Let’s face it: very few of us were taught how to enjoy sex in relationships. We are left to figure it out on our own as we go, and as a result, sometimes false and unhelpful information gets spread around in friend groups and by movies, magazines, etc. My goal in writing this is to challenge 3 common myths about sex in relationships that I often hear in the subtext of couples’ complaints when they come into my office.
Myth #1: “If everything else in the relationship is good, the sex will be good, too.”
Here’s the thing: there’s no doubting that sometimes when you experience issues in your relationship, desire for sex or the quality of sex may be impacted. For example, it can be difficult to feel in the mood if you’re constantly fighting or feeling criticized. Or, for some people, it can be difficult to be totally open during sex if they feel a sense of insecurity in the relationship. And yes, for couples in those situations, prioritizing those issues in therapy may lead to some changes in the bedroom, as well. But the truth is, for many couples, the status of their sex lives can be independent from other areas of the relationship. It is super common for couples who come into my office to preface the first session by saying, “We are so in love, we have awesome communication, but sex has always been a struggle.” OR, “Sex was great in the beginning, and over time our relationship has only grown stronger, but lately we haven’t felt that same desire for sex.”
Feeling like your sex life is lacking can be scary, because it inevitably leads to larger questions about the relationship- Are we right for each other? Is something wrong with us? It can be very validating for folks to hear that a lot of couples struggle with sex, and that their relationship is not to blame!
Riddle me this: Did you receive information growing up about how to experience pleasure with a partner? How to talk about sex? What to expect about sex in a long term relationship? How to stay in a sexy mindset while working a full time job and raising kids? Didn’t think so, because that education is still not a big part of American culture (or many other cultures, for that matter). It’s no wonder so many couples struggle in the bedroom...and thinking that that must mean something is wrong with them can make it so much harder. Not to mention, there are other common issues (i.e, pain with sex, erectile dysfunction, etc) that can make sex difficult and that aren’t necessarily related to a couples attachment to one another.
If you’re experiencing issues with sex in your relationship, don’t be afraid to ask for help!
Myth #2: “There is a normal amount of sex that every couple/partnership should be having in order to be considered normal.”
People ask about this magic number all the time, and it usually stems from anxiety that what they’re doing isn’t normal. My answer? There is no magic number of times you should be having sex a week- what’s “normal” differs for every couple. It all depends on what is satisfying for YOU.
Now, what if you and your partner have different preferences on how frequent you have sex? It can be useful to have a conversation about the reasons why you have sex and why you prefer the frequency that you do- do you want sex to connect to your partner? For stress release? To feel desired? For the person who prefers more frequent sex- can you accomplish these things by doing other activities with your partner? For the person who prefers to have less frequent less sex- are there things you and your partner can each do to make you more likely to be in the mood more often?
Myth #3: “It’s wrong to have sexual fantasies that aren’t about your partner.”
Fantasies are normal, and they are just that- fantasy. Just because you fantasize about that Scottish guy from Outlander does not mean that you prefer him over your husband in real life. You can have a perfectly solid relationship with your husband and still think about that guy’s accent.
In fact, fantasies about others can actually help couples have a rich sex life, because letting yourself think about sex and feel sexy can lead you to be in the mood more often with your partner.
Now, if you find yourself not desiring your partner at all, then it may be a signal that something needs to change (in the relationship, the way you both approach sex, etc). Again, many couples struggle with desire, and it does not mean you don’t find your partner attractive. Check out Come As You Are by Emily Nagoski and Mating in Captivity by Esther Perel for two great resources on increasing desire in relationships.