When you first met, sex was a given and you indulged in it anytime anywhere…on the couch, in the shower and maybe in the back seat of your car…you couldn’t get enough. But years later, due to real life situations, you’re tired and he’s exhausted from work. The kids are acting up. The in-laws are visiting for the weekend. The dog is sick. There are so many things that stop us from having sex on that one night, but before you know it, that single incident turns into days and then into weeks and then, gasp, months. After that long, the finger pointing starts and the blame game commences. “You’re never in the mood” or “there’s always an excuse.” A wall develops between the two of you that seems insurmountable. I talked to therapist Dena Moore to find out how to gather the wood, strike the matches and put that fire that you once shared back into the bedroom.
Having sex issues is never easy and what's even harder to acknowledge and actually vocalize is that there's a problem. Unfortunately, it usually turns into an arguement sans the wonderful "make-up sex" that television and movies would have viewers believe is an immediate cure-all. What actually happens is that both of you end up sleeping on oppostie sides of the bed, feeling like you're at fault. What am I doing wrong? Am I not sexy enough? We get so caught up in blaming eachother or ourselves that we can't get back to that initial attraction that brought us together. As with all serious situations, admitting that there's a problem is the first step to recovery and if you're in a dire situation, a therapist might just be in order. But it takes both people in the relationship to go to sessions, as the road to sexual fulfillment is not a one-way street.
I know that I reference movies a lot in my editorial, but some of them really hit home. I rented Hope Springs with Meryl Streep and Tommy Lee Jones during my research for this article and felt their character’s pain. They hadn't had sex in four years (not that that applies to me) and on top of that, they didn't even sleep in the same room. She cooked the same breakfast for him every day, which proved to me they were definitely in a rut and that is the worst because, although the daily routine is comfortable, it will eventually lead to the demise of your relationship. I admire Streep's character for her willingness to spend her savings for a week away in a sex therapy camp and she really did give it her all, but it took more than her efforts to reconnect sexually with her husband.
When I spoke to Dr. Moore, she shed some valuable light on the sex therapy process. She received her masters and doctorate from the University of Arkansas and has been in private practice since 1995, treating individuals and couples with a focus on relationship and life transition issues. She agrees with me that it’s women who usually take that first step. “I see more women making the phone call, finding the therapist and doing the leg work,” said Moore. “Once folks come into my office, though, what I find is often when they start to talk about the issues, it’s the man that will be saying, ‘See! I told you we had an issue! I told you we need some help! I’ve been telling you for years!’”
Moore also finds out from patients that their issues didn’t happen suddenly. “The thing around sexual issues is that this isn’t something that happens overnight. So folks have had a long time to figure it out on their own and by the time they come to see me, they’ve really tried their best to solve the problem themselves,” explained Moore. “They’ve probably read a lot on the internet…but the only problem with that is that information there isn’t the solution.” Nevertheless, Moore is adamant about the fact that when people initiate therapy, they actually have the capacity to change.
During the first session, spouses are at their breaking point and uncomfortable in her office. “By the time people get to see me, they are usually very frustrated as a couple, and I mean all types of couples—every gender, ethnicity, and subgroup you can imagine,” said Moore. “They’re usually sitting next to each other, not looking at each other and very pretzeled up...you know, arms and legs crossed, talking to me, not to each other. Folks usually are in one of two modes, or sometimes both: blaming the other one or simply saying, this can’t go on, we have to figure some things out or we’re not going to make it.”
Sometimes it takes Moore a few sessions to get a sense of what’s really going on inside the relationship. “I’m going to figure out how you interact but I also assess what you’re putting in your body: your food, fluid, work life, spiritual life, exercise life,” explained Moore. “I’m very holistic. I want to know as much about the two of you and how you live your life as I can; your alcohol consumption and what medications you take…our sexual drive is not separate from the rest of us.”
There are a lot of reasons for lack of sex that do not have anything to do with your attraction level to your partner. There are life transitions such as changing jobs or the birth of a child. “All of those factors feed into our drive for sex and need for intimacy,” said Moore. “It’s very unique to each couple. I don’t spend much time looking for underlying drive or those kinds of things. What I do spend a lot of time on is understanding the ‘story of us.’”
In addition to remembering how it was between you and your partner during the early days, Moore asks couples when was the last time they really looked each other in the face. “I almost always get silence,” said Moore. “Eye contact is such a powerful attracting force.” The majority of her clients site lack of time to be the couple they once were and, although she understands, Moore asks them some very pointed questions. How long does it really take to just look at your mate? How much time does it take to send a sweet text message? Bottom line is that we make time for what’s important and we need to do so to make our partners feel wanted and desirable.
In order to re-establish intimacy, Moore gives couples homework to reconnect, but she doesn’t prescribe actually having sex, especially for those common situations where one partner feels sex-starved and the other feels too much pressure to perform. “The more intimacy we have, the better the odds are for eventually getting to intercourse,” said Moore. “Because it’s so strained around the actual sexual act, I will engage people in homework that’s aimed at helping them reconnect first on a basic level. The homework is playful and by the time we get to this point, couples are more relaxed, laughing and engaging with one another. The pretzel look is gone. Once the pressure is off, the results are amazing.“
We all know that sex starts in our heads and sometimes life experiences get in the way. Someone once said that life happens while we’re making other plans and it’s so true; however, if you’re experiencing a less than fulfilling sex life, make a plan to fix it and try not to let “life” get in the way. Look your partner in the eye and discuss the situation with them without blaming them; after all, it takes two and you need to accept some of the responsibility for the problem. Non-judgemental communication is imperative and if you find that you can’t do it on your own, an objective therapist might just be the answer. I know it’s not easy and seems like you’re embarking on unchartered territory, but you’re not…you’ve enjoyed sex with your partner before many, many times. I liken it to going back to where you grew up; you may not remember the directions but when you make a conscious effort to input the address in the GPS, you always find your way home.