Bad sex isnâ€™t always a deal-breaker.
For the six years, Erica and her husband have been together, the relationship has been great â€” theyâ€™re very much in love, they communicate well and enjoy each otherâ€™s company. Their sex life, however, is another story.
During the honeymoon phase, the sex was pretty good â€” the new relationship sparks created a certain amount of electricity between the sheets. But a couple of years in, it became stale and repetitive, said Erica â€” who asked that we use her middle name to protect her privacy. She doesnâ€™t orgasm during sex with her husband either. Eventually she told him that she needed a certain kind of clitoral stimulation to get off, but he didnâ€™t have the right touch to make it happen. This, among other things, has affected her sex drive.
â€œI think a lot of it had to do with boring sex â€” same positions, predictable moves and words â€” and the fact that I wasnâ€™t finishing either,â€ she said, adding that her exhausting work schedule didnâ€™t help the situation.
A couple of years ago, the sex-related tension bubbled up into a huge fight. Her husband didnâ€™t understand why she was so disinterested in sex.
They decided that Erica would talk to her doctor to see if her lower sex drive could be hormone-related. Theyâ€™ve also started going to counseling to work through their bedroom issues.
â€œWeâ€™ve been going to see a therapist who specializes in marriage and intimacy counseling, together and him individually,â€ she said. â€œItâ€™s a work in progress but weâ€™re trying.â€
Indeed, a 2016 Pew Research Center study found that 61% of married adults say a satisfying sex life is â€œvery importantâ€ to a successful marriage. But there are plenty of couples who donâ€™t hold sex in such high regard.
â€œFor some people, sex just isnâ€™t that important, so they wouldnâ€™t mind having a lackluster sex life with their partners,â€ said Vanessa Marin, sex therapist and creator of the online course â€œRediscovering Desire.â€ â€œFor most people, though, being out-of-sync sexually is a huge problem.â€
Sex therapist and psychologist Shannon Chavez said she sees couples â€œall the timeâ€ where everything is going well in the relationship other than the sex.
â€œPriorities change over time in a relationship and couples may focus on other areas of connection to meet intimacy needs,â€ she said. â€œIt is only a deal breaker if a couple cannot communicate about it effectively.â€
And just because youâ€™re not wowed by your sex life with your partner at present doesnâ€™t mean youâ€™re doomed to a life of blah in bed. Itâ€™s definitely something you two can work on, Marin said.
â€œMost people believe that great sex should just happen â€˜naturallyâ€™ if the partners are compatible, but I firmly believe that chemistry is something we create and maintain,â€ she said.
Your sex life can be improved. But not without putting in some work.
So the relationship is great. But the sex? Not so much. Here's what to do about it.
If youâ€™re not satisfied with the current state of your sex life, donâ€™t take it lying down. Below, experts offer advice on how to turn things around.
Take responsibility for your own pleasure.
Sex is a two-way street. Before blaming your partner for all of your bedroom woes, make sure youâ€™ve addressed any personal issues that could be getting in the way of your enjoyment of sex.
â€œDeal with your mental barriers or body image issues that can lead to unrealistic expectations around sex and take control of your pleasure,â€ Chavez said.
Know that chemistry needs to be kindled and rekindled.
â€œDespite what porn and the movies have led you to believe, most people donâ€™t have incredible chemistry right from the get-go, nor does chemistry sustain itself long term,â€ Marin said.
That means youâ€™ll both need to put in â€” and keep putting in â€” effort to keep that sexy spark alive.
Address other areas of conflict in the relationship.
Perhaps there are problems outside the bedroom that are affecting your connection between the sheets; it could be lingering resentments, unresolved arguments, past betrayals or trust issues. Until you get those sorted out, it may be difficult to enjoy sex with your partner.
â€œStrengthening intimacy can help improve sex,â€ Chavez said. â€œIt will help both partners relax, and feel more open and safe towards physical and emotional intimacy.â€
Broaden your sexual horizons.
If things have gotten ho-hum, be open to experimenting together so you can discover what else you might enjoy in bed.
â€œA lot of people put pressure on themselves to automatically know exactly what they like and be able to describe it perfectly to a partner,â€ Marin said. â€œBut sex just doesnâ€™t work like that. Instead, youâ€™ll find it much more useful â€” and much less stressful â€” to experiment with your partner and focus on sharing your experience in the moment.â€
That might also mean widening your definition of sex. Instead of worrying about what you think sex â€œshouldâ€ look like, focus on figuring out what actually appeals to you.
â€œSex scripts are the narratives and beliefs you have about sex,â€ said Jesse Kahn, sex therapist and director of The Gender & Sexuality Therapy Center. â€œThis could include what you think qualifies as sex, what sex has to be like, what sex looks like with different people and partners, and how gender defines sex roles.â€
â€œMaybe the current script of what sex is doesnâ€™t work for your relationship,â€ he continued. â€œBut if you change or broaden your understanding, you may find that you enjoy way more sexual activities together.â€
Stop expecting your partner to read your mind.
Itâ€™s not fair to expect your partner to magically know what you like and dislike in bed, especially because our preferences may shift over time. If you want more foreplay or less graphic dirty talk, speak up and say so.
â€œYou need to be able to share your inner world with your partner,â€ Marin said. â€œIf thereâ€™s something you already know you donâ€™t like, or youâ€™re missing, share that with your partner.â€
Telling your partner how you really feel about the state of your sex life may be daunting, but itâ€™s necessary.
Experts break down the best way to broach the sensitive subject of sex.
Itâ€™s understandable that you might be hesitant to voice your bedroom frustrations or concerns to your partner. Sex can be a touchy subject after all. But donâ€™t let that stop you from having these important conversations. Use these expert-backed tips to help guide your approach.
Talk about your sexual histories and hang-ups first.
Laying some ground rules about how to talk about sex and discussing any sex-related baggage (or trauma) youâ€™re each bringing to the relationship can increase self-awareness on your end, while giving you a better understanding of your partner too, Kahn said.
Donâ€™t have the talk right before or after sex.
While small suggestions (go slower! go faster! a little to the left!) are worth bringing up in the heat of the moment, larger discussions should wait.
â€œI recommend having conversations about sex outside of the bedroom, separate from sex itself,â€ Marin said.
Be honest â€” but not harsh â€” in your delivery.
Share feedback candidly but do so with care.
â€œBe direct and give examples to help build understanding,â€ Chavez said. â€œDonâ€™t criticize or shame your partner. Use â€˜Iâ€™ statements and talk about what youâ€™re experiencing.â€
When your partner responds, really listen.
After youâ€™ve said your piece, give your partner a chance to share their feelings and perspective.
â€œYou can repeat back what you hear your partner saying and then give them an opportunity to clarify,â€ Kahn said. â€œValidate, empathize with and work to understand what your partner is saying.â€
Slowing down the conversation this way will generate more thoughtful responses and minimize defensiveness, Kahn added.
Know that itâ€™s normal for your partner to be a little upset.
You might be worried that admitting youâ€™re not thrilled with the state of your sex life will hurt your partnerâ€™s feelings â€” and understandably so. But donâ€™t avoid the topic out of fear of discomfort, Chavez said.
â€œItâ€™s perfectly normal to react sensitively to feedback,â€ she said.
But you might be surprised at how receptive they are.
If youâ€™ve been feeling out-of-sync in bed, your partner has probably picked up on that too. So finally having this conversation might even come as a relief to them.
â€œItâ€™s a lot of pressure to feel like you need to read your partnerâ€™s mind and know everything they want and need,â€ Marin said. â€œIf they have some practical feedback from you, that will take so much pressure off their shoulders.â€
Kelsey Borresen via The Huff Post