Sex: Are We Normal?
Almost every couple goes through different seasons in their sex life over time. Sometimes one partner has a higher sex drive than they other, sometimes they switch roles. Occasionally, outside influences and sources of stress are affecting how they relate to one another sexually. When things don't seem right, it's natural to wonder, "Is this normal?"
The answer, according to psychologist and author, Dr. Juli Slattery, is: probably. It may be helpful to think of yourselves on a bell curve, as one couple related to other couples. With regard to the frequency of sex, there are couples all over the curve with the largest number being clustered somewhere around the middle. That doesn't mean that there's anything wrong with the couples who desire sex far more often or somewhat less often—as long as both partners feel satisfied and secure.
Slattery also cautions against dwelling too much on sexual stereotypes, such as the typical idea that men always desire sex more often than women. Research suggests that this may be reversed in as many as 20% of all couples, and that the stereotype doubles the frustration for wives who feel they're being sexually neglected.
While "normal" may be slightly different for every couple, there are some trouble areas in marriage that show up in the bedroom and represent real problems.
Some signs to watch for are:
- Physical Dysfunction. If you or your partner feels physically unable to perform sexually or have absolutely no desire, there may be an underlying medical issue. Talk with a trusted physician who can help pinpoint any physiological or hormonal problems that may be impeding sexual desire or functioning.
- Emotional Barriers. In some cases, the rejection of sex in marriage is a product of some emotional scar, either in the marriage or pre-existing it. If a negative past experience leads either spouse to feel anxiety or fear related to sex, a counselor can be helpful. A good counselor will help you to break those pre-existing negative associations and helping you achieve a clean emotional slate.
- When "Normal" Isn't Enough. One of the devastating consequences of the constant accessibility of pornography in our society is that it sabotages the ability to enjoy natural, married sex. Watching porn floods the brain with extremely high levels of erotic stimulation, leaving users in a position of needing ever-more intense and unrealistic experiences in order to achieve sexual satisfaction. It becomes difficult for real life to compete with fantasy.
If one of these issues may be at the root of dissatisfaction for you or your husband, seek appropriate help to get the barriers out of the way. If your problems are the more common "I'm just so tired," or "he's never interested"—take heart. All that may be needed to get in sync is a spirit of compromise. Couples almost never have identical needs at all times with regard to sex. What the most satisfied couples say, however, is that they've learned to listen to their spouse and meet in the middle. One may have sex more often than they feel necessary, and one may occasionally do without when interested. But because of mutual love and a desire to please one another, the pendulum never swings too far in one direction for too long.
And although the sexual dynamic of marriage is important and shouldn't be neglected, it must also be kept in perspective, according to Slattery. Sex isn't love itself, or the sum total of your relationship—it's an expression of love. Sometimes our cultural preoccupation with the subject places an unnatural level of pressure on couples to conform to some ideal, when, if left alone, they would resolve these issues in their own way.
And finally, when things feel out of sync - communicate. Talk to your spouse about how you're feeling and what you'd like. Do so without laying blame or playing the victim. Sometimes a little understanding is all that's needed to find that middle ground and truly enjoy one another again.
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