High and Dry

Friday, May 15, 2015

Question

My girlfriend and I have been together for more than ten years. We recently celebrated an anniversary and I realized it has been more than two years since we had sex. I think we have fallen into a life where we are very comfortable together, but I miss the desire and flirtation of our earlier years.

            Do you think a couple who has moved away from a sexual relationship can bring it back? Can that flame be rekindled? I don’t want to call it lesbian bed death because I think all committed, long-term couples run the risk of becoming more like friends than lovers. I don’t want to leave her, absolutely not, but I don’t want another two years without sex, either. I am wondering if our habit of smoking pot together most evenings might have contributed to the absence of sex. It’s the only thing that I can think of that has changed since we first got together.

Answer

Few things are more difficult, in my experience, than bringing sex back into a relationship after a couple has stopped expressing desire for one another. While the phrase “lesbian bed death” was coined by a clever lesbian writer, I agree with you that this is far from a lesbian-only issue. I’ve had couples of all sexual orientations write to me or come to me for therapy asking me how to start making love again after a hiatus.

            This is easier to accomplish if both partners want to make it happen. If you are the only one who wants to resume sexual activity, you have no chance of success. Eventually, you need cooperation from your lover! The sooner you get it, the better. So ask her, “Honey, why do you think we became lovers? I remember why I fell in love with you.” Then tell her, and be sure to include your memories of lovemaking. Ask her if she misses those experiences.

A good way to continue the effort is to work with a third party who is supportive and will hold you both accountable and keep you moving forward while helping you to communicate about issues that might otherwise be avoided. One of the things you could discuss with your counselor is the pot smoking. I have found, in my own work as a couples counselor, that pot seems to have an odd effect on the libido. While it is a very sensual drug, and can enhance a sexual encounter for some people, it also messes with one’s sense of time. This leads to procrastination because of a sense of being suspended in eternity. That makes it easy to forget about or postpone important or risky events like initiating sex. Some users report that pot makes their sexual experience better by enhancing emotional rapport, but many also report that it can interfere with being able to perform sexually.  For some women, smoking pot can make it difficult to lubricate or have an orgasm.

Changing a habit like that can take quite a bit of effort. While pot isn’t categorized as a narcotic, you can certainly have physical and emotional effects if you quit using it. And it can take anywhere from a month to a year to clear all of its blend of chemicals out of your system. I recommend sex as an excellent way to distract yourselves from any unpleasant feelings of sadness or depression you might have from being unable to resort to picking up a pipe. Getting more in touch with reality has an up side, but it takes a while for that to become clear in most aspects of one’s life. Being able to get off is an immediate reward!

Couples can avoid sex because their feelings about each other have changed for the worse. If this has happened, it may be necessary to fix underlying issues before sex can work again. This can mean some hard work to bring up problems with money, drinking, weight gain, etc. In the process of making changes and forgiving one another, desire can return almost of its own accord.

Sometimes after being together for quite a while, people’s sexual needs or desires change. A fantasy that didn’t seem important five years ago becomes much more urgent to explore. Or an activity that was shared with a lot of enthusiasm becomes less arousing for one of the partners, but not the other. These incompatibilities are hard to talk about because they cause hurt feelings. It feels like rejecting your partner to confess to such a change in your libido. It’s actually pretty normal for sexual needs or interests to evolve, but that isn’t the way the myth of romance says close relationships will develop. A sex-positive counselor can help the two of you to sort out what to do about this situation. Sometimes it’s still possible to have a good sex life by focusing on what the two of you do share.

Another common cause for sexual freeze-outs is a fear of losing one another. When another person becomes very important in your life, avoiding him or her is one way to deal with the fear of eventually being separated by death. Closing off the heart to the intensity of Eros is a ridiculous but very common way that human beings try to hang on to a spouse without being frequently reminded of how much it would hurt to let him or her go. Of course, this fear of death simply increases the risk of losing your partner because of a divorce. Shutting down in the face of death just makes us seem dead before our time. But it takes a certain amount of vigilance to prevent yourself from being lazy or cowardly and falling into this unconscious defense. Imagine how much regret you will feel, after losing a partner, for the times you did not enjoy making love together. It sounds good to “seize the day” and live as if each moment were your last, but putting that into practice is not easy.

Couples today are hard-pressed economically. It can be really hard to keep the bills paid and provide care for ailing friends and relatives, or raise your children, or keep up with activist commitments or other responsibilities. Even making time for a  hobby can be difficult. But if you want to be able to have sex again, you need to find quiet, pleasant time together that isn’t going to be ruined by talk about finances or arguments with noisy neighbors. Creating a romantic atmosphere in the bedroom is important to some women. They want sheets scattered with rose petals and beautiful candles all around the room. Others enjoy a different tone to create excitement. There’s nothing wrong with a raunchy encounter in a greasy garage full of motorcycles and beer cans. The point is to talk about what you like and make sure that it is part of your encounter. Get the things that you need for sex, even if it’s just a few towels and a bottle of massage oil, and have them nearby. I call this “planning for spontaneity.” Knowing you can grab your favorite vibrator or other toy and put it to good use at a moment’s notice makes sex easier and more fun. It also eliminates excuses. Having music in the room helps to set the mood as well, as long as you both like the same kind of sound track.

Starting sex after a lengthy sabbatical isn’t always a smooth process. Sometimes it can feel awkward and not very natural. So it’s important for both partners to have a sense of humor and a little patience. It may seem crazy that your lover doesn’t remember, after all these years, which side of your clitoris is the most sensitive, or that you don’t like any penetration right after you have come. But maybe she will need to be reminded. You might find that you are not quite as flexible as you were a few years ago. That’s okay too. If you need to use pillows to prop yourselves up in your favorite positions, or if you need to talk more to make sure you get what you want, that could mean that sex winds up being better now.

The fact is that both of you are probably due to hit your sexual peak anyway. Older women enjoy sex more than younger women, or so we hear from certain researchers. It’s a myth that your libido fades as you age. Just as doing without sex can come to be a habit, looking forward to it as a release from the stress of a long day can also come to be a habit as well. I hope you and your lover are able to talk this over and come up with some new (or old but still potent) fantasies and favorite sex toys so you can burn up the sheets.

If you’ve got cats, don’t be afraid to rock out anyway. Force them to go sleep on the couch. They need to be reminded once in a while that the bed is not their exclusive territory!