1. Forget spontaneity
Films and television would have us believe that sex is always spontaneous. That both individuals are fully aroused and that sex is effortless and always satisfying. The truth is, that when a couple has been together for some time, sex is less likely to be spontaneous because the busyness of life gets in the way. If we wait for it to be spontaneous the chances are it simply won’t happen. We need to be intentional about it. We need to discuss with our partner how we prioritise sexual intimacy. That might seem like hard work and not particularly romantic, but if we are to be fully honest, it requires us to talk about sex and plan times to have it. Don’t assume that unless it’s happening as we see in films something is wrong.
When I am asked what the biggest single thing one can do to improve sex, my answer is always to talk about it and keep talking. Sex is not an easy subject to broach, even with the person you are closest to, your spouse. Sex may have been discussed in your families in very different ways and this will impact how you feel discussing it in your marriage. If you feel uncomfortable talking about sex, don’t try and hide this. Although you may feel vulnerable, opening up about your feelings is a really good way to connect with your spouse. Developing good lines of communication is vital and will enable you to keep sharing your desires and needs.
3. Seek help together
Sexual problems are very common but rarely talked about. For men these can include erectile dysfunction, ejaculatory problems and low desire. For women these commonly include dyspareunia (painful sex), vaginismus (an involuntary spasm of the vaginal muscle making vaginal penetration difficult or impossible) and low desire. When you marry your spouse you undertake to do this “in sickness and in health” and it is really important to recognise that a sexual problem is a ‘couple problem’ and should be tackled as a team. Be kind to one another and talk about how you are feeling. This will ensure you stay emotionally close.
4. Enjoy what you do
It is important as a couple to talk about what you are doing sexually and to regularly review this. If one of you is finding sex boring and unsatisfying then it is going to be difficult to get aroused. If you are not aroused, you are more likely to run into sexual difficulties, such as erectile dysfunction or dyspareunia (painful sex), or you are more likely to be tempted to look at pornography. For the woman, think about introducing a vaginal lubricant if sex is uncomfortable or painful. Ensure you include enough foreplay before you attempt sexual intercourse. Perhaps consider exploring vibrators to aid female sexual arousal. There are lots of things a couple can do to introduce variety and keep sex interesting, and at the heart of this is effective, honest communication.
5. Give sexual intimacy as a gift
Sometimes I work with couples where one person wants sex and the other doesn’t, perhaps because they are too tired or not in the mood. It’s important to remember that sex doesn’t always have to include penetrative intercourse. We don’t have to always engage in reciprocal stimulation. It may be that a wife stimulates her husband using her hand, for example, without the need for him to touch her, if she doesn’t feel that she wants to be sexual on that occasion. Perhaps the husband lies with his wife while she stimulates herself but doesn’t have to feel a pressure to get an erection, if he is not in the mood. By giving these sexual acts to a spouse as a ‘gift’ it enables the needs of both spouses to be met.
I am not advocating this approach as a replacement for couple intimacy, but it can be a great way for couples to remain close. I think it also means that couples are less likely to get pulled into unhelpful behaviours, such as masturbating secretly or watching pornography, to try and get their sexual needs met on their own.
6. Enjoy good-enough sex
Sex therapists Metz and McCarthy talk about the “good-enough sex model”. It is very countercultural to think of sex in this way but, if we embrace this approach, it means we can lay aside our expectations and just enjoy whatever happens. Sometimes this means sex will be passionate and deeply satisfying, and sometimes it will be good or perhaps even a bit boring, and this is ok. I rarely meet a couple who have engaged in sexual intimacy and wish they hadn’t, even if it’s not the most earth shattering encounter! Interestingly, most couples I work with say that when they have sex it is a really bonding experience and they don’t know why they don’t do it more often.
Emma Waring is a psychosexual nurse specialist and a Christian. Her book Seasons of Sex & Intimacy for a Husband and Wife in Marriage (Hullo Creative) is out now.