In terms of time allotment, sex is not a huge part of how a couple spends their time. It is barely a sliver on the pie chart, but when sex is a problem it negatively affects a disproportionately large part of the relationship.  The saying is: “Sex is 10% of relationship; but when it’s a problem, it becomes 90% of the relationship.”  Such is the case when partners differ in the amount of importance each places on sex.

     Consider the fictitious married couple, Rupert and Bertha, for whom the issue of sex has become a battleground.  They both recall how early in their relationship sex was the source of pleasure and how the frequency of their sexual exploits put some rabbits to shame.  Rupert, who highly values sex, lamented that “those were the days.”  He pointed out that because he initially experienced Bertha as a highly sexual woman, he considered himself a very lucky man at having struck sexual gold.  As is the case for many men, Rupert felt deeply loved and connected with Bertha through their sexual play. During the recent past, as the frequency and passion of their love­making dwindled, he had grown distant and resentful. He had expressed feeling ripped-off. He and Bertha had been arguing often about sex. Due to their infrequent sexual encounters, he questioned Bertha’s love since it was through their lovemaking that her love for him was confirmed.

     Bertha, too, claims she enjoys sex, but never placed as high a priority on it as did Rupert.  In the beginning of their relationship, she took great satisfaction in helping Rupert feel pleasure.  The fact that he desired her really turned her on.  Sex was not something she ever really did for herself.  As the relationship aged, she found that she wasn’t in the mood to be sexual nearly as often as she had been in the beginning.  It wasn’t that she felt less eager to please Rupert, but their lives had become more routine; she was more aware of his sometimes-annoying human eccentricies and did not enjoy that the timing of Rupert’s desire for a sexual encounter, which  often seemed ill-timed to her moods.  She also noticed that he was making less effort to get her in the mood by being what she considered romantic, through cuddling and gestures of his love.  When he expressed a desire for sex she didn’t particularly like telling him “no,” causing her over time, to increasingly avoid those situations that gave Rupert the opportunity to initiate. When she did say no, he would act hurt and angry. She had grown to resent the pressure she felt to share herself with him sexually. True, she did feel guilty sometimes, but it seemed to be the easier choice.  Sex disappeared from their marriage, as did their emotional connection.

     Over time, the spouses found that they were growing apart.  Repeatedly each attempt at real communication deteriorated into sarcastic allegations traded back and forth, which never arrived at a resolution or change. Both spouses felt powerless to alter the downward spiral of their marriage.  Without third-party help, their marriage would have ended.  They came to learn that the difference in their sexual needs can threaten their marriage if not openly discussed; that sex must be an active component and that their emotional connection functions as essential nourishment to keep their sex life active.

     This is an all-too-common tale of discrepancy of sexual desire, a small problem that can have devastating effects on a marriage over the long haul.  Sex is a vital part of a healthy love relationship. When it is not the source of satisfaction for both partners it is just a matter of time before the relationship loses its lustre. Andrew Aaron, LICSW