Recently I was quoted in Ian Kerner’s article for CNN about low sex drive, which is the most common complaint In the sex therapist’s practice.  Low sex drive is a big problem, because when the spark goes out for one or both partners, it can signal the end of a relationship.  Couples confide in me that they sometimes go years without having any sexual intimacy.  Sometimes one person has lost their sex drive and the other is too upset or annoyed or tired to continue initiating sex.  People also sometimes get sidetracked by life and don’t know how to get their sex life back on track.

Why Do Couples Lose Their Sex Drive?

In the CNN article I talk about the effects of trying to have a baby or the postpartum period on sex drive because I have a book coming out next month entitled Counseling Couples Before, During, and After Pregnancy: Sexuality and Intimacy Issues.  But these reasons couples stop having sex are just the tip of a very deep iceberg.

Human beings are always communicating, whether their lips are moving or not.  We speak with our eyes, our body language, and our behavior.  What we do, or choose not to do, sends a message about our motivation.  When couples stop having sex, they are communicating many things, including:

  • Our relationship is less important than other things in our lives.
  • We don’t know how to handle conflict, so we just avoid each other altogether.
  • We are bored with our sex life, but neither of us knows how to tell the other.
  • We are waiting for Jupiter to align with Mars to have sex because we tend to be perfectionists.
  • We are staying together out of duty or obligation; we fell out of love a long time ago.

Besides, It’s Just Sex

Couples also may not realize that their relationship is slowly dying when they don’t have sex for long periods of time.  After all, many people enter into marriage or a committed relationship because they have found a person that they are attracted to and feel safe and comfortable having sex.  The sexual exclusivity means the couple agrees that they will not be sexual with anyone else.  But if one partner loses complete interest in having sex, the other one is left high and dry.  They are getting the message, “I won’t have sex with you, but you can’t have sex with anyone else, either.”  Perhaps without meaning to do so, the partner who pulled the plug on the couple’s sex life is punishing the other, sentencing them to a sexless relationship.  This situation soon becomes unsustainable and the relationship starts to lose its sparkle.

Speaking of sparkle, couples that have regular sex do report that they are happier than those that do not.  Just once a week seems to help couples feel connected and that they are “still in the game,” still attractive and interested in one another.  Having regular sex sweetens the relationship.  It is much easier to be forgiving of a partner’s quirks and shortcomings if you are intimate—not just on birthdays or Christmas, but on a consistent basis.

Relationships on the Brink

Whether one or both partners lose interest in sex and intimacy stops for months, years, or even a decade, something inevitably happens.  One partner enters into an affair to get their needs met.  Another seeks out massage with “happy ending.”  Or one partner may take a job with a lot of travel, effectively leaving the relationship without actually ending it.  Maybe they don’t travel, maybe they just take a job that is all engrossing.  Facebook can be a pretty convenient escape, too; more so if one finds their high school sweetheart on there and decides to connect.  When one or both partners realize what’s happening, it may be a wake-up call—or a death knell.  Only time will tell.

Can Sex Therapy Help?

No ethical therapist can promise a certain outcome.  It simply isn’t allowed; there are just too many variables outside of the therapist’s control.  But if a couple both are truly committed to the relationship and follow through with the sex therapist’s suggestions, chances are good that they will be able to revive their sex life.  They may need to schedule sex, make changes in the kind of sex they have, accept that they need (a) lubricant, (b) Viagra(TM), (c) oral sex, or (d) all of the above.  They may have to start seeing their partner as a sexual being and not like a roommate or BFF.  The sex therapist is there to help the couple uncover what they have been trying to communicate, why their sex life died, and then offer interventions.  It is up to the couple to commit to putting their sex life on track.