Intimacy is one of those taboo topics that everyone wonders about but no one wants to bring up in conversation. It can be difficult to discuss — especially with your partner — but keeping the lines of communication open is key to satisfying sex life. And for those subjects that you're still hesitant to verbalize, fear not; therapists revealed some of the top things women think about in regards to their sex lives.
If you don't have a candid group of girlfriends à la Sex and the City with whom to bear your soul (sans judgement), you've probably wondered whether your romance is "normal," especially if it's less than Hollywood-esque. But couples therapists promise that intimacy isn't always easy, and the idea is full of misconceptions. When put in these terms, it's no wonder that women in real-life relationships sometimes feel lost, whether their romances are new or long-term.
Ahead, three relationship gurus answer (some) of your burning questions by addressing the common concerns that they hear most. From fizzling desire, to out-of-sync sex, to broaching the topic of spicing things up, these therapists share their top relationship tips, and a few words of wisdom they wish every woman knew.
#1. "I love my partner, but why don't I want to have sex with him/her anymore?"
Board-certified psychiatrist, couples counselor, and sex and couples therapist Dr. Sue Varma (@doctorsuevarma on social media), says that lack of sexual desire with a partner doesn't necessarily mean you're no longer in love; it could just mean you're bored. "I think women are simply complicated and sexually nuanced," she explains, saying that getting "seduced mentally" is as important as physical sensuality. "[Sex] is not a means to an end. Plus, novelty wears off. People get lazy. We all want to wear those comfortable PJs." So if your time in the sack is starting to feel like a snooze, it's probably time to find new ways to spice up your sex life.
However, Jennifer Gunsaullus, PhD, sociologist and intimacy coach, and author of the forthcoming book, From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women, shares a few other reasons for a diminished sex drive. Roadblocks can include "your own body image concerns, shame or embarrassment about sexual topics, going through the hormonal and body changes of pregnancy or menopause, medications such as antidepressants, and feeling stressed, tired and overworked," she says. While there are plenty more reasons that are unlisted, sometimes the best way to increase physical intimacy in your relationship is to take care of yourself — body, mind, and soul — first.
#2. "My partner doesn't know how to please me; what do I do?"
Another common issue Dr. Varma hears concerns clients whose significant others don't know how to please them. Many are so focused on their partner's preferences at the beginning that by the time the relationship is long-term, their needs aren't being met and their other half is none the wiser. "A woman’s partner must be a good listener in and out of the bedroom, willing to try new techniques, and willing to ask and handle feedback on how to improve," she says. "[Otherwise,] we don’t get quality, realistic education on how to satisfy our lovers."
Yes, talking about sex can be uncomfortable at first, but if you learn how to discuss intimacy issues with your partner, it can really take your relationship to the next level.
#3. "How do I bring up trying something new with my partner?"
Speaking of uncomfortable sex talks, Dr. Gunsaullus notes that many clients are unsure how to tell their partner they're ready to try something new. Luckily, there's a way to broach the subject carefully.
"Since sex is a sensitive topic, it can be tough to know how to address it without feeling uncomfortable or making your partner feel bad," she admits. "I suggest mentioning that you read an article, heard a podcast, watched a video — whatever — in which you learned some new things about sex that piqued your interest. Then, bring up those topics for discussion. This way you're not asking for something new because you're sexually unhappy, but because you're curious and want to try something new as a team."
#4. "Why is sex painful?"
For some women, sex can cause more pain than pleasure, and — barring medical issues — their bodies aren't to blame; sometimes it's the style of sex that isn't working. "I always ask first if sexual intercourse or any kind of penetration has always hurt, or if this is new," says Dr. Gunsaullus. "If this is something that happens sometimes but not always, the most likely cause is moving into sex too quickly. So slow down, play more, and enjoy exploring each others bodies; it can take up to 20 minutes of engaged sexual play for a woman to be fully physically aroused."
What Every Woman Should Know ...
Stefani Threadgill, a sexologist, PhD, LMFT, and founder of The Sex Therapy Institute, points out that many of her female clients' questions and insecurities originate from common misconceptions surrounding sex, particularly in heterosexual relationships. "What I have noticed is an increase in inquiries from women, unhappy in their sex lives," she begins. "I wish that every woman knew that men are not how they are depicted in media; the men on my couch are often selfless, pleasing lovers. Men are sensitive; when you criticize, they take it to heart." She adds that certain (incorrect) stereotypes can even impact self-esteem. "Often, women are taught men are always willing and able to perform, and if they are not, many assume it is because we are unattractive or lacking in sexual performance," she says.
But the biggest truth she wishes women the world over knew is this: "You are not the only one disillusioned by what you thought sex would be, for good or bad; or romance for that matter. Sex and love change over time and throughout life stages. Cinderella is truly only a fairy tale."