Recent studies have shown that 42 million Americans are in low-to-no-sex marriages. This number itself may or may not come as a surprise, but it’s left many people asking why this is. The reasons people give up their sexuality are often chalked up to practical stresses: work, kids, and household responsibilities. Activities that fill our hours and leave us exhausted may diminish our sex drive, but giving up on physical intimacy is not the solution. Our sexuality is an important and fundamental part of us. It keeps us feeling young, vital, and connected to our partner.
Healthy sexuality is something to fight for. A recent Web MD article cited a series of studies that associated sex with better heart health, blood pressure, immunity, and self-esteem. Sex has further been found to reduce levels of stress and pain along with the likelihood of prostate cancer. Physical benefits aside, sex helps us to deepen our feelings of intimacy. It keeps people feeling close to their partners on every level, and reduces their desire to look outside the relationship for romance or fulfillment.
What is Healthy Sexuality?
There is no magic number for how often couples should have sex. However, healthy sexuality involves a level of intimacy and tenderness experienced between two people on a consistent basis. A couple who shows affection and acknowledgment feels more fulfilled and connected in a positive way. When a couple stops taking time out of their day to relate to each other in this way, a distance is created between them that can be filled with feelings of rejection, tension, or punishing behaviors. This lack of sexuality can perpetuate a negative cycle. We may start to lose confidence or give up on our desire to feel attractive ourselves and attracted to our partners.
In his blog “Alive Sexuality,” psychologist and author of Sex and Love in Intimate Relationships, Dr. Robert Firestone wrote, “A “healthy” orientation toward sexuality is reflected in a person’s appearance and attractiveness, in the ability to be tender and generous to others, and in one’s level of overall vitality. The combination of loving, sexual contact, and genuine friendship in a stable, long-term relationship is conducive to good mental health and is a highly regarded ideal for most people.”
Why Do We Stray from Our Sexuality?
Contrary to what we might assume, as couples get closer, they often have more trouble with their sexuality. Feeling close to someone and experiencing a depth of intimacy can stir us up, leaving us anxious or surfacing painful feelings. It isn’t as easy in reality to be loved as most of us imagine in our fantasies. We may resist or withhold affection as a defense, protecting us from getting too close or feeling too vulnerable.
In addition, when we become parents, we may stray further from our sexuality. To many people, having children means growing up and getting older, but it also means giving up our romantic life. We may alter everything from the way we dress to the social activities we engage in, and we do this in a way that isn’t usually healthy for us or our kids.
True, raising our children keeps us busy day and night, but why should it close us off from other parts of ourselves? For one thing, when we have kids, we often start to see ourselves in the role of “parents,” which may not include acting like a couple in love. We may start to behave in ways we saw our parents behaving, imitating their patterns or creating a distance from our partner that we observed in their relationship. It’s not healthy to give up our own interests or our sexuality when we have kids. Our children thrive when they’re able to observe us as vibrant and fulfilled within ourselves, separately from them.
How Can We Reconnect to Our Sexuality?
In order for sexual attraction to exist, we need to see ourselves and our partner as two separate people with two separate sets of desirable qualities. When we get close to someone, we run the risk of forming a “Fantasy Bond,” an illusion of fusion in which we lose our individual identity. A fantasy bond is created when we substitute real acts of love for habitual ways of relating. Instead of sharing life as individuals who enjoy being together, we start seeing ourselves and our partner as a merged unit, often falling into routine, subduing our feelings of passion, and losing respect for each other in the process. When this happens, as you can imagine, we don’t necessarily feel as sexual or attracted toward our partner. As we get familiar with someone, we tend to place more restrictions on them or to feel threatened by their independence. Yet, by maintaining our own interests and identity and encouraging our partner to do the same, we can preserve and even grow our feelings of attraction.
When it comes to keeping a healthy sexual relationship, we should always aim for spontaneity over routine. According to psychologist David Snarch, 70 percent of people describe their sexual life as asleep. By making a physical connection a priority and resisting the urge to form a fantasy bond, we can keep our feelings of attraction alive. We can establish a healthy relationship with our bodies and achieve a healthy sexual relationship that won’t diminish with time.