In this series of blog post, I am addressing some common reasons that couple’s avoid sex. As you read these, be honest with yourself about if and how these issues are getting in the way of your sex life. The next topic to discuss is loss.
Issues of Loss
There are losses in life that can affect your sex life, whether related directly to sex or not. When sex confronts you with the reality of what you have lost, you may start to avoid it because it’s emotionally painful. Your losses need to be grieved and processed so you can take the steps to approach your sex life with joy again. I highly recommend Edy Nathan’s book, It’s Grief, as a resource in your process.
Loss with Illness and Disability
Loss becomes a stark reality with the diagnosis and experience of a chronic illness or disability. If you are struggling with heart disease, cancer, diabetes, HIV/AIDS, mental illness, or physical illness or impairment, you face a variety of losses, and many of them relate to the expression of your sexuality. The way you thought about your body and yourself as a sexual person can change when you become sick or disabled, affecting your identity. If you can no longer have sex the way you used to, you have lost your familiar sexual interactions and the sensations you were accustomed to. If you have lost body parts or the use of any of them, your body may no longer feel comfortable or familiar, and some sexual behaviors may now be out of reach. These are all losses that must be accepted and grieved before you can move on to create a new chapter in your sexual life.
Loss with Sexual Trauma
If you have been sexually molested, abused, or assaulted, you have suffered loss. Not only do you deal with the emotional and physical trauma of your experience, but you may feel robbed of your innocence, your ability to trust in people, your opportunity to relax and enjoy sex, and your willingness and eagerness to express yourself sexually. Sex can become a very loaded topic—tolerated and avoided or indulged in risky and excessive ways. Again, grieving the losses and treating the trauma become part of the path to reclaiming a healthy sexuality for yourself.
Loss with Changes in Sexual Functioning
You also deal with significant loss if your body stops responding sexually the way you want it to. Whether due to aging, relationship issues, or psychological reasons, you may find your body is difficult to arouse, slow (or too quick) to orgasm, or that you are easily distracted. These physical changes in functioning can also result in changes to your confidence, body image, and sexual self-image.
Loss Around Pregnancy and Childbearing
Infertility and miscarriage can create a tremendous sense of loss that arises during sex. If you are a heterosexual couple longing for a baby, that sense of loss is present with you every time you engage in the act that you hoped would create one. If you are a woman trying to get pregnant, you may grieve every time you get your period. If the sex you have isn’t the type that would create a child, you can still face the sadness of the longing for a family in those most intimate moments. It takes time to process that grief and fully enjoy life again.
Loss with Disconnection from Your Partner
You may feel a profound sense of loss if you are sexually or emotionally distant from your partner. What promised to be a rich celebration of love and intimacy can dry up, leaving a hole in its place. Relationships that started with a robust sex life can creep slowly into the sexual desert, in which sex is rare, routine, disconnected, or nonexistent. You may experience this as a significant loss, although the sadness and loneliness can be hidden behind resentment and anger. When you do have sex, you may still encounter the sadness that your sex life or relationship isn’t working well overall.
Consider all of these different kinds of loss, and be honest about whether and how they are affecting your relationship.