The objective of this article is to present information relating to sexual difficulties in marriage and how they may develop.
By: Susan Adams M.Ed.
Summary: Sometimes sexual problems between couples are just that, they are sexual problems related to some kind of performance issue as in premature ejaculation and painful intercourse. However, more of the time, the sexual difficulties result from poor communication and unrealistic or simply “different” expectations on the part of the partners. It is the latter that this article seeks to address.
Many people who think that they have a sexual problem are really blaming sex for something else that is wrong with their relationship. In fact, the biggest enemy to good sexual relations is anger. Sexual problems can easily arise when the communication in the relationship is poor, leading to anger with one or both partners. Sometimes, even disparuena (painful intercourse) or vaginismus (an involuntary tightening of the vagina) is caused by the feelings that result from marital discord.
Many sexual problems arise from a mutual lack of understanding of conditioned attitudes and expectations. Men who have been tuned in to pornography may have unrealistic expectations for how sex should be performed with a marriage partner. The “freaky” sex (as one of my clients articulated it) that gets seen in porn is then assumed to be a part of all relationships. When it doesn’t appear or the partner resists some of those practices, the other partner feels “cheated” of something that is perceived as a part of everyone’s life but theirs.
Fighting over other problems such as money can make problems in the bedroom. many people have difficulty being intimate after conflict–some people, on the other hand, use sex as a make-up tool. This is an individual preference and not to be seen as universal.
Women may be more romantic than men some of the time. Some men are more romantic than their partner. The wife may feel resentful and bitter because she feels that her husband doesn’t take the time to be romantic before sex, and even has the nerve to want sex after fighting all day. It is a good idea from the female perspective for many women, to let sex begin the day before. It involves having a lovely time together, being helpful with the children and the dishes, and thinking about how the female partner is seeing things. Good listening skills on the part of husbands is a wonderful aphrodisiac for many women.
Some men see things differently. One man in my office says that there wouldn’t be any fights if his wife would let herself go and be “loving.” He thinks that his wife should be happy that he desires her physically and sees that as a compliment. She on the other hand, sees his drive as about him and not about her. He believes that it is wrong for him to have to worry all day about offending her so that they can be intimate.
It would be helpful for couples like this to keep in mind how what they do and say will be seen and experienced by the other. In fact, this skill is very necessary in marriage regardless of the subject. It is very difficult to live with people who are easily offended. Sometimes, being easily offended and keeping conflict going serves as a means to keep distance in the relationship.
So, first, it is important for couples to come to understand how everyone sees the problem. The next step is to move to correct the offending behaviors. If this doesn’t work, it may be time to consult a relationship therapist about the function of the resistance to sexuality. This may go back to early conditioning on one side of the couple relationship or the other–or even both.
In sex, as in many things, girls often get conditioned differently from boys. Though there are wide differences in families, in general girls may be taught to inhibit their talk, actions, and even thoughts about sex. When girls look sexual in some families, it arouses much more anxiety than when boys look sexual. This has produced more women than men who have trouble being sexually responsive.
Generally, girls have been conditioned to associate sexual activity with romance and tenderness. Some men have been conditioned this way as well so that they make good partners for these women. However, more men have been conditioned to value their ability to conquer women sexually. They were encouraged sometimes, to compete with other men concerning sexual performance and want to be seen and recognized for their “natural” desirability, If the wife is romantically inclined and the husband needs to keep his “masculine image” sexually, there may be trouble.
In today’s society, many women are sexually emancipated and they complain about wanting more sex than their husbands. This sometimes results from the fact that some women marry less sexually aggressive males because they interpret the lack of aggression as respect for morality and for love. They assume tht after marriage their husbands will turn into self-confident and aggressive sex partners. Usually, this is not the case. The less aggressive male, sexually, remains so. Some women treat this problem by holding back their response in an effort to goad the male into more aggression. This, however, only increases his anxiety and he becomes even less aggressive. The resulting resentments on both sides can lead to serious problems in the bedroom. The problems, in this case, spread from the bedroom to other areas of the marriage which is counter to when conflict in other areas spreads to the bedroom.
Sexual communication is simply another form of marital communication. Couples can and need to discuss their ideas and expectations about sex but they need to do it away from any sexual encounters. They need to discuss preferences. If the conversations are not working between the couple, they may well need to seek outside assistance in the form of a good relationship therapist to help straighten out the difficulties.