Original Published hopkinsmedicine.org Reviewed By: Chris Kraft, Ph.D.
Staying up late scrolling social media to avoid intimacy with your partner or, worse, pretending to be asleep, isn’t good for your marriage. But if you find yourself avoiding sex, you’re not alone: Approximately one woman in 10 experiences a decrease in her sex drive at some point in her life. “That dip can happen for a number of reasons, including the natural progression of your relationship over time,” says Chris Kraft, Ph.D., director of clinical services at the Sex and Gender Clinic in the department of psychiatry at Johns Hopkins Medicine. “But you shouldn’t give up on having a great sex life once you’re married. Intimacy is key to having a healthy, functional and overall happy relationship.”
Stages of Intimacy Intimacy tends to follow a pattern as a relationship evolves. Couples newly in love typically experience feelings of closeness and excitement and have regular sex, says Kraft. That’s followed by the stage in which many couples start a family. Having children significantly changes a couple’s intimacy. “It’s natural for a couple’s sex life to decline after having a baby because of the exhaustion and lack of private time,” says Kraft. “But many couples’ sex lives don’t recover after they get out of the baby zone. Priorities shift to raising kids and juggling careers and household responsibilities.”
Even if you don’t have children, the newness of the relationship wears off after three or four years together. Typically, this is when sex becomes more routine. “Intimacy breaks down at this stage because couples don’t talk about their sex life,” Kraft says. “And, couples aren’t as intentional about connecting with each other as they were earlier in the relationship.”
Sexual Roadblocks Besides the maturation of a relationship, other factors can lead to less intimacy, too. Career and family pressures can eat up your time and zap your energy. Relational hurts or resentments can develop over time. One of the most common? Feeling overwhelmed and resentful that your partner isn’t helping out as much as you would like.
That’s when having a heart-to-heart can help. “Sit your partner down and say, ‘Look, this is what it’s like to be a woman with these kids in my life right now and with my career. Do you get it? Can you support and help me?” recommends Kraft. “You really need to talk about it because the resentment that builds up around feelings of inequality is one of the biggest killers of intimacy and sexuality.”
In addition to discussing relationship concerns, it’s essential to have conversations about your sex life, too, even if it’s difficult or awkward at first. Just start the conversation by asking questions like:
What are some sexual activities we’ve done that you really enjoyed?
What are some things you’d like to try?
Is there anything you’d like to do more or less of?
How connected with me are you feeling lately?
Increase Intimacy It’s important to pay attention to how you and your partner are relating to one another in and out of the bedroom. If your marriage is solid and it’s just your intimate life that’s lacking, Kraft has these tips to help you keep sex in your relationship.
Identify Your Needs Identify what makes you feel like having sex. Unlike men — who are easily aroused — women’s desire is a more gradual process. “In general, women’s desire starts with some type of connection to their own sexuality or their partner. Most women often need to be relaxed, not worried about their to-do list, and feeling a connection to their partner in order to set the stage for sexual intimacy,” says Kraft.
To get in the mood, think about what makes you feel relaxed and sensual. Maybe it’s kissing or touching or talking intimately with your partner. It could be a glass of wine, a nice dinner or laughing together. Once you’ve pinpointed what makes you feel ready for sexual closeness, share that information with your spouse so you can work together to make those things happen.
Make an Effort “Too often, women say ‘I’m a little tired,’ ‘I need to shower,’ or ‘It’s not a good time.’ But the couples who make an effort to have sex on a regular basis — even if it’s not the perfect scenario — have more satisfying sex lives,” says Kraft. If your partner initiates a sexual encounter, try going along with it to see where it leads you. “Many women report feeling arousal after the intimacy is initiated,” he adds. Of course, if it doesn’t get you in the mood, you should always feel entitled to stop.
Schedule a Date Night It’s easy to put sex on the back burner when you’re in a nonstop stage of life. But the only way you’re going to maintain an intimate connection with your partner is by making it a priority. “Couples who schedule time to connect with each other have healthier, happier relationships,” says Kraft. “It doesn’t have to result in sex every time. It’s more about making time to have fun together.”
Get a babysitter and schedule a date night, or just put the kids to bed early so you can have some alone time. Take a break from your crazy work schedule to meet each other for lunch, or step away from your home renovation project and stay overnight at a hotel. Figure out ways you can make time for each other.
Feel Sexy There’s no doubt that feeling sexy can boost your libido. So it’s important that you spend time doing the things that make you feel sensual, whether that’s wearing provocative outfits or lingerie, reading romance novels or erotica, or getting bendy at yoga class. The point is to focus on your needs.
Take Charge Don’t wait for your partner to initiate sex or follow his sexual steps. Take the lead in how your sexual encounters unfold. Come in with what feels good for you, even if it’s not intercourse that night. It’s important to feel in control of your sex life and to have a voice in the relationship’s intimacy.
Redefine Intimacy “People often think sex has to be a big production with intercourse and orgasms. When in reality, what’s most important to couples, especially to many women, is to connect and be intimate. Being intimate can be as simple as talking and cuddling or affectionately touching,” suggests Kraft.
Ask your partner to focus on “outercourse”: touching, massaging, kissing and cuddling. And, discuss the possibility of having these types of sessions without feeling obligated to have intercourse.
“The main thing is to make having an intimate connection with your partner a priority,” says Kraft. “Think about what makes you feel close and what you enjoy sexually. And then ask yourself how you can create that with your partner.”
Reachout for professional support and counseling. We can help.