If you’re dissatisfied in the bedroom it can be one of the loneliest feelings in the world. When sex is going badly, or not happening at all, it is a painfully sensitive subject to bring up with your partner. Before long it becomes the elephant in the room. You can discuss everything else, but not what matters most.
There is little doubt that sex therapy can help: 93 per cent of couples surveyed by Relate said therapy had improved their sex life. The problem lies in persuading your partner to give it a try in the first place. And the earlier that’s done, the better: the longer things are left, the more entrenched the sense of failure/guilt/frustration/rejection becomes.
So how should you go about suggesting that therapy might be a good idea?
Relationship psychologist Susan Quilliam, who updated the Seventies classic The Joy of Sex for a new generation, warns against ultimatums. She says: “Approach the subject in a relaxed, unchallenging way. Make it clear that you don’t see it as the other person’s fault, that you’re not getting at them but just think sex therapy might help. The overall message should be ‘I love you and…’ not, ‘If we don’t do this we’re going to split up’.
Approach the subject in a relaxed, unchallenging way. Make it clear that you don’t see it as the other person’s fault, that you’re not getting at them but think sex therapy might help
“It’s fear that stops people. Be prepared with reading material or facts that show that their worst fears won’t come true – they won’t be expected to have sex in the therapy room, or whatever – and it will be easier than they think. If there’s a specific problem, such as erectile dysfunction, have figures ready that normalise it, for example by saying that it affects one in ten men over 40.”
Some men might feel threatened by the idea of a female therapist, and vice versa. Both sides need reassurance that the choice of therapist will be mutually agreed. Studies into the success of sex therapy emphasise two key factors: the therapist’s experience and the rapport between therapist and couple.
It can be reassuring to know that you can have introductory sessions if you opt for private therapy, and that even when therapy is underway it is usually possible to change therapists. Good sources of information are the College of Sexual and Relationship Therapists and Relate.
If your partner digs their heels in and refuses, as many do, go on your own. Sex therapy for one may sound a tad masturbatory, and of course it has its limits, but it’s a good start. It offers someone to sound off to, to help work through all that bottled-up emotion. It can also help you think things through in a different way. Even if only one partner changes their viewpoint it will have an impact on the relationship.
Who knows, if your partner sees things beginning to change, they might be persuaded to give it a try.
Susan Quilliam offers a final, compelling argument for sex therapy: “A lot of recent research shows that people now are extending their sex lives way beyond the expectations of previous generations. So if you make a decision in your fifties that the loss of your sex life is normal, you could be missing out on almost as much good sex as you’ve already had in life.”