NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, July 4, 2021

Sexual Wellness: What is Sexual Boredom in Long Term Relationships?

It's not unusual for one or both individuals in a long term relationship to feel bored with their sex life.  A recent survey of 653 adults cited in the Journal of Sex and Marital Therapy revealed that most people in long term relationships have experienced sexual boredom (see my articles: What is Good Sex? and Do You Remember What It Was Like to Have Fun in Your Relationship?).

What is Sexual Boredom?

What is Sexual Boredom?
About half of the respondents in the survey defined sexual boredom as sex being routine, monotonous and repetitive.  

Others indicated that sexual boredom resulted from sex feeling like an obligation in their relationship as opposed to being a pleasurable activity.

Other respondents said they experienced sexual boredom from being with the same sexual partner for a long time.  Other issues cited included low libido, difficulty reaching orgasm, and reduced sexual pleasure.  Some respondents also reported a decrease in sexual frequency and lack of affection or emotional connection with their long term partner.

The 3 Themes of Sexual Boredom
The survey cited three basic themes or factors regarding sexual boredom:
  • Individual factors
  • Interpersonal factors 
  • Practice Related factors
Individual factors
  • difficulty concentrating or being present during sex
  • feeling sad during sex
  • feeling indifferent about sex
  • feeling tired
Interpersonal factors:
  • feeling their partner was selfish during sex
  • feeling their partner wasn't enjoying sex as much as they were
Practice-related factors:
  • feeling bored due to a limited sexual repertoire in their relationship

Clinical Vignette: Sexual Boredom in a Long Term Relationship
The following vignette is a composite of many different cases (with no identifying information to preserve confidentiality) which illustrates a typical scenario:

John and Jane
When John and Jane began couples therapy, they were both in their early 50s and married for 15 years.  They had no children, and it was the second marriage for each of them (see my article: What is Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT) For Couples?).

Jane was the one who sought couples therapy because, even though she felt they had a loving marriage and they had no other major problems, she was concerned about their dwindling sex life.  

Although John was initially reluctant to attend couples therapy because he didn't think it would be helpful, as the therapy progressed, he saw the value in therapy and he became more of an active participant.  

Both of them told the couples therapist that they still loved the other and they wanted to repair their marriage.

During their initial session, Jane said that even though sex was never very passionate between them--not even during their two years of dating--she had hoped it would improve once they got married.  She said she felt disappointed that it had not improved and that it had become infrequent, boring and routine.

One of the reasons why she married John was because she knew he was "a good man" that she could trust, which was important to her after her experience with infidelity in her first marriage.  

However, over the years their sex life had dwindled down to just once or twice a year.  She said sex had become routine and boring to her, and she sensed that John was also bored, but he was reluctant to talk about it with her (see my articles: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

Jane felt their sexual repertoire was very limited.  In an effort to spice up their sex life, Jane suggested several years before that they try new things.  One thing she suggested was using sex toys, but John was unwilling because he felt uncomfortable and embarrassed about sex toys.  She also sensed he felt threatened and sexually diminished by the idea of using sex toys.  

John acknowledged to the couples therapist that he couldn't understand why they would need sex toys.  He said it made him feel like less than a man that his wife would want sex toys.  In response, the couples therapist said they would talk about this in future couples sessions.

Another thing Jane suggested was watching pornography, but John wasn't open to watching porn.  He told the couples therapist that he felt embarrassed watching other people having sex--even if it was only a video.

In general, Jane said, John had such difficulty talking about sex that she had all but given up trying to spice up their sex life.  But she also felt they were too young to give up.  She was close to tears when she told the couples therapist that she couldn't stand the idea that they might spend the rest of their lives together enduring boring sex or no sex.

The couples therapist met with John and Jane individually for a few sessions each to get their family and sexual histories.  She assured each of them that whatever they told her in these sessions was confidential and she wouldn't reveal to the other spouse what they told her without their permission.

It turned out that Jane came from an affluent liberal family where her parents were open to talking about sex.  Jane's mother talked to her about menstruation by the time Jane was eight years old.  She also gave Jane a book about sex when Jane was 12 years old and then discussed it with her afterwards.

John came from a struggling working class immigrant family with conservative values.  He said sex was a taboo subject in his family, and no one ever talked about it.  He said he grew up feeling confused about sex, and he knew he couldn't approach either of his parents to talk about it.  Eventually, he said, he learned what little he knew about sex at a young age from talking to his friends when he was about 13 years old.  

With regard to their individual sexual histories, prior to his first marriage, John had very limited sexual experience.  He said he didn't date at all when he was in high school because he was very shy.  He had his first experience with sexual intercourse after a night of drinking at a party when he was a sophomore in college.  He described it as "embarrassing" because he experienced premature sexual ejaculation, and the young woman he was with got angry with him. 

He also indicated that sex wasn't that important for him or his first wife during their five years of marriage. They divorced because they were constantly arguing about money.  From John's perspective, she was a spendthrift who had high credit card debt, and he was a saver with almost little debt.  As a result, they were never able to negotiate the financial part of their relationship.

Jane indicated that she was sexually active, in terms of kissing and touching sexually, from the time she was 15.  She had her first experience with sexual intercourse with her first boyfriend when she was 17.  They eventually drifted apart when they went to different colleges.  

She was sexually active with both men and women when she was in college, but she preferred men.  Eventually, she got married to a man she began dating in her senior year of college.  Initially, she was happy in her marriage and she felt they had a satisfying sex life.  However, in their third year of marriage, Jane discovered her husband was having an affair with a former girlfriend (see my article: Infidelity: Should You Stay or Should You Go?).

Even though she felt betrayed by her first husband, she forgave him and they tried to repair their marriage.  However, several months later, she discovered he was still having an affair with the same woman, and Jane filed for divorce.  

When the couples therapist met with John and Jane together, she told them she wanted to get a sense of how they typically interacted sexually as part of their couples therapy (see my article: Understanding Your Sex Script).

When she asked them to describe the last time they had sex, neither of them could remember when the last time had been.  Jane thought it was about six months ago and John thought it might have been four months ago.

Jane said she was usually the one who initiated sex, although she had become more hesitant about it because she was tired of always being the initiator.  She also felt bored and frustrated that John wasn't open to trying new things, and she sensed that John was bored too--even though he never talked about it.

According to Jane, typically, they began by cuddling in bed while watching TV.  Then, if she felt sexually aroused, she reached over and massaged John's penis until he became erect. After they had intercourse, they both rolled over and went to sleep.

Early in their marriage, Jane said, they used to kiss and caress each other more before sexual intercourse, but during the last several years, they had intercourse without any foreplay or affection, and she missed those aspects of their sex life.  

Jane said that whenever they had sex John always had an orgasm. She said she used to have orgasms more regularly earlier in their marriage, but she rarely had an orgasm anymore.  Since John was so uncomfortable talking about sex, they didn't discuss that she experienced little pleasure during sex (see my article: Closing the Orgasm Gap - Part 1 and Part 2).

At that point, as John listened to Jane, he looked embarrassed.  He apologized to Jane for being so inconsiderate, and Jane responded by reaching out and taking John's hand.  They both agreed they were committed to coming to weekly couples therapy sessions to improve their relationship.

My Next Article:
In my next article, I'll continue describing the next phase of couples therapy for these fictional characters, John and Jane, to show how couples therapy can help improve a couples' sex life (see my article: Overcoming Boredom in Long Term Relationships).

Getting Help in Therapy
Sexual boredom is a common problem in many long term relationships due to many individual, relational and sexual practice related issues.

If you have been unable to resolve problems on your own, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional who has expertise with your problem.

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome the obstacles that keep you from leading 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 Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

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.