In Part One of my Let’s Talk about SEX post last month, I discussed my embarrassing secret (so embarrassing that I have avoided talking about it with even my closest friends). In a nutshell: I’m 34-years-old, and I am not really interested in sex anymore. I don’t hate it, but I don’t love it either. I could honestly take it or leave it.
I looked into quick prescription solutions, trying to find an easy fix for a problem that I discovered was called HSDD (hypoactive sexual desire disorder). I soon discovered that prescriptions might be somewhat helpful, but they were really only a band-aid covering a much more complex issue, an issue that I needed to get to the bottom of if I wanted to address the ever-increasing strain on my marriage. In the midst of my research, I came across a helpful analogy to describe the disparity between activating men’s sexual desire and women’s sexual desire. For a man, getting “turned on” is a pretty basic physical reaction, like flipping on a light switch. For a woman it is much more complex; it’s more like looking at all of the switches and knobs in the cockpit of a fighter jet and trying to get them adjusted to exactly the right settings to take off.
For a man, sex is primarily biological. For a woman, it is much more psychological, which is why I ultimately decided to search for a marriage therapist who specializes in sex therapy.
If I was nervous and hesitant to speak to an OBGYN about my “trouble in the bedroom,” I was positively sick to my stomach with anxiety before our first meeting with a sex therapist. I kept thinking through all of the worst-case scenarios: what if he turned out to be a creep? What if he sided with my husband on everything and didn’t understand where I was coming from at all? What if discussing our problems out loud only made everything worse? In the end, I needn’t have worried about any of those things at all.
Therapists are trained to soothe people and help them to feel at ease; I should have known that. Our therapist had a way of making both of us feel comfortable right from the first meeting, and he didn’t jump into sex talk right away. I think it also helped that we were visiting our therapist virtually from the comfort of our living room. I was nervously debating how I would ask my parents if they could watch our kids every evening once a week, and how much I would need to tell them about our therapy appointments, but there was no need for that at all. We could send our kids down to the basement to watch a movie and meet with a therapist in the privacy of our own home on our laptop.
I was initially surprised that our therapist spent so much time getting acquainted with our daily routine. One common theme that kept cropping up is how tired I feel all the time. I was amazed when the therapist started asking my husband for details about how we split the basic housekeeping duties (cleaning, cooking dinner, washing dishes, dealing with bath time and bedtime, etc.), and my husband abashedly came to this conclusion on his own: “Yeah, she actually does a lot, now that we’re listing it all out like that. I could probably do more to help.” I admitted that it’s hard to jump from task-mode to sexy time when I have no time to just sit down and relax at the end of the day. I need some downtime to mentally transition. And that would be a lot easier if my husband volunteered for some of those daily tasks. The therapist supported that idea wholeheartedly, and my husband seemed much more willing to acknowledge my challenges when it was a neutral third party broaching the topic.
Our therapist has also helped me to better see my husband’s perspective about sex.
My husband is not the type of guy who likes to sit around and talk about his feelings, and when he broaches a conversation about my lack of sexual desire, it ends up feeling like a personal attack. So I’ve been fascinated by the process of watching a therapist ask my husband a series of probing questions to get to the heart of how he is feeling. I’ve discovered that ultimately, it’s not that my husband is some sort of sex fiend. He craves the closeness and the bond that intimacy creates. When I turn him down for sex, he feels rejected as a person and so, so lonely. I honestly had no idea that his feelings about it ran that deep. Our therapist has helped to give me clarity and insight into the inner-workings of my husband’s mind that I’ve never had before. Clear communication is apparently just not our forte as a married couple (but we’re working on it).
Our therapist also acknowledged how common this problem is across the board for so many couples.
It’s not just a female problem; there are many cases in which the woman in the relationship has higher sexual desire than the man. Realizing that I’m not alone in this is a helpful first step toward relieving some of my anxiety about sex. In a rare conversation with our therapist one-on-one (most of our sessions happen together, but he did want to give us a chance to broach our concerns individually as well), I expressed my fear that if I couldn’t fulfill my husband’s needs, he may not want to stay married to me. He stopped me almost before I could complete the sentence and told me that we needed to get one thing straight: “Sex is NOT a need. It’s a desire. It can be fun. It can draw a couple closer together. But it is NOT a need like food, water, and shelter. He doesn’t need it.” Our therapist helped me realize that I had been putting a lot of extra pressure on myself by thinking that sex was another wifely duty on my endless list, when really it should be something fun that I enjoy and look forward to.
Figuring out how to communicate about sex openly has been one of the most helpful aspects of this experience.
I get giggly and bashful and uncomfortable talking about sex, but if I can’t express my own wants and desires to my husband, then our sex life will continue to be extremely one-sided. It’s also been challenging for me to even identify what I want in the first place. How will I instruct my husband on what to do in the bedroom if I have no idea what will feel good?
One reader who commented on my last post really hit the nail on the head when she advised practice. The more you have sex, the more you will want it, and the better it will become. I was surprised to read that Cliff and Joyce Penner, well-known Christian sex therapists with multiple books published, recommend that a woman struggling to get in touch with her sexual side should experiment with sex toys and masturbation. That’s something that I always thought had been discouraged by the Christian church (or entirely unaddressed altogether). Even the Penners encourage it with caution — as a way to explore your own body and figure out what you like and don’t like, but not as a foray into fantasy about other people or used in conjunction with pornography. It’s key to have the mindset of using it as a tool to practice in between sexual encounters with your husband, with the end goal of making married sex better and more fulfilling (not as a replacement for sex with your husband altogether).
I’ve learned so much about sex in such a short amount of time, but fixing our problems in the bedroom will be a slow process. I’m trying not to put pressure on myself that our sex life needs to be transformed overnight. It also helps to know that it’s not entirely my problem to fix; my husband definitely has a stake in helping me to enjoy our sexual time together as well (whether that entails figuring out how to give me pleasure or picking up extra household duties, or a combination of both). It will take time and practice, and we will both have to make it a priority to keep learning and keep growing and commit to putting each other first.