A healthy sex life is a surefire way for couples to connect. However, real life responsibilities such as parenting, career challenges and financial strains often mean that one partner may not always be in the mood.
In her book, Mating in Captivity, psychotherapist Esther Perel unpacks how the ideals of modern marriages are often contradictory — couples want characteristics such as stability, safety and dependability but also expect the same person to supply awe, mystery and adventure.
Here's some advice from experts on how to navigate the conflict between the erotic and the domestic.
TIRED NOT TURNED-ON
Traditionally, women carry the bulk of household chores. This, after putting in long hours at a corporate gig then coming back to cook, supervise children and carry out chores with the might of a superhero. After such a long day, surely it's natural for love-making to fall off the priorities list?
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Men should realise that the easiest way to revive passion is to relieve women of some of the household tasks. Load the dishwasher, take the trash out and fold some laundry if you want to bring the magic back.
MAKING LOVE DURING AND AFTER ILLNESS
The marriage vow that states "in sickness and in health" is put to the test when illness affects a couple’s sex drive. According to Dr Pepper Schwartz, some people feel ashamed, which can come from the belief that their sickness is their fault or from bodily changes, such as a mastectomy or removal of a testicle. Others can’t withstand sexual activity.
“Most people feel a lot of very intense emotions when they go through a serious illness. These can have direct effects on their desire, or ability, to have sex. Even if it didn’t involve any sexual organ or part of the body, there’s a sense of damage that people often carry with them,” says Schwartz.
Shock, shame, fear and vulnerability are all common feelings for people in this situation, and they don’t just disappear once a doctor says they’re better. What is needed in this situation is kindness and patience from the caretaker partner and communication from the patient about when and how they would like to resume sexual relations.
TOO TIRED FOR SOME NOOKIE?
With the busy lives we all lead, it is normal to occasionally feel run-down. If a couple is constantly too tired to be intimate, then this could be indicative of a deeper emotional issue that needs to be addressed. In the long run, if a partner feels as though they are constantly being turned down, or rejected, it could snowball into more issues. The first port of call should be a medical doctor to exclude any medical causes for low libido.
Sexual health expert Samantha Evans suggests trying new things to overcome the fatigue that prevents lovemaking at night. “Night-time may simply not be the right time for sex for some people. If you are an early riser, take advantage of this and have early morning sex, or set the alarm for 20 minutes earlier to indulge.”
Evans also says parents should take advantage of the times when their children are at school or occupied with activities and slip into bed. “Even if you don’t have sex, you can still enjoy cuddling, kissing and foreplay.”
SEX-DEPRIVED NEW PARENTS
The pitter-patter of little feet is a welcome addition to any family. However, it also means having to adjust to new routines. With the irregular schedule of newborns, sex initially falls by the wayside.
Caroline Lovett, a psychosexual and relationship therapist says: “It’s quite interesting that out of sex comes babies, and yet babies are sure to put one of the biggest dampeners on sex.”
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She adds that becoming a parent brings with it a massive identity shift and encourages couples to rediscover the sensual part of their bodies and incorporate that into the relationship. Parents are also cautioned against getting so caught up in the routines of childrearing that the relationship becomes functional, instead of intimate.
Navigating the ups and downs of life could sometimes lead to sex taking a back seat for a couple. The experts all agree that these dry patches are temporary. So long as partners treat each other with kindness and compassion, the spark will eventually return between the sheets. Remember that sex maybe physical, but intimacy starts long before getting between the sheets.