READING BETWEEN THE SHEETS
Sexual problems can have a devastating effect on any relationship. Guardian columnist Pamela Stephenson Connolly looks at their possible causes and suggests some solutions During every couple's life together there will be times when there are sexual problems. These can occur for a myriad of reasons, perhaps as a result of illness or because there is a natural occurrence in one partner's life (such as lowered desire after a woman gives birth). Often it's just a case of patience and understanding, but sometimes people can get worryingly out of step sexually, and this can threaten the whole relationship. Communication can begin to breakdown, and problems escalate.
It might be that one or both partners experience reduced sexual desire, difficulty becoming physically aroused, problems with delayed, early, or non-existent orgasms, or intercourse might become physically painful. In many cases the problem is temporary, but sometimes it becomes entrenched. Serious sexual problems rarely get better by themselves.
There is often a physiological reason for the development of a sexual disorder and a physician will be able to help. But there can also be psychological or relationship causes - and commonly there's a combination of influences. A couple's sexuality often serves as a metaphor for their relationship, so when things are going wrong in the bedroom it might point to partnership difficulties in non-sexual areas. For example, although there can be physiological causes form a lowering of desire, it could also be caused by unspoken anger, resentment, or a sense of unfairness between two people.
A little detective work may uncover that the root cause of libido loss is something that can be fixed with a reorganisation of the couple's lifestyle: simply allocating more time for each other can often make a difference.
Mental health problems such as depression and anxiety can cause lowered desire, erectile dysfunction, and a range of other sexual problems; so can many medical conditions, as well as some medications and recreational drugs. Sometimes sexual difficulties are caused by psychological issues from a person's past particularly in the case of sexual abuse survivors, whose trauma can fundamentally affect their sexuality - and psychotherapy is required. Likewise, problematic sexual obsessions and compulsions should be treated by a specialist. There are many myths about sex and aging, but the bottom line is that sex works on a "use it or lose it" basis. Bar illness and certain other conditions, we can continue to enjoy sexuality until the day we die - if we want to. Even those with severe physical illness or disability can find a way. Then again, some people choose not to be sexual.
Many people mistakenly believe that sex will always (and should) be easy and spontaneous. But it is a learned experience that progresses from self-exploration to partner sex with a great deal of trial and error - so maintaining healthy sexuality throughout one's life requires work.
Throughout anybody's lifespan there will be times when, due to certain events or circumstances, things go wrong with his or her ability to become aroused, to orgasm, or to have enjoyable sex. The advice is always for couples to talk about any sexual difficulties that arise.
COMMUNICATION IS KEY
Start by praising a partner for what is working, and reaffirm your positive feelings for him or her. If you're the one with the problem, state it clearly, describe the feelings you have During sex, the best type of communication is clear, honest and tactful. Your partner will appreciate knowing what works for you and what doesn't. Focus on the positive - for example, if a partner does something you dislike, you might say "I loved If a partner has left you unsatisfied, it's far more productive to avoid recriminations and simply announce with a smile: "Hey, lover, no one leaves the room until I come!"