Denise and Edward love Mardi Gras and jazz and a dance that’s something like the electric slide. But in bed, they just couldn’t find their rhythm.
“When we were dating, sex was no problem,” says Edward (the two opted to use their middle names to preserve their privacy). “But as soon as we got married, that went out of the way; everything else was more important.”
“Everything else” includes their children, ages 10 and 4, and their careers; Denise, 40, works in a university registrar department, and Edward, 38, is a computer programmer who also manages a security company.
He wanted more sex. She wanted slower, more satisfying sex. “I’d feel a surge of something good, but by the time he climaxed, I hadn’t had a chance to climax,” Denise says. After childbirth, she experienced vaginal dryness that made intercourse excruciating. “Sometimes, after sex, I’d be crying in the dark.”
Two years ago, Edward watched a documentary that referenced author/educator Marla Renee Stewart, co-founder of the Sex Down South Conference. The couple agreed they had nothing to lose. According to Stewart, they became star pupils.
Over the course of weekly or bimonthly Zoom sessions (Stewart is based in Atlanta, but the couple lives in Birmingham), Denise and Edward completed worksheets about everything from daily routines – who takes out the trash? who disciplines the kids? who typically initiates sex? – to what smells, sounds, and gestures they found arousing.
Stewart gave them homework: Kiss each other every day before leaving the house. Try lubricants. Experiment with sex toys. And consider how every aspect of their lives, including parenting, affects their sexual experience.
“Sex is a symptom of what’s really happening in the relationship,” Stewart says. “There may be trust or communication issues. It is much, much broader than just the sex itself.”
Both partners say Stewart’s interventions worked. Denise learned about clitoral stimulation and tried masturbating to discover what she found pleasurable. She describes her arousal pattern as “more like an oven” – slow to heat up – while her husband is a “microwave.”
After 2 years of coaching and practice, “I’m more patient, I’m more intentional, I’m more strategic,” Edward says. “I wanted to be better at intimacy, at sex. If you really want to be good at something, you have to throw away your inhibitions and tell how you feel.”
Research has shown that nearly half of adults in the United States experience sex-related issues at some point in their lifetimes – issues that include sexual violence or trauma, questions about gender expression or sexual orientation, sexual shame, lack of libido, erectile dysfunction, or inability to reach orgasm. Some people seek sex therapy to help them navigate a gender transition or open a monogamous relationship to include multiple partners.
And certified sex therapists – who hold advanced degrees in counseling, psychology, or related fields plus additional hours of sex therapy training and clinical experience – have particular fields of expertise and distinct ways of working with individuals and couples. Here are five of their approaches.
To read Dr. Emily’s approach to mindfulness, you can find the rest of the article here.