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Protecting and Enhancing Sexuality in Marriage


As your relationship develops, sexuality changes. This is normal. Since intense sexual attraction is usually an important bonding element early in relationships, sexual changes often seem unwelcome. Many factors are involved in these changes.


Before we talk any further about the challenges of sex in marriage, it's worth noting that married women and men report being significantly more satisfied with their sex lives than either single or cohabiting people.


One of the most fundamental challenges is the decline in sexual novelty. Novelty is a major sexual stimulant. Novelty is automatic early in your relationship. Later, sex naturally becomes more familiar and less novel with your partner.


Low desire is the top sexual problem in marriages. (For men, the top complaint is low frequency--although many women share this concern; for women, the top complaint is quality.) You may need to seek approaches to increasing the stimulation of your sex life at some point to compensate for the loss of partner novelty. The basic strategy is to seek new sources of novelty and variety. Read on for suggestions.


Other common interfering factors include anger, time, avoidance and anxiety.


While most couples don’t want to make love while they are in the middle of a fight, it’s a mistake to put aside your sex life for an extended period because of disagreements. (Volatile couples, especially, may find making up from fights to be a passionate experience.) Repair your fights and don’t interrupt your sex life out of anger.


Lack of time is one of the most often cited reasons for infrequency of sex. One of the most common myths is that sex has to take a certain amount of time. Of course, leisurely sex can be wonderful. But it’s a luxury that few couples can afford on a regular basis. If you wait for a big chunk of time and the right mood for most sexual encounters, your sex life will become infrequent if your life is as busy as most. See below for suggestions on how time-limited sex can be satisfying for both partners.


Another top myth is that sex must be spontaneous. It’s a fact of modern life that we plan and schedule everything that is a priority. Make sex a priority and include it in your schedule. Date night is popular with many couples, but some experts advocate planning frequent very brief sexual encounters.


Couples often avoid sex because their sex life has become dissatisfying or conflictual. If talking about it is uncomfortable (and for most it is, at least a bit), avoidance can become the path of least resistance. Lack of time is often a convenient excuse. Talking about sexual concerns in a caring way and planning together for sexual revitalization can be the cure for avoidance.


Anxiety is another frequent interfering factor. Sometimes anxiety is related to inhibitions acquired earlier in life. Performance is another big source of anxiety. Performance used to be a male concern—now women, too, feel pressure to perform sexually. It’s hard for mere mortals to live up to the sexual expectations and images promoted by the media.


Sex is an important bonding component in marriage. So even if you feel somewhat alienated from your partner, sex can often be the experience that restores your bond. It can allow you both to feel closer, get affection and stimulate a sense of intimacy. For some men who don’t talk very much in relationships, sex can help them open up a little. From a biological point of view, sex has a very positive effect on brain chemistry that can make an important contribution to the on-going health of your marriage. Sex primes the pump for intimacy and healing in marriage.


Marriages that don’t maintain their sexual vitality are very much at risk. Plan together to protect and promote your sex life.


For many people, sensate-focused sex is great early in the relationship. They give themselves over to the wonderful body sensations of sex with their partner. If you find sensate focus less satisfying as your marriage progresses, consider a more interpersonal approach to sex—what Schnarch calls ‘eyes wide open’ sex.


Fantasy can be another important source of stimulation and variety for a sex life that has become routine. Fantasy can be anything from reading sexy stories to watching sexy videos to talking about things you’d like to do (whether or not you actually go on to do them). Reviewing together the early days of your relationship and what you found so alluring in each other can be very stimulating.


Pasahow advocates using mutually arousing fantasies, both in advance and during sex, to increase your stimulation, so that both partners can be satisfied in the limited amount of time available for most sexual encounters in busy lives.


Use variety to increase novelty: new and various fantasies, positions, toys, locations, times, etc.


Take turns initiating sex. Take turns being in total control while your partner remains totally passive. These strategies help to deal with common complaints that partners take too little or too much responsibility.


Optimize your sex life by communicating desires and taking small risks.


Pasahow and other books give many suggestions for implementing these approaches in many different relationships with different sexual issues.


Our suggested readings about sexuality in marriage (and other committed relationships):


Carole Pasahow, DSW, ACSW, Sexy Encounters: 21 Days of Provocative Passion Fixes
(Program, resources and suggestions for lack of desire, 'not enough time,' increasing variety, use of fantasy, reconciling different sexual styles, etc.)

Click here to learn more about or buy this book through our bookstore link.


David Schnarch, Ph.D., Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships
(Stages and impasses of married sexuality. Stick with it past the slow beginning. There are some really important ideas here and they tend to accelerate in the second half of the book. He is a strong advocate for marriage as an environment for the continuous personal development process of each partner. He describes the interaction between marriage, personal development and sexual relations.)

Click here to learn more about or buy this book through our bookstore link.


David Schnarch, Ph.D., Resurrecting Sex: Solving Sexual Problems & Revolutionizing Your Relationship

(More specific problem-related advice.)

Click here to learn more about or buy this book through our bookstore link.



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Want to know about more about strategies to protect and enhance sexuality in marriage? Consider attending a Marriage Success Training seminar with your partner. Click here to learn about the benefits of MST.


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Copyright 2004, Patricia S. & Gregory A. Kuhlman. You may copy this article for non-commercial use provided that no changes are made and this copyright notice, author credit and source citation are included.




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