THE BLOG

Does Sexual Dysfunction Lead to Divorce?

10/25/2011 01:47 am ET | Updated Dec 24, 2011

When we hear about celebrity couples splitting up, it's often due to infidelity -- or so we're told by the gossip magazines. What is never reported are the couples who divorce due to one or the other having a sexual dysfunction. It may be obvious that this is perhaps the last realm of privacy that has remained amid all the other salacious details that come out of sex scandals.

From Monica Lewinsky's detailed report on her encounters with former President Clinton to the more recent and dramatic story of Arnold Schwarzenegger fathering a child with the former nanny while married to Maria Shriver, we have heard many stories of sexting, bathroom sex, and sex videos in which famous people were involved. But to date no public figure has declared that they or their soon-to-be ex were having sexual dysfunction in the bedroom.

However, that is what leads many couples into my therapy office. Sometimes it's the pain that a wife is having during intercourse with her husband, other times it's a man's inability to sustain his erection while having sex with his wife. At times it's a woman's freezing up due to past abuse that's causing her to have vaginismus with her partner. The couple generally come in feeling depressed and frustrated.

At first, most partners or spouses are generally understanding and sympathetic when it becomes clear there is a problem. What follows, however, is a pattern of anxiety, avoidance and then at times total refraining from any type of sexual encounter. Both partners end up feeling alone, guilty and sometimes angry. The sexual activity they are avoiding would give them a sense of bonding, comfort and physical release that is lacking in the relationship. The person who is experiencing the problem may be too embarrassed to get professional help, and may feel guilty for refraining from doing so. The partner without the problem may feel guilty for asking their spouse/partner for sex so frequently because they feel they're hurting the other's feelings by bringing up what they're trying to avoid. The partner without the dysfunction may also be angry because they feel entitled to a sex life, they feel shut out of the process of improving the sexual relationship, and they feel upset that their partner has dragged their feet about going to get help.

It is this last element that can sometimes cause the couple to end their relationship. If the person with the erectile dysfunction or the pain issue has put off coming to see a professional for a very long time, and the sex life has subsequently stopped for many years, apathy can set in. Even an angry couple at least has a connection with one another. When couples wait too long to get help, one partner may detach emotionally and have difficulty reattaching; they feel that their needs have been ignored for so long that they don't believe they can love and depend on their partner.

The take-away lesson is to go get help sooner rather than later. If you have a doctor who doesn't take your complaints seriously, get another opinion. Seek out a sex therapist who can refer you to the right professionals to get the proper evaluation and explain the problem.