Tag: sex

Let’s talk about sex.

One of the most beautiful ways we love our spouses is through sexuality. It’s also one of the most emotionally complicated.

Popular culture portrays it as simple, spontaneous and very uncomplicated, but I assure you most couples experience it differently.

Sex is actually one of the top three issues for which couples seek counseling. And the military lifestyle of chaotic schedules and long durations of separation doesn’t help.

Despite your best intentions of picking up right where you left off, if you struggle with all of those interruptions to your sex life, you’re in no way alone.

I recently sat down for a candid interview with Dr. Michael Sytsma, a clinician and certified sex therapist, for my Lifegiver Podcast. (Important note: This episode is for mature audiences only.)

The interview originally aired for InDependent’s 2016 Military Spouse Wellness Summit, but I was able to run an extended version of our conversation. Dr. Sytsma is based out of Atlanta and serves post-affair couples as well as those experiencing sexual difficulty at his Institute, Building Intimate Marriages. I asked Dr. Sytsma about specific intimacy challenges that military couples face at home and during deployments.

Dr. Mike, as he’s known, explained that couples sexually “imprint” on each other. If that concept gives you flashbacks to Jacob in the Twilight series, it may not be that far from the truth.

During sex, oxytocin, known as the connective hormone, releases in the body. It is actually the same hormone released during nursing that bonds a mother to her baby. He clarified that when your spouse is gone for long periods of time, you go through what’s called “skin hunger,” when the body is longing for the touch and the oxytocin to which it is accustomed. That concept explains why during deployment your skin can almost feel like it crawling for something as simple as a safe hug.

Other forms of connection, though, have also been found to release oxytocin, including looking into each other’s eyes, holding each other and even hearing the other person’s voice.

Dr. Mike encourages military couples to tap into some of these healthy habits that support connections during separations. Although you may not be able to hold hands, associating the sound of your spouse’s voice with intimacy and safety will release some oxytocin, even though your body is still going through that skin hunger. Doing that also helps during reintegration when you are getting your groove back.

On the other extreme, Dr. Mike mentioned that he and those in his field have found an opposite result with non-connective habits like pornography. Pornography associates the release of oxytocin with false images and story lines rather than your spouse. Ultimately, this imprinting can interfere with sexual performance with your spouse, especially when life isn’t playing out like a fantasy.

The bottom line is this: Be careful and mindful what you choose to imprint on. Aim for good communication, curiosity and intentionality, and you will be on a path to great and meaningful sex.

There is no doubt that healthy sexuality in marriage is a complicated venture. But I like to think that it is supposed to be. Something this vulnerable requires a heart to serve, permission to be selfish, willingness to forgive, a sense of humor and communication. Healthy sexuality is a balancing act that forces you to be vulnerable in order to stay connected.

If you are struggling in this area of your marriage, there is hope and plenty of resources that can help guide, bring healing and direction. Begin by listening to Dr. Mike’s interview. All of the resources he mentions can be found here. The Lifegiver App is also free and has interviews from leading marriage experts, stories of success and marriage curriculum that can help you get started today.

Maybe now is a time to be proactive. Begin healthy conversations in your relationship if you need them. Look for a counselor or sex therapist to help you wade through the complicated waters of intimacy. Seek out the healing or forgiveness you need to be vulnerable again.

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By now, you hopefully know me well enough to trust me as I address a topic that many couples are afraid to talk about- SEX!  Although I can’t cover everything, I thought I would tackle the most common issues I hear about in my counseling office, especially with military couples.  While some may have differing opinions on the matter, these suggestions are my clinical opinion on ways you can keep your intimacy healthy and avoid destructive minefields.

  1. My husband wants to have sex more often than me.  Although it is more common for men to have a higher libido than women, there are many women who can identify.   Differing sex drives can be difficult on a couple.  Finding a balance that works for both of you requires communication and planning (which sounds very unsexy).  Talk about whether the issue is frequency or quality and how you each would define those.  Assuming this is not an issue of sex addiction but difference in preference, remember that your spouse is wanting to express his love for you.
  2. How do we stay “connected” when we are separated? Sex in marriage is designed to be a language that goes beyond words.  There are only a few circumstances where I would recommend to a couple that they not be intimate. So when a couple is separated by military missions, it is important to decide together how you will handle the separation sexually.  Pornography is destructive, only encouraging an attachment to false images and feeding unrealistic expectations.  Consider finding safe and creative ways to keep you focused on each other as much as possible. And remember, your need for emotional connection is likely just as strong as his need for physical connection!
  3. Issues from my past make it difficult for me to fully enjoy sex. This is a bigger issue than you may realize.  1 in 4 women (and possibly men) have experienced sexual or physical trauma that makes intimacy in marriage a real challenge. Counseling can make a huge difference on everything from getting to know your body to learning to relax and stay connected to your body.  Like many things in marriage, sex requires a focus on self and your spouse, sometimes at the same time. Preparing yourself ahead of time by taking charge of the evening or taking a bath to ready your mind can make a big difference.

Sex is intended to be both a playground and a place to emotionally connect.  With it, you have powerful influence over your spouse feeling loved and needed.  That is an awesome opportunity, and only you get to do that!  Remember, marriage is an iron-sharpens-iron dynamic that is designed to make you a better person.  Intimacy is often the crucible where that happens.  It requires communication, grace, and a servant heart. This is the most fragile place for a couple to show up, so take care of it!

Here are some extra resources that can help:

Authenticintimacy.org Full of blogs, podcasts, and bible studies on healthy ways of making progressi n your sexual intimacy.

Books by Shanty Fedhahn: Through A Man’s Eyes, For Women Only, For Men Only

Dr. Douglas E. Rosenau:A Celebration Of Sex: A Guide to Enjoying God’s Gift of Sexual Intimacy

 

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