Sex in marriage - depicted by couple kissing

Sex in Marriage

Last updated on September 11th, 2023 at 10:21 am

How to Make Your Sex Life Better

Human sexuality and sex in marriage is incredibly complex. It is the interweaving not only of two different bodies but two different emotional worlds, mental worlds, and ways of interacting. Sexuality brings into contact our various needs, different desires, and different fantasies. Sexuality may carry with it, not just an expression of love, but our emotional baggage as well. For some, the issues in a couple’s marriage show up in their sexual relationship as well. Other couples may struggle in their relationship, yet have a great sex life. Other couples may be celibate.

There is tremendous variation in our sexual relationships. In other words, there is no normal.

While sex is undoubtedly physical, it is also mental and emotional. And it is generally relational. All of these aspects of sex are important.

The sharing of oneself allows sex to occur, but the experience is internal and private, filled with our histories, our projections, our longings, and our own bodily sensations.– Jennifer Lehr, LMFT

The emotional aspects of sex

We generally desire sex in marriage or a relationship to be more than physical pleasure. We want to feel emotionally close to our partners. We want to feel desired and loved. We want to know we are cared for. We wish to express our love for our partner physically. When we connect emotionally while having sex, we often call it making love.

The emotional aspect of sex includes our attachment needs. Our attachment needs are our needs to feel valued, cared for, and emotionally safe. When we experience our attachment needs in our sexual relationships, we are looking at beliefs and thoughts such as:

  • If we have sex, it means you still love me.
  • If you don’t want to have sex, you don’t find me attractive.
  • I don’t know how to feel close to you when you tell me you don’t want to have sex with me.
  • When you withhold sex, I feel you are mean. I feel victimized.

These beliefs and thoughts reflect our needs to feel valued and cared for. Notice what your underlying views are about your sexual relationship. It will be helpful to identify them. You may be able to talk about them with your partner.

Our emotional needs entwined with sex can sometimes put a heavy load on our sex lives.

Emotional issues can intrude. For example, if we are angry at our partner, we may not want to have sex. We may pull away. Or we may even attempt to punish our partner by refusing sex. We may use sex to make up and reconnect after a fight. We may use sex to feel as if our relationship is valid or to keep our partner happy.

Our sexual stories

Whether we are looking at sex in marriage or sex in a relationship, we have sexual stories. These include our past sexual experiences. For example, when Pamela was a teenager, her father often made negative comments about her body to her. This left her feeling as if she needed to hide her body. To move past this, she shared this story with her husband. He learned to reassure her that he loves to see her body. While this sense of shame and self-protection did not just evaporate, it has lessened significantly over time.

Sex and our actions

We may also have issues around our actions. One person may be a sexual withdrawer. The other may be a sexual pursuer. If our partner pushes for sex, we may get turned off.

Or if our partner withdraws, we may feel needy or deprived and push for sex. This sets up a cycle where initiating sex becomes a struggle. Discussing our actions as well as understanding the emotions and needs under our actions is essential. Once we have an understanding of our sexual dynamics, we can begin to address where we get stuck and what to do about it. You may not feel you can talk about this with your partner. If not, get a therapist or work on your relationship with WeConcile.

Sex and trauma

Some of us may have trauma around sex. We may have been abused or raped. Our bodies may have been criticized or commented on. We may have been taught that sex was bad. All of this impacts our sexual experience and how we feel about sex. If we have had sexual trauma, it is crucial that our partner understands and has empathy about what happened to us. Trauma often does not heal in isolation.

Sexual problems

Because of our particular stories, our different underlying feelings, and our different sensitivities, we can readily develop sexual problems. For example, body shame can inhibit sex. Criticism isn’t good for sex. Cheating will break down trust to such a degree that not just the sexual relationship, but the entire connection is impaired. Sexual addictions also harm our connection.

Sex and connection

In a relationship or marriage, sex is usually but not always about connection. We may fall into one of two categories.

  • We may need sex to feel connected.
  • We may need to feel connected to have sex.

Or if we have a sex addiction, we may not be seeking connection, but pure escape into physical excitement, and pleasure.

If we need to have sex to feel connected, and our partner needs to feel connected to have sex, we could run into a bit of a problem. The partner who needs to feel connected to have sex may have to request some time to cuddle and may also need to reassure his or her partner that they will have sex.

Learn more

WeConcile’s topics on sexuality specifically focus on this. You’ll learn about bonding, sexual differences, sexual history, how our feelings interface with our sexuality, pursuing and withdrawing, and more in much greater detail.

If you are in a sexless marriage, try The Sexless Marriage: Steps to restore sexual intimacy.

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