Sexual dissatisfaction is a theme I encounter in therapy often enough that I wanted to organize some basic perspectives on the topic for those struggling with this issue. First, let us debunk some commonly held beliefs about sexual functioning that may be limiting connection and opportunities to have a healthy sex life.
MYTH: You must have a predictable, routine number of times a week.
Having sex regularly nourishes a relationship, sure, but don’t get too caught up in the counting. Most happy couples don’t have sex two or three times a week (see below). What’s important is that you both are satisfied with the frequency. If that’s not the case, start a discussion outside the bedroom by saying something like, “We don’t have sex as often anymore, and it worries me.” And remember: There’s more to a healthy sex life than just sex, don’t forget cuddling, holding hands, and spontaneously hugging and kissing.
MYTH: You both need to be in the mood.
It’s normal for sex to be a little ho-hum for one or both spouses up to 15% of the time. Any number of factors can throw things a bit off-kilter: timing, your mood or his, the amount of foreplay, life stresses, you name it. Rather than postponing until the planets align, have sex when you can—and don’t interpret an off night as a sign of a failing relationship. If your partner seems disengaged, just be affectionate and look forward to next time. To keep things exciting, make a point of venturing out of your comfort zone occasionally with new positions, locations, and sexy videos.
MYTH: If you’re not having spontaneous sex, it must mean your sex life is over.
When you were first together, you had sex on your mind for hours, maybe even days, leading up to the experience. In many cases, you set the date, thought about it, planned the evening –even what to wear. It may have seemed spontaneous, but it wasn’t. Good sex is planned sex and in order to keep having it the more elaborate and integrated two people’s lives become, it must stay planned. Think date night, pencil it onto your calendar, and take time to talk about your sexual frequency, your needs, your fantasies, and what is missing and what is there for each of you.
MYTH: If a couple is having less sex, it’s her fault.
In men, low sex drive is often related to health problems or medications he may be on, many of which are known to create some sexual functioning challenges. Men aren’t used to needing stimulation, and it can be troubling. Sometimes he’ll just avoid it, causing the woman to think he’s no longer attracted to her –which results in a sexual Catch-22. Also, pressuring partners for sex can actually decrease sexual desire, particularly for women since historically sex has been viewed as a right by many men. The freedom to choose sexual activity can be a difficult paradox for a partner interested in increasing sexual activity with a female partner: the very thing often required to increase female desire is not feeling like you HAVE to put out to keep your mate.
MYTH: Good sex is long and slow.
Few of us can afford the luxury of leisurely sex. (Frankly, most of us secretly think it sounds like more work after an exhausting day.) And holding out for the ideal moment can lead to infrequent or, even worse, vacation-only sex. The solution? Embrace the quickie. Think of it like a sex snack, sure to boost your energy and put you back in the mood. For extra excitement, break out of the bedroom: Five-minute romps are perfect for unusual locations, even if that just means your shower or sofa.
Sex expectations can be changed but you may want to know where you fit in terms of common sexual functioning, which may be best understood with a review of some basic statistical facts–although it must be said that what is to be deemed normal sexual functioning is subject to much debate.
FREQUENCY: Age is an important factor in predicting frequency of sexual activity. Some interpretations of this are hormone surges and better health for the young, more obligations and less energy for the middle aged, and health concerns and partner loss for the aged.
- 18-29 year olds have sex an average of 112 times per year (Kinsey Institute)
- 30-39 year olds an average of 86 times per year (Kinsey Institute)
- 40-49 year olds an average of 69 times per year (Kinsey Institute)
- Between 2004 and 2009, the percentage of people in their 50s who say they have sex at least once a week took about a 10-point plunge for both sexes (women dropped from 43 to 32 percent, and men from 49 to 41 percent) (AARP survey)
COUPLE STATUS: Whether or not a couple is married also interacts with frequency of sexual activity. Some interpretations of this are feeling obligated, financial worries, and/ or stress.
- Unmarried couples living together have reported having the most sex, averaging 146 times per year (Durex Survey, 2003)
- Married couples may have the greatest range of sexual frequency, having reported having sex approximately 98 times per year (Durex Survey, 2003), which may be distributed a variety of ways in a given month: once-a-week, 26% (David Schnarch’s survey), a few times per month 45% (Kinsey Institute), twice a month or less (David Schnarch’s survey). On the higher end, 34% have reported 2-3 times per week (Kinsey Institute), and 7% 4 or more times per week (Kinsey Institute). On the lower end, 13% of couples have reported only a few times per year (Kinsey Institute),
- Single folks appear to have the least sex, reporting sex an average of 49 times a year (Durex Survey, 2003)
GEOGRAPHY/NATIONALITY: Cultural norms play a role in the frequency of sex and this may be due to a variety of factors, including norms, religion, and/or family-career dynamics.
· Global average: 127 times a year (Durex Survey, 2003)
· Eastern Europeans (Hungarians, Bulgarians, and Russians) are the most sexually active (150 times a year) (Durex Survey, 2003)
· Americans were low on the frequency list in 2003 at 118 times per year (Durex Survey, 2003)
GENDER: Men and women seem to differ in sex drive, sexual exploration, and expression of sexual interests, which can influence sex frequency of same and opposite sex partnering.
- Among women 48% admitted to faking an orgasm; 22% men (different survey) have gone on record as faking
- 25% of men reported visiting a pornographic site in the previous 30 days while only 4% of women reported visiting pornographic sites in the same timeframe.
- 12% of females and 22% of males reported erotic response when told a SM story.
- 55% of females and 50% of males reported having responded erotically to being bitten
- 14% of men and 11% of women have had some sexual experience with sadomasochism.
- 11% of men and 17% of women reported trying bondage.
- Men’s sexual fantasies tend to be more sexually explicit than women’s; women’s fantasies tend to be more emotional and romantic.
- In one study, men’s fantasies mentioned a partner’s sexual desire and pleasure more frequently than did women’s fantasies
- 54% of men think about sex everyday or several times a day, 43% a few times per month or a few times per week, and 4% less than once a month, while 19% of women think about sex everyday or several times a day, 67% a few times per month or a few times per week, and 14% less than once a month
NEEDS: Regardless of sex frequency, the majority of people are underwhelmed with their sex lives, and interestingly enough, it is not the frequency of sex that tops the list of unmet sexual needs.
- Only 44% of people surveyed are fully satisfied with their sex lives (Durex Survey, 2010)
- 39 % of those dissatisfied are looking for more love and romance (Durex Survey, 2010)
- 36% would like more quality time alone with their partner (Durex Survey, 2010)
- 31% would like more fun and better communication and intimacy with their partner (Durex Survey, 2010)
- 37% want to feel less stressed out and tired” (Durex Survey, 2010)
- 29% desire a higher sex drive (Durex Survey, 2010)
- 82% who are sexually satisfied say they feel respected by partner during sex (Durex Survey, 2010)
Examination of sexual functioning for emotional healthiness may be the difference between sexual satisfaction and dissatisfaction. So what are some of the markers of emotional health in sexual functioning?
10 major differences between emotionally Healthy and Unhealthy Sex:
1. Healthy Sex leads to feelings of well-being while unhealthy sex often leads to feelings of guilt and shame.
2. Healthy Sex is sensual with emotional connection to the current partner in the present moment while unhealthy sex is seeking surrogate intimacy with connection to the past, often unresolved emotional or sexual trauma, or unresolved relationships.
3. Healthy Sex is inspired, intuitive, and passionate while unhealthy sex is empty of these qualities and more about “chasing an orgasm” and satisfying a “need.”
4. Healthy Sex is nurturing of both physical and emotional connection while unhealthy sex is about getting high, numbing out, or escaping to fantasy.
5. Healthy Sex is loving of yourself and your partner while unhealthy sex is exploitive and selfish.
6. Healthy Sex is being emotionally vulnerable while unhealthy sex lacks emotional investment, vulnerability, or intimate connection.
7. Healthy Sex is respecting and honoring healthy sexual boundaries while unhealthy sex is often boundaryless and offensive.
8. Healthy Sex is moderate and feels safe to both partners while unhealthy sex is about intensity and requires escalation to achieve arousal.
9. Healthy Sex is being curious and caring about your partner while unhealthy sex is selfish and self seeking, often leaving your partner feeling used.
10. Healthy Sex is learning to trust, being vulnerable, accepting that anxiety and awkwardness are okay, and risking being known while unhealthy sex is avoidant of emotional intimacy, about power and control, and disembodied
If these areas are concerning for you, you may wish to seek mental health counseling or therapy to understand your internal processes related to sexual functioning and satisfaction. While this may not always preserve the relationship you are currently in, it can have lifelong benefits for present and future relationships.
http://www.health.com/health/article/0,,20411243,00.html Jennifer Berman, MD, is the director of the Berman Women’s Wellness Center and the author of For Women Only
http://blog.aarp.org/2013/02/21/busted-5-biggest-myths-about-sex-after-50/ Barbara Hannah Grufferman | Best of Everything After 50 |