By Bev Behar, MASc, RSW, RMFT
Many couples find that their sexual relationship dwindles over time to a problematically low level. Some couples haven’t had sexual relationships in months or even years. There is no doubt that a good sex-life brings not only enjoyment, but resilience to boost the couple’s ability to overcome the stresses and strains of everyday life. For both men and women, good sexual relations enhance self-esteem and vitality, and strengthen the couple’s bond.
Many things can get in the way of a good sexual relationship. The most mundane short-term reasons are fatigue and stress, but other serious contributors are anger, unresolved resentments, depression, personal and emotional blocks, as well as physiological conditions and medications. It’s important to address and alleviate these causes. Moreover the task of overcoming the self-consciousness and awkwardness of making the “first move” to get back on track can be daunting. Both husband and wife have often been through numerous painful (though perhaps unintentional) rejections by the time the stand-off sets in. Emotions are raw, timing is off, and messages are misread. Couples therapy can help to bridge what feels like a cavernous gap between partners to help them get on the right track.
There is probably no area that suits the use of self-help books more than sexuality. Even before a person is ready to discuss his or her sex-life with anyone, information can be imparted and situations normalized. As an adjunct, precursor, or in some cases a substitute for professional counselling, a good quality book can bring a person out of isolation and confusion and provide information, perspective, insight and direction.
Here is a list of books (by no means complete or exhaustive) written for the general public that may be helpful. One should be mindful that what one person thinks is a terrific book is considered horrible by another. A good exercise when looking for a book is to check the reader reviews at amazon.ca under each book to see the range of opinions from other readers. It also may be fruitful – and even a good date with a spouse – to go to a good bookstore and peruse the Self-Help Sexuality section.
One more point of importance here: What if one partner is completely uninterested in improving their sex-life? I’d say to the interested partner: Don’t give up until you’ve gotten the help you can to understand the problem from your partner’s perspective and a systemic understanding of what’s going on between you. See a therapist and read some resource books like the ones below, before assuming it’s hopeless. While you may truly believe it has nothing to do with you, there may be things you can do to free your partner of the blocks to getting closer sexually.
Hot Monogamy: Essential Steps to More Passionate, Intimate Lovemaking
By Dr. Patricia Love and Jo Robinson, Penguin Putnam Inc.1995. 310 pages
This popular book is one of my favorites on sexuality. Dr. Love (apparently her real name) outlines nine dimensions of “sexual style” that describe the strengths and challenges a person brings into his/her sexual relationship. These dimensions are Physical Desire, Technique, Variety, Passion, Talking about Sex, Body Image, Sensuality, Romance, and Verbal Intimacy. Each reader can graph his/her sexual style profile by completing a questionnaire in the book. The rest of the book is devoted to a chapter on each dimension. Partners can compare their profiles and better understand where some of their difficulties may originate The book can be helpful to individuals reading the book on their own, and even those who don’t completer the actual profile. It is easy to read, and full of interesting examples and vignettes, well-researched information and helpful resources. It covers a lot of very important territory and is highly instructive. One area that is particularly well covered is differences in sexual desire. This is an area at the root of many sexual tensions in couples, and often not addressed in a constructive fashion. Readers will find they finish this book with not only greater understanding but with many promising ideas.
The Sex-Starved Marriage: Boosting Your Marriage Libido: A Couple’s Guide
By Michelle Weiner Davis, Simon and Schuster 2003, 209 pages
This book is very popular and rated highly by the public. It’s also a favorite of mine. What a shame that the title is not as positive and promising as most of the others on this list. Would it be harder to take this title to the cashier at a bookstore? Michelle Weiner Davis has a great deal of experience both as a Marriage and Family Therapist and writer of self-help books. This book focuses mainly on the issue of low sexual desire, and how both the low desire spouse and the higher desire spouse can contribute individually and together to overcoming the problem. She covers all the causes of low desire and resistance to sexual involvement, and gives clear (though sometimes overly brief) instructions on how to triumph over each issue. She gives great examples of differences in style often typical of men and women. For some types of problems extra work is rightly recommended, such as childhood trauma and ongoing marital problems.
For Yourself: The Fulfillment of Female Sexuality
By Dr. Lonnie Barbach, Doubleday & Co. Inc. 1975. 191 pages
For Each Other
By Dr. Lonnie Barbach, Doubleday & Co. Inc. 1984. 293 pages
These two books are older favorite, still very effective, and rated highly by the public. The first is a classic designed to help women who have been unable to achieve orgasm. It is designed for women to work alone on understanding their own sexual response before addressing the issue with a partner. The second is designed for women exploring their sexuality in a relationship. While it is written for women, it can also benefit partners who read it .The book is very informative about female sexual response and female emotional response in relationships and is full of exercises. A few chapters encourage and instruct women in how to push themselves past hurt, anger and boredom to greater intimacy and fulfillment with their partners.
Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships
By David Schnarch, W. W. Norton & Co.1997
Resurrecting Sex: Solving Sexual Problems and Revolutionizing Your Relationship
By David Schnarch, Harper Collins Inc.2003
These two books by Dr. David Schnarch are highly rated by the public generally though they are sometimes considered a little difficult or dry to read. They are a little more technically written than some of the other books listed. They have a good focus on the interpersonal relationship and the importance of intense intimate connection between the partners. Factors that interfere with this emotional intimacy and ways of repairing it are included.
Light Her Fire; How to Ignite Passion, Joy, and Excitement in the Women You Love
By Ellen Kreidman, Dell Publishing 1991, 239 pages
Light His Fire: How to Keep Your Man Passionately and Hopelessly in Love with You
By Ellen Kreidman, Dell Publishing 1989. 204 pages
The 10-Second Kiss: How to Turn Your Relationship Into a Lifelong Romance – In Just 24 Hours! A Magical Formula for Passion, Pleasure, and Playfulness
By Ellen Kreidman, Renaissance Books 1998. 269 pages
These three books are very positive, enthusiastic, and encouraging for getting past the awkwardness and resistance to focus on what the partner needs. Ellen is very clear that one can get much further making changes oneself, than trying to insist on one’s partner changing first. Whatever causes may have led to a depressed sex-life, Ellen Kreidman encourages the reader to try countless ways of rekindling closeness and excitement between self and partner by pleasing and treating them. Enthusiastic reader ratings show that it often works. People so often underestimate the degree to which their own behaviour is standing in the way of their partner’s interest in lovemaking. Ellen helps turn people from angry naggers into seductive and loving partners.
Bev Behar has been working in the field of Marriage and Family Therapy for over 28 years seeing men, women, children, adolescents, couples and families. Her office is in Thornhill Ontario and her website is www.CanadianTherapists.com/BevBehar .