Sexologist Isiah McKimmie on how to talk to your partner about sex

Welcome to Relationship Rehab, news.com.au’s weekly column solving all your romantic problems, no holds barred.

This week, our resident sexologist Isiah McKimmie helps a woman who feels stuck in a sex rut.

QUESTION: My husband and I have hit a bit of a rut with our sex life. We used to have sex once a week and it’s always been great but lately, we aren’t even managing it once a week. We have to have sex on weekends due to his work schedule but then sometimes the weekend passes by and I realise we haven’t had sex. We’ve been together 20 years and I totally adore him but I find his complacency about sex frustrating – he seems like he could take it or leave it. How do I initiate more sex without coming across like I’m pestering him?

ANSWER: It’s not uncommon for partners to have (or develop) different interests in sex in a long-term relationship. Talking about it and working through it together is the key to preventing it from damaging your connection.

Different desire levels are painful

When our partner has a different desire level for sex than us, it can be painful and frustrating, often leading to tension in a relationship. Partners with the higher desire can feel alone and hurt that their partner seemingly doesn’t want to share something so special with them. Lower desire partners can feel like they’re letting their partner down.

This dynamic is often more challenging in a partnership where a male partner has lower desire. Societal stereotypes that position men as always having high sexual desire can increase shame for both partners.

The truth is your husband might be disinterested. Or, there might be factors that are inhibiting his desire right now that can be changed.

It’s also important to know that your husband’s lack of interest in sex doesn’t necessarily mean a lack of interest in you.

Talk about this together

Having conversations about sex, in particular, different desire levels, can be challenging. Often when couples attempt to talk about this, heightened emotions lead to arguments or one person shutting down.

When we’re raising any delicate topic with a partner, it’s important to do it gently and without blame or criticism. Focus on sharing your emotions and your needs – not what your partner is ‘doing wrong’.

Your partner needs to understand why this is important to you and what it means when he doesn’t seem interested.

Right now, he probably thinks you’re just frustrated with him. While I hear that you are frustrated, my guess is that under that, there are also feelings of being rejected, unloved and not desired. You may even feel fear about what this means for your relationship.

It’s those deeper feelings that your husband needs to hear – and that are most likely to get him to engage with this as an important issue.

Aim to understand both perspectives

Before you take any action on this, aim to understand each other. This allows you to work on this as a team, instead of it driving a wedge between you.

Your husband might struggle to talk about it. Heightened feelings – especially of shame, failure or letting a partner down make it difficult to talk. He might need more time than you do to get his thoughts together in a conversation. Go slow.

Uncover ‘sexual brakes’ and ‘sexual accelerators’

Sexual desire levels change throughout our lives, affected by multiple factors. Certain factors in our lives act as ‘sexual brakes’, inhibiting desire.

‘Sexual brakes’ that might be impacting your husband are:

• Loss of sexual function

• Stress

• Exhaustion

• Performance anxiety

• Relationship tension

• Health factors

• Mental health

It might be helpful for him to discuss this with his GP or a Sexologist.

After addressing sexual brakes, you can then look at increasing his ‘sexual accelerators’.

Develop ‘rituals’ for initiating – and turning each other down

Being the only person initiating sex can be challenging – it means that you’re the one who consistently risks feeling rejected. I also hear your consideration in not wanting to add pressure on your husband.

Talk together about ways you can signal interest that don’t feel like pressure to him – and don’t feel too risky for you. Also discuss ways that he can say no, that don’t leave you feeling hurt.

Lack of interest in sex, doesn’t need to mean a lack of intimacy, connection or affection between you at all. You can also show physical affection in other ways.

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