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Something like 15 percent or more of American marriages are sexless. There are many possible reasons why: Emotional gridlock, sexual dysfunction in one or both partners, some other fundamental incompatibility or resentment after an affair or other betrayal.
One important reason couples stop having sex is that they simply stop experiencing desire. But it’s usually a mistake to stop having sex just because of that. Desire ordinarily comes and goes in a long-term relationship so if you wait to feel desire before having sex, you might end up waiting a long time.
Just committing to having sex without being in the mood doesn’t work either. Low-desire couples are often advised to schedule “sex-dates.” But that’s often just a recipe for bad sex since they’re not really interested when it comes time for the sex-date.
So what’s the solution?
I tell couples: You can’t just show up in bed and expect to have sex right away. Instead, you need a little step in between. Don’t just make a date to have sex. Instead, make a date to get into bed together and do absolutely nothing at all — except for each of you to pay close attention, without judgment, to what you’re actually feeling.
If you like, you can talk about whatever is on your mind — good, bad or indifferent. Anything at all. It doesn’t have to be erotic, but keep it simple. No big discussions.
Then go back to paying attention to your own sensations and feelings without judgment. Yes, this is a kind of mindfulness practice, which is no coincidence. Mindfulness and good sex have a lot in common — they’re both about being in the moment.
When you first became a couple, you spent lots of time lost in the moment — that’s what arousal does to you. When you’ve been together a while, that kind of moment is something you have to cultivate.
If you’re like most people, you don’t just want sex to satisfy you. You want sex to inspire you. Inspiration can’t be planned. But you can open yourself up to it.
If you make a commitment to spending time together in bed just paying attention to the moment, that might not initially feel erotic at all. Sometimes, you have to seek a kind of quiet together first. In time, that quiet can be the soil from which arousal grows.
Dr. Stephen Snyder is a sex therapist in New York and author of the new book, "Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-Lasting Relationship."