What to do if sex is a chore: Advice from a therapist

How to change the way you see your sex life

Countless people across the world view sex as a chore and less of a special bonding time. When sex feels like a requirement or an expectation, the desire to be intimate can quickly dwindle away.  Not only can it feel like a job, the ongoing pressures and the mental “to-do” list over take the mind and become a prominent thought.  Even further, woman experience sex as a hassle avoids the topic at all cost, is self-conscious of their body, and/or dislikes the sexual act itself.  Does this sound familiar?

The physical bond of intimacy is the rawest form of feeling attached and connected for couples.  But what happens to relationships when sex feels like a job?  This job-like view of sex eliminates the special connection, it prevents women from enjoying the experience, and it builds distance between two people.  Good news, sex doesn’t have to be a job, work, or a chore!

Here are a few things you can do to make sex less of a chore:

  1. From “have to” to “want to:” Jobs have requirements, expectations, and deadlines.  Sex shouldn’t be a job, nor should it have the pressures of having to perform a specific way. Change your thoughts from “having to” to “wanting to.”
  2. De-stress….(with Sex): According to Laura Berman, Ph.D., on www.msnbc.msn.com, she states, “When a woman is stressed, the hormonal changes in her body trigger a chemical reaction causing sex hormone–binding globulin to bind with testosterone cells, so they’re unavailable for libido and sexual response.” Let’s face it, many women face stress daily and it can get in the way.  Take time to de-stress and unwind.  Re-energize yourself by getting involved in daily activities you enjoy, take a nap, or go to the gym. Even better, try stepping out of the box and use sex to de-stress! “But when you have sex, you release feel-good hormones, including oxytocin and endorphins,” says James Coan, Ph.D.
  3. Mental Stimulation: Women aren’t known for having sex on their mind all the time.  Men are known for being more aroused with imagery. Researcher Andrey P. Anokhin states that, “Women have responses as strong as those seen in men.”   Shift your thoughts from it being a “job,” and imagine the excitement, the romance, and the sweet-spots of sex.
  4. Play: Sex doesn’t have to be monotonous.  Try adding in toys, foreplay, touching, and playfulness.  Don’t be afraid to try new things and be creative in the bedroom.
  5. Communicate: Couples build strong bonds through communication and creating a safe/secure emotional attachment. Communicate your needs, fears, and desires to your partner.  Share with your partner what you may need from them to help you redefine sex as fun and less of a job. Sue Johnson wrote the book Hold Me Tight and it addressed ways to create a secure attachment with your partner through communicating and creating safety.  Check it out the book and see what you think.
  6. Quit the job: If you don’t like sex being a job, there is a simple fix…Quit the Job and make it a hobby.

Women…if you struggled with sex in the past and you found a way to work through this issue, SHARE what helped you! Help other women and either start a chat about this comment in the Relationships In the Raw Forum or comment to this post.

Intimacy is an all-encompassing word with sex being merely one part of what it truly means. Intimacy is a substance that supplements the healthiest relationships by allowing partners to share their physical and emotional selves. If you find it in yourself to be more emotionally intimate in your relationship, both you and your loved one will definitely reap the rewards in the bedroom!

Ten strategies to increase and maintain intimacy in your relationship:

Compromise when in disagreement

When you and your partner aren’t seeing things eye-to-eye, take it upon yourselves to reach a happy medium you both can agree with. Ask each other, “What would make us both happy?”

Spend a MINIMUM of 30 minutes a day focusing on your partner

Spend this time with your full attention honed in on your partner. This could take place at the dinner table, in the family area or living room with the TV off, cuddled in bed, etc… Eliminate interruptions such as children, roommates, and friends, so you can take the time to find out how his or her day went and share how your day was. And turn off your phones or put them on Do Not Disturb.

Plan a date night

Stop your busy life and make your relationship your number one focus. Date night helps kindle intimacy. Get dressed up for one another, spend time focusing on one another, and laugh together.

Empathize and validate your partner

Make sure to show empathy when you are in disagreement, monitor your tone of voice, and validate your partner by letting him or her know you don’t think he or she is “crazy” for how he or she feels.

Show curiosity and interest in your partner

Showing interest and curiosity not only helps your partner feel important and special, but also entices him or her to do the same towards you! Imagine how great it feels when your partner intently listens to what you have to say, and do the same for your partner.

Surprise your partner with an activity that the two of you can do together

Try hiking, picnics, board/card games, etc… Do something new for the two of you, or something that is an interest of one of you.

Leave love messages around the house

Write things you admire about your partner on sticky notes and hide them in places you know he or she will find them.

Point out the positive

If you acknowledge and reinforce that which you appreciate about your partner, you will find he or she will eagerly repeat the desired behavior instead of feeling down from belittlement.

Show your partner that you respect him/her

By listening, avoiding critical language, and decreasing your anger (intonation and context), you will show your partner that you have the utmost respect for his or her thoughts and feelings.

Bring Out the Candles!

Don’t just try to simply just “do it.” Make the mood right for romance, touch each other, warm up the bodies by massages, and make the intimacy last LONG. Take your time!

Talk About Sex During Sex

Usually, the most productive conversations about what goes on in the bedroom happen outside of the bedroom, but sometimes in the moment you need to get your partner on the same page. A lot of times we hesitate to talk about sex during sex for fear of hurting our partner’s feelings or to avoid “killing the mood,” but here’s the truth: When you are not fully present, the sexual experience is just not what it should be!

Even couples that consider communication to be one of their strong suits may find that a tête-à-tête during lovemaking just feels out of place. It can be difficult to know how to talk about sex during sex. Let’s start with some basics: The most important word to have access to during sex is “no”, and that needs to be respected by both people. If you want the interaction to stop at any point, halt the interaction by being direct using “no” or “stop.” One of the next best phrases to get into your sexual vocabulary is “let’s slow down.” This can gently communicate that you are still into what is happening and you want to be in this interaction with your partner, but you want to change how you both go about it together as a team. 

Here are a few scenarios where you may want to speak up, and how to do it:

When Something Hurts or You’re Not Into It

Obviously if your partner sees you wince in pain, they should check in with you to see how to help. Perhaps they missed your pained reaction or mistook it for enthusiasm. An expression of pain may look similar to that other, happier kind of expression they expect to see in bed, so you need to speak up. If you need to say “stop”, do so. Otherwise, try: “Can you slow down for a second? That didn’t feel right.” Then, add in what was working for you to reinforce what you liked so your partner knows what to do as well as what not to do, such as: “I really liked what we were doing in that last position, that felt better for me” or “Everything was amazing right up until you switched positions, can we backtrack?” Positive communication is key.

Sometimes stopping altogether or extending foreplay can make both of your bodies more receptive to the experience you are trying to have. It can be easy to think that something is wrong when that happens, but it is a perfectly normal sexual struggle that many couples experience from time to time. On the other hand, if painful sex is a regular thing, talk to your doctor about what is happening. You may benefit from some kind of medical treatment or sex therapy.

When You Want to Change It Up

You have to love those nights when everything seems to be going right and you are both into it, but maybe you are wanting to add a little spice to your typical lovemaking routine. Changing up your usual rhythm can be exciting and help reignite heat in the bedroom. Completely new experiences should probably be discussed beforehand in order to reduce a sense of pressure or surprise to your partner. More than likely, your partner wants to please you and it is only fair to give them a neutral situation in which to decide if they are willing to try something different. Setting up a time to have these conversations in a safe place can help.

If you just want to do something just a little different in the moment, it is still a good idea to ask anyway.

This can keep you from startling your partner or making them feel unsafe. Even if they trust you and are comfortable with you, surprising new positions or words may trigger a sense of anxiety which could shut down their arousal in a snap. Instead, keep your voice low in line with the moment and ask, “I want to try _______. Would that be hot for you?” By stating your intention and asking for clear consent, you have reinforced your value for your partner’s boundaries while including their interest in your risqué venture. Win, win!

When You’re Just Not That Into It (even after you were into it before).

So you got all hot and heavy and at first everything was sexy and fun, but the further you go, the less into it you feel. First of all, this is okay! It is common to feel a sense of obligation to “finish what you started,” but sex is not a marathon, it is a relationship. Think about it — if your partner was not feeling interested but faked their way through and you found out later, wouldn’t you feel a little deceived? For all of the playfulness in sex, honesty is the key to keeping your sexual relationship safe. You can let yourself off the hook without hurting your partner’s feelings (too much, anyway). It is only fair to tell your partner what is going on in clear terms. If you are not sure whether you want to really stop or not, bust out the “slow down” phrase again and try: “Can we slow down? I’m not really there right now.” Then, the two of you can talk about if you want to keep trying, if you want to stop, what else might feel good, or if you feel like simply taking care of your partner this time. If you are completely over it, do not continue doing something you do not want to do, even if you have done it dozens of times before. When you do something against what you want, you communicate to yourself and your partner that a feeling of being unsafe is tolerable, and sex begins to become assocaited with unplesant feelings. Neither of these things we want – which is why direct communication is so very important during sex. Honor yourself. For a healthy sex life, you need two enthusiastically consenting people.

A kind way to say you are finished might be, “Babe, usually I think I would love to do this but now that I am in it, my mind and body are not having any of it. Can we try again another time?” With these words you are communicating your value for the sexual relationship and not blaming your partner for your not feeling up to the current experience. Keep in mind that if your libido consistently flakes out on you, you may want to check with a doctor and also look into increasing your healthy habits like good nutrition and regular exercise to ensure that a separate biological issue may not be at play.

Use Your Voice!

Using your voice during sex is an empowering way to make sure that you and your partner take care of each other emotionally as well as sexually. For all of the implications of sex in the media, a partner who reads your mind and anticipates your every need does not really exist. On the other hand, when you talk about sex during sex to communicate what does and does not work for you, your partner learns to tune into your emotional and sexual needs all the more accurately. And should all else fail, make sure to have a follow-up conversation later. A great opener is, “So how was that for you?” Your partner may respond by asking about you. When it is your turn, tell them what you liked and follow up the statement with “and I think I would enjoy it even more next time if…” It is important that you feel safe to talk about your sexual experiences with your partner in order for you to both have that fun, passionate sex life you deserve. But if you never speak up, your partner will not know! Research has shown time and time again that couples who talk about sex have better sex. So go on ahead. Talk about sex during sex!

Research has shown that couples who have communication about sex have better sex. So much so, that 91% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex aren’t sexually satisfied. Communicating your wants and needs with your partner enhances your sexual experience. It also opens up space for more understanding, connection, and support — bringing you two closer together.

7 Tips for Successful Communication About Sex will help make these conversations a little bit easier.

  1. Start off on the right side of the bed.

    Relationship researcher John Gottman has found that the outcome of a conflict conversation (good or bad) can be predicted with 96% accuracy based just on the first 3 minutes of the discussion. Start off your communication about sex by being gentle and kind. Doing this from the beginning will set you up for success. During this discussion, speak to your partner like you would speak to a friend: with kindness, openness, and curiosity. Listen actively to your partner – be present and let them know you’re listening and you care. 

  2. Kick ‘Mind-Reading’ out of the bedroom.

    Expecting our partners to ‘mind-read’ is something we can all fall into sometimes, but this can be a risky habit. This is especially true with communication about sex. Mind-reading is the expectation that your partner should ‘just know’ what you are needing and wanting, because they love you. However, we can’t truly expect someone to know our wants and needs when we do not communicate them. Start this conversation off by clearly and kindly stating what you are wanting from your partner. 

  3. Speak to your own experience.

    “I” statements will help you share your experience in a way that will avoid eliciting defensiveness, and it will create space for vulnerability. Vulnerability invites closeness. This kind of intimate self-disclosure will actually bring your partner closer to you. When starting off this conversation, use an “I” statement with a feeling word, then feel free to explain your wants and needs further. This can look like: “I feel excited when ___,” or “I feel uncomfortable when ___.”

  4. Use soft emotions.

    Certain emotions pull our partners closer to us, and some emotions push our partners farther away. Deep and more vulnerable emotions such as joy, fear, sadness, shame, and loneliness are softer emotions — these are called primary emotions. Using these to describe your experience will help create closeness and connection between the two of you. Everyone feels primary emotions somewhere in their body, such as sinking in the stomach or a heaviness in the chest. If you are having trouble identifying the softer, more primary emotion you are feeling, tuning in to where you are experiencing it in your body will help.

  5. Keep it realistic.

    It is one thing to have a conversation about your wants and needs, and another to implement it into your life. It is so important for this conversation to translate into a reality. Keep in mind things like your schedules, budgets, and physical limitations. Be realistic. This will ensure your wants and needs do not get left behind in your everyday life.

  6. Make this convo part of your routine.

    Couples that talk about sex have better sex. Make this conversation a built-in ritual for you both. This will not only increase your connection, but will increase your sexual satisfaction too. The more you practice it, the more comfortable it will become. Create a ritual for sex talks that is consistent, predictable, and non-threatening, such as on Sunday evenings over your favorite glass of wine.  

  7. Call up a therapist.

    Therapy is a great way to practice having vulnerable conversations in a safe place. If the previous steps feel too hard at this time in your relationship, all of us at Estes Therapy are here to provide support for you along your path of creating deeper sexual satisfaction and understanding in your relationship.

Congratulations for taking the steps towards deeper sexual satisfaction and understanding! Keep in mind that this will look different for every couple, what is important is finding out how this conversation works for your relationship. This may change as you and your partner move through time together, too. Being intentional about keeping this conversation a consistent part of your relationship will help create continued closeness and connection for you both.


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It’s been nearly 20 years since I first became interested in studying psychotherapy. I began practicing the scientific approaches to psychotherapy in 1997 and I was hooked from then on.

I earned my Master’s Degree in Marriage and Family psychotherapy in 2004 and I am currently licensed as a Marriage and Family Therapist MFT (LMFT#47653) with the Board of Behavioral Sciences (BBS).

I focus my practice upon the empirically-based and proven research methods of Emotionally Focused Therapy (EFT), Eye Movement Desensitization and Reprocessing (EMDR), and Cognitive Behavioral Therapy (CBT).

I’ve seen these techniques consistently get results and I truly believe they are the most effective at creating positive, long-term change.

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