Webchat with relationships expert Suzi Godson

 

Suzi Godson at MNHQSuzi Godson joined for a live webchat in November 2011 to tackle your problems around sex and relationships, as well as answering questions on topics such as miscarriage, missing libido and Asperger's, and extolling the joys of hotel sex.

Suzi is sex and relationships expert for The Times and her Saturday Sex Counsel columns have been published as a book. She is also the author of the The Body Bible and the award-winning The Sex Book, which has been translated into 15 languages. For the last year she has been editing Moresexdaily.com, a free resource which aims to help couples sustain sex in long-term relationships. 

Sex and relationship strain after children | Low libido | Partner problems| Miscarriage | Other

 

Sex and relationships after children

Letter QFloweryTablecloths: I am assuming this is a common problem but I find it really hard to separate the roles of lover and mother, and hate for the lines to be blurred. I have two young children under the age of three, and feel that for instance, my boobs are now for feeding and not for sex, which is a shame as they were amazingly sensitive (in a good way) when I was pregnant. Any advice much appreciated on how I can flick a switch in my brain that makes it easier to not worry about being a lover and mother.

"Breastfeeding is such an intimate experience and it feels weird to make the switch to being sexual."

Letter A

Suzi: This is a really interesting question and I think all mums feel this way to some extent. The physical toll of having kids is enormous and you just don't feel your body is the same at all. Also, breastfeeding is such an intimate experience and it feels weird to make the switch to being sexual, particularly when your baby is in close proximity.

There has been a fair bit of research into the link between breastfeeding and low libido, and of five studies comparing the sexual experiences of women who chose to breastfeed against women who chose to formula-feed, four of them found that mothers who breastfed were less interested in sex, less likely to be having it, and more likely to find it painful when they did. Breastfeeding releases oxytocin (the bonding hormone) and it is the number one passion killer. It stamps out feelings of arousal because in evolutionary terms, if a baby was being breastfed it was not in its best interest for its mother to have sex and get pregnant again. Basically, it was a way of ensuring that the baby would not have to compete for food.

Things will change once you stop breastfeeding, but it may take a few months. There is not a great deal of research into the subject of sex after breastfeeding, but a study carried out in 1994 by a team at the University of Sydney found that within three to four weeks of weaning, those women who had been breastfeeding for six months-plus were feeling less milkmaid and more sex kitten.

Phasing out breastfeeding often takes a month or longer and, even after the final feed, it can take weeks for the breasts to stop lactating. It also takes time for hormone levels to adjust, which is why, after weaning, so many women report feeling as if they have terrible PMT.

I wrote a column about this issue, which is published in my book Sex Counsel but I have posted it here so you can read it.

Letter Qcheekychickenknickers: My husband and I have slipped into a once-every-couple-of-months kind of relationship. We cuddle every day, fall asleep snuggled up and snuggle in the morning. We are very touchy feely, openly talk about loving each other, and often chat about wanting more sex, but it doesn't materialise and we slip back into the rut. I know that he masturbates, he knows that I do. And in my over-analysis, I want more babies, but he most definitely doesn't. 

I want him to have a vasectomy, because the best sex we have ever had was when we were trying for a baby or pregnant, as anxieties over getting pregnant had been removed.

Letter A

Suzi: Firstly, there are lots of good things going on here. You are snuggling and cuddling and touchy-feely with each other and that is a sign that your relationship is in good shape, but it also sounds as there is a huge big issue which the two of you have not resolved, and that is, whether or not you want to have any more kids. You say you do and he doesn't, but then you also say you want him to have a vasectomy?

I'm not sure how many kids you have already, but there may be lots of very practical reasons why your hubby doesn't want any more. Sure, making them is great fun, but the long-term cost of raising a child is approximately £200k. That is an expensive way of getting your love life back on track.

I think it is healthy that you both know and accept that you masturbate. It is completely normal and I don't think any of us have a right to police each other in that regard. However, if you are both masturbating, and yet you both want to have sex, it sounds as if you are channeling your sexual energies away from each other to some degree.

Basically, I think you are both avoiding sex because you know there is an underlying conflict associated with it. What you now need to do is clarify, once and for all, whether you do, or don't want more children. If you can come to an agreement on that major issue, then, as you say, you will eliminate a major source of anxiety for both of you. Either you go ahead and try for a last baby, or you sort out long term contraception, in which case you get to have lots of great sex and end up £200k richer at the same time. Bonus. 

Letter Q

ferfuxache: I've been with my partner for over 10 years, and we have two small children. We rarely have sex, and if I'm honest I think it only bothers me because I just think we should rather than actually missing it. Logically, I can see a while range of reasons for this situation - we had trouble conceiving our first child before success through IVF, so it was preceded by two years of fairly joyless sex aimed purely at conception.

Since then we have been through the usual lack of sleep with young children, and my husband struggles with depression with a stressful job. Plus, we are both overweight, and to top all that off we both probably drink too much. I also suffered a third-degree tear when I gave birth to our youngest, so I was quite anxious about having sex after that. I still care for my partner but to be honest (and this is the first time I've really admitted it) I don't fancy him, and I don't really think he fancies me either. Is there any hope for us?!

Letter A

Suzi: Thank you so much for posting this question. I think you have been really honest and that is not always easy. Given your circumstances, I think I would be more surprised if you were interested in sex. It sounds like you have had a tough time and if your partner is depressed and stressed he is unlikely to feel particularly sexual. Although I strongly believe that it is important to try to sustain intimacy in a long-term relationship, if neither of you feels like sex, and neither of you feels that not having it is creating problems, then there is no problem.

"Sex ebbs and flows in long term relationships. Sometimes you have lots of it and sometimes you don't, and right now I think you and your husband should let yourself off the hook and accept that a goodnight kiss and cuddle is all either of you want or need."

Sex ebbs and flows in long-term relationships. Sometimes you have lots of it and sometimes you don't, and right now I think you and your husband should let yourself off the hook and accept that a goodnight kiss and cuddle is all either of you want or need.

On a more practical note, being overweight and drinking too much is, as you say, unlikely to be helping either of you. I know only too well how easy it is to get to 'wine o clock' and think "sod it, I'll finish the bottle", but alcohol is a depressant, it packs on the pounds, and it also suppresses the libido. Try cutting back so that you just drink on weekends. Also, is there any way you and your DH could get into the habit of taking the kids for a walk, or to the park, so that you get some exercise together as a family? Or maybe you could take turns going to the gym in the evening? Getting fit would make you both feel better. Exercise helps alleviate depression and it is a fantastic libido booster, too.

Letter Qhotrodret: Since having my two children (they're four months, and 19 months) I have lost all interest in sex. By the end of the day when it's time to go to bed, I'm shattered. Most nights one of the children has me up so I have broken sleep more often than not. When I go to bed I feel it's my own personal time, but I feel on call constantly, and it's not my children, it's my husband who needs fulfilling.

 I almost dread my husband comimg to bed as i think 'Is he going to want sex tonight? Is he going to wake me up in the night?' When I say I am going up to bed he sighs so I will feel guilty, but I need to catch up on my sleep. He never gets up to help the children in the night or in the morning, even when I have work and he doesn't.

I think I'm beginning to resent this, and think 'Well, why should I give you what you want when you don't help me?' He keeps saying he is frustrated and I can understand that, but the more he makes sex an issue the more I don't want it. I don't know if I need to see my GP or what to do.

"Couples often use topics such as money, sex or housework to fight for their deeper needs within a relationship. And arguing about how often to have sex is nearly always about feeling loved and cared for and deeper needs for connection and affection."

Letter A

Suzi: You are clearly angry with each other and it is playing out in the bedroom. I can totally imagine the conversations - "You never want to have sex with me." "Well I wouldn't be so tired if you bothered get off your a*se and help once in a while."

In his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, the psychology professor and relationship expert John Gottman says that 69% of the things over which couples disagree will never go away or be fully resolved, so couples need to learn how to argue in more effective ways.

Couples often use topics such as money, sex or housework to fight for their deeper needs within a relationship. For example, rows about housework or being dumped with all the responsibility for the kids are often about unfilled needs for respect and worth. And arguing about how often to have sex is nearly always about feeling loved and cared for and deeper needs for connection and affection.

Viewed in that context, you want more kindness, more respect, more support. And he wants to feel that you love him as much as you love the kids. I think you guys should think about talking to a relationship counsellor (BACP/Relate) because these cyclical problems that can wear a relationship down very quickly. 
 

Low libido

Letter Q

nenevomito: The physical side of my relationship with my husband has all but disappeared and I would say in the last three years, we've had sex about eight times in total (and I'm being generous there). I think part of the problem is that its been so long that neither of us even knows how to go about initiating it any more.

Letter A

Suzi:  I think you have hit the nail on the head. The longer you leave it, the harder it is to get back into it ,which is why it is important to try and keep it going, even at a basic level. As Dr David Goldmeier, clinical lead for the Jane Wadsworth Sexual Function Clinic, in London, says, "Once a couple stop having sex, even for a few months, they slip into 'non-sexual relationship mode' where it becomes very difficult to initiate sex. They, in effect, become platonic partners in a conspiracy of silence."

It is also worth pointing out that in a long-term relationship it is always the partner with the lower sex drive who determines the levels of sexual frequency in the relationship. If he or she doesn't want it, it doesn't happen and there is nothing the other partner can do about it. That is pretty unfair and leads to a whole host of bad feelings.

"In a long-term relationship, it is always the partner with the lower sex drive who determines the level of sexual frequency."

Couples who don't have sex suffer more from depression and psychological problems. They also have more arguments and feelings of stress, worthlessness and low self-esteem. And, inevitably, it is associated with increased risk of divorce and relationship dissolution (Karney, 1995). And if a couple are not having sex with each other, they increase the risk of one or both partners eventually having sex with someone else.

In his book, Why Marriages Succeed or Fail, psychology professor and relationship expert John Gottman describes long-term relationships as being "like the second law of thermodynamics that says that closed energy systems tend to run down and get less orderly over time". What he means by that is if you do nothing to make things get better in your relationship, it will still tend to get worse, even if you don't actually do anything wrong.

Discussing these issues honestly with your partner is the first step. You'll find some good guidance on my site and there is a fairly comprehensive book list there, too. Make time for sex. I know we all think it should happen spontaneously but it won't. Arrange it all in advance. Get rid of the kids. Makes sure the bedroom is tidy and the bedlinen is ironed. Take a bath together. Light candles. Drink champagne (or cava in these recessionary times) and just go for it. There is no time like the present and no one ever died wishing they had had less sex.

Letter QDriveGone: I just seem to have no sex drive anymore. I love my husband (we have been together for 11 years, married for seven) and find him attractive but I just seem to have no sexual desire. I don't think it is him as I don't even masturbate or have feelings towards other men. I have two young children and constantly feel shattered. When we do have sex, I am often just thinking I would rather be asleep. My husband is very patient but I am worried this will drive us apart, what can I do to get things going again. Can you permanently lose your sex drive?

Letter A

Suzi: Small kids are a drain, but if you have lost your libido and feel permanently shattered you may actually be run down, depressed, or suffering from an undiagnosed illness. You really need to make an appointment with your GP to talk about how you are feeling physically, and most importantly, be brave enough to mention your loss of libido and the fact that you don't even masturbate.

Your GP will be able to assess whether he or she needs to treat you (depression, thyroid, hormones, virus - I can think of tons of reasons why you might feel this way) or whether you need to be referred to a specialist for more specific sexual help. I'm not sure where you are in the country but The Jane Wadsworth Clinic at St Mary's Hospital in Paddington has a fantastic clinic which treats both the physical and psychological causes of low sexual desire simultaneously.

"I know it can be very difficult to talk about personal issues, and none of us feel comfortable talking about sexual difficulties, but if you don't ask for help you won't receive any, and often admitting that you have a problem can be such a huge relief that the situation begins to improve immediately."

I know it can be very difficult to talk about personal issues, and none of us feel comfortable talking about sexual difficulties, but if you don't ask for help you won't receive any, and often just taking the first step and admitting that you have a problem, and that you need help solving it, can be such a huge relief that the situation begins to improve immediately anyway.

Talking about it will also take the pressure off your husband who probably feels responsible but does not know what he can do to help. Men are solution oriented. They like to be able to fix things, to make them better, to make them go away, so they find it very frustrating when they can't help. If he knows you are going to see a doctor he will, at least, feel that you are moving towards a resolution.

Taking good care of yourself is very important. A good diet, not too much booze and exercise can all help to decrease tension and make you feel better. You don't mention how old your kids are, but is there any way you could get some time off? Have you got a kindly mum or mother-in-law who would step in while you and your husband got away for a few days (see my note to teeschlurfenderdino on hotel sex)?

Finally, libido is something that you can encourage. If sex feels like a chore, I can guarantee you that only the most stubborn can last longer than 60 seconds with a splash of lube and a Plug-in Magic Wand vibrator. It is worth a try because orgasm is a fantastic way of improving your mood and it also helps you to sleep better and to feel more relaxed.

Letter Qanyoldexcuse: I'm in a long-term, very loving relationship. We have two children, and the youngest is only a few months so it has been hard to find the time and energy for sex. He still fancies me and is keen to have sex often. But even aside from the time issue, I just don't seem to have any libido. I just don't feel like I need sex, but for the sake of my relationship I really want to get back into it and start enjoying it! Where to start?

Letter A

Suzi: Heavens to Betsy, you only gave birth eight weeks ago! At that point I think I was still watching Loose Women in my nightie with cabbage leaves on my boobs. Give yourself a chance, love. Your libido is on hold because you have a bigger priority at this particular moment, but once things settle down you will will bounce back. I have posted a column I wrote about on this issue here and it might help you to see your lack of libido in a more sympathetic light.

"Don't underestimate the power of responsive desire - having sex makes you want to have sex."

In the meantime, when it comes to libido, don't underestimate the power of responsive desire. I'm cutting and pasting a little extract from some work by Dr Rosemary Basson here. Her research suggests that in women, desire and arousal can occur after sexual intercourse has begun - in other words, having sex makes you want to have sex. According to Basson:

 "Women have many reasons for engaging in sexual activity other than sexual hunger or drive, as the traditional model suggests. Although many women may experience spontaneous desire and interest while in the throes of a new sexual relationship or after a long separation from a partner, most women in long-term relationships do not frequently think of sex or experience spontaneous hunger for sexual activity.

In these latter cases, Basson suggests that a desire for increased emotional closeness and intimacy or overtures from a partner may predispose a woman to participate in sexual activity. From this point of sexual neutrality - where a woman is receptive to being sexual but does not initiate sexual activity - the desire for intimacy prompts her to seek ways to become sexually aroused via conversation, music, reading or viewing erotic materials, or direct stimulation. Once she is aroused, sexual desire emerges and motivates her to continue the activity. On the road to satisfaction, there are many points of vulnerability that may derail or distract a woman from feeling sexually fulfilled. The Basson model clarifies that the goal of sexual activity for women is not necessarily orgasm but rather personal satisfaction, which can manifest as physical satisfaction (orgasm) and/or emotional satisfaction (a feeling of intimacy and connection with a partner)."

Some feminists have interpreted Basson's research in a negative way, suggesting that it somehow gives licence to men to have sex with women who don't want it, but she is a director of sexual medicine at the University of British Columbia and a full-time sexual medicine physician at the Center for Sexual Medicine at Vancouver Hospital, and I think what she says makes sense. I intend to do a more detailed piece on responsive desire for Moresexdaily.com if you are interested in finding out more.

Letter QDotty342kids: I find it hard to 'find' my libido. If I'm being really honest I would rather be asleep, or reading a book. We've been married 10 years and my husband's sex drive is as enormous as it ever was and he constantly wants it to be more exciting. I try to keep up but after a month or two of putting extra effort in it just fizzles out again and then his dissatisfaction creeps back in and we're back to square one. Can a marriage survive with two very different sex drives do you think?

Letter A

Suzi:  I think this is interesting because differing libidos are a real problem. As I have said to previous posters, if both partners have lost interest it isn't really a problem, at least initially, but when one person wants lots of sex and the other doesn't it can cause real difficulties. There is no easy solution but you may need to reach some sort of a compromise agreement.

"If both partners have lost interest it isn't really a problem, at least initially, but when one person wants lots of sex and the other doesn't it can cause real difficulties. There is no easy solution but you may need to reach some sort of a compromise agreement."

Work out what you would both be willing to settle for and then stick to it - whether you feel like it or not. Relationships are all about compromise and although we instinctively believe that we should not be persuaded to have sex if we don't feel like it, in reality, we probably persuade our husbands to do things that they don't necessarily feel like doing either. I do think that where there is an identifiable area of conflict, such as the one you describe, the way to work through it is to be honest and talk it out. Avoiding it is the worst tactic because it just leaves everyone feeling frustrated. 
 

Partner problems

Letter Qbumbums: My husband and I have a poor sex life. We've never been red-hot lovers but I was happy. Since having two children (the youngest being two and a half)  I am a stone heavier and have a saggy belly and boobs. My husband is at the peak of his career and has the work-life balance completely tilted to work. He has said in the past that he doesn't find me as attractive anymore, and he is a control freak and so has always wanted to take the initiative as far as come-ons go. So I learned early on not to come on to him. He's not a massively sexual person anyway, unlike some men who are randy all the time. For him, the stars have to align, he can't be tired or stressed, and he has to feel sexy too, and so on.

So, the affection has gone from our marriage because he never spontaneously hugs, strokes, kisses or touches me. I cuddle him sometimes and ask for a kiss. We haven't had sex for six months. How do we get our physical relationship back? I told my husband months ago how unhappy I was with our physical relationship and he's done nothing to improve things.

Letter A

Suzi: Lots of men struggle to restore an intimate relationship with their wives after childbirth but this sounds more extreme. You have made it clear that you feel very unhappy about the lack of affection in your relationship, and if you husband valued you as he should, he would recognise that the absence of sexual intimacy makes you feel inadequate and rejected.

"There is, in my experience, a certain rather specific kind of cruelty associated with withholding sex."

It cannot be easy to live with a man who is both controlling and unaffectionate and there is, in my experience, a certain rather specific kind of cruelty associated with withholding sex. Yes, there are a million valid excuses why a busy man might want to put off having sex with the mother of his children, but over a six-month period? It is hard not to deduce that your husband gets some kind of kick out of denying you.

In my experience, men like your husband only want what they cannot have, so the more you ask, the less you will get. I know it is hard with young children, but if you are determined to make this marriage work, you need to withdraw, both emotionally and physically, and work on building up your own self-esteem, because you husband clearly isn't going to help you.

You are obviously not happy with the way you look, so do something about it. Get into sport. Have abdominoplasty. Do whatever it takes to make yourself love the way you look. Get out as much as you can. Hire a sitter or leave him to babysit. Take night classes. Do a part-time degree. The more you invest in yourself, the more you challenge yourself, the more you distance yourself, the more he will begin to notice that the person he took for granted has pulled away and begun to carve an autonomous identity for herself. Once he realises that he cannot control you anymore, I guarantee he will be begging for your attention.

Letter Qpink4ever: My husband isn't interested in sex anymore. We do it once a week and even then it's only because I complain a lot! He makes it pretty obvious he doesn't find me attractive any longer and he never cuddles or kisses me. I have tried to talk about this, and tried the usual stuff (suggested dressing up, role play, dirty talk) but it doesn't work. He will make an effort briefly but then he goes back to normal. I am only 35 and want to be having loads more sex. Any advice?

"I have always been suspicious of the of the 'twice a week' statistic that is bandied around because that figure is a mean, or average, so it includes 20-year-olds who are doing it five times a night as well as people who aren't having any sex at all. "

Letter A

Suzi: Sexual frequency is a bit of a pet subject of mine. For the past year I have been carrying out a survey at www.moresexdaily.com/the-survey/ in order to establish a more accurate picture of sexual frequency in the UK. I have always been suspicious of the of the 'twice a week' statistic that is bandied around because that figure is a mean, or average, so it includes 20-year-olds who are doing it five times a night, as well as people who aren't having any sex at all. I also doubt the validity of surveys such as the Durex global survey because it is mostly filled in by young men who want to brag about how much sex they have, so I don't think the data is very reliable.

So far, my data, sadly, confirms my worst suspicions. The downside is that we, as a nation, are not having half as much sex as we pretend to. The upside is that it means you are doing incredibly well to be having sex once a week given that you are married, a mother and over 35 years of age.

If you think your husband is not interested it may be because he feels you are being overly needy (see my advice to bumbums on autonomy and investing in yourself) and you might find that if you make fewer demands on him he may respond differently. Thinking through the situation from his perspective might also give you some insight into how and why he is behaving the way he is.

I don't know your particular situation but I know that being a mum of small children can be pretty boring and it is very easy to become completely mum-centric. By the time your partner comes home from work, you are craving adult company as well as reassurance that you have not turned into a lump of play-dough.

"I know lots of guys who stay at the office far longer than they should simply because they can't face the re-entry period when they get home from work."

It can be a bit overwhelming for men and I know lots of guys who stay at the office far longer than they should simply because they can't face the re-entry period when they get home from work. Is he feeling overwhelmed? And if he is, is there a way you could take the pressure off?

Letter Qmadandunhappy: I desparately need your help. My husband, for the past three and a half years, has made every excuse for not wanting sex. First, I was pregnant; then he was unhappy at work; and now he says he is worried about not satisfying me, so doesn't want to. I can't face the rest of my life without sex (I am 41, he is 55), but he finds every excuse for not being intimate. He says he love me, but I am so unhappy. Is it wrong of me to want a physical relationship? I feel guilty for wanting a 'normal relationship'.

Letter A

Suzi: It sounds as if your husband is having some serious difficulties with sex. It may be a reflection of depression or unhappiness. He obviously had kids later in life and he may be finding it hard to cope. However, it sounds as if his reluctance to engage may actually be an attempt to hide the fact that his erection is not as firm or as reliable as it once was.

By the age of 55, occasional erectile dysfunction (ED) is normal - some of the causes include drinking too much alcohol, anxiety and tiredness - but three and half years of reluctance suggests something more serious. Ongoing ED can be a symptom of an underlying illness, such as heart disease, diabetes, high blood pressure or high cholesterol, so he does need to see a doctor.

If there is a physical cause, treatment will resolve the issue. If the cause is psychological, he may respond to Viagra, Levitra or Cialis. Just knowing he can achieve erection will make him feel more confident. If things don't get better, you should consider psychosexual counselling to try to help you both get things back on track. 

Letter Qteeschlurfenderdino: I have a loving long-term partner and we have been together for four years. He is attentive and kind but we are having issues with differing libidos. I was quite scared when we first got together, having been badly treated by my previous partner, so my partner was very careful, and didn't initiate anything in case it wasn't what I wanted. Now I've regained my confidence, I'd like to make love more often, but we are still stuck in a pattern of behaviour from before, where he won't initiate. He is having a particularly stressful time at work at the moment and seems unable to switch off, which is not helping. 

"When couples find themselves stuck in unsatisfactory sexual patterns, one of the easiest ways to shake things up is to put yourselves in a different environment. I personally am a big fan of hotels."

Letter A

Suzi: When you met your partner you needed a certain style of lovemaking, which was slow and gentle and 'on your terms', but now that you have grown in confidence (thanks to lots of TLC from your partner) you are ready to step up the tempo. Thing is, your DP may have been better suited to the 'vulnerable you' that he first met, and in the same way that he coaxed you to confidence, you may now need to encourage him towards disinhibition. It is really important to be able to talk to each other about the way you feel. He may not even know that you have identified this change in yourself and simply pointing it out to him may change the dynamic.

Stress is a big issue for men - you can read a helpful article about the impacts of stress on the male libido here. But sex is a fantastic way of de-stressing, so if you can persuade him to use sex as a way of unwinding you will both reap the benefit. I know giving him a massage is not exactly fun for you, but it might help him to switch off, and I think these pouring hot wax afterglow candles sound like a lot of fun. 

When couples find themselves stuck in unsatisfactory sexual patterns, one of the easiest ways to shake things up is to put yourselves in a different environment. I personally am a big fan of hotels. When it all gets too much with kids and work and the whole nine yards, holing up in a hotel bedroom with 24-hour room service is like a shot of adrenaline for a jaded relationship. There is a good piece you can read here about the joys of hotel sex. Good luck and have fun. 

Letter Qk4mi: I've been in a relationship for two years now with a man with whom I have a deep and satisfying relationship, but he is less sexual than me and seems to have no libido. We're expecting a baby in a few months, so my sex drive has plummeted, understandably, but we remain very affectionate.

Before pregnancy we have always had issues with sex since about three months into the relationship. I love sex and under normal circumstances would happily have it three or four times a week. During pregnancy that's been more like once or twice a fortnight. My partner on the other hand is less sexual. He wants to be sexual but suffers from lack of desire.

He's not out with other women, into porn, pleasuring himself, gay or anything (we have talked openly about this) and I really just don't know what to do to help him increase his libido (which is what he wants). I think he feels like he is failing us. I really want to get this addressed before the baby arrives, and while he has been to the doctor for a counselling referral, it hasn't come through yet. Is there anything else we can do?

Letter A

Suzi: I think your fears are absolutely legitimate because if sex was at a low ebb before you got pregnant, the chances of it being better after the birth are fairly low. However, if your partner really is under-confident, you may find that being a father validates him in a new way and things might actually improve. Men who fall in love with their babies often become fascinated by the idea of producing a sibling and sex hots up rather unexpectedly.

Lack of libido in men is often confused with impotence or erectile dysfunction, but they are very different conditions. Men who suffer from low libido can often achieve erection but they have lost the desire to have sex, whereas men who suffer from impotence or erectile dysfunction want to have sex but can not achieve or maintain an erection long enough to do so.

Unlike erectile dysfunction, low sexual desire does not respond to Cialis, Levitra or Viagra and while ED usually reflects an underlying medical condition, lack of libido can have a number of physical explanations.

You would be hard-pressed not to notice the more obvious culprits - alcoholism, drug abuse, diabetes or obesity - but it can also be a side-effect of prescription medications, particularly those used in the treatment of prostate problems and, less frequently, it may relate to low levels of testosterone, an excess of the hormone prolactin or anaemia.

If there is no physical explanation, then the cause is more likely to be psychological. Depression, stress, financial problems, job insecurity, sexual hang-ups, confusion about sexual orientation, guilt about infidelity or just common or garden boredom can all lead to low sexual desire.

I think your husband should chase his counselling referral and he should consider psychosexual therapy, too. The Jane Wadsworth Clinic at St Mary's Hospital treats both the physical and psychological aspects of low sexual desire.
 

Miscarriage

Letter QNessaRose: My husband and I are both finding sex difficult after a very recent miscarriage. We both feel guilty when we try. Can you give us some tips to overcome this, please?

Letter A

Suzi: Miscarriage is simply devastating and my heart goes out to you. Don't expect things to go back to normal because you are both still feeling bereaved and because sex is all mixed up with the baby you have lost it is only natural that it will be difficult.

I've done a lot of work with Professor Lesley Regan at the recurrent miscarriage unit at St Mary's Hospital, so I am aware of the impact it can have. I asked her about this, but I'm afraid I failed to come across any support for couples who have endured a miscarriage. However, your hospital should be able to provide you with a counselling service. I am not sure where you live but if you Google 'couple counselling after a miscarriage' you will get links to several organisations and then you can work out which is nearest to you. You can also use the find a therapist link at BACP.

The Miscarriage Association run a helpline and BabyLoss provides information and links to specific support groups. There's also some info here on men and miscarriage, for your husband. I hope this is in some way useful

Letter Qsupadoula: My husband and I have no sex life. I had a miscarriage three and a half years ago and have always wanted to have another baby since, but he has constantly said no. Our intimacy is now reduced to a brief cuddle at night. He is kind with the children and cuddles them, but I don't get any of that. Where do we go from there? We are growing apart.

Letter A

Suzi: Oh supadoula, I do feel for you. I know miscarriage is unbelievably difficult to deal with, largely because people just do not understand the grief associated with it. Because the baby is unborn there is a tendency for friends and family to think that a couple should just 'try again', but they don't understand that sex and potential pregnancy become tied up in loss, and those feelings are so painful that often you just don't want to go there. I also know that when a woman has a miscarriage and sex does not subsequently result in pregnancy, it becomes increasingly difficult to find the motivation to do it.

You both need help to get past this and I would suggest that you talk to an expert to establish both the cause of the miscarriage and/or why you have not been able to get pregnant since. Then you need to make an appointment with a really good relationship counsellor (www.bacp.com or Relate) and both of you need to talk through how weird you feel about the miscarriage and what has, or more pertinently, has not, happened since.

I do think that if you could untangle your feelings about losing your baby you could create the space to rebuild your sexual relationship, but you do both need to engage in that process before things will change. You can get in touch with me if you need more help.

 

Other

Letter QLeninGrad: So, do you think there is just too much emphasis on sex in life? Things wax and wane, especially as you get pregnant and have kids and so on, and surely that's fine?

Letter A

Suzi: I agree that sex does ebb and flow and there are times where other priorities are more important. For example, people react differently to pregnancy. I turned into a sex-crazed maniac with my last child, but not with any of the others. Afterwards, however, I was hopeless. The doctors say it can take six weeks, but for me it was more like six months, and breastfeeding, as I've pointed out, can kill female libido stone dead.

"I don't think any of us need to beat ourselves up about feeling less interested in sex after having children."

I don't think any of us need to beat ourselves up about feeling less interested in sex after having children, but for all the reasons that I have pointed out here and written about at length on Moresexdaily.com, sex is the glue that holds us together and differentiates the relationships we have with our husband or partner from the relationships we have with everyone else. Sometimes we can't be bothered, but if we want our relationship to sustain in the long term, we have to be bothered. 

Letter Qchosenone: My issue is a type of sexual jealousy, I think. I've been with my partner for over a year after a split with my ex-husband. I worry about his sexual past and obsess over who, and when, and where. He is very reassuring and has stated now he's older and wiser he's having the most satisfying sex ever. We have both had promiscuous and adventurous pasts, and he is fine with mine, but I wind myself up about his. Although we've openly talked about masturbation, I also think about this. What does he look at? And how often? And I don't seem to get jealous over anything other than sexually related things. I hide it most of the time but it does bubble up occasionally and I know I'm usually being irrational. 

Letter A

Suzi: I think what you are going through reflects your own insecurities and I think, to some degree, you may be transferring your fears about how you have both behaved in the past on to your partner. If you have both been promiscuous and unfaithful in previous relationships, what guarantees do you have that you won't behave that way in this relationship? There are none. And that can leave you feeling quite insecure, but I think you have to listen to your partner and believe him when he says that he is older and wiser now. Unless your partner has given you cause to doubt him, you need to trust him, because otherwise you will end up sabotaging the relationship.

As for the whole masturbation/porn thing, I know it is very difficult to deal with. The idea that your partner is getting sexual pleasure from watching images of other women feels like a threat, but it isn't real, and if it is not having a negative effect on his, or your, life, then it is not something that you should get wound up about.

Yes, we have a right to expect fidelity from our partners, but masturbation is the sex we have with ourselves. We start doing it as adolescents and it stays with us for life. It is not realistic to expect that behaviour to stop because you are in a relationship with someone, and although the porn industry is vile, the only real difference between the fantasies you have while masturbating and the images your partner may be looking at, is that one involves having an imagination and the other doesn't.

As an exercise, I think it would be worth your while to write down all the positives and negatives about your current relationships. It would also be worth thinking back to your marriage and writing down the reasons why that was good, and bad, and why it eventually ended. Assign everything on your list a score out of 10 - a plus score for poisitives and a minus score for negatives - and then tot up all the totals.

So 'DP remembers my birthday' is +10, but 'DP watches porn' is -8, etc. Looking at the numerical difference between where you are in this relationship and where you were in your last one will reassure you that you are in the right relationship, with the right man and that the only thing you have to worry about is your own propensity to over-analyse.

Letter Qshakey1500: What are your thoughts on monogamy?
 

Letter A

Suzi: I could write a novel on this one. Monogamy is only two letters away from monotony, and you really do have to work to keep it going. We all have a tendency to take our partners for granted and to imagine that the grass is greener, but I remember once being at an airport and I was watching my husband helping an attractive woman with her bags. I stood back and I saw how enchanted she was and how attractive he was to her, and it made me value him in a way that I had not done for a while.

"Monogamy is only two letters away from monotony, and you do really have to work to keep it going."

Sometimes we need to step back and look at how much we have and appreciate it. It is far too easy to allow yourself to be dissatisfied, but the alternative is not much fun. Marriage can be tedious but divorce is hell. 

Letter Qtireddddd: I was officially in a 'sexless marriage' a year after having a second child within 20 months of having my first. After two non-sleeping babies, and a year where both of us were under an immense amount of pressure at work, sex was the last thing on our minds. It just kind of slipped down our list of priorities, and then wasn't there at all. 

But I read the article about why something that's enjoyable and free isn't done because we can't be bothered. It gave me the confidence to just go for it and not worry about why it had happened (and also to know we're definitely not alone or abnormal).

We're still officially 'sexless' (ie less than 10 times per year or whatever) but am working on it. And am loving reading the website...

Letter A

Suzi: Thank you. I really want to be able to provide men and women with a more accurate picture of what is really happening in relationships. A lot of us feel we should be having tons of sex, but I think a more realistic idea of what everyone else in our age group is up to might take some of the pressure off. Ultimately, I aim to produce a book which has lots of positive ideas on what couples can do to restore an ailing sex life or make a dull one more fun. 

Letter Q

Cussandroid: Can you recommend any resources for couples where the woman is neuro-typical, and the man has Asperger traits? The only books I have seen are patronising and aimed at people with serious autistic traits, as opposed to men who are only mildly affected.

Letter A

Suzi: I presume you mean you want to find sex books or sex resources to do with Asperger's. I know this link is to do with young adults but I think it is interesting. 

There does seem to be quite a lot on the subject. I can't say whether the books are any good as I have not read them, but you can look them up on Amazon and see if you think they cover the kind of thing you are looking for. I also found several blogs covering sex, either written by people with Asperger's, or people living with a partner with Asperger's. There is also quite a funny video link out of the Penelope Trunk blog. 

Blogs

Books

Last updated: 06-Feb-2012 at 3:38 PM