Last week, I discussed how loss can cause couples to avoid sex. There are many relationship issues that may also be at the root of your avoidance cycle. Let’s look at a few.
If you have problems in your relationship, eventually that’s going to show up in the bedroom. And if you’re avoiding those problems, you’ll also likely end up avoiding sex. The same parts of you that struggle to deal with things directly in your relationship are going to make it hard for you to deal with your sexual issues. For instance, you may want to avoid hurting your partner’s feelings at all costs. You may be uncomfortable with confrontation or challenge. You may hide parts of yourself that would have to come out if you were going to really address the problems. You and your partner may have communication issues that keep you from working well together and feeling close.
A lot of relationship issues can improve by working through the same exercises that I offer couples to improve their sex lives, because they require the same skills and personal growth. However, you may find that you have more serious issues that need to be addressed first, before you are able to work successfully together to improve your sex life. It’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to be allies in this work if you and your partner experience cruelty, major power struggles, controlling behavior, substance abuse, or violence. If that’s happening, you’ll need to be honest about what’s going on, own your part, and confront the issues that cause resentment, anger, and emotional escalation. A good therapist can be instrumental in that process if you and your partner have been stuck in negative patterns for a while.
Consider Lack of Knowledge and Experience
Having an accurate frame of reference about sex helps you set realistic expectations and have confidence that your experience is normal and healthy. When you are suffering from a lack of knowledge or a lack of experience, it’s easy to doubt yourself.
A lot of people don’t have much knowledge about sex. In some ways, our culture leaves it up to us to reinvent the wheel and learn sex on our own. So how do you learn it? Mostly with other inexperienced people trying to figure it out, too. You make your way through sexual experiences, having some you like and some you don’t, but not necessarily equipping yourself with the tools you need to have an impact on whether sex gets better for you or not. If you and your partner can talk about what’s happening in sex and what you like and don’t like, you’re better prepared to craft a sex life that works for you. But if you struggle with communicating about sex, growth is less likely to happen. And if you haven’t had much sexual experience, then you haven’t had the chance to figure out what you want or how to get it.
Sex education isn’t much help. If you had it, it was likely focused on preventing teenage pregnancy and scaring you using pictures and descriptions of diseases. There are basic anatomy lessons and some instruction about insertion, but that’s the scope of the lesson on how to have sex. And that only applies to heterosexual couples with the expected anatomy and functioning, leaving out a huge segment of the population who are left feeling like they are out in the fringes of sexual experience and relegated to the extra chapter in every book. Some of you have read some great books about sex, I’m sure, but may not have had the chance to put it into practice. And you will find that even if you have the book knowledge, it’s a whole different thing to get it all working with an actual person.
Examine Sex Negativity and Shame
Feelings and beliefs that sex is bad and shameful may very well get in the way of you enjoying a fulfilling sex life. If you were raised in a culture that either didn’t talk about sex or explicitly talked about it as bad, dirty, sinful or scary, it may be hard to shake that training. It can be difficult to embrace your sexuality and the joys of sexual expression.
If your family or social culture taught you that sex is negative, you may have a hard time even recognizing those messages. Your beliefs will show up in your behavior and your feelings, and you may have to work to uncover what they are and where they come from. As you discovered in previous blogs when looking at your own history, it’s hard to see the water you swim in. You tend to assume that what you learned growing up must be true. If you were taught sex negativity through your religious background, you may be in an even a bigger bind. It may feel like a violation, sin, or breaking of faith to question your beliefs or to pursue certain sexual behaviors. You will need patience and support as you take apart your beliefs and decide for yourself (and with your partner) what your limits will be.