Tag Archives: sexual intimacy in marriage

Why does your spouse think about sex so much more/less than you do?

candles by Christ Sharp at freedigitalphotos.netMany couples blame vastly different libidos for a variety of marriage problems. Some who have higher levels of desire use it to excuse the use of pornography or straying from their marriage vows. Others have an underlying current of conflict due to this difference. It is more than possible to live happily in marriage with a difference in levels of desire.

In The Passion Principles, author Shannon Ethridge shared some helpful insights and suggestions on the issue. Often, it is the man with the higher desire, but sometimes it is the wife, so she is careful not to stereotype. The mismatched sex drive is the issue, not which spouse is higher or lower.

First, related to why this difference in libido frequently occurs, both spouses may find their libido goes up and down depending on stage of life, level of health, hormones, focus on work or kids, and many other factors.

They key to surviving the fluctuating seasons and pendulum swings from one extreme to the other, says Ethridge is NOT to take it personally. “If you are the one feeling the sting of rejection, it is most likely not about you at all. And if you are the one experiencing a temporary lull in your libido, it is not a sign that your relationship is sinking like the Titanic. Most likely, these difference in sexual thought patterns have more to do with hormone production than anything else, and hormone production is not always something we are able to control,” she says.

Ethridge cites brain research by Dr. Louann Brizendine to explain some biological reasons men generally have higher levels of desire. These include:
1. The sex-related centers of the male brain are twice as large as those of the female brain (explaining why men think about sex more frequently).
2. Testosterone is the hormone responsible for fueling sexual thoughts, and men produce between 10 times and 100 times more of it than do females.
3. Men’s response to stress leads them to think about sex more often. Women’s response to stress is to produce more cortisol, which shuts down their desire for sex and physical touch.

This third point should be very important to both men who want their wives to desire sex more, and to women who wish their libido was higher. The woman needs to have the house, the kids, and the work stress under control to be able to relax and have the cortisol levels come down. That is likely why women frequently say they could enjoy sex more if their husbands helped more in the home. It’s not just a quid pro quo sort of comment, it’s an explanation of how she functions. If the husband can’t or won’t help out in the areas causing too much stress, it may be worthwhile to hire some help if it is financially feasible. It may be a good investment in your love life.

In addition to these differences, our hormone levels change after we have been together for a while. During the passion phase (lasting maybe 6 months or as long as two years), we have high levels of bonding hormones dopamine and oxytocin. Eventually those fall to lower levels as our relationship matures. We simply can’t expect the passionate feelings to be as high as during the honeymoon phase, but that doesn’t mean sex isn’t an important part of the marriage.

Ethridge shares advice from her personal experience that couples don’t need to only have sex when they both have high levels of desire. Instead, she says it’s great to use sex as a way to de-stress from a difficult workday, to use it to recharge your batteries when feeling lethargic, to help celebrate all good news (from a promotion to answered prayer), to provide sexual intimacy when one spouse or both are feeling blue, to bring one another comfort, and of course as a release from sexual desire.

“Thinking of sex has become a way of bonding ourselves together in a very intimate, powerful way—through both the good times and bad,” says Ethridge.

Many people who comment here on the blog say have great difficulty understanding their spouse’s way of thinking about sex. Do you feel that understanding the biological difference helps you understand your partner’s viewpoint? Has differing sexual desire been a frequent conversation or conflict in your marriage? Marriage therapists can help couples understand one another’s needs and feelings about the issue if it is causing considerable trouble for you. Do you have similar levels of desire? Do you find that is unusual? Whatever your situation, don’t give up hope in finding common ground on this issue.

Lori Lowe is the author of First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriage. It tells the inspiring, true stories of couples who used adversity to improve their marriages–from overcoming drug addiction to cancer, infidelity, religious differences, family interference and infertility, among many others. It’s available at Amazon.com and in various e-book formats here.
Photo courtesy of http://www.freedigitalphotos.net

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How Birth Control May Put a Wet Blanket on Your Sex Life

A frequent concern of married couples is change in sex drive, especially a common decrease in sex drive for the woman. I’ve shared many possible problems and solutions, including foods that may increase libido and 4 tips to boost libido.

I probably haven’t spent enough time talking about medications being a very common cause of low libido. The medications that reduce sex drive could be taken by either spouse. However, birth control (i.e. the birth control pill or variations) is probably the most frequently used medication that is known to cause a significant decline in libido for users. This decline is potentially long-lasting because of  hormonal changes.

Paul and Lori Byerly recently covered the latest research on the effects of the birth control pill on your sex life. They did a terrific job outlining the research findings at The Marriage Bed. I would encourage you to read this post.

Some couples have medical reasons to choose this option despite the side effects, or otherwise feel it is the right choice for them. Even if that is the case, it is important to have the facts about all medication side effects, especially those that may affect the quality of your marriage and sex life. 

I would add that Dustin Riechmann at Engaged Marriage has written about natural family planning, which some people joke about, but which has shown to be quite effective (99%) when properly used. For Dustin and his wife and for a growing number of people who want to choose a family planning method that is environmentally friendly, without side effects and fits their moral worldview, it’s worth learning about.

Lori’s upcoming book, First Kiss to Lasting Bliss: Hope & Inspiration for Your Marriagewill be available December 8th on Amazon.com. Read about 12 inspiring couples who used adversity to strengthen their marriages. To learn more, go to www.LoriDLowe.com.  Visit the book’s Facebook page at www.Facebook.com/LastingBliss.

TOP 10 Marriage Blog Nominations
Stu and Lisa Gray of Stupendous Marriage are gathering nominations for their 3rd Annual Top Marriage Blogs List. If you’re looking for other marriage blogs, check out their list from the last couple of years. Also, you can check out my blogroll page lots of good sites. In any case, feel free to nominate any of your favorite blogs and encourage the community that gives back to marriages. I’ll let you know when the voting starts as well.

Related Links:
These ladies add a lot of thoughtful discussion to today’s blog post topic:
Julie Sibert with Intimacy in Marriage talks about the effects of birth control
Sheila Gregoire with To Love, Honor & Vacuum talks about the range of birth control options and what is best.
Hot, Holy & Humorous writes Want to Rave about Your Birth Control?

Photo by nuttakit courtesy of freedigitalphotos.net

Possible Solutions for Low Libido?

Recently, Kate and Brad Aldrich of One Flesh Marriage had an insightful post called, “Do I want the libido fairy to visit?” I would suggest reading it in full, but I will share a few highlights here. Those who have a lower libido usually fall into two groups: those who would like their libido to increase, and those who aren’t sure they do. This is most clearly addressed to wives who usually have a lower libido than their husbands, but there are also couples in which the woman has a higher libido than her husband.

For those who would like that libido fairy to visit, suggestions include:

  • Make time to switch gears after work or after parenting responsiblities.
  • Allow yourself time to think about your husband in a sensual way.
  • Give yourself plenty of warm-up time, in particular before declining your hubby’s advances. (You might be more in the mood than you think.)
  • Have sex more frequently (suggested 2-3 times a week) and see if that helps.

Of course there are plenty of individuals who are just fine without having sexual intimacy in their marriages. Generally their spouses are not OK with this, and deep division can occur as a result. If you are in the camp that low libido is not something you want to improve, Kate and Brad suggest:

  • Determine the root cause of your lack of sexual intimacy.
  • Seek medical advice, as there is often a medical reason, such as hormone levels that are off. Many medications, including birth control, affect libido levels. Couples may have to decide whether low libido is simply a symptom they have to live with or whether medication changes can be made.
  • If seeking medical information does not lead to answers, they suggest counseling (marriage counseling with either a trusted pastor or a Licensed Christian Counselor, trained in Christian sex therapy). “There could be a past history of sexual abuse, past hurts from previous sexual relationships, past or present addictions, wrong feelings about sexual intimacy in general and so on.”

Lastly, Kate and Brad suggested we need to make our marriages a higher priority. I completely agree that so much often seems more important than making time for intimacy. The connection that sexual intimacy brings feeds the marriage. Without it, the marriage is slowly starved of that connection. 

Few couples have very similar libido levels. Add to that various stresses and responsibilities, and open and sensitive communication becomes critical. Are you working to bridge the gap, or trying to ignore any differences?

Photo courtesy of PhotoXpress.com

The Surprising Natural Antidepressant You Might Receive from Your Husband

File this study under “most likely research to be shared by men around the world.” You can also file it under “post containing the most words that I never thought I’d be writing about.” But it’s terribly interesting and far-reaching, so here goes: It turns out scientists think semen has special powers to reduce depression when absorbed into the vagina via unprotected sex. Really and truly; it’s too early to be an April Fool’s post.

I will place a forewarning here early in this post, just as research psychologist, Jesse Bering,  did when he wrote the article for Scientific American that I stumbled across, “An ode to the many evolved virtues of human semen.” Having unprotected sex is clearly a risky proposition in today’s world. That’s why this information is intended for married/committed readers. Please be wise in your application of this data. I also give credit to the author for his well-mannered apology for what will likely to result in an increase in ejaculatory humor, “Ladies, forgive me for what I have done.”

OK, back to the “rich vat of seminal theory,” as Bering so aptly calls it. It all began back in 2006 when Gordon Gallup and Rebecca Burch were studying menstrual synchrony (that fact that women in the same household tend to synchronize their menstrual cycles). Because lesbian women did not have the same effect on one another, Gallup and Burch began to look at the possible effects of semen, realizing quickly how little is known about how the chemicals in semen influence female biology, behavior and psychology.

A little biological background is helpful. Semen (or seminal plasma) contains only 1 to 5 percent sperm. The rest of the chemical composition includes more than 50 compounds with various functions. A few of the more notable elements include cortisol (increases affection), estrone (mood elevator), prolactin (a natural antidepressant), oxytocin (mood elevator), thyrotropin-releasing hormone (antidepressant), melatonin (induces sleep), and serotonin (well-known antidepressant neurotransmitter), among many others. It’s not a stretch for researchers to then consider whether semen would have antidepressive effects, given its composition. The presence of two female hormones in semen (FSH and LH) may indicate that it has some power to trigger ovulation.

Bering also notes that the vagina has long been known as an ideal route for drug delivery because of the many arteries and blood vessels in the area. Chemicals that enter the body through the vagina “have an almost direct line to the peripheral vascular system.”

Results of Study
Now that you know biologically why the theory seems plausible, what did the researchers actually study and discover? They recruited 293 college females from the SUNY-Albany campus, who filled out anonymous surveys about their sexual behavior. They compared women who had sexual activity with condoms with those who did not. They also tracked depressive symptoms using the Beck Depression Inventory, a fairly common clinical tool.

After adjusting for frequency of sexual intercourse, women who had sex and “never” used condoms showed significantly lower depressive symptoms than those who “usually” or “always” used condoms. The unprotected, sexually active women were also less depressed than those who abstained from sex. Sexually active women who used condoms were “just as depressed” as those practicing abstinence. (This takes care of the argument that happier people have sex, or that having sex makes for happier people.)  I repeat my above statement that this article is intended for married/committed couples as unprotected sex with multiple partners remains a very high risk.

In addition, women having sex who “never” used condoms were much less likely to have attempted suicide than those who “sometimes” or “usually” used them.

Still, I immediately thought about hormonal birth control and its possible effects. It turns out the researchers also controlled for that possibility. They also controlled for frequency of sex and duration of the relationship with the male partner.

In an important caveat, the researchers admit that the results are “preliminary and correlational in nature, and as such are only suggestive.” They say that to gather more definitive evidence would ideally require the measurement of seminal components in the recipient’s blood.

Let’s see if they are able to replicate the results, or if they even plan to. There certainly are other plausible explanations for the results.

Ladies, are you surprised by the results? Do you think there could be other causes for the reduced levels of depression? Men, have you always thought you held a special power in your loins?

Related Link:
After I scheduled this post to publish, I found The Generous Husband just posted about this very same topic. Paul lists other potential positive attributes of semen, including pain control and better sleep.

Photo credit: ©Pavel Losevsky/PhotoXpress.com

Sex Stats for Married and Singles: How do You Measure Up?

The average person in America has sex approximately 60 times a year, according to a study from the American Sex Survey ABCnews.com, The Kinsey Institute. Within every age group from age 18 to over 70 married people had  more sex than singles. The study reported that 70 percent of American men think about sex every day, compared with 34 percent of women. Individuals in the 18-29 age group had sexual intercourse most frequently (96.3 times per year for married, 77.5 times per year for singles). Each decade older corresponded to a decline in frequency of sexual intimacy.

This begs the question, how much affection and intimacy is enough to keep a marriage going strong? Another study of 3,000 British residents by CBCNews in Canada answers this question. The Generous Husband recently reported on this study, explaining that “For a good marriage, you need 4-3-3-2-2.” That is, couples should enjoy four kisses and three cuddles per day. They should have sex three times a week, share two hobbies and have two romantic dinners per week.

I can hear you saying that marriage can’t be broken down into formulas and numbers. I agree, but suggest that the above numbers are reasonable benchmarks. If you want guidance on what behaviors to avoid and focus on, Simple Marriage recently shared 7 Deadly Sins of Relationships, which offers spot-on advice regarding how to keep your relationship strong, and behaviors that could be the death-knell of your love affair.

What do you think of these numeric recommendations? Is communication more important than how often you cuddle, or does physical intimacy bring you closer together?

Photo Credit: ©Mat Hayward/PhotoXpress.com

How Do You Define Intimacy?

What is conjured up in your mind when you hear the word “intimacy”? Chances are the word intimacy has different connotations to you depending on your gender. I’ve read some surveys that suggest women tend to think of the emotional side of intimacy, and men tend to think of physical intimacy. The book 13 Keys to Unlocking Intimacy in Your Marriage by Tony and Alisa DiLorenzo discusses six types of intimacy and how you can achieve them all. I’ve enjoyed their blog, One Extraordinary Marriage for some time; check it out.

I would have been hard pressed to come up with all these types, but I agree they are all important to a strong marriage:

  • Emotional Intimacy (sharing feelings, thoughts, desires)
  • Intellectual Intimacy (common life goals, open communication, mutual understanding)
  • Spiritual Intimacy (shared religious beliefs and observed religious practices)
  • Recreational Intimacy (having fun together and sharing quality time)
  • Financial Intimacy (honesty about all money matters)
  • Physical Intimacy (all physical touch from holding hands to sex)

The advice Alisa and Tony give about how they achieved these six types of intimacy includes many of their mistakes along their journey, from addiction to pornography to finding themselves $50,000 in debt. In that regard, they don’t set themselves up as the perfect couple, but rather a couple who is hoping others can learn from some of their early relationship errors. 

Tony and Alisa offer useful tips from setting boundaries with your parents to negotiating how to spend free time in a way you will both enjoy. The book offers the male and female perspectives on numerous topics, so both genders of readers can relate. It also provides a section for answering questions about your own relationship, which can foster a discussion between you and your spouse. Whether you are young in your marriage or need to revisit some of the positive aspects you used to enjoy, these concepts are key to an enjoyable relationship.

If you’re interested in learning more about these six types of intimacy and how to unlock their potential, you can find the ebook here. (They offer a traditional book, audio book or eBook formats.) Tony also offers an online course called Blow Up My Marriage to help boost your marriage by focusing on your strengths instead of your weaknesses.

My feeling is you can send your marriage into a downward spiral if you spend all your time picking apart your weaknesses and focusing on your perpetual conflicts. Every relationship has these. Instead, focus on what you love about your spouse and how you can grow from there. That is not to say that we don’t all have room to improve. Just don’t tear each other down every day, or you may lose that “lovin’ feeling.”

Fess up, what kind of intimacy did you think of when you read the headline?

Photo Credit: ©PhotoXpress.com

How to Talk About Sex

In Improving Sexual Communication, we broached the need to talk about sex in order to achieve a passionate sex life. Following are more details on ways couples effectively do this, and ways they can cause more harm in this area. The advice is gleaned from the highly recommended book Hot Monagamy by Dr. Patricia Love and Jo Robinson.

The authors report that most couples talk around sex, rather than talking about it, perhaps using gestures, jokes, unclear comments or put-downs. For example, vague euphemisms about your sexual desires, such as, “You know what I like,” may be misunderstood by your spouse. Talk in clear, honest language about your likes and dislikes. Here are a few tips from the book:

  • Preconditions are one area that can require communication. One spouse may communicate that she wants a clean house, kids in bed and eight hours of sleep the previous night to feel romantic. However, such a list can cause your partner to wonder if it’s ever going to happen. Determine what your legitimate preconditions may be and which are just excuses or a demonstration of lack of interest.
  • Many people talk about sex in an impersonal way, say Robinson and Dr. Love, for instance inviting their partner to bed or asking them to turn the TV off. These are not necessarily negative comments, but a partner wants to be cherished and desired for his or her person, not just for the act. Instead of depersonalizing it, share with your partners what it is you enjoy or desire about him or her. There’s a big difference between “I want it” and “I want you.”
  • Taboo topics can even be held for couples who have been married for 20 years. Silence and a lack of sharing only create a barrier between the couple, impeding true intimacy. So, whether you are disturbed by infrequent initiation by your partner or need to discuss bodily changes, birth control or a need for variety in the bedroom, have the conversation. Most couples would prefer to talk about these topics during a non-intimate time.
  • Can you talk too much? Absolutely, “There are moments in life that defy words and command our undivided attention. That’s why we are silent during a ballet or a concert,” say the authors. Enough said.
  • Silence is not always golden. A partner who is silent about his or her sexual needs because they don’t want to upset their spouse can be creating a rift in the marriage—one that can put you at risk for an affair.
  • Gender differences can make talking about sex more difficult than you expect, since men tend to place a higher importance on independence and mastery, while women value intimacy more. So, when a woman requests more kissing and touching, a man may feel this is a criticism of past performance. Be aware of this tendency, and use praise when appropriate.
  • Criticism, harsh statements or sarcasm are not effective inside or outside of the bedroom. (This includes comments about body image.) Neither is generalizing about what your partner “always” does or doesn’t do. Instead, keep a positive and respectful tone. After all, you’re trying to spice up your love life, not weed the garden.

Is there just one area of your sexual communication that you can seek to improve upon? Will you consider being more receptive to your partner’s wishes, and more open in communicating your own? Do you find talking about sex natural or difficult?