Sex is a common problem for couples and while some difficulties are complicated, many are easily solved with better communication.

Good communication about sex begins with understanding that men and women have quite different psycho/sexual arousal systems.  Thus what  is “normal” for the man may not be “normal” for the woman.  A computer metaphor is helpful to illustrate the differences.  Most men have sex running continually in the background of their minds sort of like the way a computer program can run minimized in the task bar of a PC.  Since the app is open, it doesn’t take much for it to pop up on the main screen. ( So to speak .)  Many women, on the other hand, have their arousal files buried deep in sub-directories which take time to access and require specific passwords to open.

Being aware of this fundamental distinction is vital for good sexual communication.  It is important that each partner does not assume that the other is just like him or herself.  And thus, taking some time to check out one’s assumptions is crucial for avoiding misunderstandings and unpleasant or frustrating situations.  That said, intimate communication is really not that different from non-sexual communication, viz, Say directly and clearly what you feel and what you want in a way that is hearable and intelligible.  With these thoughts in mind, here are some common communication mistakes and their solutions:

  • Be Direct about what you feel and want .  When you are in the mood, let your partner know.  When you are not in the mood, let your partner know.  Intimate communication doesn’t always have to be verbal.  For folks who find it embarrassing or uncomfortable to talk about their sexual desires, non-verbal signals can work just as well. For example, one couple used a stuffed toy to indicate their interest: If a Teddy Bear which sat on their dresser was placed on the bed, it messaged that the partner was interested.  If the partner left  the bear in place it meant yes and, if it was returned to the dresser, it meant no.
  • Be Mindful of the meaning and context of your sexual itches.  Before expressing a desire for sex, it is important to think. Sexual passion may not always arise from love or a desire for intimacy.  Sometimes, especially when urgent erotic impulses may express anxiety or a need to escape.  Likewise, the timing of sexual urges is sometimes unrealistic.  For example, if there isn’t enough time or you or your partner are too tired or ill  or the kids are too intrusive, having sex is not practical.  It is important to be aware of the context to avoid being unreasonable or worse.
  • Be Considerate of how you say no to sexual offers .  When sexual requests are not enthusiastically received, emotions can , on both sides, get out of hand.  A variety of emotions can be triggered in the one who’s not receptive. Guilt, anger or anxiety are common reactions. The intense feelings can result in unpleasant comments or retorts. Making a counter offer like “catch you in the morning” and an expression of love can reduce the pain experienced by the rejected one.
  • Don’t Panic or lose perspective. Likewise,  for the one rejected, feelings of frustration, humiliation and diminished self-worth often occur.  Those feelings may be accompanied by withdrawal and manipulative pouting.  Being upset when one is turned down for sex is normal but it needn’t result in unkind or manipulative behavior.   Reality-testing panicked thoughts such as my wife/husband doesn’t love me or find me desirable and realizing that not having sex a single time is not the end of the world help one to regain a reasonable perspective.
  • Have and Discuss your Sexual Ground Rules.  When things are calm and both of you are in a good mood, it is a good idea to talk about your expectations. For example, things like, each has a right to decline having sex or that  if the problem persists that it will be discussed and or that medical or therapeutic help will be consulted are good things  to include.

Sex is a life long joy and entitlement of marriage which can deepen in satisfaction with the passing years. When problems arise, however, it is important not to despair or panic and realize that, if the marriage is healthy, most sexual issues are easily treated and resolved.

Rev. Michael Heath , LMHC, Fellow AAPC   12 4 2017

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