Are you and your partner on the same page when it comes to your unanimous sexual pleasure? Do you have sex at a frequency that pleases you both? You might want to shy away from these questions, but the truth is that sex plays a crucial role in relationships. Sex is a natural way to express intimacy, trust, desire and love between partners. It can add energy and happiness to a relationship. However, if one or both partners is uncomfortable or dissatisfied, sex can create hostility, guilt, and anger. This is because everyone has different expectations, needs and desires, and many people have difficulty communicating with their partners about what they want sexually and what’s comfortable to them.

According to a Psychology today article by Barry W. McCarthy Ph.D., “One in five married couples has a non-sexual marriage (being sexual less than ten times a year). One in three non-married couples who have been together two years or longer have a non-sexual relationship.”

This is an extremely high percentage of couples who can’t get on the same page about sex and intimacy. As a result, they avoid sex, which can create tension, anxiety, self-consciousness, and more avoidance.

So what can be done for couples who struggle with sexual dissatisfaction? According to marriage/family therapist Pearle K. Brown, Ed.D., couples need to communicate clearly and honestly about sex. In addition to this, they can get re-acquainted with desire, pleasure and sex. This process starts by going back to basics.

Sex is about more than intercourse, it’s about arousal, excitement, trust, comfort and even includes non-sexual touching. Often, because of their busy lives, couples fall into a pattern where they avoid sex, or they have rapid, rushed sex. This often leaves one or both partners unsatisfied. According to Brown, going back to basics involves taking responsibility for yourself sexually. She advises people ask themselves, “What turns me on?” and if they don’t know, they can be certain that their partner doesn’t know either. Fortunately there are simple ways to discover what you do and don’t like.

One of the ways couples can get back in touch with what is pleasurable and arousing is by doing non-genital touching. This can be particularly helpful to the non-sexual couple or the sexually awkward couple. It can help to modify negative attitudes and feelings to more pleasurable and sensual feelings about your own body, your partner’s body and your sexuality. It creates arousal without the pressure of sex, and teaches what feels good and what doesn’t. When comfort levels increase, couples can go further with touching or showering/bathing together, and focusing again on non-sexual touching. The point of the touching is to enhance arousal and comfort and strengthen your relationship, without the pressure of sex. It’s important to figure out what you like, communicate it to your partner, and in turn ask what they like. Everyone has different levels of desire and energy, and you must work to reach compromise in your sex life so both partners can be happy.

During this “back to basics” period, it’s also helpful to discuss past sexual histories, if you haven’t already. According to Stephanie Walthour, Certified Sex Therapist at Family & Child Development, couples can use this as an opportunity to talk about what they have liked or disliked in the past. It is important that couples try to be open, non-judgemental and willing to listen to your partner. Once both partners feel comfortable, they can take what they’ve learned and move on to sexual touching.

You might not realize it, but planning sex can enhance arousal. Brown explains that, “Spontaneous sex is nice, but there’s something special about sex which is planned and looked forward to. Walthour recommends setting a “sexy time date” in which you give thought to it and create eroticism by your own thinking about it. This allows you to take responsibility for your own arousal to some degree, and remember that it’s not always the other partner’s job.

A major factor that interrupts sexual satisfaction is the assumption that the desire and romance felt in the honey-moon phase will last forever. It’s important to stay realistic when it comes to sex. Psychologist and sex/marital therapist Barry W. McCarthy Ph.D., states, “Realistic expectations are crucial for maintaining a vital sexual relationship. It is self-defeating and harmful to demand equal desire, arousal, orgasm and satisfaction each time… Couples who accept occasional mediocre or dysfunctional experiences without guilt or blaming and try again when they are aware and receptive have a vital, resilient sexual relationship.”

McCarthy also advises couples make consistent time for sex, since frequency of sex encourages arousal, while infrequency subdues it. To ensure each partner feels desired, Brown recommends taking turns for which partner initiates sex.

Many couples have been shut down sexually for a long time, and must learn how to re-awaken their sensuality and desire. This can take time and effort, but will be worth it in the end. Sex is a critical part of a relationship. Working toward happiness, desire and playful pleasure will keep your relationship strong and affectionate. However, many couples struggle to reach this point on their own. Sex and martial therapists will work with you to resolve hostility and anger, and get your relationship back on track towards a realistic, healthy, satisfied union.

If you would like to speak to a therapist about your marital or sexual relationship, please reach out to us at Family & Child Development. We have therapists who are specifically trained to help address these issues.