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Engagement Anxiety and the Question of Sex

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One of the most common questions I'm asked in my counseling practice is something along these lines:

My fiancé and I have a great relationship, but after he proposed my sex drive plummeted. Is this normal? I don't want to be stuck in a sexless marriage!

Even though the topic of sex is splashed across every form of media, when someone brings the question to a session they usually ask it with a great deal of trepidation in their voice.

This is because there's a big taboo around admitting that you're struggling in the bedroom. And yet here's a secret that the mainstream media doesn't tell you: nearly every couple that has been together more than a couple of years and is past the honeymoon stage struggles with sex at some point in their relationship. We have men and women with different hormone levels, different needs, different expectations; we have early abandonment or rejection wounds that are easily triggered around sex. We have a host of false beliefs that plague partners around the topic of sex. So you see the potential for conflict in this area is big.

Most people also don't know the truth about what creates great sex. The popular message says that great sex is a function of technique and frequency, but this is a cultural lie. The truth is that great sex is a function of connection, first with yourself and then with your partner. In other words, when you feel alive inside your own skin and connected to your partner's essence, then you can meet each other sexually in a way that will feel fulfilling for both of you. Sex is an expression of love. If it's used for anything else -- to try to get approval or love or to try to feel alive -- it won't feel good for either of you in the long run. You may experience a physical sensation of pleasure or an emotional high of feeling wanted or desired, but in the aftermath of sex you're likely to feel empty, lonely, and possibly used.

And here's a news flash: Great sex isn't only about having an orgasm! What? Really? Stop the presses! That's right. You can feel deeply connected to your partner sexually even if neither of you climax every time you make love. We live in such a goal-oriented culture that we think that great orgasm equals great sex, but the reality is that an orgasm comprises the last 20 seconds of love making. What's happening the rest of the time? Hopefully, you're opening to your partner and experiencing each other's bodies and beings in other ways. You're allowing him to touch you in places that you've never been touched -- and I'm not talking about your physical body. I mean that when you meet each other in the bedroom you do so with an intention to connect in a place past thought, to learn to break through habitual walls that arise to keep out intimacy, and sometimes that means receiving your partner's loving touch without any agenda or attachment to outcome. Just being in the moment with each other in an open-hearted way with your eyes wide open. This is what it means to make love, not just have sex.

Another big lie that our culture feeds us is that sex drive, like love, is ignited by another person. We say, "He made me feel so alive," without recognizing that, after the free ride of the infatuation stage, you can only feel alive if that aliveness begins inside of you. We believe that someone can "make you feel loved" without owning that the capacity to receive love begins inside your own heart. Am I saying that anyone can turn you on if you're connected to your own sexuality? No, there needs to be a core connection, which doesn't happen every day. But if the core connection is there and your drive is down, I suggest examining it from a few different angles:

  1. Remind yourself that it's normal for your sex drive to ebb and flow. Just like the feeling of love and the arc of life itself, it's unrealistic to expect anything to remain at a constant level.
  2. Turn inside to see if you're feeling connected to yourself. When you feel alive and connected to yourself you will bring this to your partner.
  3. Ask yourself if you're feeling connected to your partner. Great sex arises from a great emotional connection, so if your libido dropped you may want to try to reconnect emotionally first and see if the sparks naturally alight from there.

And there's one more important point: if you're struggling with engagement anxiety and feeling scared about taking the next step in terms of your level of commitment, the first thing to shut down is your sex drive. The more you understand the connection between sex and emotions the less you'll think that there's something wrong with you or your relationship when your libido dips, and the more likely you'll be to explore your inner world and the ways in which you're scared to move toward intimacy.

Sheryl Paul, M.A., has counseled thousands of people worldwide through her private practice, her bestselling books, her Home Study Programs and her websites. She has appeared several times on "The Oprah Winfrey Show", as well as on "Good Morning America" and other top media shows and publications around the globe. To sign up for her free 78-page eBook, "Conscious Transitions: The 7 Most Common (and Traumatic) Life Changes", visit her website at http://conscious-transitions.com. And if you're suffering from relationship anxiety - whether dating, engaged, or married - give yourself the gift of the Conscious Weddings E-Course: From Anxiety to Serenity.