Engagement Anxiety and the Question of Sex

Originally published in the Huffington Post.

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One of the most common questions I’m asked in my counseling practice is something along these lines:

My fiancé and I have a great relationship, but after he proposed my sex drive plummeted. Is this normal? I don’t want to be stuck in a sexless marriage! 

And even though the topic of sex is splashed across every form of media, when someone brings the question to a session they usually ask it with a great deal of trepidation in their voice.

This is because there’s a big taboo around admitting that you’re struggling in the bedroom. And yet here’s a secret that the mainstream media doesn’t tell you: nearly every couple that has been together more than a couple of years and is past the honeymoon stage struggles with sex at some point in their relationship. We have men and women with different hormone levels, different needs, different expectations; we have early abandonment or rejection wounds that are easily triggered around sex. We have a host of false beliefs that plague partners around the topic of sex. So you see the potential for conflict in this area is big.

Most people also don’t know the truth about what creates great sex. The popular message says that great sex is a function of technique and frequency, but this is a cultural lie. The truth is that great sex is a function of connection, first with yourself and then with your partner. In other words, when you feel alive inside your own skin and connected to your partner’s essence, then you can meet each other sexually in a way that will feel fulfilling for both of you. Sex is an expression of love. If it’s used for anything else – to try to get approval or love or to try to feel alive – it won’t feel good for either of you in the long run. You may experience a physical sensation of pleasure or an emotional high of feeling wanted or desired, but in the aftermath of sex you’re likely to feel empty, lonely, and possibly used.

And here’s a news flash: Great sex isn’t only about having an orgasm! What? Really? Stop the press! That’s right. You can feel deeply connected to your partner sexually even if neither of you climax every time you make love. We live in such a goal-oriented culture that we think that great orgasm equals great sex, but the reality is that an orgasm comprises the last twenty seconds of love making. What’s happening the rest of the time? Hopefully, you’re opening to your partner and experiencing each other’s bodies and beings in other ways. You’re allowing him to touch you in places that you’ve never been touched – and  I’m not talking about your physical body. I mean that when you meet each other in the bedroom you do so with an intention to connect in a place past thought, to learn to break through habitual walls that arise to keep out intimacy, and sometimes that means receiving your partner’s loving touch without any agenda or attachment to outcome. Just being in the moment with each other in an open-hearted way with your eyes wide open. This is what it means to make love, not just have sex.

Another big lie that our culture feeds us is that sex drive, like love, is ignited by another person. We say, “He made me feel so alive,” without recognizing that, after the free ride of the infatuation stage, you can only feel alive if that aliveness begins inside of you. We believe that someone can “make you feel loved” without owning that the capacity to receive love begins inside your own heart. Am I saying that anyone can turn you on if you’re connected to your own sexuality? No, there needs to be a core connection, which doesn’t happen every day. But if the core connection is there and your drive is down, I suggest examining it from a few different angles:

  1. Remind yourself that it’s normal for your sex drive to ebb and flow. Just like the feeling of love and the arc of life itself, it’s unrealistic to expect anything to remain at a constant level.
  2. Turn inside to see if you’re feeling connected to yourself. When you feel alive and connected to yourself you will bring this to your partner.
  3. Ask yourself if you’re feeling connected to your partner. Great sex arises from a great emotional connection, so if your libido dropped you may want to try to reconnect emotionally first and see if the sparks natural alight from there.

And there’s one more important point: if you’re struggling with engagement anxiety and feeling scared about taking the next step in terms of your level of commitment, the first thing to shut down is your sex drive. The more you understand the connection between sex and emotions the less you’ll think that there’s something wrong with you or your relationship when your libido dips, and the more likely you’ll be to explore your inner world and the ways in which you’re scared to move toward intimacy.

10 comments to Engagement Anxiety and the Question of Sex

  • Adelina

    Now,that is peace of mind for today!Thank you!:)

  • Laura

    Wow, that came through at the right time. Thanks Sheryl x

  • Hannah Elison

    I love your posts and I wait expectantly every week, to be inspired. I have read and talked to so many people and felt that what they where saying didn’t apply to me. And even though everything looks perfect I was dealing with anxiety and pain of the past, until I found your blogs I was hopeless an had no way to find help. But now in my life I am a single mother of a 3yr old daughter and in a wonderful healthy relationship with a great man. Now I live in the moment and my parental and intimate relationship have both escalated to new heights of bliss!! Thank you so much:-)

    • Thank you. There are so many people that have inspired me over the years, and it’s quite an honor to be the source of inspiration for others. How wonderful that your relationships have become so healthy and fulfilling! There is no greater joy…

  • Hannah Elison

    Sheryl,

    I am having a hard time, I keep trying to talk myself out my relationship and choices in my life. For no reason other than I think i am just afraid of happiness…I have been so blessed but I am picking apart my relationship right now and it is driving me crazy. Its like I play a cruel mind game with myself that says maybe I should break up with my partner, but breaking up and moving from one relationship to the next is a constant pattern. I just keep reminding myself like you have stated in your post about how hard it is to find someone that gets you. Which my partner does get me like no one else ever has keeps me stable and helps me strive to be a better person and parent, but then all of the sudden I start physically picking him apart and then I feel like I am in a whirlwind of anxiety that wants to make me run for the hills. Please help because I want to be normal.

  • Hannah Elison

    Also, he is a very handsome person but I just have this stigma in my mind that is like a protective guard that finds fault so I cant freely give myself…

  • Hannah: Do you know why you’re afraid of happiness? In other words, have you explored the roots of that fear? I encourage you to read through as much of this site as possible, and to consider the Conscious Weddings E-Course. Everything you’re describing is discussed in detail both in the course and on the private e-course forum. If you want to address and break down the walls that are preventing you from embracing your loving partner, then the e-course is for you.

  • Hannah

    Sheryl,

    I would love to do the ecourse!! I desperately want to change and I see how many people on your blog are testimonies to your course, I am not sure how to sign up?