Are you having the sex which suits your relationship?
Today I am discussing what constitutes a healthy sex life within a relationship. Over the years there have been many discussions and arguments over how much sex couples are really having compared to what their neighbours predict they are having, and whether quantity or quality is more important when it comes to physical intimacy. The most effective conclusions usually summarise that there is no ‘norm’ and the only way to analyse whether your sex life is healthy is to communicate with your partner and ensure you are both happy with it, or at least both understand if there has been a recent change in your usual sexual activity. However, it is also important to consider that a dwindling or deteriorating sex life can also indicate that there are unresolved issues within other parts of the relationship. Which is why it is important to take notice rather than assume it is just a blip that will recover itself, or assume your partner is equally happy with your current situation as well.
An article published in the Sun in April 2016 entitled “We’re all very much in love…but we don’t have sex” discusses the story of four couples who are not currently having sex but who still want to be in the relationship. The Sun’s agony aunt Deidre analyses each situation, helping the couples determine whether their current sex life seems healthy for their unique relationship or not. For example, the first couple who are in their twenties, state that they are currently not having sex, or even sharing a cuddle due to lack of time. Their strenuous and conflicting work schedules being cited as the blame. Deidre warns that in this case, the lack of sex may break the relationship in the end if equilibrium isn’t sought, because both partners have regular sex drives and needs that aren’t being met. Another couple’s lack of sex was traced back to bad pelvic pain during pregnancy, and another couple’s sex life was affected by one partner’s lack of self esteem regarding her body image. Deidre signposted both couples to a counsellor so they could work through the issues resting behind the lack of physical intimacy. However the fourth couple made a joint and active decision not to have sex, even claiming that without focusing on the ‘passionate’ side of their relationship; they have created something ‘stronger’.
As with all other relationship matters… communication is key. Therefore if you and your partner have discussed your sex life and you know each other are happy with it then that is probably the most reassuring sign that your sex life is healthy, no matter what the agreement or how much you are having. Just remember to keep talking about all things, including sex, in the future to ensure that both partners expectations and needs are still in sync. I think this is incredibly important through particular life events such as having a baby, or grieving over the death of a loved one when at least one partner may feel the need to withdraw from sex temporarily- which is completely normal during stressful or emotional periods. It is also important to remember that there are other ways to remain physically intimate during these times, which include: holding hands, having a cuddle or massaging your partner.
However, if you and your partner do want to increase the amount you are physically intimate, it is also worth noting a newly published study which found that couples who share household tasks fairly are likely to have more sex than those who stick to sexist stereotypes of gender roles within the relationship. In fact it found that couples who report sharing the housework had sex approximately 7 times a month which compared to 5 times for couples in which one partner completed the bulk of the housework. However, what was also interesting was that sex not only increased the more household chores were equally divided but also if the couple didn’t divide the chores by traditional gender specific tasks (i.e. such as DIY tasks for men or cooking and cleaning for women). The reasons why are uncertain, but it could simply be that if both partners feel valued and equal in the relationship, they either have more energy for other activities or feel appreciated by their partner which can deepen intimacy.
There is also an assumption that all romantic partnerships will include a level of sexual activity. However, more and more couples are declaring that their relationship either temporarily or permanently doesn’t involve sex at all. This follows after last year’s focus on the late former Prime Minister, Sir Edward Heath, whose peers revealed he was asexual. Asexual is a term which describes someone who has no desire for sex at all; it is different from celibacy- in that it is not a choice someone makes not to have sex but a complete lack of interest in it. In fact, a Facebook page dedicated to asexuality called Asexual Awareness Week, which promotes the concept for a week in October each year, currently has over 11,000 page ‘likes’ which shows it is a concept that many people relate to.
Therefore, I think the key to a healthy sex life within a relationship is:
Firstly to talk between yourselves about what is normal for you as a couple. Either short term or in general. Exploring both your desires and expectations openly can avoid misunderstandings in the future.
Secondly, don’t put pressure on yourselves to be sexual if a different agreement suits you both. Just try and ensure that if you do decide on a sex-less relation that this is a reasoned choice that isn’t really motivated by fear or trauma.
Lastly, it might be some conflict or unresolved issue within the relationship that is impacting on your sex life. If the cause of a change in sex habits is not the preferred choice of either of you then there are therapists, including Relate, who will help explore these with you individually or as part of a couple. It may be worth seeing a counsellor together if you require some support in exploring why. For more information on Relate services you can visit https://www.relate.org.uk/.