Sexual Arousal and Desire

Sexual arousal and desire in long-term relationships are always hot topics.  Everyone has different needs, wants, likes, annoyances and patterns which can be fragile and hard to talk about or even understand. Individuals in couples have to deal with not only their own complicated sexuality, but also with that of their partners and synchronizing the two.

Sex is something which is incredibly important to many relationships, however, the more fundamental aspect is desiring and being desired.

What happens when you are strongly attracted to someone, fall in love and decide to move in together?

You have great sex, you talk and laugh together, and you’re happy doing anything together. You have a feeling of being complete, that you complement each other perfectly. When you’re apart, you long to be together and when you are together again, you do all kinds of things you never thought you’d ever do.   You experience yourself differently – like trying new foods, new activities and new ways of behaving.

In his book, The Erotic Mind, Dr. Jack Morin describes the building blocks of eroticism. These include longings when you’re apart, excitement and taking risks, new discoveries, and idealizing your lover.

Falling into the familiar

Over time, though, your closeness settles into familiar routines. The realities of everyday life like taking out the trash, laundry or child-care can’t be ignored.  Where there once was an illusion of closeness, the reality that was always there appears –that you are separate but together, with different ideas, habits, and ways of seeing the world.

Routine can be good but isn’t necessarily the sexiest thing and, as Lori Gottlieb wrote in a recent New York Times article, “marriage is hardly known for being an aphrodisiac.”

The article touches on how more equal marriages may even lead a less sex-filled marriage because new power roles in relationships, while quite positive in logical, daily-life, don’t work for some people in the bedroom.

Although it is somewhat paradoxical, Esther Perel a couples therapist who wrote a book called “Mating in Captivity,” said, “most of us get turned on at night by the very things that we’ll demonstrate against during the day.”

And where eroticism, if not diminished, has disappeared.

This predictable path always comes as a surprise to the couples who come to my office for help with lost sexual desire. The partner most upset by this outcome – usually the one with the higher desire – may have realized that they are powerless to make their partner want to have sex, while the lower desire partner complains that the higher desire partner only wants them for sex.

A recent study reported in The APA Monitor, found that couples where one partner has “avoidance-motivated goals”  such as a woman accepting her boyfriend’s desire for sex  to avoid conflict or disappointing him, or a tired man responds with sex because he feels guilty refusing, tend to have lower sexual and relationship satisfaction.  Surprisingly, both the reluctant partner and the initiating partner reported sexual dissatisfaction in these encounters.

Wanting sex, and wanting a person, can create vastly different experiences when it comes to sexual arousal and desire.  Both partners feel different when they feel personally wanted – for who they are – and not just for sex.

Let’s go back to Dr. Morin’s cornerstones of eroticism.

They all encompass the single idea – the feeling that you are with the most wonderful, special person who also makes you feel special and unique. Great sex is the bonus that goes with these feelings – you want to be with that person, and and when you’re having sex together, both of you feel it.

Looking to self-help books that suggest sexual toys, costumes, lingerie, date nights, won’t resolve the gridlock between couples who want to feel wanted.

Sexual arousal and desire problems are primarily feelings of wanting and feeling wanted.

If you are having problems with sexual arousal and desire, speak to a psychologist with training in this area. Your couple is worth it.


Patients in this story are a fictional composite of people who have sought help for this issue. Any resemblance to real persons, living or dead is purely coincidental.

Dr. Eva Fisher is an Ottawa psychologist who has been providing psychotherapy for a variety of issues for over 20 years. Follow her on Twitter @drevafisherFacebook or Instagram @dr_evafisher. Blog writing assisted by freelance journalist Alyssa McMurtry.

Written by Dr. Eva Fisher C Psych
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About the Author:

Dr. Eva Fisher is the founder and clinical director of Fisher Associates Psychological Services. Based on over 20 years of clinical experience, she is an Ottawa Psychologist that provides psychotherapy to adults, children, couples and families on a variety of issues.

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