The unique stressors of law enforcement can put heavy strain on a relationship. This means that couples wherein one or both individuals are first responders have to take particular care to maintain and cultivate their bond. For many couples, an unspoken metric of their relationship and strength of their bond is their sexual intimacy. As the sexual connection diminishes, other problems may become more exaggerated and the relationship may be more vulnerable to external threats (such as affairs). Below, I am going to explore some myths surrounding sexual intimacy and discuss proactive strategies to address issues in your sex life.
You will not be able to make any changes to your sexual relationship unless you start talking about it.
Myth #1: “Men want more sex than women”
This myth is so deeply ingrained in our culture that many of you reading this likely take it as fact. The truth of the matter is that sexual desire and sexuality are highly individualized. There are many complex reasons why this myth continues to be perpetuated and thus becomes a self-fulfilling prophecy in many relationships.
Firstly, consider that men and women get different societal messages about sexuality. It is in countless ways that men learn that their virility is a sign of strength and dominance, and women learn that their sexuality is a shameful trait that must be hidden.
A contributing factor is that we have poor sources for what sex is “supposed” to be like. Pornography and even mainstream movies show men who are immediately erect with the ability to sustain erection for suspect lengths of time, and women who are lubricated in an instant and orgasm quickly from penetrative sex. While this may be a reality for a select few men and women, without better guiding sources of information, many suffer in secret and needlessly harbor false ideas about how their bodies “should function” during sex and what is “normal.” For LGBTQ couples, even less guidance may be available.
Feeling ashamed and believing their bodies are not doing what they “should” be doing, many people go the medication route or feign orgasms, rather than discussing the issue with their spouse. I would posit that your partner or you would be more interested in sex if it was also more pleasurable and less stressful. If you want to break the cycle of a sexless marriage, you need to first figure out what you and your partner actually enjoy, what works and what doesn’t, and be prepared to learn that it’s not what you see on TV.
Myth #2: “If we are not having sex X number of times, there is something wrong with our marriage”
There is no “right” frequency for having sex. For one couple the “right” amount may be once a week, for another once a month, for a third once a year, and for some couples it is normal to have a largely or even totally sexless marriage. Additionally, many of us have completely wrong assumptions about how often our partner actually wants to have sex. If you find out that your desired frequency is a close match, yet you are having less sex than both of you want, the problem has to do with time and opportunity, not with desire.
For many couples, the change in their sexual relationship occurs after they have kids. The added stress, coupled with the fact that now the kids are the priority instead of your relationship, means that many couples have simply put sex on the back burner. Even for those couples who may not have children, other stressors, including the stress of the job, can have a major impact on the relationship. Stress is the sex killer. The solution? Scheduling sex.
When I first bring this up, many couples — and likely you, reading this at home — balk at the idea of scheduling sex. It’s so “not romantic” or “not spontaneous,” or “we’re not going to be that couple.” Yet, think about when you first met: Did you not know exactly when you were going to have sex? You planned what you would wear, and likely engaged in a personal “pre-mating” grooming ritual. Scheduling sex can be a viable alternative for busy couples who have forgotten that sex should be on the priority list. If the idea still doesn’t strike your fancy, think about scheduling quality time together instead. Plan for time away from the kids, work and technology, where you two can just focus on each other. You will be pleasantly surprised by what can happen when you create space for each other.
Myth #3: “Sex is a drive that only comes in low and high gears”
We often hear the term “sex drive” in conversations about sex and desire. Again, this term is so common that many take it as a literal definition. Biologically speaking, drives are motivational systems that keep us from dying. Hunger and thirst are good examples of drives. If you don’t eat or drink, you will mostly certainly die. While reproduction is certainly a strong evolutionary impetus, a lack of sex will not kill you or cause you medical problems (contrary to popular belief).
If sex is not a drive, what about the idea of low and high desire? Emily Nagoski, a sex researcher and expert on sexual desire, prefers the terms “spontaneous” and “responsive” desire. This model explains desire in a much more comprehensive way, and it also takes away the stigma that the “low desire” partner often feels from that label. Spontaneous desire is what it sounds like: This type of desire is like a wellspring that flows in an unprompted manner. On the other hand, responsive desire is more reactive to the context, mood and state of mind of the person. If these things are aligned, this person will find themselves experiencing the same level of desire as their “spontaneous” partner. When couples are mismatched in their style, they may find themselves stuck in a vicious cycle. For example, one partner may feel that they are always the initiator and the other may feel that sex has become a chore. These “styles” of desire may also change over the course of a relationship, and depending on the relationship or the person you are with.
What should couples do if they have found themselves with mismatched styles that are contributing to a sexless marriage? Firstly, it is the responsibility of the responsive desire person to create space and contexts where their desire may flow, while at the same time, those with spontaneous desire should try to separate their self-esteem from sex and help with creating contexts in which sexual intimacy may occur. This may include more time on foreplay, setting aside time for sexual intimacy and even helping complete chores! Sit down with your partner and find out the sexual accelerators (what gets you in the mood) and sexual breaks (what stops desire in its tracks) to help create new rituals for your sex life.
Myth #4: “If our emotional connection is good, our sexual connection should also be good”
Many couples struggle to understand why, if everything else is good in their marriage, sex continues to be a problem. Esther Perel, renowned sex therapist and author, believes that in fact, sometimes emotional closeness is what stifles sexual intimacy. As we strive for comfort and security within our relationships, we actually slowly suffocate sexuality, which needs a sense of the unknown and mysterious to flourish. Like a fire that needs oxygen to breathe, our desire thrives in environments of instability. In other words, separateness (the emotional space that differentiates you from your partner) is where desire grows.
This is why some couples find a new passion for each other in the aftermath of an affair. I am not recommending here that you go on to have an affair in an effort to “spice up your marriage”; affairs are devastating relational bombs that leave pain and suffering in their wake. Instead, what this means for long-term monogamous partners is that sparking the desire in your relationship will take work. While both of you may feel comfortable in your pajamas eating pizza together on the couch, this comfort and stability will impact your desire over time. Instead, mix it up by going back to some of the ways you tried to entice each other when your relationship began. Dress up and go out to a nice dinner, role-play, buy sexy gifts for each other, etc. Find ways to shake up your routine. (Yes, you are still allowed to have pizza in your pajamas together.)
As difficult as it is for many LEOs to seek therapy, it may be even harder to admit that your relationship needs help in the arena of sexuality. However, you will not be able to make any changes to your sexual relationship unless you start talking about it. Many misconceptions also exist about what happens in “sex therapy.” Like other types of therapy, sex therapy is a judgment-free zone, where everything (outside of the usual mandatory disclosures) you and your spouse discuss will remain confidential. Don’t worry; your sex therapist will not ask you to take off your clothes or take off theirs (sorry, ladies and gents)! They will, however, be open to discussing your sexual problems, mismatched desire and sexual fantasies, and provide real, evidence-based recommendations to improve your sex life. If sex or the lack thereof has become a problem for you and your spouse, I recommend that you find a sex therapist, or a qualified couples therapist trained in sex therapy, in your area.