Low Sex & No Sex Couples [Dr Barry McCarthy]

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Low Sex & No Sex Couples [Dr Barry McCarthy]

Summary:
– low sex marriage definition
– normative range: ongoing connection within a couple (according to sex therapists)
– intercourse sex – once per week minimum
– non-sexual marriage – intercourse course sex less than 10 times per year
– approx 1 in 5 marriages in the USA
– no sex marriage
– approx 1 in 3 of the above 1 in 5 couples
– research shows that the majority of couples stop being sexual between 65 & 70
– by 65, sexual desire reverses compared with when aged 35 | at 65, the female’s sexual desire is more responsive & autonomous & the opposite is true of men | this McCarthy states also applies to orgasm
– he notes too that 1 in 10 men under the age of 35 have a problem with sexual desire & that it is often related to a “sexual secret” (a fetish or variant arousal pattern; or a preference for masturbatory sex compared with couple sex; or there is a sexual trauma in their past; & lastly a conflict with sexual-orientation – noting the popular sexual stereotype that this is the primary issue)

– the Clinical Psychologist interviewed believes low sex and no sex characteristics are serious for relationships & impact relationship stability

Reasons:
– psychological factors (often couples do not transition from romantic phase of love & do not find a style that fits/suits them; psychologically sex becomes less important; couples also get into a pattern of intercourse or nothing)
– biological factors (not ageing, but illness & side-effects of medication; also poor behavioural habits – poor sleep habits, exercise habits, eating patterns, abuse of alcohol, smoking)
– relational factors (rather than turning towards each other, they give in to intercourse or nothing & nothing wins; also stress from work; balancing needs of children; – sex becomes the last thing on the agenda late at night)
– social factors (he believes marital sex is not highly-valued in our culture – pop culture: romance or extra-marital sex is emphasised; secret sexual lives – pornography, cybersex, strip clubs – turn away to erotic sex outlets)[only 13% of men & 4% of women use pornography – destructive use involves “comparison” rather than a “fantasy” approach; pornograaphy is often used as a way of going into a private, secret world – a combination, eroticism & shame – it is a destructive combination]
– all factors need to be looked at, including those which subvert a healthy couple relationship

Treatment:
– Normalise the problem
– anti-avoidance approach to touch [focus of CBT]
– each can initiate
– each can say no
– rebuilding trust/connection
– bridges to desire
– what makes sex enjoyable to you
– sex is an “intimate team support”
– it is not a power struggle between intercourse & intimacy
– emphasis is upon anticipation & touching (not all touch goes to intercourse/orgasm)
– disparity in sexual desire within a couple is a common problem (man often has a greater desire to be orgasmic, & a woman might say “I do not want to touch because any touch means intercourse must follow” [this leads to a power struggle within the relationship & power struggles are usually bad for a relationship]
– instead couples need to focus on different levels of pleasure (touch & emotional connection builds desire)
– concept of “responsive female sexual desire” – it is – according to McCarthy – seen as being more complex & variable
– a woman’s sexual desire is responsive rather than autonomous or spontaneous
– orgasmic sex cannot be mandated | it cannot be all or nothing
– pressure & feelings of resentment are to be avoided for the sake of personal & relationship health
– he notes too that the best place to talk sex is not in bed, but outside the bedroom (in a therapist’s office, over a cup of tea, or on a walk) where alternatives can be discussed – for e.g. Preferences, feelings, & what is anti-sexual for a person
– he notes that less than half of all sexual encounters for a happily married couple are synchronous with respect to orgasm & that 15% of all sexual encounters are unsatisfying for one or both people in the relationship [expectations therefore – according to McCarthy – should be positive, but not too high – like “movie sex” – to avoid performance pressure/feeling intimidated]

– the psychologist states that 70 to 80% of couples of good faith can rekindle the desire & intimacy in their relationships

Treatment by Factor:
1) Psychological factors
– [for each partner] – scenarios which they find intimidating &/or anti-sexual
– this gives each partner permission to identify scenarios they find mutually satisfying
2) biological
– men can learn sex can be an autonomous activity
– no sex relationship – often it can be the man who avoids sex

– general principle: couples need to take responsibility for sexual problems, rather than blame each other (& avoid destructive comments in the bedroom after unsatisfying sexual encounters)
– blame, however, often occurs rather than owning up to what is really going on (losing confidence with what is going on sexually)

– pornography issues – says McCarthy – should be addressed in therapy
– claims of loss of sexual desire with a partner need to be checked to how often pornography is used to reach orgasm

– therapy should be considered when the sexual problem does not remit within 6 to 12 months & address it as a couple
– he cites couples discuss in therapy as much as 80% of issues they have not discussed with each other before
– 10 to 25 sessions are typical
– self-help books rarely work in low-sex/no sex couples (in combination, with therapy they work – but motivation & encouragement occur in therapy)
– seeking therapy is not a sign of failure, but of good judgment as it can inoculate you from problems in your 60s & 70s
– intimacy & vitality are different, but they are not incompatible – how do couples blend these beyond the romantic phase (talk & trying out different ways of giving/receiving pleasure)

Source: CBT WNC Radio | Podcast date: 23 March 2010

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