A Therapist Answers Your Questions about Sex – Part 2

A marriage and family therapist answers more of YOUR questions about sex.

By Aimee Heffernan

This post is part 4.5 of the series:  Improving Intimacy
Part 1:  How to Agree on How Often to Have Sex
Part 2:   Waiting for Sex Until Marriage- Can I Really Do It?
  Part 3:  When Sex is Painful:  One Woman’s Story
Part 4:  A Therapist Answers Your Questions About Sex Part I


This post is the second part of answers to your (our readers’) questions about sex, as provided by my friend, Aimee Heffernan, a certified, licensed marriage and family therapist.

Aimee’s answers in Part I were really great. I think of particular note is what she had to say about the crucial skill of creating safe spaces within your marriage “to have conversations about personal, difficult things.” She gives more, extremely practical advice on how to do that in this post.

I really do hope that that, along with the rest of Aimee’s advice and answers, come across as being worthwhile, not to just the readers who asked the questions, but to everyone trying to have healthy, happy, and fulfilling marital intimacy. 

– Rich

*Everything below are Aimee’s responses to these questions as transcribed by Rich

 Issue: It seems like tiredness is our biggest obstacle.This might be kind of blunt but, truth is, that’s probably NOT the biggest obstacle. The biggest obstacle probably isn’t tiredness, but rather being intentional about creating time to focus on your sexuality as a couple. People carve out time to do all kinds of things that they prioritize: getting up to do yoga, to exercise at the gym, to spend time on social media, or watch TV. I guess what I’d say is that if you are intentional, you can make it a more engaging experience and physical tiredness may not seem like such a barrier. How can you be more intentional? Wear something different. Schedule when you’re going to have sex. Text each other during that day so you can be thinking about it leading up to that night.

I think the biggest thing I want to say is this: Being engaged in your sexuality is a gift to your marriage. That applies to all of these questions, but that’s my advice for them.


Question: How can you better your intimacy when your spouse starts finding you less attractive? 

This is a hard one. I guess there are a few things I have to say, but first of all, this: Sexuality is more than bodies. I think a lot of times people have sex, or connect sex, to feeling “validated.” “If they want to have sex with me, it means I am physically a certain way and that says something about me and who I am.”

I’m sorry to be cheesy, but this is something I really believe, that sex is an exchange of souls. I really see it that way. Focusing not just on how it works, or just how to do it, but caring what it feels like, I think, is the sign of a person who is interested in the experience of sex.

So if you are feeling less sexy, less physically desirable, well it’s a true fact that sex is in your brain. Your brain is your biggest sex organ. What do you need to help you feel and believe in your brain that you ARE desirable? Sexy lingerie? Maybe sexy texting with your spouse? This is something I said in response to a different question, but the thing is, people can be all different sizes, they might even have erectile dysfunction, but if they can stay laughing, playful and have fun, then sex can be a positive and desirable thing!

One thing that a lot of people tend to do during the actual act of sex is “body monitoring.” They think, “Oh, I hope he doesn’t touch my stomach, it’s so fat!” Or, “My butt looks so big right now.” Or maybe that’s how you are looking at your spouse’s body. But the point is, you aren’t being present in your sexuality.

Finally, attraction is also about who you are as people. Is there is something lacking in your emotional dynamic? Emotional imbalances, if one person has too much “power,” that is something people bring to their sexuality. For example, if a wife is being too much like a mom, nagging, reminding, etc. to their spouse, that sort of power dynamic might affect things.

Once again, these are just ideas. If I had this couple in for counseling, there is a lot I would want to talk about.


Question: How can you ask your spouse to try new things if you think they’ll be shocked or ashamed of you for asking? 

These kind of conversations can sometimes bring up a lot of hurt. If there has been hurt in your relationship because of attempts to talk about things like this, well, it might be better to help communicate that with the help of a sex therapist.

But here’s the number one thing I would say. Don’t bring up “trying new things” when you are actually having sex. This is a part of something that a lot of people have problems with. Some people don’t know how to talk about sex when they are not actively being sexual. This is an important skill. Because that moment is a time when people are the MOST vulnerable and emotional, and suggestions or critiques can be very hard to both express AND to hear.

Here’s the next thing: There is something to be said about opening yourself up to new things. The example I give is when I was a little kid and I first heard about French kissing and I was COMPLETELY grossed out. But then later it’s something you become more or less familiar with. And then when I was eight and my parents sat me down and explained “and the penis goes in the vagina” and I was floored. I realized that all these parents, my friends parents, were doing that and I wanted none of it. But . . . you change. And slowly you start to open yourself up to something that at first seemed you could never get past.

Consent is a BIG part of this conversation. And it is a conversation. We talked about this in regards to frequency of sex and high-desire and a low-desire partners. Having a conversation and compromise about that doesn’t always mean the low-desire partner will increase to match their partner’s preferences. Some things couples may simply never agree on. But you can still have that hard conversation.

So if you want to bring up something new, how can you do that? You might give your spouse a warning by saying something like this: “Hey, I want to talk about something related to our sex life later, is that ok?” Tell them that in person or maybe send a text while you’re apart. It creates a space. You know that you’ll be talking about something new. Creating that space is crucial because you don’t want to bring up something when they feel vulnerable or defensive.

[Note from Rich: I really thought it was helpful to hear phrases that people might actually use, so I asked Aimee to give some more examples.]

Other examples of things you could you say? “I want to bring something up, but try not to make me feel embarrassed because talking about this is hard for me.” Or maybe, “Hey, I wanted to bring up a fun idea later.” Make it a flirty text. But it still creates that space. And later, when you’ve talked about it, saying something like, “I want to start trying/using _____. Is that something we’d be into?” And you don’t have to go in with a decision, you just go into wanting to hear what they have to say.

Final Question (from Rich at the end of our conversation): A lot of the readers of this blog are LDS. Do you have any Mormon-specific advice?
If you look at surveys, Jewish and Mormon women report having more sex than almost any other group. That usually surprises people. But the problem is, the women in those marriages are generally having “duty sex” – the frequency is so high because they see it solely as a marital responsibility. And “duty sex” doesn’t do anyone any good. Truly one of the things that I love the very most, is when I can work with couples and then later the women come back and tell me, “I never knew my body could do this!” They start owning their bodies and owning their sexuality and start to have fun with sex.One thing a lot of religions do, prior to being married, is provide pre-marital counseling for the couple. And talking about sexual expectations would be a part of that. I wish we had something like that, something more in-depth than worthiness interviews with priesthood leaders. I don’t think, generally, Mormons are very good about talking about our sexual expectations. Before OR during marriage. We aren’t really even supposed to talk about sex until you’re actually married, and then you go into marriage and, a lot of the time, you end up disappointed. People bring these really high expectations into their marriages – they did everything right, they were great missionaries, they married their hot wife, but then sex doesn’t go like they envisioned and that can drive these spouses away from each other, drive them underground.We have, as a religion, these beliefs that glorify sex. Or at least marriage and eternal relationships, and sex is a part of that. But we don’t have any way to provide skills on how to accomplish that, how to work past the fumbling.

We need to do a better job of teaching people how to talk about sex. People need to see how crucial that is to having a holy and sacred marriage! It’s what makes people different from being just roommates or co-parents or even co-habitating. It’s the ingredient that makes love fun! So it’s got to be done well.

Some other resources I might point people toward are, as I said before, anything from Jennifer Finlayson-Fife is excellent [Note from Rich: Jennifer is actually having a holiday sale currently (Dec. 2015) on her courses. We’ll be reviewing one of them in the next few days]. You should also check out this great book/website called Real Intimacy. Their book is wonderful and an excellent resource I point out to a lot of my Mormon clients.

[Last Note from Rich: If you are in the Seattle area, you should definitely consider Aimee to be an excellent resource, which I think is pretty clear.]