Why do some couples in long-term relationships stop having sex?

Published in Blog by Marian O'Connor on March 27th 2017

Even when sex is enjoyable for both partners? And how can psychosexual therapy help? - A blog post by Marian O’Connor, Head of Professional Development and Training

Help! We hardly have sex anymore!

Many of the couples who come to Tavistock Relationships for psychosexual therapy do not suffer from any sexual dysfunction. They say that sex, when they have it, is good, mutually pleasurable and makes them feel closer afterwards. But they agree that they do have a sexual problem - they don't have enough sex. They report, 'We have sex only once every two months' or even, 'The last time we had sex was five years ago'.

Love is the drug...

In the early days of a couple's relationship, the desire to connect is very strong. There's a desire to get to know one another, talk long into the night, find out each other's opinions and history, meet each other's friends and family and of course, to be close physically through kissing, touching, sexual intercourse. Intimate touching produces serotonin, the so-called 'bonding hormone' and orgasms produce endorphins for that feel-good, high feeling. As the song goes, ‘love is the drug...'

He used to practically tear my clothes off with desire when I got home. Now he greets me with a complaint that I forgot to put out the rubbish bin!

I’m too busy for sex

The trouble is, in longer term relationships, the rush to connect when you meet your partner is not so overwhelming. You already have many ways in which you are connected - mortgages, marriage, shared friends and interests, children, not to mention domestic chores and ongoing disputes. And the same is true for both gay and straight couples. One man complained, 'He used to practically tear my clothes off with desire when I got home. Now he greets me with a complaint that I forgot to put out the rubbish bin!'.

The fact is, for many couples, the demands of work, exercise, family, social media, take precedence over sexual connection.

How psychosexual therapy can help couples who complain about a lack of sex in their relationship

Psychosexual therapy used to be called sex therapy. The name was changed in recognition of the fact that the psyche or mind plays a huge part in sexual functioning and sexual desire. Desire may be dampened by thoughts of resentment, disappointment, work or family preoccupations.

Couples attending psychosexual therapy will talk about and work through emotional issues which have been keeping them distant and in some cases the rekindling of emotional intimacy and trust is enough to rekindle sexual desire and intimacy. In other cases, where the couple are getting on well, feel close, but can't restart their sex life, the therapist might suggest a graded programme of homework exercises.

Desire should be spontaneous

Some couples resist the idea of setting side time aside for homework: 'Desire should be spontaneous', they say. But sex researchers such as Rosemary Basson have shown that sexual desire is more complex than that. Whereas at the beginning of a relationship the thought or sight of the loved one can be enough to stimulate desire, in long term relationships desire may follow sexual stimulation and arousal or may be activated by a desire to share or to please.

Making time for sex

Sometimes it can be hard to persuade couples to start the homework exercises. They complain they seem fake, unnatural. But once committed to the process, couples are often delighted to find that their desire is stimulated by the sensual pleasure and physical intimacy the exercises give them. It can be a surprise for couples to discover that in their busy lives they have to 'make time' for sex, but most find the rewards of a rekindling of sexual desire, pleasure and closeness make this well worthwhile.

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