Bren McGrath – BACP registered Counsellor and Psychotherapist
Relationship problems can arise from sexual difficulties, but sexual problems may also be an indication of deeper problems in the relationship. Sexual difficulties can emerge at any time, but especially in times of stress and change. Sex essentially is fun and can be one of the great rewards of being together.
While one partner may use the frequency of sex to gauge how he or she is loved and valued, the other may have intimacy as the benchmark. When a couple have ‘gone off’ sex, it can reveal their deeper attitude to trust, love and control. Is the problem about unsatisfactory sex or does the sexual problem indicate a deeper issue that needs to be explored? Emotional trust is the foundation stone of physical intimacy.
Sex is no longer on the agenda
Sex is difficult or painful for one partner
Sex causes disappointment
One partner has gone off sex
Sex is the subject of rows and sulks
Families pass on unspoken messages about sex which can cause unnecessary distress in couples. Often individuals need to explore their own sexuality away from such pressures.
What feels good and what feels disappointing? Attitudes inherited from childhood or out of ignorance can cause unnecessary misery. Cultural pressure may require a detached and analytical re-examination to allow a couple to make their own rules.
Sometimes traumatic sexual experiences from childhood or past relationships can emerge in a present relationship. With trust these can be explored and resolved.
Causes of sexual problems
Physical – due to alcohol, drugs or illness
Ageing or loss of self-esteem
Anxieties and Stress
Loss of status or change in circumstances
Betrayal of trust
When is the right time to seek help?
Sexual counselling can be enlightening, as family myths and cultural taboos are explored and debunked. If sex has been exciting at one time, but no longer seems so, why has the change occurred? Has it always been disappointing? In a good relationship, with trained help, there should be the opportunity to find answers.
How can Counselling Help?
Relationship Counselling can help explore the physical communication and the understanding of what sex means to two particular people. Sex may be mechanical and a way to maintain a safe distance for one person. In such cases, the partner may mourn the lack of intimacy and trust which would allow them to feel safe and enjoy sex.
Withdrawal of sex can happen when a person has no alternative way to express their anger and disappointment – so the forbidden feelings are acted out in the bedroom. Control and power are often issues in difficult sexual relationships as one partner may be unconsciously exerting the control and power they feel they lack outside the bedroom.
If the problem is around a dysfunction, a couple can be referred for Psychosexual Therapy with a suitably qualified person.