Archive for Sex

Understanding Changes in Sexual Frequency

Many couples we see at Coupleworks come into therapy feeling as though there is something fundamentally wrong with their relationship when their desire starts to wane and the pattern of their sex life changes. It can sometimes be difficult to help couples normalise these feelings and avoid getting caught in an internal narrative that if their sex lives slows down the relationship is no longer viable.

When couples come to therapy, it is usually because the difficulty has gone underground and been around for quite some time. There is a tendency not to address sexual issues with one another (it’s uncomfortable and awkward), and the gap tends to widen to a point where it is difficult to see a solution. Couples seem able to talk about ‘the fact they aren’t having sex as often’ but less able to talk about their feelings of hurt and rejection. In my mind, it’s when couples bury their feelings that toxic thoughts start to surface between them. Couples usually begin to feel a sense of relief after the initial discomfort of actually starting the conversation.

Common reasons why couple’s sex lives change:
Work
Pregnancy
Children
Stress
Tiredness
Illness
Depression
Tension between Couples
Outside Factors

As couples get caught up in their daily lives, the attention towards their partner changes and a pattern begins between them. The key is to name the issues and more importantly tell the other how they experience these changes. I had a woman tell her husband in a session that his lack of desire for her brought up strong feelings that the relationship was over. These feelings triggered memories of her father leaving her mother for a younger woman. Her internal narrative didn’t allow her to be curious about what might be going on with her husband or the relationship and allow her to address the issue with him. As we worked through this, she discovered he was overstressed and exhausted, and we found ways to help him lower his stress levels and find his way back sexually to her. Disentangling these stories helps couples see one another separately and not personalise the experience. With this couple, it helped them to see that there were external factors contributing to the man’s change in desire and allowed them to find ways of addressing them.

What Couples Can do to Reconnect Sexually:
-Name the Issue.
-Tell each other how they experience it.
-Take time to spend more time with one another.
-Make physical connect with one another on a daily basis.
-Make eye contact.
-Kiss each other.
-Be present when speaking to one another.
-Touch one other regularly even when not having sex.
-Express your appreciation of the other often.
-Do special things for each other.
-Explore others ways of being intimate (sex is a way but not the only way).
-See a psycho-sexually trained therapist.

Long-term relationships naturally change and evolve. Accepting these changes and keeping an open dialogue is key to a couple’s intimacy. When they can see that their sex life is unique to them and not be influenced by what they ‘should be doing’ they are better able to understand what works for them. Being open and honest about these issues helps to generate a conversation. It’s not always about finding a definitive answer but more about understanding and living with the issue differently.

Shirlee Kay

Coupleworks, Counselling, Difference and Sex

Couples often come into counselling describing their struggle to manage the conflict provoked by manifest differences.

The beginning of a relationship is often a time of revelling in the similarities: the shared values and interests, the feeling of being known. Differences are minimised and can even seem exciting and enriching. The reassurance of connection and understanding is more important.

As the relationship grows and deepens the demands made upon it reveal the complexities and intricacies. The complexity of the partner’s character also becomes more apparent. Anxiety can arise when certain needs of each partner seem in opposition. The couple can get stuck in a negative behaviour pattern of trying to get the other person to change and fit in.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sexual relationship.

In her recent book ‘Come As You Are’, Emily Nagoski stresses the importance of accepting differences instead of being negatively judgemental and critical (of oneself as well as the partner). She suggests that a basic assumption should be that everyone’s body is different and everyone’s reactions are different. They are what they are!

She also draws the conclusion that, in a heterosexual relationship, there are basic gender differences which should be celebrated and not denied. Men and women are different! Her research shows that a woman’s sexual response often does not follow the same pattern as a man’s sexual response. And it can be so liberating when that is understood and accommodated. Women can frequently be more context sensitive. She may be more open to experiencing desire when there is closeness, connection and acceptance. She finds pleasure as a result of responsive desire. Sex is not context dependent. But pleasure for a woman is often context dependent.

Nagoski debunks many of the myths that can cause confusion, misunderstanding, and distress in a couple’s sexual relationship. The most destructive myth is the existence of a standardised ‘normal’. ‘‘Sexual arousal, desire and orgasm are nearly universal experiences, but when and how we experience them depends largely on the sensitivities of our ’brakes’ and ’accelerators’ and on the kind of stimulation they are given… We’re all made of the same parts, but in each of us, those parts are organised in a UNIQUE way that changes over our life span.’’

‘’In the right context, sexual relationships can be pleasurable, bond us with partners, flood us with happy chemicals, and satisfy deep biological urges. But the brain’s perception of sensation is context dependent. If you are stressed you tense and your brain is vigilant to threat. When you are relaxed you are open to erotic reaction. Same sensation, different context, and different perception and reaction.
Nagoski describes the best context as high affection, low stress, and concordant eroticism. She suggests that we all need to be cognizant that sexual arousal is the process of both turning up the ‘’ons’’ and turning down the ‘’offs’’.

Differences can be celebrated when it is not how your sexuality functions, but how you feel about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your partner. The context determines whether sex is characterised by confidence and joy. Context also can create anxiety as you become the ‘spectator’ to the event, focussed on ‘not good enough’, ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and preconceptions of ‘normal’.

Coupleworks works sensitively with clients when discussing sexuality and the sexual relationship that is uniquely right for them.

Kathy Rees

How to keep sex alive

Summer might only just be upon us but it is the season of weddings nonetheless. Many couples are experiencing the results of much planning and anticipation as they come to their big day. Many hopes and expectations abound as to what their life together will be like – the unknown of the journey ahead for many at this stage is exciting and yet possibly unnerving.

But what of those years ahead – one of the questions I am asked a lot in counselling is ‘How do we keep our relationship and particularly sex alive?’ Sex in the first couple of years of a relationship is passionate, urgent and much wanted for most couples. But then the ordinariness of life sets in – the familiarity, the pressures of work, young children bring time pressures and sleepless nights and suddenly years down the line couples take each other for granted and sex gradually becomes something that moves way down the list of importance, or it even becomes a matter of conflict for the couple.

So here are some tips for how to keep your sex alive after those early years in a relationship. Broadly speaking, sex will be better if you are more fully yourself, and if you are emotionally more connected to your partner..

1. Spending all your free time together can stifle difference and individuality. Those elements are needed for good sex in a long-term relationship. Pursue some separate interests – it is healthier for you both to be able to be fully yourselves and keeps some mystery and interest between you.

2. Show appreciation and say thank you to your partner. Daniel Keltner is quoted in the Observer saying that studies show that romantic partners who express gratitude are more than three times less likely to break up. The warmth and good feeling that is generated by simple gestures of goodwill can make an amazing difference to sex.

3. Stay emotionally in tune with your partner – check out how they are and take time to talk. Being connected emotionally is a starting point to being connected physically.

4. Take time to have fun together – play tennis – go dancing – enjoy a movie – or make time for a weekend break. Fun outside the bedroom can lead to more fun within.

5. Make the bedroom a digital free zone.

6. Schedule sex. Let go of the idea that the best sex is spontaneous. There can be fun in the anticipation.

7. Remember to kiss your partner and take time about it. It is a way of building real intimacy between a couple.

8. Try something new – surprise your partner. Don’t just use the same routine and path that you know works. Familiarity can become dull, and sexual arousal can be enhanced by a fresh approach.

9. Finally don’t look back to the past – enjoy who you are now both individually and as a couple and look forward to new and life-enhancing times together.

Sarah Fletcher

We need to talk about Sex Addiction

A recent TEDx talk by Paula Hall, a specialist in treating both men and women who experience sexual addiction, is well worth watching.

In it she stresses the need to recognise and talk about the increasing problem in our society of sexual addiction.

What she means by that is an addiction or compulsivity where a person’s sexual behaviours have grown beyond their control.

This can manifest itself for example in the use of pornography, compulsive masturbation, the need for affairs, multiple one-night stands or cybersex. It is not the amount of sex or any particular way of having sex that is the issue; it is where these behaviours have become out of control and interfere with a person’s ability to form relationships or are having other unwanted effects on their lives. For instance these could include a lack of engagement with a wider social circle, poor concentration and performance at work, anxiety or depression.

As is well known the Internet and smart phones have led to an increase in the availability of pornography, which is now accessed by so many. That is in itself is not a problem, but when the use of porn is being used for example to numb some deeper emotional distress, or to alleviate boredom, this can lead to an addiction. As with alcohol and drugs, a cycle of addiction develops leading to distorted thinking and self-justification coupled with a desire for secrecy and feelings of shame.

Paula Hall argues that the easy access of pornography compounded by the lack of education of the risks that involves is what is leading to an increase in sexual addiction. To counteract these she says that people need to be able to talk more openly about these problems and to be less judgmental and more compassionate about those who experience these difficulties.

Coupleworks counsellors often come across clients for whom these issues are a problem either to an individual or within a relationship. From our experience we would strongly agree that naming the problem can provide the starting point for real healing.

Sarah Fletcher

The Secret to Desire in a Long-Term Relationship

There have been nearly 7 million hits on the Ted Talk by Esther Perel:


She questions, ‘Why does good sex fade – even for couples who continue to love each other as much as ever? And why does good intimacy not guarantee good sex?’

 
She explores the nature of erotic desire and the dilemmas for modern love relationships. She suggests that we live in an age where the expectation of sex is that it should continue over time to be about ‘pleasure and connection rooted in desire’. Yet that expectation can be confounded when there is a struggle to sustain the desire.

 
Perel’s research identifies this as a clash of two ‘fundamental human needs’. We have a human need for the intimacy, closeness and attachment offered by a loving relationship. It creates a feeling of wellbeing and emotional security that nurtures and sustains. However, we also have an urge for excitement, play, mystery – and for change and novelty.

 
These needs can clash and can be hard to reconcile. We want our partner to be a trusted confidant and offer warmth, friendship and understanding. But, from the same person, we want heightened excitement of passion.

 
We want the comfort of familiarity, being known, loved and appreciated. But then, in the sexual relationship, we want variety, surprise and adventure. While technique, toys and sexy lingerie can add spice, it is not about novelty. Perel says sex is not just something you do. It is not just a behaviour but about speaking a language too. Sex is a place you go for a conversation and for that you need a sense of a separate self, autonomy and self-esteem.

 
To challenge expectations, we need a more profound understanding of arousal, desire and unconscious longings and Perel concludes that ‘desire needs space; fire needs air’. For desire we need imagination, curiosity, playfulness and the spark of interest created by a sense of ‘Other’ and ‘Difference’.

 
The contradiction of a long-term relationship is that it offers the closeness, familiarity and sameness that can create ‘a kind of fatal erotic blow’. She suggests that desire is ‘to want’ and is about attraction and enticement. It is about looking with new eyes each time and seeing the other as different and unknown. Desire starts with an idea of separateness and the urge to move towards one another. She suggests the idea of a bridge to cross in order to find each other anew – starting from a point of willingness to play and want and give pleasure.

 
Interdependence, caretaking, parenting, while soothing, reassuring and comforting, can decrease the erotic charge between the couple. Sex makes babies and great joy, and yet babies can spell erotic disaster for the couple. Feeling weighed down by responsibilities, disliking your body, feeling anxious or depressed, stressed at work, can have a similar deadening effect. However, a couple can use the love and connection and emotional warmth to provide a springboard of energy for lovemaking.

 
Sex in a long relationship is premeditated sex as much as it was in the beginning and there is a need to debunk the idea of spontaneity. In a trusting relationship, there can be permission and a willingness to lead, or be led, into an erotic space. Foreplay starts with accepting and allowing the thought of sex to germinate in the mind. It is about encouraging thoughts of sex to keep ‘simmering’. It is about taking responsibility for making gestures and taking opportunities to initiate.

 
The couple understands that passion waxes and wanes but they know how to find the generosity needed to reconnect. It is accepted by both that a definition of their relationship includes ‘This is what we do’.

 

Kathy Rees

Coupleworks, Counselling, Difference and Sex

Couples often come into counselling describing their struggle to manage the conflict provoked by manifest differences.

The beginning of a relationship is often a time of revelling in the similarities: the shared values and interests, the feeling of being known. Differences are minimised and can even seem exciting and enriching. The reassurance of connection and understanding is more important.

As the relationship grows and deepens the demands made upon it reveal the complexities and intricacies. The complexity of the partner’s character also becomes more apparent. Anxiety can arise when certain needs of each partner seem in opposition. The couple can get stuck in a negative behaviour pattern of trying to get the other person to change and fit in.

Nowhere is this more apparent than in the sexual relationship.

In her new book ‘Come As You Are’, Emily Nagoski stresses the importance of accepting differences instead of being negatively judgemental and critical (of oneself as well as the partner). She suggests that a basic assumption should be that everyone’s body is different and everyone’s reactions are different. They are what they are!

She also draws the conclusion that, in a heterosexual relationship, there are basic gender differences which should be celebrated and not denied. Men and women are different! Her research shows that a woman’s sexual response often does not follow the same pattern as a man’s sexual response. And it can be so liberating when that is understood and accommodated. Women can frequently be more context sensitive. She may be more open to experiencing desire when there is closeness, connection and acceptance. She finds pleasure as a result of responsive desire. Sex is not context dependent. But pleasure for a woman is often context dependent.

Nagoski debunks many of the myths that can cause confusion, misunderstanding, and distress in a couple’s sexual relationship. The most destructive myth is the existence of a standardised ‘normal’. ‘‘Sexual arousal, desire and orgasm are nearly universal experiences, but when and how we experience them depends largely on the sensitivities of our ’brakes’ and ’accelerators’ and on the kind of stimulation they are given… We’re all made of the same parts, but in each of us, those parts are organised in a UNIQUE way that changes over our life span.’’

‘’In the right context, sexual relationships can be pleasurable, bond us with partners, flood us with happy chemicals, and satisfy deep biological urges. But the brain’s perception of sensation is context dependent. If you are stressed you tense and your brain is vigilant to threat. When you are relaxed you are open to erotic reaction. Same sensation, different context, and different perception and reaction.

Nagoski describes the best context as high affection, low stress, and concordant eroticism. She suggests that we all need to be cognizant that sexual arousal is the process of both turning up the ‘’ons’’ and turning down the ‘’offs’’.

Differences can be celebrated when it is not how your sexuality functions, but how you feel about yourself, your body, your sexuality, your partner. The context determines whether sex is characterised by confidence and joy. Context also can create anxiety as you become the ‘spectator’ to the event, focussed on ‘not good enough’, ‘shoulds’ and ‘oughts’ and preconceptions of ‘normal’.

Coupleworks works sensitively with clients when discussing sexuality and the sexual relationship that is uniquely right for them.

Kathy Rees

 

Sex in a long relationship

Sex in a long relationship very often needs a conscious re-awakening. Starting at the beginning when things have become lacklustre and routine can mean concentrating on four A’s. They may not be the words you would expect in a description of foreplay but keep them in mind…

Appreciation… In a long relationship it can be all too easy for couples to take each other for granted. It’s wonderful to rely on your partner but how often do you let them know you have noticed them and how attractive you find them. Vocalise how much you appreciate their opinions, their support, the things you share together. We all want to feel valued and special and a relationship can flat-line if we feel just part of the furniture. It’s very easy to complain and be negative. Take responsibility for making five positive comments every day. Show your gratitude with a loving gesture and an admiring look. Give a compliment with a smile. Reminisce about the romance of your early relationship and describe what it is that you still love about them. Lighten up and laugh together and reignite the fun

Attention and Availability… In busy lives work, children, family, friends and social media can get the lion’s share of your attention. There is the danger of seeming rushed, defensive and unavailable with the message that the relationship is low in priority. Bridge the gap! Send a text to tell them they are in your thoughts. It is much easier to reach out and initiate when you feel connected and relaxed. Are you really listening to each other with curiosity, concern and tenderness? Remember how it felt to be paid attention, to be wanted, when you first met. Try looking at each other and making eye contact when talking and switch off the TV and those screens for a while. Eat a meal face-to-face at the table and show interest. Flirt! Move conversation out of the mundane into feelings

Affection… Human beings are hardwired to need physical touch. It releases oxytocin and increases a sense of connection and wellbeing. It builds trust and strengthens bonds. It reduces feelings of stress and is even said to have a positive impact on the immune system. What’s not to like? And yet, in a long relationship, we can sometimes not pay enough attention to making it happen. Get in the habit of ‘simmering’: ie thinking about initiating sex with your partner and imagining what you might do to raise the temperature. A squeeze says I feel close. Link arms and hold hands – even incidental touch can become a form of foreplay. A lingering kiss at breakfast can contain an invitation for the evening. A warm hug on greeting can hold a promise. The cuddle on the sofa can become more sensual. An offer to massage those tense shoulders can end up a ‘full body’. Get in the shower together. In the words of the song

(thanks, Ella Fitzgerald)

Kathy Rees

 

Under the Covers, Intimacy and Sex

A client of mine mentioned a new app called Under the Covers, which allows couples to let their partners know what their sexual fantasies are. The app works by the couple separately typing their fantasies into the app and only if the partners type the same fantasy it comes up on both their screens (and saves them the embarrassment of the other seeing the ones that don’t match).
This allows couples to go forward in playing out the fantasy and gives them both the reassurance that it is mutual and welcomed.

This made me start to think about how very difficult it is for couples to talk to one another about sex in general. Many of the couples we see at Coupleworks come because they aren’t having sex, enough sex or that sex they are having isn’t satisfying or diverse enough.

After taking a sexual history and clearly identifying the specific issue, the first question I ask is ‘how do you talk about this together?’ Unsurprisingly, the answer is usually ‘Rarely’ or ‘ Never’. The problem this can create is that couples make assumptions about their sexual relationship without checking with their partner if it’s accurate or not.

Sex and intimacy are closely aligned and couples often don’t realise that the best way into a good sexual relationship is to talk about it. It’s not as simple as ‘This is what I like or don’t like,’ although this is also important, but to express your discomforts, embarrassments, not knowing how or what to do and other insecurities surrounding sex. Disclosing intimate parts of ourselves is what enables couples to know one another and to begin to trust and rely on each other to accept all parts of them. This is intimacy.
Shirlee Kay

Trends from the Sex Survey by the Observer

“The British are losing their sex drive” headlines the Observer newspaper following their recent sex survey. Perhaps a surprising result is that the average British adult has sex only four times a month compared to the figure of seven times a month in the 2008 survey. What’s more a third of the population does not have sex at all in a typical month.

There are, of course, debates about what is happening in our society that is bringing about these changes: the recession and the pressures of it, the continuing changing roles of men and women in relationships, online pornography, the popularity of ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’, the rising use of digital technology, to name but a few.

Some other interesting results from the survey

• 57% said trust was the most important component of a relationship followed by 26% saying conversation/communication and 2% sex.
• 63% of people are satisfied with their sex lives compared to 76% in 2008.
• 33% considered themselves to have above average prowess as a lover, compared to 55% in 2008.
• More than half of Britons 56% have watched pornography on the Internet occasionally, with 15% admitting to watching regularly.
• 43% of people read or thumbed through ‘Fifty Shades of Grey’
• 36% admit to having had sex with a work colleague, a rise from 26% in 2008

You can read the full survey online here

Before the results of the survey were published I and two other therapists were interviewed about what we felt were the key trends going on at the moment. You can read a full account of what we said here

Perhaps the biggest question most people face, whether it is about their sex drive, the size of their penis or their sexual performance is ‘Am I normal?’. At Coupleworks we specialise in working with individuals and couples, helping them to work through some of the difficult relationship and sexual issues that most people face in their lives at some stage.

Sarah Fletcher

Why only lust can save a Marriage

In his latest book ‘Kosher Lust’, the sometimes controversial America’s Rabbi Boteach proposes the reason why the institution of marriage is on the decline is just that – marriage is seen as an ‘institution’. Who wants to be a member of an institution? It’s a time and a place to ‘settle down’ rather than ‘live it up’.

He believes what has most destroyed the institution of marriage is something we would least expect, namely ‘love’. He questions whether love is enough to keep a couple together under the same roof all their lives? After all, partners can cheat on each other though they love their spouse.

Why? Because the push and the power of lust is an overwhelming force that makes people forget everything when confronted with this magnetic emotion.

The need for love, friendship and companionability seems to have been elevated to such a place of importance that it strips marriage of its passion and energy.

Certainly at Coupleworks we are seeing many more clients who present with feelings of boredom and falling out of love because the core element of lust that brings life to a marriage is missing.

Boteach believes the most important ingredient in a happy marriage is desire. Once lust wanes and the curiosity for one another declines, partners slowly drift apart, choosing instead consistency and predictability. Monogamy becomes synonymous with monotony.

Boteach refers to Western libido being on ‘life-support’. A sexual famine is gripping marriage with one out of three long-term relationships being entirely platonic and the remaining couples having sex about once a week for 7-10 minutes.

The complete marriage is where partners are lovers and best friends. Today we are mostly and sometimes the latter.

Boteach believes passionately that the antidote to this somewhat lucklustre existence is passion, lust and vitality. To prevent lust wearing off, remember the three rules that make it last: unavailability, mystery and sinfulness. Kosher Lust delves into the erotic mind to explore these rules further.

Kosher Lust – Love is Not the Answer is written by Rabbi Shmuley Boteach and available on Amazon

Dawn Kaffel

In your relationship are you the high desire person (HDP) or the low desire person (LDP)?

According to David Schnarch in his thought provoking book INTIMACY AND DESIRE ‘Sexual desire problems are part of the normal healthy processes of marriage’ its how we go about them that is the difficulty. According to his approach there is always a low desire partner and there is always a high desire partner and there is one of each in every relationship.

If we look at our own relationship there is a LDP and a HDP on virtually every issue and decision we make. Whether it’s deciding to move in together, visiting family or having sex.  One partner wants to do something (the HDP) that the other doesn’t (the LDP).  Even if you want to do the same thing, one of you will want it more. Depending on the issues, positions change.  You may be the HDP for sex and intimacy but the LDP for having children.

The LDP and HDP are relative positions in a relationship. Being the LDP person doesn’t mean you have no desire.  You could want sex every day and still be the LDP person if you are in a relationship with someone who wants sex twice a day.  Accepting LDP and HPD as positions in a relationship helps make us less defensive about our levels of sexual desire.  It gives both partners a more equal standing for dealing with each other.

Another rule of sexual desire that David Schnarch adheres to is that the LDP in a relationship always controls sex. Understanding this is one of the “people growing processes” The HDP usually initiates sex.  The LDP decides whether to respond.  This determines if and when sex happens.  This gives LDP control of sex whether it is wanted or not.

How you feel about yourself, your partner and your relationship is essential for personal growth. Stop blaming, be less defensive and be more curious. If you can tolerate the anxiety of hearing and saying difficult things and sooth your own emotions you are on course for a more integrated meaningful sexual relationship.

Dawn Kaffel

 

Mindfulness and sexuality

The brain is one of the key factors that contributes to a good sexual experience.  It can either help us or hinder us.  We can often have distracting thoughts  – a shopping list or work, or thoughts about our bodies or the need to perform.  To have better sex we need to allow ourselves to be actually there when we have it, letting go of what is going on in our heads.

Mindfulness is about self regulating your attention to become aware of your immediate experience and allowing that experience to be what it is, with acceptance and without judgment.

The benefits of practising mindfulness can include:

  •  Increased awareness of physical sensations
  •  Managing and reducing anxiety
  •  Change towards positive body perceptions
  •  Deepening of life experiences
  •  More connection and intimacy in partner relationships

The practice of mindfulness can be used to enhance sex, and is often used as a specific tool in treating various sexual difficulties.

 

Shirlee Kay featured in Cosmopolitan

Do you remember your first time?

Whether you lost your virginity with your first serious boyfriend or it was a one night stand that’s best forgotten, the first time you had sex can affect your life.

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