The Reason Most Couples Stop Enjoying Sex (And How To Heighten Your Capacity For Pleasure)

Photo: @mikaelaalicee

Everywhere I go, I hear stories about the challenges professional women are having sexually with their partners. It happens to women between 20 and 70, with kids and without. It's described in one of a few ways:

  • "I used to like sex, but then we had kids, our careers picked up, and something changed."
  • "When we do have sex, half the time I’m thinking about my to-do list. I feel relieved when it’s over, because then I can do what I really want to do—like finish my book."
  • "We feel more like roommates or business partners than lovers."
  • "I’m worried my libido is broken and there’s something wrong with me."

The high stakes of intimacy in long-term relationships mixed with the inaccurate beliefs about female sexuality we face from all sides make for a volatile combination. But I've seen these issues get resolved. It's absolutely possible. No matter where it's coming from, sexual dissatisfaction can be remedied when both people commit to learning a new way to relate intimately. These are the keys to creating mutually fulfilling intimacy that lasts a lifetime.

I see that these patterns can change when couples commit to learning a new way of relating sexually that women enjoy. Here are the keys to successfully moving toward intimacy that’s mutually fulfilling:

1. Normalize your experience.

When intimacy is the issue, it can be very difficult to discuss openly. Often, we feel alone and don't realize that sexual struggles in long-term relationships are not just normal, but they happen to the majority of couples at one time or another. Having discussed these issues with countless female clients who believe that they are to blame for their unhappiness, I realized that we just tend to place blame on ourselves. The truth is that there’s nothing wrong with you. Your libido is not broken. You’re not alone and this IS fixable.

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2. Clearly articulate your need for change.

One of the biggest mistakes I see otherwise straightforward women make is downplaying their sexual distress to their partner. Many of us believe our male partners don’t care about our sexual fulfillment, or that enjoying sex isn't worth the tension it would place on your relationship to bring up what isn't working. Don't let this stop you from getting what you need.

I have almost as many male clients as female ones, and they all want the same thing when it comes to sex: a partner who is turned on, happy, and enjoying themselves. Regardless of gender or relationship style, if sex only works for one partner in the relationship, then the sex isn’t working.

Have you clearly articulated to your partner that you aren’t sexually satisfied and that you need something to change? If not, your chances of fulfillment are slim. Blaming yourself doesn't make anything better; taking responsibility for dealing with it as a team does. Get in the habit of talking with your partner regularly about what's working for you and what isn't.

3. Stop following a script.

We seem to all have been given the same misinformation about how sex should go: It starts with kissing and ends with intercourse. We’ve also been taught that happy couples have sex once per [day, week, month, insert stereotype here]. We’ve learned that sex is over when the man reaches orgasm. But I'm here to tell you that every single one of these statements is not only false but harmful.

The truth is that when couples drop expectations about sex and adopt a new approach—one that makes both parties' genuine fulfillment a prerequisite rather than a bonus—women’s genuine fulfillment (which includes much more than having orgasms)—it supports deeper intimacy and can make a woman's libido more active than it ever was before. Learn more about how to enter a new, infinitely satisfying paradigm here.

4. Recognize that orgasms are not sex's raison d'être.

Orgasms are wonderful, but in truth, our fixation on them keeps our sex lives from becoming extraordinary. Let’s get real: If orgasms were all it took for radical fulfillment, far more of us would feel fulfilled. We wouldn't even need relationships to make that happen. But we know it's not the same. Self-pleasure is healthy, and may temporarily alleviate feelings of exhaustion or anxiety, but it doesn't provide us with the connection or intimacy that partnered sex can.

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5. Seriously, get rid of the script—before you even start the first act.

You'll see a night-and-day difference in your sexual encounters if you let go of expectations before either of you starts getting hot and bothered. Nothing hinders women’s enjoyment of sex more than feeling pressured in bed. It’s almost impossible for us to enjoy ourselves if we're worried about expectations about how or how much we are. Instead of feeling the pleasure, we get stuck wondering whether we’re doing it right or whether our partner is satisfied. Tossing expectation out the window is the most reliable way to start having fantastic sex immediately.

6. Touch each other for the sake of touching—with no apprehension or expectation about where it might lead.

Physical contact is essential for sexual fulfillment. But when sex isn’t working, we often avoid touching each other. I encourage couples to touch each other frequently and in a wide variety of ways—foot massages, hand-holding, and everything in between. But, by the same token, I encourage couples to stop tolerating touch they don’t like or want.

Tolerating touch leads to sexual shutdown—the person being touched isn't enjoying themselves but won't say it; the person doing the touching knows something is wrong but isn't being told how to fix it. It creates distance rather than fostering intimacy. The solution is to have physical contact with zero expectations. When pressure and expectations are lifted, touch becomes an exploration of sensation and connection rather than a race to orgasm or "those same three moves."

7. Don't look at sex as a means to achieve any goal other than giving and receiving pleasure for pleasure's sake.

Goals are great for business plans and exercise regimens, but they have the opposite effect on sex. Few of us have ever touched our partner without trying to achieve a goal. We use our touch to prove we’re a good lover, to make peace in the relationship, or to bring our partner to climax. How would we touch each other if we weren't trying to achieve anything except to connect and explore each other's bodies? Given an open-ended approach to sex that is full of touch and free of pressure, both desire for and enjoyment of sex will grow exponentially.

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8. Learn what you like, and allow yourself to receive it.

Desire is vital to fulfillment. When we lose touch with that inner spark, our sex lives fall flat. Ask yourself the question, "What do I want?" 10 times a day. Seriously. And get very good at answering it. Desire is the first step. Only then can we receive it. It may sound simple, but I see women struggle sexually for years because they don’t know how to receive the help, love, and touch their partner wants to give. It takes as much work to receive as to give—sometimes more.

Practice receiving by focusing on the enjoyment of what you're experiencing. Sink into the warm embrace of a hug. Delight in the smell of your favorite baked good. Relax as your partner touches you. Think less; feel more.

9. Practice, practice, practice.

Yes, even great sex requires practice. Create habits that can be easily incorporated into your daily routine. I encourage all couples I work with to develop a habit of sexual research—open-ended sessions where couples explore new ways to connect without pressure. Like any new habit, allowing yourself to feel more pleasure and connection takes practice.

10. If it seems helpful, get professional coaching.

If you don't feel like you can do it alone, don't. There's nothing to be ashamed of except not using every tool at your disposal to create the relationship you want. Get the support of a coach whose philosophy inspires you.

11. Be patient with yourself and with your partner.

Sexual connection is deeply personal and one of the most vulnerable elements of our identities. Don’t be discouraged if you, your partner, or your sex life doesn't change as quickly as you’d hoped. People transform in different ways, through different means, over different periods of time. In seeking long-lasting change, favor paradigm shifts over quick fixes. Stick with it and be patient with each other.

Want more insight into your sexuality? Find out the two types of passion (and which one is good for your sex life), then learn what the number of sexual partners you've had actually says about you.

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