Sex Begets Sex

IMG_5087One might think, given how much I write about relationships, that I would write more about sex. I’ve touched on the subject sporadically – here and here and here – but I haven’t delved into the topic in depth for a variety of reasons, the primary being that it’s such a vast and complicated realm that it’s difficult to do it justice in a single article. Still, because the topic arises so frequently with my clients and on my forums, it’s worth diving in a bit more, even if we only scratch the surface.

I’ve written about what’s “normal” and hopefully have shed some light on the connection between anxiety and sex. A large part of my work consists of debunking the pernicious “shoulds” that weigh heavily into psyches and mutate into shame. When we’re up against an externally derived barometer of what a healthy relationship should look like, we will almost inevitably fall short. And the falling short then provides evidence to our fear-based self that we are, indeed, with the wrong partner.

Here’s what this might look like:

The culture says we should be having sex 2-3 times a week and I should feel desire for my partner more frequently than I do.

Since I don’t feel desire – since I don’t want to rip his/her clothes off the minute he/she walks in the door – there must be something wrong. 

Therefore, I’m in the wrong relationship. 

The implicit message here is: If I were with someone else I would feel desire and we would be having the requisite sex 2-3 times a week. And the sub-message of the implicit message is: My partner is responsible for my arousal. There’s this thing called “chemistry” and you either have it or you don’t. We obviously don’t, so we’re doomed.

But today I’m going to take a different angle. It may spark some anxiety, and that’s okay, as you may rub against an internal “should”. Bring breath and compassion to that spike; it will pass through. And then stay open to what I’m suggesting here and see if it rings true for you.

I want to talk today about the habit of sex, for there’s something to be said about making a habit of it. Like any habit, the more you do it the easier it gets, and the less you do it the harder it becomes. If you wait weeks without cultivating sexual energy in your relationship, when you do attempt to connect there it can feel like starting a cold engine in the middle of winter. The gears are tight; they grind and groan (and not in the erotic sense). Your wheels are rusty and dry and it can take some real focused effort to lubricate them (the metaphor fits perfectly here:)).  It’s easy for the mind to enter at this point and throw up roadblocks of resistance: If it’s this difficult there’s something wrong. My partner just doesn’t light my fire. We’re not a good match. We have no chemistry. You’re then faced not only with the stagnation of your body but you now have to contend with the fear-blocks of mind.

On the other hand, when you have more frequent sex your body stays lit up. The frequency of desire hums at the surface like a bevy of honeybees. Your motor is warm. Your body is alive. You purr.  Like exercise, which can be a hard habit to create but once you’re in it you can’t imagine your life without it, when you’re in the habit of sex you start to crave the sex. And you also start to notice that a healthy, active sex life creates a storehouse of goodwill and positive feelings that can only benefit the relationship.

As Charla Muller writes in 365 nights (her memoir on the gift she gave her husband for his 40th birthday: sex every night for a year after “a career of dodging sex with my nice husband”!):

“On the way home, we had a backseat smooch session like we were teenagers. This, I have to admit, was not normal behavior for us. In the past it would have been a warm embrace and a meaningful peck and let’s call it a day. But it seems that touch begets touch, and regular intimacy makes everything nice.” (p. 138)

“Having sex today is always worth more than having sex tomorrow. We reap the benefits of having sex plus all the goodwill it generates in for our marriage and in the eyes of our spouse. In turn, this accrues (like compound interest), and we now have a “bank account” of intimacy that can be reflected in less stress between partners, less anxiety, a closer relationship, and so on.” (p. 217)

I’m writing now to the low-drive partner, as, mostly commonly, it’s the low-driver that wields the control regarding sex in a relationship. It’s also the low-drive partner who usually becomes a victim to their own anxiety or trapped in their own inherited stories about sex, which shuts down their aliveness and sends them Googling their way to my work.

What happens if you’re the high drive partner? It’s important to keep expressing your need in an open, vulnerable way – a way that invites your partner into your heart instead of shutting them down with your attacks and blame. One of the most common dynamics in intimate partnership is when one person pushes for sex and the other person dodges it. And when both partners retreat to their corners to lick their wounds and nobody is expressing a need for more sexual intimacy, a relationship can suffer.  In EFT terminology this is referred to as a withdraw-withdraw couple.

While sex begets sex, and it’s ultimately up to the low-drive partner to move past some blocks so that he or she is more available for sexual contact, it’s far too trite to offer the prescription of “just do it”. If there are not deeper issues of shame, trauma, abuse, or intergenerational absorption of ancestral stories in the way, yes, you can move past sexual stagnation by just doing it. But in order to create true flow and authentic desire, the low drive partner must first work to excavate the blocks. This, like all healing work, takes time. And the high-drive partner needs to learn ways to communicate healthy needs in a way that opens his or her partner instead of causing more shut down.

Patience and trust are essential. You’re in this for the long haul and when you can trust that, over time and with commitment, you will find your way to a mutually loving and satisfying sexual relationship, you can both exhale into the journey. Most people carry a giant boulder of shame that interferes with their ability to freely express their sexuality. If that’s true for you, please know that you’re not alone and that there is no time pressure to move past this into healing. But sometimes, as if often the case in the realm of love, indulging in the consequence of shame (I’m closed down so I don’t feel like having sex), can further entrench the shame. Just as love is action, sex is also action. By this I mean you don’t always have to feel desire in order to do it, and that quite often the desire comes from the doing it.

Finally, let me be clear on two points:

1. If the two of you are content with your sexual relationship, celebrate. Do not fall into a cultural mindset that says you have to be having a certain amount or a certain kind of sex in order to qualify for the healthy relationship category. As you know if you follow my blog, I’m a big believer in the mindset that there are as many healthy models for relationship as there are couples. In other words, if it’s working for the two of you, then you’re just fine.

2. When I say “sex”, I do not mean the limited and narrow-minded definition of sex that the culture espouses: namely, intercourse that culminates in orgasms. Rather, I mean all kinds of intimate sharing: kissing, touching, exploring with fingers, hands, and mouth, lying naked together, full body, extended hugs, and massage. I mean, first and foremost, feeling connected to each other in a variety of physical ways, and recognizing that these physical connections are a natural and organic outgrowth of your emotional connection.

However, it’s worth saying again that the habit of sex can also facilitate the emotional connection so sometimes, even if you’re not “in the mood”, connecting sexually is a good place to start. We now know that sexual connection releases oxytocin, the same hormone released from breastfeeding that strengthens bonding between mother and child. What does that mean? Sex bonds. It’s not the only way to bond, but once you work through blocks of fear, old stories, and resentment, it’s one that works. It can keep the gears of a marriage well-oiled. It can keep the channels in your own body clear, open, and alive. And, if it’s working well, it’s just plain fun.

53 comments to Sex Begets Sex

  • Lacey

    Sheryl,

    I feel as if this was exactly what I needed to read today. I’ve been having anxiety about frequency of sex lately with my significant other. When you redefined what it means to have sex in a more-opened minded way it put my mind at ease and helped me accept that there are many ways to be intimate.

    Could you expand on ways for a high-drive partner to express their desire in a loving, heartfelt way? Just as I do not want to make my significant other feel guilty when I ask and they cannot reciprocate, I also want to make them feel that saying yes or no is safe no matter the circumstance.

    Thank you for your heartfelt article.

    • If you express that you have a desire to connect sexually without any blame, your partner will be more likely to hear you and will know that saying no is okay. The key is true expression with vulnerability as opposed to expression with blame and attack.

  • Anonymous

    Something my boyfriend and I have been struggling with recently. The whole concept of becoming “too comfortable” with each other. Even though we love each other, sometimes we get into these ruts. But love always brings us back. Thanks for another great article, Sheryl.

  • Scared

    I’ve been suffering from what could be relationship OCD for months. Although we have done some of the things you mentioned in your post, my boyfriend and I have never had sex. Believe me, I want up have sex with him. I’m attracted to him. But because of the constant questions about whether or not I truly care for him, I am terrified to have sex with him. A couple of my friends that I’ve confided in think that it would be good for me, but what if I do it and I don’t feel any different or I feel like I’ve done something wrong, like used him for pleasure when I “know” I don’t love him?

    • I agree with your friends. It sounds like you’re indulging fear by holding back on sex. While you also need to realize that sex won’t take your anxiety – that lives inside of you – you can decrease the anxiety by taking steps that let fear know that you’re not going to let it rule your life.

    • Kat

      Hey scared! I had this before me and my now husband had sex. It seemed like such a big deal and I was terrified I’d make a ‘mistake’. You can’t know though until you take your relationship to that next level how it will go. But, in my case, I knew it would only end one way if I didn’t move forward. Also, it all worked out great and we’re married now, but I don’t think I would have regretted it if we hadn’t got married. Because I loved him and wanted to take things to the next level if connection. Dont let anyone tell you what you ‘should’ do here. The church was a big problem for me and also my culture. But you have to do what is right for you.xxx

  • ScaredyWife

    This is such a hard one for me (no pun intended) because I feel no sexual desire for my husband at all. I do want to hold him, be held, snuggle, hold hands, etc, but when it comes to doing the actual act, it is so difficult to get out of my head. I feel so much guilt and shame for looking at him and not wanting to have sex by the mere sight of him. I used to, a long time ago when I thought he was not going to be around for long. But once I knew that he was committed and was a good guy, he wasn’t attractive to me anymore. All I see is this nice guy with a big belly and bald head who can be boring. I want so much to look at him and want to have sex. I want to want him. It’s hard to not believe the “maybe I just don’t have it with him” mentality.

    • You’re far from alone, scaredywife. It’s challenging to re-wire our conditioning which teaches us to chase after someone who is unavailable and connect sex with longing, but it can be done. One of the keys is to take pressure off to feel desire on sight, and instead learn to notice small moments of desire that are based on true connection. Also, desire begins inside of you, so if you’re shut down sexually inside your own body it’s going to be difficult, if not impossible, to feel desire for your husband.

  • Christine G

    Sheryl,
    Thank you so so much. This is exactly what I needed to hear. I’ve recently begun therapy with a therapist who specializes in sexual relationahips, but we have also been heavily focusing on how my anxiety has been affecting my libido. I’ve told her about your work and am excited to share this post with her. You hit the nail on the head. Thank you!!

  • AshleyDevon

    This was just what I needed today! The title jumped right out of my inbox at me. I have come a long way in my relationship and working through my anxieties with my partner. We are happy and relaxed together and have become quite the team. The only spike that seems to still pop up for me is our sex life. I have a very low libido and my boyfriends is very high. I try not to fall into the trap of “this means we shouldn’t be together” but the lack of sex has been on my mind a lot lately and this came at such a good time. Thank you Sheryl!

  • MemyselfandI

    I’m glad this topic has come up. A few things rush to my mind considering how anxiety inducing this topic can be. I used to fear sex for my own reasons. One way I got to know myself better and work through some of my own shame was to enjoy my own body and connect to myself sexually. This took me really far in terms of just knowing myself and what I liked. Another hurdle I have worked on is telling my partner what I like because I now trust that my partner wants to please me more than my partner wants to please himself. He’s one of the most selfless people I’ve met in this regard. And definitely once you start lovemaking, it does help with heart opening and all that comes out. I went through a whole slew of emotions from being happy and connected, to crying, to feeling disgusted, to feeling afraid, to feeling numb, to feeling a deep draw and pull to be closer and more intimate. Even just little spurts here and there. It takes a LOT of work and more times than not I can say I’ve felt basically nothing at all because I was just numbing myself and disconnecting from the entire experience. It really does take conscious effort to get into it and open up.

    • Thank you for sharing this with such vulnerability and honesty. I’m sure your words will help many others (and it’s always good to hear from you 😉 ).

  • RicaRu

    Hi Sheryl,

    Thanks for this. Sex has been one of the biggest struggles between me and my partner lately. He has always been the one with the lower libido, and he is also the only person I have ever had sex with. During college, we would sometimes get into arguments (mostly me getting upset and him apologizing and promising he would do better) because I felt like he wasn’t assertive enough. He also didn’t seem too interested in exploring and I felt like I was always the one suggesting things. He would try things with me, but rarely suggested them himself. He liked it if I made the effort to put on lingerie, but would never ask me to do so. I once brought home a candy bra from Las Vegas hoping it would get him excited, but it sat in my closet for years (even though I brought it up a couple times). My point being that he has always been pretty complacent when it comes to sex, and I’ve always had a deep fear that I’ve been missing out on something that I never had the opportunity to experience with someone else because we’ve been together for so long. I’m pretty emotionally drained when it comes to talking about it anymore, and I feel more self-conscious than ever because I feel like I’ve always been the one excited about sex and he seems like he could take it or leave it.

    I recently was seeing a therapist through my university who spiked me even more about it. When I expressed my concerns about it, she essentially told me there was something wrong with him, that a 26 year old guy should be way more interested in sex. Of course, this sent me into a complete frenzy, which ended in many fights (and sadly me “blaming” him, as you mentioned in the article). Now we haven’t had sex in over a month. I know I have put too much pressure on him and now he is withdrawing. But I don’t want to be the one to initiate it anymore because I want to know that he cares too! I also think I withdrawl some, partly because I don’t want to initiate, and partly because a lot of my anxiety has surrounded the attraction issue and I fear that I will find him unattractive during sex and cause even more issues.

    Any advice? We are in a complete rut, and even when we talk about it (which is rare in itself) we seem to remain stagnant.

    Thanks!

    • me myself and i

      I can imagine how difficult this must be for you. I wish I had more time to respond but can say that there are MANY different reasons a person (regardless of gender) can have a low libido (most of which I cannot even get into here) but depression, anxiety, a history of sexual abuse, associating sex as shameful, hormonal imbalance, and a slew of other health related issues that young men can have). But in this culture, to be “masculine” means to be sexually strong and capable and when a male is struggling with this, it can really threaten his level of self worth. I’m a woman and only know about these types of things from hearing about other people’s experiences or studying these types of issues in my graduate program. Either way though, I think when the issue comes up it is going to cause him to feel more pressure–but as a woman you have needs too and that is TOTALLY understandable. I guess it is important to ask yourself if this is a need you can live with not being met. From what I hear from you, it sounds like sex is a very important component of your relationship (which is reasonably expected). The question to ask yourself is “if his situation hasn’t changed in all these years and if he is willing to allow it to remain the way it is, is this something you can live with?”

    • Carebear167

      Hi Rica,
      Your post spoke out to me and I wanted to let you know that I have been in similar situations. I really want to stress to you that therapists do not always have the answer. It’s judgemental and inaccurate for your therapist to imply that there is something wrong with your boyfriend because he is 26 and has a low sex drive. Like me myself and I stated, there are many reasons a person may have a low sex drive and one of these reasons is that it’s completely organic! Sex drive exists on a spectrum similar to being “gay” or “straight”. There is no right or wrong drive. There is just your drive. So nautarally, it is likely we will end up with someone who is not quite on the exact same sexual page as we are and that is what is natural about sex. It’s our job as lovers to find a way to come together that is loving for both parties, whether it be touch or emotional intimacy, etc. as Sheryl stated.
      I really want to encourage you to find a therapist who’s outlook feels loving to you.

  • Good Morning Sheryl,

    Perfect timing on this one. My wife and I have had our weekly connection practice for many years and are now taking it a step further and it has now become a part of our morning ritual to connect through the practice of OM (Orgasmic Meditation), which I highly suggest if you have not practiced yet. The benefits are beyond, the world just seems to work effortlessly when we do these practices :-).

    Also, I too have started to commit to sharing about these findings in trust that it can be a valuable asset to those having blocks in this area. It is so important to move through sexual blocks, as they block everything else in life.

    Thank you so much for the reflection and for the bravery to “talk about it”, it is inspiring and motivates me to take action!

    With love and gratitude,

    Daniel

    • Thank you, Daniel. Some course participants have suggested OM as well, and have reported great benefit. Thank you for sharing your experience here.

    • Erin

      Wow, I have been trying to get into meditation in general and intrigued by orgasmic meditation. I think this can be helpful for people who have to take things slower and really get in the moment.

  • been_there_seattle

    I’ve read and loved your blog for quite some time now, Sheryl, thanks for consistently putting something heart-centered and thought-provoking out into the world, and our inboxes. This is the first time I’ve commented, because I have a lot of life experience with low desire.

    Everyone with stuck/entrenched low desire has their own road to follow, but no matter the path, yes, internal healing is where the focus belongs. However– I would strongly suggest that people with persistent low desire NOT pressure themselves to have sex when they don’t want it, or to be ‘better’, or ‘healthy’, or even ‘different’ sexually. The word ‘healthy’ implies that you are sick. Persistent low desire usually isn’t about poor health, but about deep-seated personal issues that, if properly explored and resolved, can bloom into greater freedom, autonomy, and connectedness with yourself, your partner, and the world.

    Most sex advice for low desire partners tells you to ‘just do it’, but I think that advice is effective only for people who are a little bit stuck. I found that the cycle of pressure and guilt made things much worse, for both my partner and I. It was once we completely of expectations around sex that the dynamic was able to shift. My partner accepted that sex was off the table for an unknown period of time while I worked on myself. I reassured him in the meantime, over and over, that I *wanted* to be with him — and that this wasn’t personal, as hard as that was to believe.

    Once I finally accepted that I had the right to say no, and feel how I felt, I began to do the inner work to examine and change my life on a deeper level. In time, I roared back to life — sexually, professionally, personally. My partner and I love having sex now, and the experience of letting go also allowed us to change our relationship in other ways — we don’t look at each other as service providers for our relationship or childcare needs. Now, we are just individuals who enjoy being together, again and again and again 🙂 We both gained inner strength and autonomy.

    A few more notes… the low desire partner needs to let go of the idea that they *owe* their partners sex as a condition of being in a relationship, or of loving them, or of being a ‘good’ man or woman. That belief is deeply damaging… and common to the point of ubiquity in our culture. No one owes anyone else sex, or access to their body, or intimacy. Even typical relationship advice about sex often counsels what is essentially coercion of self or partner. If these emotional issues manifested through a stagnant career or relationships, people hardly bat an eye. But when it comes to sex, it seems that low desire is so frightening to us that it needs to be treated immediately with a pill, or by forcing yourself to do it anyway.

    Thank you for opening this important discussion.

    • Thank you for your thoughtful response. It sounds like the two of you were able to navigate very tricky territory in a way that worked for you and you’ve been able to find your way back to each other in a beautiful and authentic way. Beautiful!

  • Diana Davidson

    Sheryl

    This is a complex subject and helpful article that stimulates a lot of reflection for me. I used to be highly sexed but after menopause and my husband’s porn addiction (now in long time recovery), I feel almost Asexual (which honestly shocks me). I miss the excitement of sex and the physical connection of holding and being held.

    I wonder if you can say some more about the ‘withdraw-withdraw’ scenario. It rang an alarm bell for me. My husband finds foreplay boring and loses interest unless it’s focused on him. On the rare times we have sex, I initiate. I don’t feel wanted and so I too have withdrawn in my heart and in my body.

    But I love touch!!! Maybe a starting place as I miss this very much. The thing is that my guy is just not a sensual sort of person – some people aren’t. He doesn’t enjoy massage at all (bummer since I took a course and love to do it). When he massages me it’s many circles in the same place and then he says it’s too tiring. Once I got exasperated and he remembers it years later. Lesson learned!

    We had lots of fun and spontaneous sex when we met and I could nearly reach organism just by kissing because it was so wonderful and prolonged and varied. He was happy to take the time then. But now he either doesn’t want to kiss at all or goes from peck to deep tongue right away. It makes me feel sick sometimes and I know I pull back.

    It’s like being with an entirely different person. No doubt he feels the same about me. Being honest with myself I can say that I feel bored with our sex and that I tune out because my orgasm is rarely on the menu unless I do it myself. Mechanical and lazy is how it feels. I’m sure I don’t appear very interested to him.

    I do want to try to do it more regularly. I get that it can be satisfying in different ways e.g. happy just to be touched. How do I start again without feeling disappointed or resentful or yucked out by the kissing style. I get that these are things for ME to work on! Also, “I love it when you…” doesn’t seem to register. Are there other phrases to try?

    Thank you for the opportunity to think about this even though it’s actually really hard for me to admit to.

    Diana

    • Thank you, Diana. It’s such a tender topic and I really appreciate your willingness to share honestly. Yes, the withdraw-withdraw syndrome should raise a red flag, as when both people stop trying and putting energy into maintaining a positive physical relationship – even if it’s negative energy in the form of blame and protests – the relationship can lose meaning. As I said in the article, if you’re both truly okay with the level of intimacy then there’s no problem, but I’m hearing that you’re not okay with it. Based on what you’ve shared, my guess is that there’s a lot of water under the bridge of your marriage that needs attention. The fact that you were so hot for each other in the beginning is a GREAT sign, and should give you hope, but also means that he may be harboring resentments that are effecting his ability to stay fully present with you. I’m sure you have your resentments as well. Have the two of you considered couples’ counseling. I’m a big fan of Sue Johnson’s EFT model, and I suggest that you start by reading her book, “Hold Me Tight.” A lot will fall into place after you read it, and you may want to consider doing an EFT couples’ retreat or starting counseling with an EFT trained therapist at that point.

  • E

    Since libido is somewhat based on hormones, I thought maca would be a good thing to try. I took it in the past and saw some benefit but couldn’t stand the taste. I recently got the concentrated powder-filled capsules and hope the results will be better with taking more regularly. The formula is for women in their reproductive years. It is supposed to balance hormones to its optimal state and an adaptogen, which helps the body deal with stress better. It’s also a superfood with a lot of vitamins so worst case, it still should be some health benefit. Sheryl, have you heard feedback from clients on maca?

  • medaisies

    Yes! So well said Sheryl, and thank you for addressing this. Even after years on the other side of relationship anxiety, I sometimes fall into the trap of “shoulds” when it comes to sex, especially when stress and anxiety are high in other areas of my life. The most important takeaway from this article is that sex does indeed beget sex – I can’t count the number of times I’ve let my boyfriend gently convince me and have been monumentally happy I did 😉

  • Diana Davidson

    Thanks Sheryl

    Yes you’re right there was a time of huge resentment for us both. We did couples therapy and seemed like things smoothed out emotionally. But me thinks they still linger when I read my words. We did Gottman workshops but it’s been a while and while he is reluctant it would be a good and welcome refresher. I am running to get the book!!!

    Thank you!
    Diana

  • becominglove

    Thank you Sheryl. I am an avid follower of your posts and have done the Relationship Anxiety ecourse and still regularly make use of the forum to connect and give and receive support to others on the same journey. I love this post and it reminds me of an earlier one of yours which was one of many lightbulb moments. In a relationship where fear regularly tries to rob me of ‘attraction’ to my partner, I loved something you wrote about what is meant by a ‘good lover’ – “someone with whom you feel safe to be vulnerable and peel away the layers of armour around your heart and body, someone who holds you when you cry and celebrates your triumphs”. And I do have this lover in my life and I am this lover to him also. And I do cry, sometimes immediately after orgasm. It is such a healing journey to explore sex in the midst of experiencing huge resistance to intimacy. Since discovering your beautiful work, I am seeing the pattern of people wanting to run from relationships with the most potential. I can’t thank you enough.

  • Michelle Lily

    This post came at the perfect time for me also. Thank you Sheryl.
    After doing the open your heart course, I do realise that it’s ME who is fearful and that because of my troubled childhood full of abuse and shame I do totally withdraw from intimacy. A lot of the time I just withdraw because I am scared that it will be awful or, because it has sometimes been so long, I worry that I “won’t know what to do”. I know that probably sounds like madness! My husband’s health issues also don’t help with the desire but I think my fears are the bigger problem here.
    My partner doesn’t have a super high libido and we are living in the stage of him just accepting that I find sex difficult, so I guess we have become the “withdraw/ withdraw” couple that you describe in this article. Your response to Diana spiked my anxiety!
    I try to ignore all of the “shoulds” out there with regard to our lack of sex but I don’t think I fit into the number one category in your article (i.e. people who are comfortable with a lack of sex) because I feel myself melting into him when he hug or when he reaches out to me for a massage etc. and so I want to want further intimacy but those walls are up; I am shut off from myself and him sexually.
    I do so much soul searching! I know it is me who needs to do some more work. Am just not sure of the next step…. do you think one of Dr Margaret’s inner bonding courses would help me with this wounded child who seems to be ruling my life and slowly ruining my chances of happiness with this awesome man?
    Thank you for all of your wonderful articles. They really do help me and I’m much more sane with your blog in my life! 🙂

    • Yes, an Inner bonding course may be helpful. In a couple of months I’ll be releasing my Break Free from Relationship Anxiety course, which will address what you’re struggling with in depth. In the meantime, are you in therapy? Finding a wonderful therapist and working weekly is probably the most loving action you could take for yourself right now. But please know that there’s nothing you’ve shared that can’t be worked on and healed. Hang on!

  • Thanks so much for this article Sheryl. Wow….you warned that it might spike – and spike it did!! I cried buckets after reading it, but learned quite a lot in the process. My ears particularly pricked up when I read the passage: “It’s far too trite to offer the prescription of “just do it”. If there are not deeper issues of shame, trauma or intergenerational absorption of ancestral stories in the way, yes, you can move past sexual stagnation by just doing it. But in order to create true flow and authentic desire, the low sex drive partner must first work to excavate the blocks. This, like all healing work takes time.”

    I’m personally working through these blocks right now and it’s a slow, tough journey. But I think the most important thing in any relationship where, (for whatever reason) sex has become a source of pain or anxiety, is to simply keep the lines of communication open – firstly with yourself, then with your partner. I did this very consciously last night and this morning for the first time in quite a while – as a direct response to having read your post.

    A very good family friend once wrote these words to me and it seems so appropriate to share them here:
    “I have always thought of lovemaking as just another extension of loving communication…that doesn’t always or ever follow some prescribed recipe for pleasure. Take pleasure in the real.”

    I am so moved and utterly soothed every time I read these words…of course, verbal communication about sex in itself is SO hard because there is so much secrecy and shame around the subject. But once we talk and express our fears and anxieties…somehow we begin to break free from those shackles, if even to enjoy a momentary glimpse of mental, spiritual and/or physical freedom. Yes indeed, it’s taking time!

    Thank you so much Sheryl for bringing up the subject, for touching it so sensitively and reminding us we’re not alone. I hope my personal contribution might also be helpful in some way to others. It’s this kind of honest discussion that the world needs!

    Lots of love, Zoe xxx

    • Yes, Zoe, I have no doubt that your beautiful words about staying in open communication with your partner will help others, as your words always do. Thank you for sharing with such vulnerability and compassion. Your family friend is very wise. Much love to you –

  • Angela

    Dear Sheryl, oh boy do you make alot of sense, I am going to openly admit here because i feel safe and understood and not judged on this blog, is that in the beginning of our relationship i didnt feel attraction and a desire to have sex but i did feel like kissing and holding hands. I even faked orgasms. I did feel really bad and ashamed about it. I was so anxious that i couldnt enjoy sex. I was never in the mood. I didnt want to tell my then boyfriend and now husband because i didnt want him to feel it was his fault he couldnt give me an orgasm and also i didnt want my husband to think i was frigid. I now i do feel like having sex with him and i enjoy it. we r both a passionate couple so that really helps.

    • It’s so common to feel shut down in the beginning of a relationship (despite what the culture says), and also possible to grow the attraction and sexual relationship, as you have shown!

  • Kerri

    This is a really tough topic for me – my anxiety also tends to jump to “maybe I am gay” because I do not get turned on by my fiance.

    I was raised very catholic. I was taught the purpose of sex is babies. My parents are not affectionate people towards each other. Then when I went to college and started having sex, I used it more as a tool to feel validated. If someone wanted to sleep with me, I felt good about myself.

    Now that I am in a stable loving relationship, I have zero desire to have sex with him. It feels almost wrong – and sometimes animalistic and gross. My head races during sex putting pressure on myself to enjoy it or not be thinking that its bad to be doing it, or wondering if maybe I would enjoy it better with someone else.

    Thanks for writing about such a tough topic.

    • You’re far from alone, Kerri. When you’re raised with the belief that sex is for babies – and the implicit message is that sex for any other purpose is shameful and dirty – and you haven’t been exposed to a blueprint of loving flow in your parents’ marriage, it will take a look of work to undo the negative beliefs and wiring that are now entrenched in your system. The truth is that we all have these shame-based belief in one way or another, and most people have been wired to equate sex with validation (it’s the cultural model). So you have the religious, familial, and cultural imprints to recondition. These would come up with ANYONE you were with. The gay spike is common around sexuality, but it’s a complete distraction from doing the hard work that you need to do in order to take responsibility for the blocks that live inside of you and learn how to move past them. Reading “The Intimate Couple” would be a good place to start for you.

  • BR7

    Hi Sheryl!
    I constantly have doubts about my relationship and whether I love my girlfriend or not. From the moment we meet we had this very special connection. After dating for 2 months fear came in and I’ve been a wreck now for 4 months. She’s everything I’ve ever wanted and perfect, but I doubt if I actually like her or if she is the one for me. I want to marry her so bad but then i have these thoughts that maybe I don’t like her or maybe I want to be single again or that I’m
    Bored. I hate feeling like this and I don’t want this anymore. I truly just want to be happy with her and not be nervous all the time and worried that something is going to happen.

  • Mary

    Dear Sheryl,
    In my journey of getting better from relationship anxiety, sex is not a big issue. Me and my partner both are high drive partners and we know how to make it work for the both of us. But sometimes I feel guilty because for me it is sometimes a refuge out of the anxiety, because during and a little while after I feel fine and relaxed. I am scared that I use it to make myself feel better. This has been really hard on me.
    I am suffering for a couple of months now with some highs, but also with some real lows.. Next week we will leave for our first holiday together. I am excited, but at the same time terrified that I will ruin our holiday or I cannot enjoy it. Do you have any recommended reading or ideas to make this holiday as relaxed as possible? Thank you for your beautiful blog.

  • Charlotte

    This is one thing I struggle with massively, only a few months ago me and my boyfriend we’re frequently having sex and all of a sudden doing this made me feel extremely uncomfortable due to my thoughts. Would you agree that once out anxious minds become accepting of a certain thought, it latches onto another one that feels even more difficult to escape? For example I was worried for months that I did not love my boyfriend, this no longer spikes me it’s more of “what if I don’t want to be in this relationship with him?” And I feel as if this one thought I cannot escape, it causes me to feel anxiously trapped when I am around him, it convinces me that I want to be single and have nothing to do with any man, and it causes me to wonder at times if I would rather be with other men from work. My boyfriend is so kind, caring and stays by me no matter what, I’ve been suffering from chronic insomnia recently and have not really had any sleep at all and he will stay up to all hours with me until I have fallen asleep.

    I’ve also been wondering for a while, whether it’s common for people like me to view their partners almost as if they’re two different people at times? I have this perception of my boyfriend that I don’t like, I only seem to see him as this person when I am anxious, uncertain and being convinced by my thoughts (which has been most of the time.) And I have this perception of him when I feel that I want to be with him and I want to cuddle and be intimate, however I’m concerned that this perception of him is of him when we were infatuated and I didn’t notice all the annoying things about him and before sex became difficult for me to encounter, which I find extremely difficult to overcome.

    Any thoughts Sheryl?

  • SpinningTop

    Hi Sheryl,

    I joined the Wedding e-course a few months ago and even just the fact of paying cured my anxiety temporarily! Your perspective has really helped me deal with my own feelings towards my boyfriend of 4 years, so thank you very much. This article is very timely – I am the high drive person in the relationship. I reacted very badly to him ‘not wanting me’ in the beginning… Crying and feeling very unwanted. He has always had erectile issues and has never really craved sex. For a period we agreed to have a weekly sex night. That worked well for a bit (even though he complained it felt very un-spontaneous) but we’ve fallen off the wagon and it’s been driving me crazy! We’re very intimate all day long, kissing, cuddling and hugging, until we get to the bedroom.

    When you say this: “What happens if you’re the high drive partner? It’s important to keep expressing your need in an open, vulnerable way – a way that invites your partner into your heart instead of shutting them down with your attacks and blame.” and this “and the high-drive person needs to learn ways to communicate healthy needs in a way that opens his or her partner instead of causing more shutdown”, how exactly does one go about doing this without hurting the other? Or making them even more anxious about sex? how does one start the conversation in a healthy way? Thanks 🙂

    • It means communicating with softness and vulnerability instead of blame and attack. It’s important to respect his needs, but it’s also important that you stay connected to your own needs.

  • Hannah

    I had a friend who I was used to work with and she suffered from anxiety and depression, and she never ever wanted sex from her boyfriend. At one point she told me they hadn’t had Sex for 7 months (she had been with him 6 years) and to me I found that weird at first, but she said she felt too overweight to sleep with him and slowly she began losing weight. But 10 months after I had left that work place I bumped into her in a bar. And she looked AMAZING! She had lost loads of weight, and she told me that she had broken up with her boyfriend. I asked why and she said she wasn’t attracted to him anymore. I know there is probably more to it than that, but what I’m trying to ask is…..would you say that is projecting what she is doing sheryl? I found it odd how she was going great and then decided almost like he wasn’t good enough for her?? Is that a type of projection?!

  • Michelle Lily

    Thank you for your reply (above) Sheryl. I would love to join your Break Free course when it begins. If there is an early bird registration list then please put me on it.
    Oh and, no, not currently in therapy. I had to say goodbye to my last therapist as she kept checking her phone for messages or answering her phone etc and I didn’t feel I was being heard. So I am open to seeing someone new but I’m just not there yet.
    Thank you again.

    • Your therapist was checking phone messages and answering her phone DURING SESSIONS? I’m appalled, and I’m so sorry that happened. Truly, sometimes therapy can be more damaging than helpful, and it’s very sad when that happens. When you’re ready, however, I would encourage you to try again. There are many wonderful therapists out there; you may just have to “shop around”.

      Break Free will likely be available in the fall, and there is no early registration list as it’s an ongoing, self-guided course (as opposed to my 30-day programs that I only offer a few times a year). If you receive my weekly emails you will be notified when it’s available.

  • Denise

    I like this article. I just very recently started having sexual problems but this article makes me feel like there’s hope. Been with my boyfriend for two years and we’ve discussed marriage and I think things are going to work out. But lately I’ve been feeling sad after sex, do you have any idea why this happens and if there’s a way to end it? I feel so guilty about it. 🙁

    • It’s very common to feel sad after sex. Sex releases deeply-held feelings that live in our bodies, and when we open to intimacy the feelings are released. This is healthy and common, and nothing to feel concerned or guilty about.

      • Denise

        Thank you so much for your insight. The approach you take is a godsend. I am very grateful to have found your blog and I hope to be able to enroll in one of your courses sometime!

  • Michelle Lily

    Ha ha ha. I am so glad you are appalled as for a while there I wondered if I was just expecting too much from these sessions. But the last straw was during the last session- my therapist had accidentally double booked my time with another person so she cut the session short 20 minutes to accommodate everyone. In the next breath she told me about her price increase for our next session. So… no, not great. Kinda outrageous! But thank you for the encouragement, I will try again. 🙂

    Yes I sure do receive the weekly emails so I will look out for notification of the Break Free course. Thank you!

    And thank you again for the work that you do. Words can’t express just how valuable your contributions are to me (and it would seem countless others). Amazing.