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Sex problems - areas to consider

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Many things can go wrong with sex. Maybe sex doesn't happen at all, or when it does happen you lose your erection or your interest, or you're left feeling bored, or sad, or missed by the other person. It might end in arguments or with you dreaming about more open sex, but somehow never quite getting round to telling your partner about this. I'm sure every person on this planet could add more items to this list of mishaps from their own personal experience. 

Let's face it, good sex doesn't just happen. Things go wrong between partners in some shape or form all the time. Unfortunately, often it's not so easy to work out exactly what the problem is and what needs to be changed. For example, you might be faced with a partner who doesn't really seem interested. So isn't it obvious that they're the problem? Well, not necessarily. They might not be interested because of what's going on at work at the moment, or they might not be interested because something's up with the relationship, or maybe they do want sex - but not the kind you've normally been having. So, when you look below the surface you may begin to find all kinds of possibilities about where the problem might be located.

To help you work this out, here's an overview of different things you could think about to explain what's happening (or not happening, as the case may be!):

1. Your current situation

Remember that sex is very dependent on time and context. For example, if you have sex after a really hard day at work, the day's events will probably affect the quality of that sex. So if sex isn't working, think about the set up. Is there enough time for both of you to relax, or is one of you still at work in his or her head? Do you both have enough energy? Are your surroundings good for sex, or are you worried your neighbors can hear you, or that your kids might be home early from school? Problems like that can be fixed fairly easily. Talk to your partner about what you can both do to make sex into an "occasion". For example, you might need to set more time aside or make sure you have a relaxing day beforehand. Or maybe you need to accept that there are other things going on in your lives right now which are taking up most of your energy, so that sex isn't a priority for one of you. However, if that continues for too long it will probably affect your relationship.

Sometimes it's a good idea to get extra advice and support. if you're a man with some kind of sexual dysfunction, we recommend a visit to where you can find information on premature ejaculation and other ejaculation problems.


2. Your relationship

Relationships are complicated. We try to negotiate a happy life between two different people with different expectations, dreams, personal strengths and weaknesses and past experiences. This is hard work! It requires ongoing commitment from both sides to work through conflicts and tough times together. If things are not right in your relationship, if you don't talk to each other, or have no time together, or hit the same conflicts again and again without resolving them, it will affect your love life. Sex can then become the area where the cracks start to appear in your relationship, eventually becoming an unavoidable issue. For sex to work, we need to be open and contactful with each other. 

An example of this would be a couple who have emotionally separated from each other and who do not talk or interact with each other on a deeper level. If they did, they know they would start to argue about core issues in their relationship. In this type of relationship sex will probably become boring and feel like an obligation. One or both of the partners might be looking for fun and emotional engagement elsewhere. Another scenario might be where there isn't a lot of emotional closeness between partners, but it's otherwise a good, conflict free relationship. Sex works, but one of the partners, who wants more intimacy, keeps feeling missed and lonely during sex. 

If you think your relationship is the issue, remember that you are in it together with your partner. You can only sort this out together; allocating blame or responsibility to just one of you misses the point that you both are in it together. A relationship is created by two people, so if it's not working, both of you need to look at what you are contributing to the situation. Ask yourself what you need to do differently, as ultimately you can only change your own behavior, not your partner's. The other thing to remember is: talk about it, in fact, talk about it again, and again, and again. And learn more about the dynamics and psychological processes between the two of you (see info on relationships on this web site). Relationships are hard work, but they are also a lot of fun when they work well.


3. Your or your partner's past experiences

By past experiences I mean things you can remember which will have influenced your experience of sex. That might be your own first sexual experiences, or stories you heard from other people. Of course this includes good and bad experiences. You might feel really confident about your body after having been in a good relationship with someone who kept telling you how beautiful you are. Unfortunately, we also have bad experiences - even very bad experiences. For example, people of all ages can get exploited for sex.

However, there are also other ways in which past experiences can influence our sex lives today. Not only do we learn through direct experiences, but we also learn through observation and we absorb what we're told as children. The attitudes of family members towards sex will probably live on in us; and we all build some picture of the sort of sex life we think (or imagine) our parents are having.

If you were told as a kid that sex is dirty, you might not believe it anymore as an adult, but you might still feel guilty or shamed about initiating sex. Your adult head might not quite agree with some leftover childhood feelings about sex. Ask yourself  what is left over for you from your past about sex. What are the good and bad experiences and attitudes you've picked up during your life and are they still influencing your emotions?

If there is stuff leftover for you, consider talking to your partner about it. The past is the past and shouldn't be limiting you now. If you are not sure if you can talk to your partner about this, please consider getting some professional help from a therapist. Your sex life and your enjoyment of it is too important to be sidelined. Getting some good help will let you sort out these issues much more quickly and easily. In addition, have a look at the psychological models on this web site. See whether any of it helps you to understand what's going on for you. This can be your first step to resolving difficulties.


4. Your or your partner's personality style

By personality style, I mean your way of being in the world. The experiences we have in the first three years of life, together with our natural inclinations, establish a framework in which our personality and attitudes develop. We experience this later on as "natural" - as the "only" way to be, the way we are. And, if things are less than optimal, we establish defensive structures in our minds which result in various defensive character patterns.

For example, without enough contact early on, a baby might learn to disconnect from people and its own wish for closeness. It might build up muscle tension to inhibit the urge to reach out or cry. As an adult such a person might find it hard to access his or her feelings or to relax in the company of others and experience intimacy. So, you might end up being a really successful and happy person within your style of being, but find that during sex you don't feel anything. You might go numb and not enjoy the experience. To you, it might look like that's just who you are; or you might find it hard to understand why you're having problems with sex.

If you think your personality style might get in the way of a fulfilling sex life, have a look at the psychology pages on this web site. Although it will take a long time to change these early defensive patterns, they are changeable, and you do not need to take them as a "given". You might want to look at how you live in your body, for example where would you locate "you" in your body? Are you in all of it, or do you identify just with your head, perhaps, or just the part from the waist upwards? Whatever the answer, it will have an impact on your sex life. There is a lot you can learn about character styles which will help you change your patterns of being in the world. If you are more open to the world generally, you will also be more open to experiencing sex and your own lust and pleasure during it. And again, you don't need to make this journey on your own. You can talk to your partner or friends about it, or get some professional help with it. This will make it easier and quicker.


5. Your health or your partner's health

After all this psychological stuff, I do want to point out that sexual problems can also be a straightforward, or maybe not so straightforward, medical issue. If you have any concerns about your physical or sexual health, do see a doctor. Don't take any chances; get it checked out. If you find there's no medical problem, then you can work on the possibility of a psychological issue without worrying about your health.  Additionally, all sorts of medical issues will impact your sex life, not just one's in the area of sexual health. To enjoy sex on a long term basis you need to look after your health, especially if it's not that good in the first place.

Also keep in mind that the area of sexual health in medicine is still growing. Not all doctors will understand, know about or be supportive of your sexual issues. You might need to keep looking for the right specialist to help you; one example for men in mid-life is the challenge of finding a doctor who is expert in analyzing male hormones. You can also look on the internet for self-help groups, recommendations for treatments, and lists of medical staff.


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