“I just don’t desire sex anymore.” James solemnly stated with an air of defeat in his voice. His wife Susan let out an exasperated sigh. With a hopeless look upon her face, her eyes began filling with tears. They both looked to me with a sense of inevitability, that this is just the unavoidable reality of their marriage.
Too many couples have played out similar scenes in my office. Few hurts can cut as deep as sexual dissatisfaction. All too often couples simply accept it as fate, that they will never experience the type of sexual and emotional intimacy they once desired. And it is because of this sad acceptance that they are perplexed when I respond with the question, “Tell me about how you’ve attempted to build sexual desire for your wife?” He didn’t know how to answer. He’d never even considered that sexual desire could be something he could influence or strengthen. Few of us have.
We have come to believe that our sexuality is an entirely inexplicable and uncontrollable force. We can’t control it or influence it. It simply is. When sexual desire and arousal is strong, we are subject to the whim of it’s longings. When sexual desire vanishes, we just wait expectantly for it’s return. This couldn’t be further from reality.
Sexual desire and attraction is strengthened through actively indulging sexual fantasy. Yes, indulging sexual fantasy is necessary for having healthy sexual desire in marriage! But beware, indulging misdirected and inappropriate sexual fantasy may bring with it the destruction of your marriage. Sexual fantasy is a powerful force that will shape and direct your sexual desire, attraction and arousal. Creating sexual fantasy about your co-worker, neighbor or best friends spouse is a betrayal in itself and will lead to growing sexual desire for the wrong person. There is a reason we use flame as a metaphor for sexual desire: when used appropriately it holds incredible power and potential, but when misused it can lead to devastating acts of destruction. Sex and sexual fantasy is not to be feared, but to be respected and guarded. Let’s look more closely at healthy vs. unhealthy sexual desire.
Healthy sexual fantasy is…
This means that healthy sexual fantasy respects your spouse. You should know the limits and boundaries of what your spouse finds sensual, pleasurable and arousing. (If you don’t, we’ll cover that in a separate post on sexual communication.) Indulging in honoring sexual fantasy is to respect these boundaries even within your own mind. What we think influences how we act. So if we intend to honor our spouse in sexual encounters, then we need to honor them in our sexual fantasies. A good test for whether your fantasies are honoring, imagine that your fantasy was being projected on a screen that you and your spouse were watching. Would they feel diminished, objectified, or degraded? If so, then your fantasy is not honoring of them.
A healthy sexual fantasy is focused on the sexual pleasure of both spouses. Healthy sexual fantasy is not selfish at the exclusion of the other. It is being able to move between selflessly giving sexual pleasure to your spouse and then freely accepting the pleasure that your spouse is offering to you. Due to the manner in which we are socialized, most frequently women will need to learn how to focus more on their own sexual pleasure and men will need to focus more on giving pleasure to their partner. If your sexual fantasy is focused predominantly on yourself, try to expand it by focusing on the satisfaction you receive by witnessing your spouse enjoying the pleasure you are providing.
Healthy sex is not boring! It is dynamic, playful and creative. Likewise, your sexual fantasy should be as well. So long as the first two attributes are being followed, feel free to explore, be creative and imagine what new things might be fun and exciting. Learn how to expand on the sexual act itself. Find new ways to be flirtatious, to entice your spouse, to stoke the flames of desire within your sexual fantasy. Incorporate the emotional intimacy and depth of connection into your fantasy, the embrace, the touch, the closeness. Sex should be fun, so make sure your sexual fantasy is as well!
It is my desire for your marriage to experience the fullness of sex. For it to be creative, mutually pleasurable and honoring of one another. I’d encourage you to read this post to or with your spouse. And then ask them if they wish something could be different about the sexual intimacy in the marriage. Are you both satisfied with current state of sex in your marriage? Start the conversation, and if necessary, don’t be afraid to seek out the help of professionals as you find ways to rekindle the sexual desire in your marriage.