I would say probably 80% of all the calls I receive are regarding some sort of desire discrepancy: "He wants to have sex all the time! It's not normal", "She never wants to have sex", "He never initiates anymore", "She used to love having sex when we first got together, now nothing..." The subject of wives not wanting to have sex with their husbands has become so commonplace in our society that it is joked about on the radio, in movies and on nearly every sitcom. But even though it seems to be a common occurrence, and often laughed off, there is a lot of hurt, frustration, guilt and anger that arises due to these sexual disagreements. (I am generalizing here, because I do see some couples where the wife has more sexual desire than the husband, or in same sex couples there is the lack of an initiator, etc. But the majority of what I see is when the wife has lower desire than the husband, so that is what I will speak to.)
When clients come to see me for sex therapy or marriage counseling it tends to be after several months or years of bitterness, resentment and unresolved anger. The couple I see across from me in my office look more like strangers than marital partners. And this is where my work begins. Having couples talk and explain what it was like when they first met- what attracted them to one another, what made them so special. This is when I can get a idea of where this couple wants to go. Take a moment and remember what it was like to see your partner for the first time. Do you remember that moment you knew you were falling in love with them? What was it that sexually attracted you to them?
Throughout a marriage there are so many transitional periods that we tend to let the relationship go on autopilot so we can pay attention to "the important things": "Jimmy has the flu", "I have to work late so I can be considered for this promotion", "I am tired", Facebook, emails, cell phone calls, and so on and so forth. The day to day tasks take precedence over the intimacy and eroticism of the relationship. How can our sex lives be passionate and romantic when we barely even have time or energy for a conversation?
A common complaint that I often hear from wives is that they don't see or hear from their partner all day (or if they do it is to handle planning or logistics). "My husband comes home from work, "zones out" (insert mind-numbing activity: has a drink/ plays on his phone/ plays video games/ watches TV) and then later on in the night he tries to initiate sex. Most of the time this approach leads to resentful sex, disconnected sex, or no sex at all. Listen up husbands! foreplay is not the 5 minutes of heavy petting right before sex. Foreplay starts the minute you wake up a week before you expect sex. Women need to be warmed up, connected and to feel safe and loved in order to feel ready to open herself up for sex. Sending that sweet text during the day, picking up the dry cleaning, helping out with some of the mundane household tasks- this is foreplay.
That being said, ladies, you have to take some responsibility for you desire (or lack there of ) as well. Women, generally have much lower levels of desire naturally (due to less testosterone), so you need to be taking advantage the small, little, sometimes nonexistent spark that does occur. Do a little self-exploration and see what you can do throughout the day to turn yourself on. Read erotica (I always assign "My Secret Garden" by Nancy Friday). Watch a sexy movie. Wear something that makes you feel sexy. Stimulate yourself. You may not be able to experience spontaneous arousal, but you can work at creating arousal on your own so that you have something to offer yourself and your partner when you're finally collapse into bed together at the end of the day.
You can have sex without intimacy or connection, but it won't be very good sex. Working on connecting with each other outside of the bedroom can help prime both of you for the moments when sex is possible. Remind yourself why you love this person, why you want to be with this person and how important it is to show them. So send that sexy text, hug them for a little bit longer, whisper something sweet in their ear. It will be worth it- I promise!