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Why couples struggle to communicate over sex

Sex is most rewarding for a woman in the romantic scenario of a new relationship. In the beginning a man’s easy arousal means that sex is fairly effortless for a woman. Decades later it is not necessarily so easy. Over time intercourse can become a mechanical act. It is neither erotic nor loving. This happens in long-term sexual relationships where intimacy is lost. Sexual issues tend to accumulate and need to be discussed. A woman may feel that sex is expected as a regular duty. A man needs to understand the emotional factors that motivate a woman to provide the sexual interaction he enjoys. Sex also tends to become more routine. A woman may appreciate a man who invests in activities other than intercourse that bring some variety to a couple’s sex life. A man may need to plan ahead to make sex more varied.

A young man’s sexual needs overcome any timidity he may feel in asking for intercourse. But over time a woman’s body language becomes increasingly less welcoming and her boredom more evident. The couple stops having sex but they never discuss the situation. If a couple is not having sex, then a man needs to invest in understanding some of the things a woman wants. A man needs to invest in companionable time. For a woman, intimacy involves feeling that a lover cares for her because he takes an interest in her concerns.

Over decades a couple needs to invest in communication to keep their sex life alive. A more experienced man is cautious in suggesting sex play because he anticipates a woman’s disapproval. Few women engage proactively on genital stimulation, so men get used to taking the initiative and they assume that the responsibility is theirs. Rather than accept defeat, a man explores his lover’s body to find out what she will allow him to do. If a man rolls off after sex and falls asleep, a woman feels he has used her vagina but not given her the affection that she wants. A woman wants a lover to caress and kiss her.

The key reason women (even lesbians) do not orgasm by any means with a lover is that there are no naturally occurring erotic turn-ons that arouse women. This situation must be almost impossible for a man to imagine because he is extremely aroused by sexual opportunities with a lover. A woman’s lack of arousal makes it exceedingly difficult for her to contribute to the erotic scenario. Even if she knows that conscious behaviours are called for, she runs out of imagination. A man can help by suggesting the activities that he would enjoy. Any partner who is motivated by sexual activity needs to make it easy for a lover by taking the initiative and driving the action.

Couples don’t discuss the turn-ons and stimulation a woman needs for orgasm explicitly. A man looks for emotional acceptance through sex. He links his need to please a lover with her willingness to offer sex. If a woman says nothing, a man assumes she must have had an orgasm. A woman will often stop a man who is stimulating her because she has had enough. Some men interpret this behaviour as a sign that a woman has been sexually satisfied. Most alternatives to intercourse require some discussion. It is difficult to communicate consent or objection to sexual activity midstream.

Communication over sexual pleasuring ideally takes place after sex, when a couple can compare notes on what worked and what they might try next time. It requires a much higher level of trust and communication to discuss ways of sharing our sexual fantasies with a partner during physical sex play.

Sex is vitally important to men and thus non-negotiable. As long as a woman is amenable to intercourse, a man assumes she is happy, even if her behaviour indicates otherwise. Men use silence and a show of affection or a couple’s daily routine to initiate sex. When sex is not on offer, they then indicate their displeasure by using behaviours such as moodiness rather than by explicit discussion. Rather than discuss what might help to make a woman more sexually amenable, men use emotional pressure to get their own way.

People are selfish. They want something that cannot necessarily be justified logically. They get grumpy or use silence. But having a fist fight over it or tackling the problem head-on is problematic. People are not articulate enough to argue their point well. They are too emotional to be able to express their feelings. So they resort to silence and more subtle means. Silence is a way of avoiding conflict but, by repressing resentments, partners accumulate charged emotions, which makes it even more difficult to discuss sexual issues. Women can open up to others more easily because they have less to feel guilty about. Men like to take more risk than women (alcohol, gambling and sex). A man doesn’t want a woman to control how he behaves. But a woman doesn’t want a man to control her body and what is done to it.

Many people struggle with being honest about their feelings and motives. Men to feel guilty about their sexual urges because of attitudes in society, which arise because of women who never experience them. Blaming society is a way of avoiding taking responsibility for our own behaviour. We don’t want to admit our vulnerability and our need for reassurance. We feel the only way to protect ourselves and retain some dignity is to go silent. We keep private thoughts to ourselves. But over decades, issues arise and these need to be discussed otherwise resentments build up. Men learn that women will often defer to a stronger point of view. Women tend to suggest what they want rather than have a fist fight. Men interpret women’s more conciliatory approach as a sign of weakness. A couple has to be very brave to develop more explicit forms of communication. If he’s not getting the sex he wants, it’s easier for a man to look elsewhere rather than invest in communication.

One man talked about this chasm as ‘My own Gulf war … 6 inches between us in the bed feels like 1,000 miles!’ (Bettina Arndt)