What can make two healthy twenty-somethings turn to a sex therapist because, despite their desire, they have not had sex in months? What strange cosmic force impedes them from wearing out their mattresses? The answer is probably in the mind: in mistaken beliefs and ideologies that become chastity belts. Religions have demonized sex, pleasure and eroticism in the past and present. But now, a whole new range of ideas have come to deter couples from sex.
X and Y are a heterosexual couple in their twenties, with no health or financial problems. They have been living together for a short time. With a feminist perspective and an equal distribution of tasks, both maintain certain friendships separately, but they say that they are in love and desire each other. Sex is very important in their lives and a frequent topic of conversation with their colleagues and even with their parents. They decide to go see a sexologist, though, because they have not had sex for four months. She wants it more than he does. He begins to feel both pressured and guilty, because he doesn’t always feel like it and he can’t satisfy her. Her friends’ sexual adventures only add to her sense of wasted time and frustration.
“This profile abounds in couples therapy consultations because, curiously, now there are more problems in young people than in older people,” says Francisca Molero, a gynecologist and sexologist. “If the situation continues, she will no longer be so understanding, and he may even develop erection problems. The basis of this problem can be very high, unrealistic standards about sexuality and desire, often caused by porn or the stories that others tell us about their sexual exploits, which are not always true. Despite the fact that there is a lot of information, there is a lack of sexual education that banishes myths or false beliefs,” says Molero.
When it comes to sexuality, humans may prefer a variety of relationship models and proclivities. “Sexuality is a biopsychosocial and cultural dimension and, therefore, it is highly impregnated by the contemporary,” says Miren Larrazabal, clinical psychologist, sexologist and president of the International Society of Specialists in Sexology (SÍSEX). “There are very diverse sexualities, starting with the spectrum of asexuality, people who don’t have relationships, but do caress and kiss, although they don’t go further. There are couples who jointly decide not to have penetration to avoid the patriarchal model of heteronormative sexual relations. There’s lots of kinky sex, BDSM, open relationships, readers of The Ethical Slut by Dossie Easton and Janet W. Hardy, transitioning towards polyamory and, at the same time, young people with more traditional relationships than those of their parents, with a lot of jealousy and the constant demand for proof of love.”
There is a great desire to experiment, but does this respond to a true adventurous spirit, or merely a desire to follow trends? Are we victims of the moment’s erotic trends, confusing free love with neoliberal or consumerist love? Do we put ideology before our authentic sexual preferences?
That experimentation can generate headaches, as in the case of polyamorous people who seek expert assistance for jealousy management problems. “The first thing someone has to consider is whether this option, as valid and respectable as any other, matches their erotic personality,” says Toni Martín, a doctor, clinical sexologist and couples therapist, with a private practice in Barcelona. “I always say that you have to know each other sexually. My theory is that there are four well differentiated typologies, according to the fantasies one has. There are romantic fantasies, those that seek new sensations, those that involve strangers and those based on power relations. If you are romantic, polyamory will not work for you, in the same way that those who seek new sensations will find it difficult to comply with monogamy.”
“Everything cools down,” Martín adds. “It is the second law of thermodynamics, but for many couples, it is tragic to go from easy, testosterone-filled sex, from falling in love, to sex that is more peaceful and relaxed after they have been together for some time. In the long run, passion is undoubtedly lost, but intimacy is gained,” affirms the expert.
Have we become so lazy that we can only have sex if we feel the excitement of a teenager in full hormonal eruption? “An erroneous idea about desire shared by many young people is that it involves almost losing control of oneself, and that sex is not possible without that sensation,” Larrazabal says, “but what they don’t know is that desire doesn’t always come first. Sometimes, you have to start getting excited for the desire to appear later. This misconception leads many people to think that they suffer from hypoactive sexual desire, when they do not.”
In this hypersexualized world, studies show that the frequency of relations has dropped drastically. “I blame two important factors,” says Toni Martín. “On the one hand, there are social networks and screens after 10 at night, which prevent us from disconnecting. For this reason, one of the first measures that we propose when couples have not had sex is the digital blackout, starting at certain hours and on certain days.” On the other hand, there is pornography: “The excess of porn has accustomed people to very strong stimuli, which then do not correspond to daily life. With porn it is very easy to get turned on, but the degree of satisfaction is inversely proportional, without taking into account the feeling of emptiness that it leaves.”
Mere mortals can also lose their appeal, compared to the operated, muscled, and made-up superbeings that appear in porno-fiction.
“There is an enormous internal pressure regarding sexuality that creates problems where there are none,” says Francisca Molero. “You have to be physically perfect, always be willing, and sex becomes a test, a constant way of testing yourself to reach unrealistic standards. This generates a lot of anxiety and, in the long run, it can end up causing certain pathologies, such as erectile dysfunction,” he adds, leading to couples who have not had sex at all.
Disorders such as dyspareunia (pain during intercourse) or vaginismus (pain that makes penetration impossible) have increased in women in recent decades. “They almost always have a psychological basis,” Larrazabal points out. “The first may be due to the lack of erotic play, wanting to please the partner or self-imposed certain practices that we do not like, but that we believe we should carry out. These pain problems can lead to a phobia of sex or penetration,” adds the expert. Another situation where couples have not had sex.
“There is huge confusion around sex, due to the amount of information we have,” concludes Toni Martín. “We are inside a distracted mind that is looking for new sensations, but sexuality concentrates attention on the body, on the physical game, on the sensory. Our duty, today, is to temporarily turn off the mind in order to connect with the body.”