Let's Talk About Sex

By Lauren Baumbauer

October 30, 2009 5 min read

Feel as if a sexual rut has taken hold of your relationship and the passion may never return? Maybe this is an accepted fate after several years of togetherness. Marriages and long-term relationships aren't supposed to include sex, right?

"Married people have more sex on average than people who aren't in relationships," says Barry McCarthy, a tenured professor of psychology at American University and a certified marital and sex therapist. McCarthy is also the author of several books dedicated to helping couples with their sex lives, including "Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style: The Key to Sexual Satisfaction."

So where did all of this sex couples are supposed to be having go?

From infertility to a lack of intimacy or trust, there are many causes for the loss of sex. According to McCarthy, most people begin relationships idealized, and the sex is great for the first six months to two years if couples are lucky. When sex is healthy in a marriage, the importance it has on the energy of the relationship is enormous.

In sexless marriages, there will be conflict, especially if sex is avoided. "When couples break up after five years, it's always a sex issue," McCarthy says. In order to attempt to eliminate this outcome, couples need to work on any concerns and figure out what course of action they should take.

In fact, work is one of the first acknowledgments Marianne Brandon, a sex therapist who co-founded the Sexual Wellness Center in Annapolis, Md., and co-wrote "Reclaiming Desire: 4 Keys to Finding Your Lost Libido," says couples need to make to be on the path to better sex and better relationships.

"Acknowledge marriage isn't a given that things can't change," Brandon says. Couples need to have honest communication to understand that they can't control each other and that they should not take each other for granted.

Another area that needs to be communicated about is how couples respond differently to each other as time goes on. Some people have the expectation that their mates -- or even themselves -- should be turned on automatically, just as they were when their relationships began. Brandon attributes the instant arousal stage, when couples are charged at the beginning of seeing each other, as part of procreation.

As a relationship evolves into something beyond this primal need, each partner develops different responses. They need to find new ways to relate sexually.

McCarthy counts not adapting to new ways of enjoying sex as one of the reasons men gradually stop having sex. In more than 90 percent of cases in which couples stop having sex, it's the man's non-verbal decision. This can occur not only after a certain age but also when a couple have settled into their relationship. If a man is used to automatic arousal and spontaneous erections, his confidence may be lost if this changes. He may not participate in intimate moments outside of intercourse and jump to intercourse whenever he does have an instant erection.

Intimate touching, which doesn't necessarily mean intercourse, needs to be a constant part of a relationship so gradual arousal is accepted into the relationship. This includes hand-holding, cuddling, massage, playful touch and erotic touch without intercourse.

Even finding ways to bring back the newness of passion can help you get out of the rut. "People are more motivated in the early relationship stages," Brandon says. This can mean small things, such as wearing high heels to bed and going to a bookstore to get a sex book with new techniques and ideas.

This also means trying to find which style of intimacy fits for you. Every relationship has a different way it ticks, just as the individuals in the relationship are different. Understanding sexual preferences and having the motivation to try new things create an erotic team instead of just buddies.

"Sex is a safe place where you can re-energize," McCarthy says. It's a myth that sex must have the same role and meaning for each partner. "One person may have sex to increase intimacy, and the other may have sex to reduce tension. The idea of having to be on the same page lessens the relations."

This can cause a power struggle of "intercourse or nothing," and that certainly doesn't help with passion. Again, intimate touching and an understanding of each other's needs are important every day.

With honest communication, understanding, a desire to try new things and lots of intimate touching, the passion shouldn't be absent from the bedroom for long.

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