Like many other facets of a long-term relationship or marriage, intimacy can ebb and flow. Truth be told, roughly 40% of married couples reported experiencing some type of sexual problem (“Marriage and Family Review,” 2016). While intimacy issues understandably feel personal and unique to you and your partner, you are not alone. 

Feeling unsatisfied with sex, unmotivated to initiate sex, and disconnected in your relationship are common signs of intimacy issues. While many factors can negatively impact a couple’s intimate connection, a few seem to be more prevalent, like lack of communication, different sex drives, and sexual issues (such as erectile dysfunction or vaginal dryness). Luckily, there are manageable actions you can take to overcome these and ultimately improve your sex life. 

Intimacy issue #1: Lack of communication

Communication is essential in a relationship. Each partner needs to be able to effectively express their needs and desires to achieve sexual satisfaction. Yet, giving and receiving critical feedback can be difficult, especially regarding a topic as vulnerable as sex. But if you leave your partner to guesswork your likes and dislikes, both of you will be left disappointed. You will have unmet expectations, and your partner will likely sense your dissatisfaction and wonder what they are doing wrong. 

How to have more effective communication about intimacy

Communication is a learned skill. It takes practice and patience to master. When it comes to talking about sex and intimacy, keep in mind TTT (timing, turf, tone) coined by sexologist Emily Morse:

  1. Timing: Be mindful of when you have difficult discussions. Never start intimacy conversations when you or your partner are HALT (hungry, angry, lonely, tired) or when either of you is under the influence of a substance.
  2. Turf: Choose a neutral location to chat, such as the dining table. Keep intimacy discussions out of your bedroom, which should only be reserved for play and sleep. 
  3. Tone: Strive for an inviting tone that welcomes a team effort to reach a goal. Use “I” statements and avoid shouting, name-calling, and blaming. Try this softened start-up approach.

Discussing boundaries is the most important conversation to have. Sometimes, partners feel setting boundaries can feel like a bunch of red tape. However, think of it as more like setting up the walls of your play space where you will be free to explore and have fun. Boundaries will help ensure you and your partner feel totally safe in your most vulnerable moments. 

Intimacy issue #2: Different sex drives

Libido, otherwise known as sex drive, is controlled mainly by testosterone in both men and women. Since hormones fluctuate for many reasons (such as age, medication, and diet), your libido can also fluctuate over your lifetime. It’s no wonder that it is rare for both partners of a relationship to match in sex drive. 

Differing libidos or loss of libido can cause tension that impacts a couple’s intimate connection. The higher libido partner may feel unsatisfied, or they might interpret that their partner isn’t attracted to them. Meanwhile, the lower libido partner may be left feeling pressure (from their partner or themselves) to perform sex, or they might interpret a lack of respect and understanding from their partner. These feelings can snowball into resentment, stonewalling, and defensiveness. 

Thankfully, there are strategies to combat mismatched libidos.

How to manage mismatched sex drives 

  1. Consider your goal. What are you hoping to get out of sex? Typically, each partner wants to feel close to each other, both physically and emotionally. They aren’t necessarily after an orgasm; it’s more often about the intimate bond. 
  2. Brainstorm other forms of intimacy. Besides intercourse, what would help you feel close to strengthen that intimate bond? It might be holding hands on a walk, taking a hot bath together, cuddling under a blanket, or playing a board game. 
  3. Schedule intimacy (not sex). Pick a day of the week to dedicate time to spend with each other. Remove any pressure to have sex by focusing on your intimate connection. Choose from your brainstormed list and enjoy being present with your partner. If it rolls into sex, let it happen organically. 
  4. Communicate! Be open and honest about what’s working and what’s not. Remember to use the three​​ T’s, as explained above.

Remember that there might be some trial and error when figuring out how to fulfill both partner’s needs and desires. Work as a team and celebrate successes to remain encouraged. 

Intimacy issue #3: Sexual function issues

In a perfect world, our bodies would never fail us. Our backs would never ache, no one would need glasses, and “arthritis” wouldn’t be in our vocabulary. But the reality is that most of us experience problems with our physical or mental health, and these problems may result in sexual function issues. 

Premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, vaginal dryness, and painful sex are the most typical obstacles an individual or couple encounters. When a partner faces a sexual function issue, their motivation for sex diminishes. That can cause a significant decrease in any intimate activity. Some couples get used to the lack of intimate connection, watching months, or even years, roll by without so much as a kiss. So, how do you avoid falling down that slippery slope? 

How to maintain intimacy while managing sexual function issues

  1. Check with your doctor. If you notice a sexual function issue, make an appointment with a physician to rule out any ailment that might be the cause of your issue (i.e., hormone imbalance, nerve damage, high or low blood pressure).
  2. Focus on intimacy, not sex. Sound familiar? Instead of making sex your goal, nurture your intimate connection, just as you would with different sex drives explained above. 
  3. Communicate! It’s not a broken record. Communication is a crucial factor in a couple’s intimacy that bears repeating. It holds the power to tackle so many sexual dilemmas, functioning issues included.
  4. Work with a sexologist. Sexual function issues are often unique. Thus, a sexuality educator or sex therapist can help pinpoint your particular challenge and help speed up your success. A trained sexologist can look at your psychological and physical hang-ups that are inhibiting your pleasure and help you improve your sex life.

You and your partner can overcome your intimacy issues.

Intimacy issues can make you feel lonely and isolated, but you don’t have to go it alone. There are professionals who want to help you and your partner achieve satisfying intimacy for a fulfilling relationship. 

If you have concerns surrounding your intimacy, we can assist you. Our Sexual Wellness Specialist has virtual availability for anyone in the US. Our practice offers in-person appointments in Charlotte, NC, and Carefree, AZ. We also have virtual sessions available for those who live in Arizona, Florida, North Carolina, South Carolina, or Texas. Contact us to get started to ease your discussions and enjoy a happier sex life.