When sex isn't easy due to one or more common sexual problems, it can trigger feelings of frustration, helplessness, shame and confusion. Many times a pattern develops that either leads to sexual avoidance or repeated, high-pressure attempts. But it is quite possible to overcome Bedroom challenges, especially when each is approached as a couples issue and without blame. Here are five common bedroom "tricks" and how to transform them into "treats."
1. TRICK: Low/mismatched desire When you or your partner don't share a similar level of sexual desire, the partner with higher desire often feels frustrated and even rejected, while the lower desire partner can feel pressured or inadequate. Every couple steps out of alignment from time to time, but when it's the rule rather than the exception, something needs to give.
TREAT: First, determine if it's low desire or mismatched. If your conflict is around sex 5 times per week versus 2, that's not exactly low desire for Mr./Mrs. Twice-A-Week. To get the ball rolling regarding your mismatched desire, complete our sexual frequency communication exercise. If one of you has little to no libido, it's worth having an assessment with a Certified Sex Therapist (CST). You'll also want to work with an M.D. (preferably an endocrinologist) to rule out hormonal imbalances or deficiencies.
2. TRICK: Erectile Dysfunction This is one of the more paradoxical Bedroom problems, because as many men know, trying harder doesn't make it so. In fact, a pattern of self-fulfilling prophecy we call the "ED trap" can develop. First, he has difficulty achieving or maintaining an erection and it prevents the couple from having intercourse. The next time around, he can't shake the worry about it happening again. He may even be thinking in terms of proving to himself and his partner that Mr. Happy is just fine, thank you very much. This focus activates his sympathetic nervous system just enough to have an inhibitory effect on his sexual response. Now we do have a problem!
TREAT: Try shifting the focus by agreeing to NOT have intercourse during your next sexual encounter. Just have fun pleasuring each other in any and all ways that you enjoy. Mixing this in to your rotation can be like pushing the reset button for a relaxed Bedroom. Also keep in mind the recently recognized "porn-induced E.D." That's right -- one of the fastest growing populations of E.D. patients are young, healthy men with no other risk factors for E.D. (e.g. advanced age, cardiovascular disease, certain medications). If trouble persists, you'll want to consult with a CST in order to get to the root of the problem and to choose the appropriate treatment protocol -- these treatments are effective, but differ according to the cause.
3. TRICK: Painful Intercourse Nothing impedes a woman's sexual desire more than painful intercourse. Pain as a result of vaginismus is caused by a tight vaginal muscle, making penetration very difficult and, in some cases, impossible. Dysparunia refers to any type of pain and discomfort during and/or after intercourse. Compounding matters, many women experience guilt and shame when these conditions get in the way of sexual satisfaction. In addition, anticipatory anxiety can make the pain even worse because when we anticipate pain our muscles (vagina included) tense up.
TREAT: The first step is understanding that the pain is not all in her head, it's in her genitals! Painful intercourse for women is not uncommon, although it is rarely talked about. Relief is available. First of all, make sure that there is plenty of lubrication. Insufficient lubrication is a common cause of discomfort during and after intercourse. For vaginismus, treatment often includes working with graduated dilators that help to slowly relax the vaginal muscle, enabling the woman to regain control of this muscle. Additional assistance can be found through physical therapists who specialize in painful intercourse. This resource is also very helpful for generalized pain, in addition to checking out hormone levels that can be contributing to thinning and dryness in the vaginal walls.
4. TRICK: Premature Ejaculation This Bedroom problem can be a real show-stopper. It is universally frustrating for both partners and a common source of shame for one (guess which one?)
TREAT: It's important to know which type of PE you're dealing with (yes, there are several different types) in order to arrive at the proper treatment. So again, you'll want to work with a CST to make sure you get it right. One helpful technique for men is to practice identifying and relaxing their pelvic floor muscles so they are able to do so during intercourse. This technique can offset the natural tendency to clench those muscles as a way of delaying ejaculation, which actually makes it more likely to happen. And partners can be helpful simply by conveying compassion and avoiding shaming language, which typically only makes matters worse. You may also want to make a plan (when you're not in bed) regarding how to continue enjoying your sexual time together in the event it happens again.
5. TRICK: No "O" All smoke and no fire can be a real wet blanket in the Bedroom. If it's is a chronic problem, it can play a major role in Trick #1 (Low desire) above. And while typically thought of as a women's problem, it's not uncommon for men struggle in this area from time to time also. Remember that her arousal and orgasm is much more nuanced and complex than his, with multiple, multiple factors involved, from hormones to emotional connection to performance pressure.
TREAT: Begin by answering this question: Has this always been a problem, or is it more recent? If chronic, one factor could be internalized negative messages about sexuality (if you're taught that sexuality is bad/wrong it can be hard to fully let go in the Bedroom). Inadequate stimulation and foreplay can also be a factor in inhibited orgasm. A woman should learn how to orgasm through her own touch and discover what kind of stimulation works best for her. Similarly, for men it can be helpful to understand what is/feels different when he masturbates verses having intercourse with his partner.
With each of these Bedroom challenges and any others, it helps to bear in mind that the heart of sexual intimacy is emotional intimacy and connection. So rest assured that your efforts to nurture each other emotionally can go a long way toward a better way in the Bedroom. And if something isn't working in the Bedroom, be sure to talk about it in the Living Room. Happy Trick-or-Treating!