Sexual Anorexia Is your sex-life starving for attention? Let Dr. Read show you how to make it healthy. BY DR. TRINA READ
Don't starve your sex life.
For two years, my personal coach enthusiastically recommended Dr. David Schnarch’s Passionate Marriage: Keeping Love and Intimacy Alive in Committed Relationships as a staple in my sex library. Finally, fed up with my procrastination, he bought me a copy, which went promptly to the bottom of my ten-foot-high cue of on-the-go books.
My coach was right (as usual). I am sorry it took me this long to "discover" this brilliant gem of a book. By no means an easy read, it is in my opinion one of the best books out there on how to keep a deeply committed relationship on track.
One of the many concepts Dr. Schnarch writes about is how we treat sexual drive in the same manner as we do eating, like it is a basic biological drive. In his twenty-some years of marriage counseling, many couples have come to him with the complaint their relationship is sexually anorexic. That is, their sexual needs were being starved.
An apparent contrarian, Schnarch turns this concept of sexual anorexia on its head by writing, "Superficially, the common idea that sex is a natural biological drive seems reasonable. After all, isn’t sex drive a function of hormones? Isn’t sex encoded in all animals? If sex drive weren’t 'normal,' wouldn’t our species die out?"
Okay, I was intrigued by his statement. Reading further, Schnarch enmeshes me in a sexual whodunit, "We don’t realize that seeing sex as a 'drive' makes us focus on relieving sexual tensions rather than wanting our partner."
At this point I am a little confused but bravely press on, "…if that’s the only reason you think your partner wants to be with you it tends to kill sex and intimacy in marriage. Focusing on desire as motivation for sex overlooks the many couples who struggle to increase desire (passion) during sex."
I had to read that last sentence over a few times to let it sink in. I suggest you do the same.
Now, I am really bewildered. Could Schnarch believe that equating sex as a biological drive mean getting your rocks off with any old person will do because it is simply fulfilling an urge? And that sex in this ideal diminishes the ability to find true vulnerability (i.e. passion) because it is about an urge and nothing to do with intimacy. Hmm. Interesting.
The next obvious question for me then becomes, "How does sexual anorexia or sexual starvation fit into this sex as a biological drive theory?"
Well there’s more, "Until couples go beyond viewing sex as a biological drive, they presume sexual behavior is a good measure of sexual desire and orgasm always involves high arousal and satisfaction."
Aha, dear Watson, I believe we are getting warmer to solving the mystery. I know, met and have coached many couples who consistently orgasm during their sexual experience and completely lack in sexual intimacy or eroticism. They come to me wanting to learn more "techniques" to bump up their sexual satisfaction.
I am always sorry to tell them deep sexual satisfaction does not work like that. The 101 sexual positions, techniques on oral or manual sex are always fun to learn and necessary to mix things up, but they do not equate to passion or intimacy.
With that said, let’s review Schnarch’s anorexic concept, shall we?
Western couples have been taught the whole point of having sex is to achieve orgasm. Hence, in their sexual socialization they learn the most pleasurable and expedient techniques on how to reach the orgasmic goal with a partner. More often than not, with this limited knowledge their lovemaking patterns turn into the classic busy-couple-hurried-sex: Get on, get in, orgasm, get off—now go to sleep.
What is not emphasized in our culture is teaching couples about making a deeper emotional connection. Sadly, men are socialized to do just the opposite. In fact, being open, vulnerable and transparent in the bedroom is one of life’s hardest lessons. When the deeper connection is not there, people have emotionally shallow sexual experiences.
When we see our sexual union as a means to an orgasmic end instead of an opportunity to share this most vulnerable place with another human being, it becomes simply a physical act. In becoming a physical act, there is very little to no fulfillment. Without fulfillment, the couple slowly starts to emotionally "starve", become disillusioned and draw away from their partner into themselves.
Enough years of this dynamic, the couple ends up on Dr. Schnarch’s counseling couch blaming the other person for their sexual anorexia.
Case solved—well, the sexual anorexia case anyways. The "so what?" of how to manage this pandemic will have to wait for a future columns, this topics made me hungry.
Dr. Trina Read has a doctorate in human sexuality. Dr. Read is also an international speaker and offers a free sex audio tip weekly on her website www.trinaread.com/t-sextips.