Do you have a sex problem which you would like us to help sort out? Write to us here and we'll do our best. In the fourth in this series of sex advice, Dr Karen Gurney, @thesexdoctor on Instagram, and director of the Havelock Clinic, answers one reader question...
Hi Dr Karen,
I wondered if you could help me. I am a man in a happy marriage but our sex life is not what I always had planned.
We used to be quite adventurous in bed but since having kids I feel like my wife is constantly making excuses not to do it. It's hard not to take it personally sometimes. I know she finds three kids and work tiring but I also wonder if she has got bored of me and if we have left it too late to go back.
I'd love to try new things and spice things up but it's hard to go from stationery to 5th gear. I also don't want her to think I'm weird if I suggest things. I still love and think she's beautiful and sexy but this isn't the sex life I want.
Dr Karen Gurney says:
Thanks for writing in.
I really feel for you here. So many of us take stock of our sex life after being in a relationship a long time and think ‘how did we get here?’. Sometimes things can change, fall off the agenda or become absent without us even realising it.
It sounds like you’ve had a bit of an awakening with this, and you’re feeling like things can’t go on the way they are. The good news is things don’t have to stay like this and it’s not too late. If you are feeling dissatisfied, it’s likely that your wife is too, and its not uncommon for couples to find themselves here after a period of time together. Sometimes getting things out in the open and a re-calibration is needed and it can be a great re-set for your future relationship.
There are two aspects of your sex life at the moment that you mention being concerned about. One is the frequency of your sex life together. The other is the content. Lets talk about each in turn.
You said that you feel your wife is constantly making excuses not to do it, and at times this makes you wonder if she’s getting bored of you. This is one of the most common scenarios we see in sex therapy, and there’s a few really important bits of sex science which can help us understand what’s going on. Sexual desire is a really complex physical and psychological thing, but one of the universal commonalities is that women in long term relationships often experience very little spontaneous desire. What this means is that many women may feel like they can take it or leave it, and in the presence of other demands (like kids) sex might rarely pop to the top of their to do list. The consequence of this might be that sex gets less frequent, or only when you bring it up/instigate it and both of these can leave you as a partner feeling rejected. It can be scary to talk about an absence of desire with a partner, as not wanting sex can feel in direct conflict with expectations of what ‘should’ happen in a happy relationship. Plus, she might be worrying that her feelings have changed as she’s gone off sex (possible but probably not true).
Women’s desire might be less spontaneous after several years with someone but this isn’t the bad news that it sounds! Women’s desire is highly responsive- much more than men’s in fact. What this means is that creating situations where desire might follow often leads to desire following(in theory) and this needs to be a priority if you wish to increase your sexual contact together. This can be as simple as a passionate kiss for the sake of it, with the promise it wont lead anywhere. Or a night away from the box sets, with intimacy, fun and some physical closeness. The irony is that women who are not feeling like sex, and men who are wanting to instigate sex, find the above scenarios don’t play out too well for a few key reasons. Pressure and predictability are huge desire killers. So she does a non verbal brush off by closing down that kiss as soon as it starts, as she ‘knows where it will lead’ and she’s not feeling like it and ‘doesn’t want to lead him on’. Plus she knows he only kisses her when he wants sex, so the kiss becomes a turn off rather than a desire trigger. He is so keen for sex that he can’t allow himself to not let a kiss lead anywhere, as it’s the only opportunity he’s had in months. So either he doesn’t try or he does it at a time when he really wants more, meaning he reacts to her rebuttal with frustration or anger. Here’s the catch 22- desire is easy to trigger but we don’t give it any chance to. It’s really common in long term relationships for ‘kissing for kissings sake’ to fall off the agenda which is a massive shame and missed opportunity where desire is concerned. If both could allow it to just be a kiss, (like they might have done when they first got together) and enjoyed it as a hot activity in it’s own right, for example, then that’s where desire flourishes.
If you are able to talk to her and she mentions that she has noticed a change and is concerned about it then understanding more about female sexual desire and how it works might be really reassuring and a great first step. Have her join us next week in our online workshop on female sexual desire therapy and she can explore this and other factors which might be playing a part.
Now on to the content. You mentioned that you’d like to spice it up but it feels too far from where you currently are. It’s sensible to not try and move too far in one go but there is a way that you can test the waters once the two of you start to make some progress with making sex happen. The good news is that unpredictability is usually sexy, so bringing a very small amount of something new in might be good for both of you, and allows you to say ‘what did you think when I did x?’ afterwards to get a sense of whether it can be explored further (please don’t forget to check in on non verbal cues throughout and avoid anything that might trigger unwanted memories if she’s had any negative or traumatic sexual experiences). I’m not sure what spicing it up means for you as it can range from a slight change of location for some, to public flogging and gimp masks for others, but lets take a bit of light bondage as an example.
You might find that you can bring a fraction of this into your sex life together by doing a very subtle version of what you’re interested in building on. For example, holding her hands down on the bed above her head while you kiss her body, or a very slight bite to her body during that kiss. She might feed back that she likes it, if so build on it next time. Or she might not seem keen- but then you’ll know this without taking too much of a leap towards something more extreme.
Ultimately if you want your sex life to work and get better over time, I’m a big fan of talking about it as much as possible. She needs to know that you’re unhappy, and actually she might be too. She’s also your co-parent, wife and friend so should be able to handle your description of what future kinks you’d be interested in trying, ,even if they are ultimately not for her.
Good luck, and be brave. She might thank you for it.
Dr Karen Gurney
Clinical Psychologist and Psychosexologist
Director- The Havelock Clinic
0203 858 0644