Elizabeth Sloan - Marriage & Family Therapist
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Sexual Problems

How partners in a relationship feel about their sex life has a big impact on their relationship overall. When a partner is unhappy with their sex life, they are generally unhappy with the whole relationship. While the stereotype is that most of us learned about "the birds and the bees" during an awkward conversation with our parents -- the reality is most people learn about sex from a variety of other sources, such as TV, movies and books, as well as our friends and partners. Many families have unwritten rules and beliefs about sex that we absorb without realizing it. Getting information from these sources creates beliefs and expectations about what a normal sex life looks like. But how much of the information is accurate? And what effect does it have on a relationship when partners have inaccurate information?

Clearly, a satisfactory sex life for both partners can mean many things. For some, this includes things like how often they have sex, what activities they and their partner engage in during sex, or how much emotional connection they have during sex. For others, it means not having a sexual dysfunction, such as low sexual desire (low libido) or erectile dysfunction.

The truth is that there is no one definition of a normal sex life. But there are common elements that are part of healthy sexuality, such as

  • Having a positive attitude about sex in general
  • Being comfortable with your body and yourself as a sexual person
  • Feeling safe and able to trust your partner
  • Taking responsibility for your own satisfaction and asking for what you need
  • Being willing to develop sexual skills that create a satisfying relationship
  • Being able to say no to having sex or being touched in ways that you donít like
  • Feeling that your partner understands and respects your sexuality and sexual needs

Helpful Books and Resouces

We have included resources here that we think will create a roadmap for your continued work.

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Effect on a Relationship or Marriages

Every couple's sex life has ups and downs. Perhaps one partner is overwhelmed by stress at work or with childcare, or they are recovering from an illness. Itís a good idea to be flexible and accommodate special situations that arise.

However, if things don't ever get back on track, it usually is a sign of a sexual problem.

Problems in a couple's sex life can spill over into all areas of the relationship. They can lead to divorce or a breakup if a partner thinks their sexual needs wonít ever be taken seriously.

On the flip side, problems in a couple's relationship can spill over into their sex life. These include

  • Unresolved anger and resentment, or a feeling of being disregarded
  • Inability to communicate or get through to the other partner
  • Lack of emotional intimacy and physical affection
  • Lack of trust, or fear of being hurt
  • Dissatisfaction with the relationship in general

Common Sexual Problems

Sexual problems are more widespread than most people realize. The most common are

  • Hypoactive sexual desire (lack of interest in sex), which affects about 15% of men and 32% of women
  • Erectile dysfunction (ED), which affects about 7% of men
  • Premature ejaculation, which affects about 37% of men
  • Anorgasmia (not being able to have an orgasm), which affects about 25% of women
  • Dyspareunia (pain during intercourse), which affects about 20% of women

Many things can cause sexual problems. Some health problems and medications, such as hormone imbalances, high blood sugar, prostate or gynecological problems, and some medications (like antidepressants), can directly create sexual problems.

Other factors include being out of shape, spending too much energy and time working on the job or in the household, being chronically stressed out, or having an untreated mental health or substance abuse problem. Partners may have different work schedules or sleep habits, or be too busy to have much time together.

Sexual problems can also stem from within other aspects of a couple's sexual relationship. For example, one partner may not enjoy engaging in sexual activities that the other one likes, or may be dissatisfied with foreplay or the overall emotional tone of lovemaking. Sex may have become routine or uninteresting to one or both partners. Partners may have different levels of desire for sex, or different opinions on how often to have sex.

Personal factors are a third contributor to sexual problems. One partner may have performance anxiety, feel guilty, have something to hide, or have negative beliefs about sex. Or there may be a past negative experience of a sexual nature that is making it difficult to enjoy sex. Regardless of the reason, it is crucial that partners talk about what is getting in the way of enjoying sex together, and what they need to feel relaxed, comfortable, confident, and excited about sex.

Couples and Marriage Counseling

The vast majority of couples do not seek couples or marriage counseling for sexual problems. Reasons for this can include

  • Hoping the problem will resolve or disappear eventually
  • Feeling embarrassed or that other people don't have these kinds of problems
  • Having low expectations for how satisfying their sex life can be
  • Feeling hopeless that the problem can ever be solved
  • Being skeptical that couples and marriage counseling can help resolve the problem

It's unfortunate that so many couples shy away counseling. Marriage counselors are trained in helping couples communicate about their sexual needs and feelings. They provide a forum for getting the sexual problems out in the open and dealing with them directly in a safe environment.

In addition, a couples and marriage counselor looks at all the factors that can cause sexual problems and creates a plan for addressing the root causes. The plan may include

  • Marriage counseling, to help partners
    • communicate effectively about relationship and sexual matters
    • clear up entrenched problems in the relationship
    • use homework exercises and educational materials to learn about sexuality and develop skills for a satisfying sex life
  • Individual counseling, to address anxiety, embarrassment, negative beliefs, upsetting sexual experiences in the past, or any other factors best addressed in private
  • Referral to a doctor to diagnose or treat any physical aspects of the problem

If you would like more information on how couples and marriage counseling can help you with difficulties in your sexual relationship, feel free to contact us by E-Mail or phone toll free (866-588-0477) to learn more about our practice and schedule a free half-hour phone consultation with one of our clinicians.

Please note: Couples and Marriage Counselors do not engage in any kind of sexual activity with a client. To do so is a breach of professional ethics, and in some states this kind of activity is a crime. If you have had an interaction with a helping professional that involved touching of a sexual nature, we advise you to report the person to the appropriate licensing body.

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