and the other would rather read Grazia, and that’s entirely normal.  New babies and small children get in the way of  couple time and can leave the man feeling unwanted and the woman feeling that ‘sex is just another household chore’. Same-sex couples experience the same pressures, which affect their relationships in the same way.  Long hours at work, shift patterns, children’s homework and the endless dropping off and picking up of teenagers can mean none of us have much time together.  And when we do, so many couples tell me that once the kids are in bed they sit on separate sofas and bury themselves in soaps, i pads, online games, clothes websites, the dreaded Facebook.

Illness affects our sex lives too.  Diabetes can result in impotence or make having sex more of a challenge, prostate treatment can mean that sex is only possible when planned, and with chemical help.  Depression can seriously affect sex drive and so can anxiety.  Pressure at work can start a vicious circle of tiredness, feeling down, withdrawal from sex, and so round it goes….  The menopause isn’t an illness, but it affects our hormones and how we feel about ourselves.  So does overwork and lack of sleep.   If we are not feeling well, or good about ourselves, it’s so much easier to decide it’s not the right time to have sex.  As the days turn into weeks, then into months, it becomes increasingly difficult for someone to make the first move…..

But sometimes it is just unhappiness in our relationship which stops us wanting to be physically intimate with our partner.  Some of the reasons I’ve suggested may be contributing factors, but if we are shouting at each other, avoiding talking to each other, or feeling misunderstood or not respected, it’s very unlikely we are going to want to cuddle up and be close.  If we don’t feel loved, don’t feel listened to, or feel constantly criticized, then it’s very difficult to suddenly switch off our minds and let our bodies take over*.

Finally, the most common reason couples seem to drift apart and have sex less often is that they have  forgotten how to have fun  together.  They have forgotten how to plan ‘couple time’, how to make things happen, find time to relax together, be playful, switch off all the devices, walk the dog, go for a drink or something to eat, organise a babysitter, get away from the teenagers, book a night away from it all.  Good sex may be about tumbling into bed at every opportunity when we first meet, but if we want to stay together, grow old together, sex can’t always be spontaneous, but with a bit of planning, it can still be where it belongs, at the centre of our relationship.

*There are other, deep reasons why we don’t want to have sex with our partner, but I think they need a post of their own.  I will suggest some books in ‘things to read’ in case you are struggling with these issues.