In a committed long-term relationship, one of the most common reasons that couples seek sex therapy is down to one partner wanting more sex than the other. Commonly it is reported that one partner experiences a loss of desire.
I have recently come across the concept of a ‘sex contract’ drawn up by couples, by way of formulating an expectation around how often they commit to have sex each week/month with each-other. There are actual contracts that exist as templates – easily found on google. It all smacks (pardon the pun) of ’50 Shades of Grey’ and look how that ended up (plot spoiler: they never enjoyed an equal, mutually pleasurable, loving relationship until the contract was put aside).
Whether or not you have signed an actual contract, Aaron Anderson (Director and Lead Therapist at The Marriage and Family Clinic in Colorado) argues that when you enter into a marriage contract (I’d like to add, that I believe the same goes for the big step of moving-in together, and/or making a long-term commitment to one another) there is an unspoken, unwritten contract that happens in the mind of one or both partners..
“And because you’ve decided that you’re “compatible” you expected that your expectations (aka contract) around sex is the same, too. In your mind, this sex contract says that my spouse will only have sex with me and I will get to have sex whenever I want, (or don’t want). You think that this contract says that sex will always be spontaneous, that your partner will always want you sexually, and they will never have sexual desires for anyone other than you. Furthermore, this contract also says that your partner won’t flirt with, or even fantasize about, anyone other than you.”
I know I entered into this silent contract, unspoken, un-discussed, and just expected my partner to have the exact same expectations. This road only ends in disappointment. It has the potential to also pick up some shame, insecurity, hurt and a few misunderstandings along the way too.
Emily Nargoski in her book ‘Come As You Are’, says that in her extensive research, there are 2 key factors that help couples sustain a strong sexual connection over the long term.
“Sex, for me, is like swimming. I never actually feel like it, but once I’m in, it really is quite nice”.
Nargoski describes desire as falling into 2 camps – ‘spontaneous’ and ‘responsive’. Both are equally valid. Spontaneous desire emerges in anticipation of pleasure and responsive desire is more the ‘swimming’ analogy – it emerges in response to pleasure.
“Pleasure is the measure of sexual wellbeing. It’s not how much you crave sex, it’s not how often you do it, what you do, or where, or how many orgasms you have. Its whether or not you like the sex you’re having. After all, why would you desire sex if the sex isn’t pleasurable?”
Exercise (adapted from Nargoski’s workbook):
Consider how context can shape your experience of desire.
Each partner takes 30 minutes to write down 3 headings and contemplate:
Then discuss it with one another, making sure to not interrupt and to give your full attention to what your partner is saying. This can be vulnerable stuff you are sharing. Then you just need to give each-other time and space to try out the different styles and find out what works. Above all, the key thing is to prioritise it – whatever your approach to desire .
You may think you already know everything about your partner. However, we all change over time. Sometimes life events, or age, can change who we want to be, and can shift our perspective on life. We are in the middle of a global pandemic right now, this is pretty likely to be changing us. Let’s get to know our partners again, and in turn let them get to know who you are now, too. Good communication builds trust, trust builds friendship and friendship is the basis of maintaining a good sexual connection.
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