Perusing the covers of most mainstream magazines while checking out at the grocery store is usually enough to ignite a spark of anxiety as you measure your relationship against the standards splashed in your face:
HOOK YOUR PARTNER WITH THESE HOT POSITIONS!
BORED IN BED? SPICE IT UP BEFORE IT'S TOO LATE!
NOT HAVING SEX 3 TIMES A WEEK? HERE'S HOW TO SAVE YOUR RELATIONSHIP!
Like love, romance, and marriage, our culture is fraught with misconceptions about what is realistic, healthy, and sustainable in a long-term sexual relationship. We feed the line that we "should" feel madly in love with our partners every day for eternity and we "shouldn't" experience normal states like doubt or anxiety if we're with the "right" partner. So it goes with romance: we present the belief that if you're not having exciting sex three times a week there's something wrong with your relationship.
So here are some truths about sex—truths that you usually don't read about in magazines or see depicted in the media. They're derived from years of listening to my clients and course members sharing their most intimate fears, anxieties, and insecurities about what happens or doesn't happen in the bedroom.
When we learn about what's typical instead of comparing ourselves to a fantasy ideal, we become significantly less anxious that something is wrong. And then we can take a deep breath and focus on what is working in the relationship instead of what we perceive as not working.
Here are some truths about sex:
1. A healthy sex life is whatever works for the two of you.
For some couples, that will mean sex three times a week and for others that means once a month. We're all wired differently, and every couple on this planet carries a unique set of needs that will not be replicated in any other relationship.
2. There's usually a high-need partner and a low-need partner.
There's often one partner who has a higher sex drive and one has a lower. We tend to think that men are always the high-need partner but that's not always true. This can also change from relationship to relationship. In other words: if you were the pursuer in your previous relationship but the distancer is your current relationship, you may have been the high-need partner and are now the low-need. As with every aspect of couplehood, the challenge is to find creative ways to grow toward each other while also preserving your sense of self.
3. Sex isn't only what occurs in the bedroom.
In a culture that likes to categorize and compartmentalize, many people carry a belief that says that sex is only what happens between the sheets. This mindset invalidates cuddles, flirtations, sweet kisses in the kitchen, and all other forms of sexual affection that may fill in the times between what we typically think of as "actual" sex. So when the magazines splatter the anxiety-provoking "Are you having enough sex?" across the cover, you can assess your sex life from a more well-rounded perspective by including all sexual interactions and probably answer yes.
4. Sex isn't only about outcome.
Likewise, in our goal-oriented and achievement-oriented culture we tend to believe that "sex doesn't count" unless you go all the way and both people achieve orgasms. What a limited view! Sex is kissing, touching, roaming, and caressing. And more than all of that, a truly healthy sexual relationship is one in which both people feel safe to express and explore their sexuality together. Emotional safety will always preclude a real sexual connection. Lying naked together and simply holding each other can be some of the most vulnerable and beautiful times you spend together.
The bottom line is that most couples in a long-term relationship will experience struggle around sex at some point. Just knowing this, instead of comparing yourself to the false fantasy that everyone else has a flawless sex life, alleviates shame and can free up space in the relationship to talk openly about this with acceptance.
As always, the more acceptance you bring to who you are and how the two of you relate to each other, the more joy and fulfillment you'll find in all aspects of your relationship.