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Men Women and Sex:

Question: My wife and I have been married for seven years. We used to have great sex but as the years have passed we have less and less. She is a good mother and is very focused on our home but I feel left out and no longer attractive to her. Sometimes I think that my only purpose is to provide the family income. When I complain she gets annoyed and is even less available. How can I deal with my frustration? 

Answer: The issue of sex arises with some frequency in couples counselling. In my experience, ninety percent of the time, the male wants more and the female wants less. Sometimes this difference falls into accusations of control and harassment with the man feeling controlled and the woman harassed.

In general, females in our species and others are genetically programmed to want less sex than males. There are good reasons for this difference but we have to go back thousands of years into our evolution to understand them. Long before we walked the earth, our predecessors were copulating and their purpose was not fun and frolic but procreation. Our sexual appetite is rooted in the most primitive part of our brain: the part we share with reptiles and early mammals and the purpose of that appetite was (and remains) the need to get as many of our genes into the next generation as possible. It therefore makes sense that the male drive is to copulate as frequently as possible and the female, who unlike the male, can reproduce only a limited number of times, is driven to be more circumspect in her sexual engagement. Although today most sex between humans is unrelated to the desire to procreate, it is still our ancestral programming that decides our sexual appetite.

All of the above said, sex is only a small part of the intimacy and connection that we hope for in a marriage. However sex, like the canary in the mine shaft, is often the first casualty when tensions in a marriage mount. Here are a few thoughts.

First: Can you get curious about what has changed for you emotionally over the past few years? You suspect that your wife no longer finds you attractive. Who were you when you and your wife were having great sex? Try to find that person again. It is very easy to lose who we are in our efforts to support a marriage and a young family.

Second: When a wife becomes a mother, a big piece of her energy naturally shifts to the care of her children, and often that means she has less energy for her husband. Try not to take this too personally. The shift in her attention may be less about you and more about her fatigue and her concern for your offspring.

Third: Can you get your focus off sex and onto something else? Managing that ‘testosterone drum beat’ takes some determination but we do not have to be a slave to our primitive drives. Pursuing your wife for sex when tensions are up will only increase her distancing. Something lies beneath this pattern that needs addressing and presenting your concerns to your wife in a calm and thoughtful manner might open an important dialogue.

A few decades ago, sex was rarely mentioned in public. Today, it is everywhere. We are all supposed to have good sex and plenty of it, just like in the movies. Cars, cologne, food, furniture and even business deals are described as ‘sexy’. Twelve year old girls dress like hookers, sixteen year olds get breast implants for their birthdays and women get testosterone injections to improve their libido. There is, in my view, an over-focus on sex and an under-focus on the importance of addressing the challenges that keep relationships honest, open and equal. The male sex drive is often strong enough to be less affected by marital tensions than is the female’s, but it is the person in the marriage who wants less sex that determines how much sex there will be. Stay cool and look deeper for connection.

Margaret Ann Speak, M.A., C.C.C. works with couples, individuals, and families from a Bowen Family Systems perspective at Family Services of the North Shore. Questions? Write This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it or call 604-988-5281.