A lot of couples that wind up in counseling complain of sexual desire problems. This is frequently experienced as an uneven desire for sexual intimacy—there is a low desire partner and a high desire partner, and the difference in desire is interpreted all kinds of ways. For many, the desire problems as the most distressing symptom they are experiencing in their marriage. In fact, many come to therapy wondering if waning sexual interest is a signal to move out of their marriage or long-term relationship.
It is not surprising that folks interpret sexual desire problems in this way. We are living in a culture a wee bit obsessed with sexual satisfaction. I did a training with 35 bright, motivated college students this weekend and they shared some of the pressure they feel around sexuality; to look, perform, and experience themselves and their partner as a virtual sexual gods/goddesses. Many of us marry expecting that we will experience the great, American sexual dream for the rest of our lives. All those stories about waning sexual interest won’t apply to me, that’s the story of those fuddy-duddy people who never cared about sex. Sadly, when sexual desire problems emerge, far too many people give up, interpreting the problem as a terminal disease, a cancer that cannot be treated. The fact that sexual desire problems are very common and can be treated is not discussed very readily.
What if sexual desire problems were interpreted as an invitation to deeper, more mature connection from which a new type of sexual desire can emerge? My learning around treating couples with sexual desire problems led me to Dr. David Schnarch. He says, “(Sexual) desire problems can be useful to people and relationships. They push us to become more solid within ourselves. Sexual desire problems aren’t a problem in your marriage. Sexual desire problems are part of the normal, healthy processes of marriage.” (p.18) So, can there be satisfying sex on the other side of sexual desire problems in marriage? Absolutely. But that is the sex that far too many people never have. It’s the sex that comes after sexual desire problems have been carefully and sensitively worked through. It is the sex that comes when we say yes to the invitation into a deeper personal and relational process. And you may be surprised how you get there.
The quotes are from Dr. David Schnarch’s book, Intimacy and Desire. For the month of October, I’ll continue writing on this topic. I invite your comments and questions. Click here to read my review of the book.