If you’re less than satisfied with your sex life, don’t feel alone: There are billions of people in this world who share your frustration. In a 2011 Australian study, researchers surveyed 3,240 men and 3,304 women in long-term relationships and found that 54 percent of men and 42 percent of women were unhappy with the frequency of sex in their relationship, while a worldwide study conducted by condom company Durex found only 44 percent of people were actually happy with their sex life in general.

MALE “SHOT”

The bad news for the sexually frustrated? A fulfilling life between the sheets actually does matter. “Good sex keeps you physically and emotionally healthier, and younger. It improves self-esteem and makes you feel better about your partner,” sex and relationship expert Tammy Nelson, PhD, tells LivingHealthy. “It helps you to let go of the smaller conflicts in your relationship and lets you be more emotionally and intimately connected to your partner.” The good news? For many individuals with between-the-sheets letdown, there is hope.

According to Nelson, who has published several books on the topic, including 2012’s Getting the Sex You Want: Shed Your Inhibitions and Reach New Heights of Passion Together, there are two separate issues that the sexually unhappy usually struggle with—desire and arousal—each with its own unique prognosis.

Desire, or lack thereof, is shaped by various factors, including emotional connection, intimacy, attachment, time spent together and stress levels, says Nelson. However, these factors aren’t things you can’t help—you can proactively strive to produce desire. “If you aren’t feeling desire for your partner, take a look at how much effort you are putting into your erotic life. A good relationship is created—it doesn’t just happen,” says Nelson, who suggests planning a sex date once a week. But do note that a sex date isn’t just any dinner-and-a-movie date (heavy meals, wine or popcorn at the theatre will make you feel tired instead of sexy). “A night designed just for sexuality and connection will create erotic anticipation and allow both of you to fantasize and create energy for one another,” Nelson specifies. And even though planning a sex date isn’t necessarily spontaneous, you can be spontaneous once the action starts.

Contrary to desire, arousal is the physical feeling of being turned on. “If you find you can’t get aroused once you are having sex, or if you can’t feel the erectile tissues in your genitals responding to touch or stimulation, there may be something else happening,” Nelson explains, noting that medication (even over-the-counter varieties), fatigue, stress, resentment and repressed anger are all things that can decrease arousal.   

If you’re not aroused during foreplay or intercourse, talk to your partner. Start by exploring all the possible reasons why you’re not feeling sexually excited, then discuss some solutions. Some questions to ask are: “Have you had a rough day? Do you need to slow things down and take a long bath or sexy shower together? How about setting the mood with candles and music?” Although these things sound cliché, Nelson insists they work by helping you decompress and remove distractions, which lets the “pleasure centers” of your body respond more easily. “The environmental cues of soft lighting, sexy music and warm water send a message to your brain that its time to relax, which sends a different message to your body that it is okay to let go,” she says.

If that doesn’t work, sometimes it’s necessary to seek outside help. When the relationship becomes a low-sex or no-sex partnership, you may want to consider couples or sex therapy, advises Nelson. Increasing desire is possible with the right counseling, and many times takes only a few good homework assignments and some committed follow-through.

One of the main issues that Nelson’s patients come to her with is the amount of sex they’re having—or not having. Most couples grapple with the issue of one partner wanting more sex than the other. In these scenarios, she explains it is the partner who wants the least amount of sex who really has the most power in the relationship, and in counseling they should work on why that person doesn’t want as much sex as the higher-desire partner.

During therapy sessions, Nelson discusses with the couple in detail about what would make sex more enjoyable for that partner. She will pose questions such as “Are you orgasming every time?” or “Are you able to share your fantasies and get your needs met?” According to Nelson, “we work on relationship dynamics so that each partner feels seen and heard and validated. Once there is empathy on both sides, each person will walk away feeling satisfied and then their love life will, as a result, naturally improve.”

According to the Massachusetts Male Aging Study, 52 percent of men are affected by erectile dysfunction, which is one of the most common issues with Nelson’s clients, along with premature ejaculation. These issues can be caused by stress, medications like antidepressants or habits (such as a history of masturbation to pornography). With these types of issues, being anxious about performance can set up a cycle of being unable to perform. “Anxiety itself creates the problem,” Nelson continues. “When we remove the anxiety, many times the problem goes away by itself.” 

So if your world isn’t being rocked in the bedroom, open up the dialogue. Whether you attempt to tackle the situation in the privacy of your own home or seek outside help from a professional (there’s always a sex retreat!), discussing your needs and wants, as awkward as it can be at times, is often the gateway to an orgasm.

 

Sources:

  1. Journal of Sex & Marital Therapy
  2. Durex Global Research
  3. Tammy Nelson, MD