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Stanley Ducharme, Ph.D.

In recent times, there has been considerable attention focused on the problems of low or no sex marriages. In such a relationship usually one partner has a very low libido or there is a significant discrepancy in sexual desire between the couple. The longer couples avoid sexual contact, the harder it becomes to break the cycle. The longer they refrain from sexual contact, the more they tend to blame each other.

A low sex marriage can often deteriorate so that conflict, frustration and boredom become commonplace in the relationship. With motivation however, these relationships can usually re-establish a healthy sexual life together.

The Importance of Sexuality

Sexuality is a complex, crucial aspect of life and marriage. There is no one-way to be sexual and no specific sexual frequency that is considered “normal”. For most people, sexuality is healthy as long as it causes neither member of the couple any distress or emotional turmoil. Healthy sexual functioning allows both people to enjoy pleasure and to have realistic expectations of each other.

Maintaining sexual desire, attraction and trust is an ongoing process that takes effort and initiative for both individuals. When a couple’s sexual expression begins to lag and lack excitement, the key to rebuilding marital sexual desire is to enjoy non-demanding pleasuring, increasing intimacy and having fun together. Both members must be committed to revitalizing the sexual energy

Contributing Factors

Low sexual desire can have a multitude of causes. These might include childhood sexual abuse, guilt regarding previous sexual activities or partners, fears of failure or a lack of genuine feelings for one’s spouse. These “secrets” often affect the trust in a relationship and can seriously impair marital communication. Ideally, they should be discussed with one’s partner or at the very least with a therapist, best friend or sibling. Left undisclosed, they can become poison to a relationship or marriage.

Other factors affecting sexual desire can include issues such as fears of pregnancy or difficulties such as infertility, fears of abandonment, shame about a sexual fetish, the need to protect a partner or lack of physical attraction.

For an individual with medical concerns or chronic health problems, additional issues may play a role in the lack of sexual desire. These might include shame or negative feelings about one’s body, concerns of being a burden, fears of rejection, the work involved in preparing for sex, fatigue, lack of privacy, difficulty with erections or ejaculation, and feeling inadequate as a sexual partner.

Crucial Commitment

Increasing sexual desire in a relationship is possible but requires the commitment of both people. Some authors have given specific instructions designed to rebuild sexual interest in the relationship. To maintain a vital sexual life you have to commit time and energy. The most important components in maintaining desire are to:

  • Function as a team dedicated to solving this problem.
  • Anticipate sexual encounters
  • Realize that sex is more than intercourse and orgasm. Spend time kissing, holding touching and being together in intimate ways.
  • Be open to sexual experimentation
  • Maintain a regular rhythm of affection and sexual contact.

Be committed to strengthening your relationship by enhancing your sexual life together. One factor or one spouse does not cause a lack of sexual interest

Some marriages can survive in spite of low sexual desire or infrequent sexual activity. It is possible to have a good relationship without sexual interest or sexual drive. Over time however, the lack of sexual desire becomes severe and chronic. Tension becomes more prevalent and the intimate connection is lost or destroyed. In these marriages, blaming and resentment build until anger becomes a daily issue. For the partner, withholding or avoiding sex makes a statement, a way to fight back. Withholding sex can be a reaction to the anger of ones spouse.

If lack of sexual desire has been an ongoing problem, dealing with anger may be the first step in restoring intimacy. Pointing a finger or blaming a spouse accomplishes nothing. Assigning blame only intensifies a problem and divides a couple even further.

Both people need to take responsibility and work together to break a deadlock and promote change. Regardless of what originally caused the problem, it is easier to break the cycle if you are able to talk about the sexual difficulty as a couples issue. Viewing a lack of sexual desire as a couple problem reduces guilt, defensiveness and blaming.

For many people, intimacy energizes the marital relationship and promotes a sense of closeness and connection. The real test however is the ability to stay connected and emotionally connected during difficult times. Maintaining intimacy during difficult times is a sign of a viable relationship.

Conflict does not have to negate emotional closeness and anger need not be a reason not to be sexual. For most of us, it is extremely important to deal with conflict, anger and frustration outside of the bedroom. Healthy couples tend to find a way to resolve conflict and to deal with anger and hurt without sacrificing sexual intimacy. At times, this may mean finding professional assistance with a problem rather than letting frustration slowly destroy a relationship.

No Quick Fix

In summary, there are no quick and easy solution to maintaining sexual desire and sexual intimacy in a relationship. However, a few guiding principles might be important to keep in mind:

  1. Try to be intimate in some form on a regular basis. The longer couples avoid sexual contact, the harder it is to break the cycle.

  2. Both members must be committed and motivated to revitalizing a sexual relationship. The couple must function as an integrated team to restore emotional and sexual intimacy.

  3. Deal with anger resentments and hurt outside of the bedroom and don’t use sex as a way of punishing your partner or making a statement about how you feel.

  4. Get away from the idea that intercourse and orgasm are the most important aspects of a sexual relationship. Have sexual contact be pleasurable, enjoyable, non-demanding and adventurous.

  5. Maintain sexual contact during difficult times even if initially you are not in the mood. The intimacy at these times will bring you closer and strengthen the bond between the two of you.

  6. Try to talk about sexual secrets, guilt and other issues that cause shame and feelings of inadequacy. Keeping such secrets to yourself tends to cause distance in the relationship and usually results in some form of withdrawal by one member of the couple.

  7. Remember that sexual contact should be fun and enjoyable. If sexual desire is missing, it may be that sex has turned into work and effort.

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