NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Monday, February 8, 2021

For People With Responsive Sexual Arousal, a Willingness to Have Sex is Often Enough to Get Aroused

There are bound to be times in all relationships when a couple is out of synch in terms of sexual arousal. Sometimes one person wants to have sex and the other person isn't feeling very sexual in the moment (see my articles: What is Good Sex? and Spontaneous Sexual Arousal vs Context-Dependent Sexual Arousal).

Relationships: Is a Willingness to Have Sex Enough to Get Started?

A lot of times the person who isn't sexually aroused in the moment knows that once s/he starts to get sexually intimate, s/he will become aroused and this ends up working out.  But sometimes the person who starts out feeling aroused feels hurt that his/her partner isn't sexually aroused from the start.  This article will explore why this often happens in relationships.

Clinical Vignettes
The following clinical vignettes are composites of many different cases which include no identifying information:

Vignette 1: When a Willingness to Have Sex is Enough
Ed and Joan were married for 10 years.  They had two young children.  Ed had a very stressful job where he worked long hours so he often came home tired.  Joan worked part time and took care of the children when they got home from school.  

Generally, they had a good sex life, but sometimes Ed was too tired to have sex when Joan wanted to do it.  But he was willing to kiss and cuddle with her and he would soon get into the mood to have sex--even if it wasn't as passionate as Joan would have liked.  Then, there were other times on the weekend, after Ed had time to relax when he felt more sexually aroused and their lovemaking was more passionate.  

Joan didn't personalize it when Ed wasn't immediately sexually aroused when he was tired.  She knew that he had a stressful job. Also, she was confident enough in herself so she didn't see his initial lack of desire as a reflection on her self worth, her looks or her desirability.

Vignette 2:  When a Willingness to Have Sex isn't Enough
Sara and Bob were married for five years, and they had no children.  Sara stayed home, and Bob worked in a stressful job where he was often worried about his job security.  

When Bob got home from work, he often needed time to himself to relax, but Sara, who had few close friends, waited all day for Bob to come home. As soon as he got in the door, she wanted to cuddle with him--even though he had told her many times that he needed a few minutes to himself.

During the week when Sara wanted to make love, Bob often fell asleep because he was exhausted from work.  When this happened, Sara felt resentful and sad.  She interpreted his tiredness to mean she wasn't attractive or sexy enough for Bob to want her sexually.  She berated him the next day for not paying enough attention to her.  Even though Bob really felt Sara was attractive and desirable, he couldn't convince Sara of his feelings.

By the weekend, when Bob was more relaxed and rested and he wanted to have sex with Sara, she was still resentful from earlier in the week and she refused to have sex with him.  This became their pattern and, over time, it was eroding their relationship.

Secure Attachment vs Insecure Attachment
To understand the difference between Scenario 1 and Scenario 2, it's important to explore attachment styles (see my article: How Your Attachment Style Affects Your Relationship).

Vignette 1: Joan
When Joan was growing up, her parents were nurturing and loving towards her.  She grew up in a stable and secure home environment where she knew she was loved.  She was closer to her father, who was especially loving.  He often delighted in whatever she did, and she grew up feeling confident in herself.  She developed a secure attachment style due to her loving and secure home.

As a married woman, she knew she was attractive and desirable because she had grown up feeling loved and wanted.  So, on those occasions when Ed was tired and not as sexually aroused as she was, she had enough confidence in herself not to personalize it.  She understood it had nothing to do with her.  She knew she was lovable and that Ed loved her.

Vignette 2: Sara
As a child, Sara grew up in a home where her parents were often fighting.  There were times when her father would disappear for months at a time and no one knew where he was or if he was coming back.  Even when both parents were at home, they were so engrossed in their arguments that they barely paid attention to Sara.  They often blamed her for their problems, even though she was a young child.  As a result, she developed an anxious/insecure attachment style.

As a married woman, Sara needed constant reassurance from Bob that she was attractive and desirable.  But no matter how many times he told her she was attractive and desirable, she never felt reassured.  Whenever Bob was too tired to have sex, she assumed it was because he didn't love her anymore.  What neither of them understood was that Sara was emotionally vulnerable to feeling this way because of her anxious/insecure attachment style.

In my next article, I'll address how Sara and Bob can overcome their problems to save their marriage.

Two people in a relationship won't always feel sexually aroused at the same time.  In most cases, a willingness on the part of the partner who might not start out aroused is enough for the other partner.  This is usually the case when the other partner feels secure and confident in him or herself (secure attachment).  

However, when the other partner struggles with insecure attachment, s/he gets emotionally triggered in these situations due to unresolved childhood trauma.  

More on this topic in my next article: Is a Willingness to Have Sex Enough to Get Started? Part 2.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have unresolved issues that are affecting your relationship, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who is a trauma expert (see my article: What is a Trauma Therapist?).

A skilled trauma therapist can help you to overcome the obstacles that are holding you back so you can live a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article: The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Psychotherapy).

I work with individual adults and couples to help them overcome unresolved trauma.

To find out more about me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.