The couple arrived at my office with a common problem. They had an
8-month-old and a 3-year-old. The husband was starved for physical contact and
had been since baby No. 1 was born. But between the nursing infant and the
clinging toddler, the wife was getting just about as much physical contact as
she could stand.
Over the course of several sessions, I explored what might be affecting
their sex life by asking them some gentle questions. Could the mother have
postpartum depression? Was the couple aware that prolactin, the breastfeeding
hormone, suppresses sexual desire? And what was sex like before kids?
Whether you're new to the dating scene, a regular player, or jumping back
into the game after a long hiatus, the same questions about dating rules apply:
How soon do you lean over for that first kiss? Is it too early for a steamy
make-out session? And last -- but by no means least -- how do you know when the
time is right for sex?
"There's really no formula that I've encountered," says 28-year-old Andrew
Reymer, a single resident of Baltimore, Maryland. "It depends on how rapidly or
This case is typical of both the kind of people who visit sex therapists and
the type of work therapists do. Sex therapists focus specifically on the sexual
side of relationships -- that intimate zone that is so hard to discuss but is
so crucial to a relationship’s health. Their chief treatment method is talk
therapy, designed to help clients explore issues that may affect their
sexuality. They suggest touching exercises for couples to try at home and teach
couples how to become more intimate. (They don’t touch their clients in an
Sex therapists -- who most often are certified by one of two professional
organizations in the United States -- address a variety of issues. Physically,
clients may have trouble reaching orgasm or sustaining an erection.
Emotionally, they may have problems concerning their self-esteem, body image,
or an earlier trauma, such as abuse. And, interpersonally, they may disagree
with their partner about how often -- or how -- they should have sex.
Treating Sexual Dysfunction
Take the couple described above. I discovered that the wife was indeed
feeling depressed, overwhelmed, and badly out of shape, and that she resented
her husband for not doing more around the house. The husband’s frustration
about her “coldness,” in turn, was partly triggered by his own upbringing, in
which he never felt he got as much physical affection as he wanted.
Once we were clear on these issues, we came up with a plan: The husband
would pitch in more, which included giving the wife time to exercise. The wife
would try to touch her husband more (both in and out of bed). And both said
they would be more honest about what they needed. It was hard work -- and took
honesty and courage -- but after several months their sex life was back on
If your own sex life is in the doldrums, try reconnecting with your passion
-- and your partner -- with these strategies:
Make a date. Time with your spouse is crucial for rekindling
romance, especially for women, who often need emotional closeness to get
Snuggle up. Nonsexual touching triggers the release of the hormone
oxytocin, which has a calming effect.
Get help. Call on friends, family, or professionals to help lighten
your load, whether it’s from childcare, housework, or overwhelming