Our sexuality is an important part of our identity. Feeling acknowledged as a sexual person contributes significantly to our sense of well-being. Although actual sex makes up a small amount of our time in a relationship, if the sexual contact between partners is absent or unsatisfying, it has a major impact on how we feel about the relationship, our partner and, most importantly, ourselves.
Despite the importance of our sexuality, research has found that in many relationships across the world, sex seems to be being set on the backburner. According to The Kinsey Institute 13 percent of U.S. married couples report having sex only a few times per year. An Australian study of more than 6,000 people in relationships showed that “only 46 percent of men and 58 percent of women were satisfied with their current frequency of sex.” Those who felt dissatisfied were also more likely to feel lower sexual and relationship satisfaction. For those who are not feeling satisfied in their sexual relationships, perhaps not having sex as much as they’d like or finding themselves making excuses to avoid sex, it may be time to ask why. Why are so many people really giving up on their sexuality?
Today’s world offers ceaseless possibilities for distraction. We have careers, kids, errands, social engagements and endless technologies to keep ourselves occupied. And when we do slow down, it’s often to retire into more mindless activities like sleeping, watching TV or browsing online. But what gets lost in the flurry of “to do’s” can be moments of actual connection with one’s partner and with ourselves for that matter. One of the most unfortunate casualties in this social scenario is sex. The more we clutter our lives, the more we seem to lose touch with or disregard our sexuality.
Though, sex may feel like it accounts for a small part of our experiences, it has a huge effect on how we feel. When couples stop having sex, and many couples do, they frequently grow apart. Instead of seeing sex as an enjoyable and important part of their wellbeing, they view it as a duty or a task that just won’t make the cut on a busy day. The truth is that sex is a lively, invigorating part of our lives that can actually reenergize us. It’s something to enjoy, a unique way to connect to another person and a precious opportunity to express affection. Yet, so many people find that it somehow takes up less and less importance. The flame dwindles, and the excuses pour in. Here are five common excuses that it may be time to forego in order to reconnect with your sexuality.
1. “I don’t feel close to my partner.”
If you feel like you’re drifting from your partner, that isn’t necessarily reason to cut off your physical relationship. Now, I’m not suggesting that people who don’t feel attracted to each other force themselves to be intimate, nor am I claiming that sex solves all problems. However, loving actions breed loving feelings. Studies have shown sexual frequency to be significantly positively associated with sexual satisfaction, and in turn, marital satisfaction and stability. This isn’t only true for married couples. It’s been reported that low sexual frequency between unmarried couples who live together is associated with higher rates of break ups.
But why do once-happy couples start to feel distant from each other? After a period of time together, many couples enter into a fantasy bond, an illusion of connection that takes the place of real relating. They function as a “we” instead of a “you” and “me,” which can kill off physical attraction. They start to see their partners as their right arm and stop acknowledging them for the separate and unique people they are. The problem is, they soon find themselves about as attracted to their partners as they are to their right arm. Additionally, a Fantasy Bond can lead couples to get nit picky. They may get easily turned off by traits they didn’t used to mind or that they even liked in their partner.
To maintain relationship satisfaction, couples are better off avoiding a fantasy connection and continuing to respect their partners as separate people. If you no longer feel physically drawn to someone you once strongly desired, it’s important to ask if perhaps you’ve created this type of bond. Think about why you’re avoiding intimacy, and be open to the possibility that the reasons aren’t necessarily good ones. For example, a petty argument over taking out the trash may not be worth giving up a vital act of affection that will, quite likely, reestablish your loving feelings.
2. “I don’t feel sexy.”
It’s no great surprise that low self-esteem can serve as a barrier in the bedroom. A recent study showed that wives’ perceptions of their sexual attractiveness were positively associated with both their and their spouse’s feelings of marital satisfaction. The better women felt about themselves physically, the healthier they felt in their sex lives and their relationships in general. Though this particular study found this issue to be more significant among married women, self-esteem has a huge impact on both sexes, particularly when it comes to sex.
In my own research, I have found that there are countless, common negative thoughts or “critical inner voices” that cloud that minds of men and women when they have sex. This can be a great distraction during sex. It can even prevent couples from being sexual in the first place. It is important not to let your critical inner voice dictate any part of your life and certainly not rob you of intimacy with your partner. When that coach inside your head is critiquing your appearance or sexual performance it’s like have a third party in your bed.
Avoiding sex is not the way to cope with this critic. Instead, do just the opposite. Pursue sex when you want it. Disregard the inhibitions enforced by that mean inner voice. Turn on the lights or throw off the covers if you have to, because countering this critic through tangible actions, like being free in your sexuality, will help to eventually quiet that voice. Plus, it feels good to be acknowledged by your partner as a sexual person. Allowing him or her to express attraction toward you will naturally refute your critical inner voice. Plus, it feels great to acknowledge your partner in this same way.
3. “I’m too tired or busy.”
One of the symptoms of a fantasy bond is a lack of energy toward your partner. The more we fall into routine, the less likely we are to feel excited or motivated to connect with ourselves, our partner and our feelings of attraction. Sure, there will be times you feel tired or your schedule will be packed, but once you fall into a routine of making excuses, you may not only start to miss out, not only on sex itself but on other moments of affection or acknowledgment. Kissing your partner goodbye, making eye contact when you talk, sending a flirtatious text, holding hands or hugging, while watching a movie are all little acts that can go a long way. Each of these are ways to maintain your own personal sense of yourself as a sexual person.
Our sexuality isn’t something we have to pack away, set aside and then go out of our way to uncover. It is something we can carry with us that makes us feel alive. Taking time for sex shouldn’t be looked at as an indulgence or an inconvenience. It can be a way to reenergize or relax, reconnect or reestablish feelings of excitement toward our relationship.
4. “I’m just not in the mood.”
Of course, there are times when we will naturally want sex more than others. No one should ever have to feel a pressure to have sex when they don’t want to. There must always be consent and mutual desire. However, the feeling of not being in the mood could be a warning sign that something else is going on, and that something may be doing you a disservice. Cutting off from feelings of wanting can be a defense that keeps you from experiencing closeness, vulnerability or intimacy. Every person has different reasons for shutting down, but it is important not to refrain from your sexuality when it is a part of who you are and what makes you happy.
If you notice that you’re turning your partner down a lot or failing to connect with your own feelings of wanting, shying away from sex entirely is probably not the answer. In most relationships, one partner will be more sexual than the other, but that doesn’t mean both partners won’t get something important out of being together. A study published this month reported that people who are motivated to meet a romantic partner’s sexual needs, not only have partners who are more satisfied with and committed to their relationships over time, but they themselves are better able to sustain their own sexual desire in the long-term. In other words, being attuned and responsive to your partner’s needs can help keep the spark alive, both between you and your partner and within yourself.
5. “I’m too old.”
Data collected from the National Social Life, Health, and Aging Project showed that 29 percent of married people between age 57 and 85 hadn’t had sex in at least a year. As people age, there may be physical issues that interfere with their sex lives, but it is rarely necessary to give up this part of themselves altogether. Too often, society tells us that at a certain age, certain activities or interests are no longer appropriate. It’s important to decide for yourself what’s important and what isn’t. If you still enjoy sex, you should do it — at any age. Don’t talk yourself out of what you feel.
Remember Diane Keaton in the comedy Something’s Gotta Give when she falls in love and sleeps with a man for the first time in decades. “I do like sex,” she shouts surprised. She then adds tearily, “I really thought I was sorta closed for business. Just never expected this.” It’s important not to just let go of parts of ourselves because of a negative self-concept that tells us we are too old or too anything to have what we want. Don’t let your critical inner voice convince you that you’re done with anything before you truly are.
At the end of the day, sex isn’t just about sex, although it is, in itself, a pleasurable and significant part of life. But it’s also about making real contact — a genuine give and take between two people. It ignites an atmosphere of warmth and intimacy. It is one more way to uphold the quality of romance and sense of companionship that makes relationships worthwhile — a means of making connection and keeping feelings alive in real time, face-to-face, without distraction.