Why do people feel dissatisfied with their sex life?One in five people felt that low libido or differing sex drives were putting a strain on their relationships. Our survey of counselors also showed a similar pattern, with almost half reporting that low libido or differing sex drives are one of the top eight relationship strains they see in the counseling room. However, counselors felt that by far the most common causes of sexual dissatisfaction were a lack of emotional intimacy (84%) and lack of communication (75%). As Relate Counselor Barbara Honey explains, there is often a lack of understanding about how each partner feels about sex:
“There can sometimes be a ‘lightbulb’ moment in counseling when partners realise that the meaning of sex is different for each of them – this can become a turning point in becoming able to better meet each other’s needs.”
Barbara Honey, Relate Counselor
People’s life stage and health also influenced sexual dissatisfaction — parents with young children were more likely to report dissatisfaction, as were those who had a disability or were living with a long-term health condition.
As well as a loss of desire, sexual problems were causing many couples to feel their relationship was under pressure. A third of people in our study said they had experienced a sexual problem, with one in four counselors reporting an increase in number of clients that had experienced sex-related problems affecting their relationship. One issue can lead to the start of a cycle of problems for a couple, which goes on to undermine their relationship:
“Couples talk in therapy of getting into a cycle of problems – sex can become rushed or routine which can lead to a cycle of avoidance. Without the experience of pleasure and enjoyment, it becomes something that can create tension and anxiety. Sex itself can be painful and both pain and anxiety are going to create difficulties. Therapists are increasingly noticing the loss of libido or desire in both men and women that is leading to relationship tensions”
How important is sex in relationships?We found that only 13% of people said sex was one of the most important things in a relationship. But there is a clear gender divide, with one in five men putting sex in their top three compared to one in ten women. Despite not all couples rating sexual satisfaction as an important part of their relationship there is clear research evidence that sexual satisfaction improves relationships, which in turn improves wellbeing.
Getting help with sexual problemsWe know that people are often prevented from seeking help with relationship problems because of a perceived stigma. 60% of people in our survey who had experienced a sexual problem said that they would not want anyone to know they had accessed professional relationship support. Indeed counselors often see couples that are so worried about the stigma they repeatedly avoiding coming to Sex Therapy:
“Sex therapists see many couples for whom the desire to conceive is what brings them to therapy: sexual problems can and do cause distress in the couple relationship but it often isn’t until the couple are seeking to get pregnant that they seek support to resolve these problems”
Relate Sex Therapists see thousands of couples, often it's people who don’t have the time or energy for sex who find this eventually starts to become a pattern. If you feel you could benefit from getting help, a Relate Sex Therapist can work with you on how to handle any problems you might be having so you can rediscover a satisfying sex life. Contact Trina Dolenz, Relate Therapist at CoupleCounselingDC for a session.
At Relate we feel it’s important that people have access to information and support when they experience a problem with their sex life. So we’re calling on commissioners of health services to improve access to sex therapy and relationship counseling to provide support for people experiencing sexual problems.