As Valentine's Day approaches, there's always talk of the "romance" and "love" we are all supposed to feel. According to the media and the pressure we put on ourselves internally, it's also apparently time to have great sex, and plenty of it. The fact is that while magazines, blogs, and talk shows are full of advice about how to make your lover, friend-with-benefits, or one night stand explode with pleasure, lots of people aren't having sex as much as they wish they were. Let's talk honestly about why:
SLIDESHOW: 5 Reasons You're Not Having Sex
The main reason people don't have sex is because it isn't rewarding. Not wanting sex that isn't enjoyable isn't a "dysfunction" -- it's common sense. There are dozens of reasons sex becomes unenjoyable. Some couples (or one partner) gets stuck on intercourse, deriding everything else as "foreplay" or "just fooling around." Some people get too focused on orgasm -- a mere few seconds in a 15-minute or 30-minute enterprise that should be enjoyable on its own. When orgasm is the only thing that's appealing, people race through sex to get the "good part." You may recall how much you used to enjoy kissing; perhaps you still yearn for it. In many long-term couples, sex no longer involves kissing, and so they don't get sufficiently aroused. Kissing is actually the most intimate sexual activity. Yes, really -- after all, most of us have had intercourse when we've been upset with someone, but have you every passionately kissed someone you were angry with? No, no one does that.
Pleasure can be a big part of sex, but it's hard to feel pleasure when you're angry, sad, or hurt. Intimacy can also be a big part of sex, and it's hard to create it or feel it when you're focused on performance, or when you feel guilty, ashamed, or anxious. When couples quarrel once or twice every week, or they feel distant from Monday to Thursday, they're rarely both in a playful mood at the same time. And even if you start sex when you're short-tempered, or feeling misunderstood or alone, all it takes is one little frustration -- your partner leans on your hair, or gets a foot cramp, or accidentally tickles you -- and you're throwing up your hands and snarling "look, just forget it."
Sex can hurt when a woman isn't aroused enough. Or because the two of you don't use (enough) lube. Or because you have an unresolved medical issue. Sometimes the sex itself is pain-free, but you hurt afterwards -- you're sore, or you typically get a bladder infection or a herpes outbreak, or you're allergic to his semen. And sometimes there's pain during or after sex because your back, neck, knees, or hips aren't as limber and forgiving as they used to be. As a result, sex becomes unappealing regardless of the number or size of orgasms you can have.
One of the things most people want from sex is to feel special. Many people also want to feel desired. When we're with a partner who acts bored, even if he's technically proficient, it's hard to feel special or desired. And when we have to talk someone into sex over and over, their skill as a lover becomes less important, and their lack of interest becomes more important. A partner's enthusiasm is arousing. A partner's apathy is deadening. If your partner claims he thinks about you and your body and sex, but that he just forgets to mention it during a typical week, let him know how problematic this is. Talking about each other's body periodically is part of a couple's mental hygiene.
Yes, routine has an important role in sex. When you and your partner go out to dinner, you have a routine. You know he likes spicy food. He knows you like wine, not beer. You know he hates noisy cafes with tiny tables. He knows you won't eat shrimp no matter how it's prepared. After a few months as a couple, you accept these things about each other, and find restaurants where you can both get what you want. If you're still quarreling about "why can't we go to an oyster bar?" or "so the tables are tiny--it's not noisy, it's trendy!" every dinner out is a potential battle. And so you stop looking forward to going downtown. It's the same with sex. While you don't want to do the exact same thing every time you have sex, you want to establish which things are on the menu and which things aren't. If after a year as lovers you still have to say "I've told you a million times, no biting my shoulder," or "just once, can't you get the lube before I ask for it," sex becomes a battleground for power struggles, rather than a playground for cooperation. Yes, there are lots of reasons people don't have sex. And the most important antidote to those reasons is conversation. Communication. Asking questions. Talking less about what you don't want -- and more about what you do want. That's the best Valentine's Day present of all.
Dr. Marty Klein is a Palo Alto, CA sex therapist and marriage counselor. His new book from HarperCollins is "SEXUAL INTELLIGENCE: What We Really Want From Sex -- And How to Get It."
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