LMFT Therapy for Individuals or Couples
In working with couples on their sexual relationships, an issue that arises frequently is the challenge of sex and timing. Sometimes the difficulty is making time to be intimate amid busy life schedules. Other times, the problem lies in miscommunications or confusion about who was or wasn’t initiating or resisting a sexual overture. In most marriages, there is one party who is more interested in sex than the other, in frequency, length, or style. Therefore, there is an issue of trying to balance the needs of two people. In these and other cases, I often bring up the idea of scheduling specific nights of the week for sexual activity. People tend to have strong reactions to this idea- both positive and negative. I’d like to go through some of the pros and cons of this exercise, to help readers evaluate whether it may be a technique that could be helpful in their marriages. [While both men and women can and do feel more desire than a spouse, for simplicity’s sake, I will use the man as the stronger libido partner, since that is what I tend to see more frequently in my practice]:
The immediate and number one objection people have to set “sex nights” is that it eliminates the element of spontaneity, and doesn’t feel “natural”. Many people like to know that sex is a possibility at any time. Another concern is that it could create extra pressure and performance anxiety on the scheduled night for both parties. Additionally, spouses may feel resistance to the idea that they may need to “say no” to themselves on a night when they are in the mood, but sex is not on the schedule. They might worry about whether one may neglect the other on a night that is definitely off limits for sex. They also inevitably question what happens if there is something comes up on that night that needs to delay the sex, (such as a medical emergency, a late wedding or dinner), or if someone really wants to “break the rule”. Clearly, the idea of premeditated, prescribed sex rubs some people the wrong way.
For the less enthused partner, clarity about what is “expected” takes a lot of the pressure off the table for the other nights. She then feels free to enjoy chatting, cuddling, and bonding without wondering “where this is leading” or if he’s “only doing this to get to sex”. For the partner who has stronger desire, this guarantees at least a specific amount of weekly sexual activity, ensuring that he will not be open-endedly deprived, or limited to the whims and moods of his spouse. Another benefit is that it helps avoid confusion and ambiguity. So often, a couple builds mutual resentment or even anger, based on mixed messages. “I thought it was a given that we were going to have sex tonight, and then she got on the phone with her sister for two hours!” or: “I thought it was obvious from how late we went to bed last night, that I would be too tired tonight!” There is also usually discomfort to discuss sexual hopes and intentions, on any given day or in general. One may begin to flirt or fondle with the simple intent to play, while the other interprets it as a green light to go full speed ahead. Depending on which direction it takes, someone usually ends up feeling unhappy. If they ended up having sex when she didn’t really want to, she may feel used and resentful. If they ended up not, he may feel deprived and frustrated. And a marriage is only as strong as the less happy spouse. Other times, one spouse may have felt he requested a sexual date, while the other completely misheard, and then went to sleep right away, leaving her partner feeling rejected. A scheduled sex night provides the opportunity for preparation. They can groom themselves, mentally and physically during the day, plan the evening, accordingly to clear time and create favorable and relaxing ambience to maximize the experience. One more important advantage is that when couples know and anticipate a sexual rendezvous, it gives them an easier opportunity to communicate in advance about any feedback or requests they may have to improve their sexual play, rather than just “playing it by” ear and guessing, which is more common, and less effective.
For these reasons, I am generally in favor of discussing and exploring this exercise as a possibility. Some couples ask how strict the rule needs to be. I say that depends on the couple. If someone really needs to feel “safe” from being solicited on certain nights for a while, I would say they should try to stick with the program. On the other hand, if it’s more about making sure not too much time lapses between sexual encounters, but no one has a strong aversion, then laxity won’t do much harm. For the most part, I look at this idea as experimental for each couple, and as a temporary arrangement. Once the couple feels that the sexual relationship has reached a stability and equilibrium that’s comfortable for both, they can always move back to sex on a more organic, “as wanted” basis. On the other hand, if it’s advantageous for them, they know that if they run into the problem in the future, they can always go back to this tool to tune things up again.
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