This post is about sexless or low-sex relationships. Perhaps you live in one or are just curious, like myself, about how this phenomenon has come about. I have observed that this is particularly prevalent, although by no means exclusively so, with the younger members of Generation X, hence the title “Gen seXless”. I cannot take full credit for the ideas laid out in this article as they have arisen out of conversations with two individuals with different backgrounds: Isiah McKimme who is a somatic sex therapist and my good friend the screenwriter and filmmaker Natasha Pincus (responsible for the music video “Somebody That I Used to Know”). Isiah has first-hand experience working with such couples and Natasha, being a writer, has made a living out of her impeccable insight into the nuances of people’s behaviour.
Generation X: Are They Having Less Sex?
Who are Generation X? There are several definitions, but the most commonly accepted is that they are the generation born after the post-World War II Baby Boomers, between 1965-1981 (Australian Bureau of Statistics). Consequently the Xers are now in the age range 32-48 and the boomers 49-67. The Boomers came of age when rock ‘n’ roll was burgeoning and the contraceptive pill facilitated “free love”. Based on the Boomers I see in my practice, when it comes to the bedroom, Woodstock may as well still be rocking on. The first of Xers are also doing pretty well, but Xers now in their mid to late 30s (the group I’m calling gen seXless) appear disinterested when it comes to sex with their partners. I asked myself and my two aforementioned conspirators what on earth might be going on?
Some Ideas About What’s Behind Gen SeXless
Although these ideas are provisional they may well help us to infer the source of this phenomenon. I call on you readers to add to and respond to these ideas in the comments section below.
Internet pornography became widely accessible to the general public with the birth of the World Wide Web in 1991. Gen Xers would have been 10 to 26 years old when it first became mainstream. What I’m deeming gen seXless (the last of the Gen Xers) would have been in their early- to mid- teens at the time. Although not necessarily causal, the timing of the availability of internet porn correlates well with Gen seXless’ entrance and emergence from puberty.
Ok, so there’s more porn, but wouldn’t that just make people more randy? No; what I’ve found with people who consult me for porn addiction is that sex in their relationships has typically become unsatisfying or has died out. Because of the way the internet is structured, people are able to search effectively through tens of millions of images and videos to find something that matches their exact fantasies. They may spend anywhere from 15 minutes to several hours a day looking at these photos or videos. Our brains are plastic and have the capacity to rewire, and spending that sort of time focused on one thing counts as some serious brain training. By training the brain in this way a person begins to find nothing else quite as arousing, especially when comparing such honed fantasies with plain old vanilla sex with their partners. Seeking out what turns you on via the web also avoids having the embarrassing conversation with a partner about your fantasies and what’s doable and what’s not.
What does our expert sex therapist Isiah McKimmie say? She describes herself as being on the fence about pornography. She warns that eroticism can become ingrained and that pornography can soon become the only way to enjoy ourselves sexually. Isiah says pornography has a place though and she suggests that a couple pick out something that’s arousing for both of them and which portrays scenes as close as possible to “natural sex”. She says that this can help stimulate men who tend to be highly visual and can normalise sexual behaviour for women.
Smartphones, Laptops, iPads and the Virtual World
Freud and his daughter Anna were very interested in what we do with our sexual and aggressive impulses that cannot safely be acted upon. One way in which we do this is through “displacement” a process by which we substitute another behaviour for one that cannot be acted upon. Often the displacement activity has features in common with the activity that is being displaced. People both intensely and compulsively look at their phones, laptops and iPads, not to mention that many of these devices are now operated by a stroking touch. I might be reaching too far here, but people are certainly burning a lot of energy on these devices, especially at night, when other more saucy activities may have been an outlet for that energy previously. Clearly, these devices are pleasurable to use and it might well be that our obsession with them takes something away from our sex lives.
Spending a lot of time in the virtual world can also make it more difficult just to be present to another person without a distraction. Without that focused one-on-one attention to each other the moments that naturally lead to sexual intimacy may be missed and initiating intimacy may become an awkward affair. I suspect the web and associated gadgets are sometimes inadvertently used to avoid relationship problems and conflict. Their overuse may very well be masking underlying relationship problems.
One of the side effects of living in such a technologised society, is that we tend to be overly cognitive and intellectual, spending most of our time up in our heads. Taken to the extreme, we can lose touch with our body sensations, essentially becoming disembodied. Sound far fetched? Many of the people I see in my practice have some degree of desensitisation to their bodily experience. A little less time with virtual pleasures and little more time with earthly pleasures may very well reignite the libido.
Stress and the “Task” of Sex
Isiah says that the main reasons cited by her clients for not having sex are stress, tiredness and lack of time. The bulk of these clients are in their 30s and thus part of Gen seXless. The Boomers have already made it in their careers and presumably they’re not as stressed as those in their mid- to late- 30s who are at the make-or-break point of their careers and trying to establish some security for themselves. We are currently living in financially uncertain times, with employees being under ever more intense and constant scrutiny, with no assurance their efforts will be rewarded. Not to mention that this stress often started from the middle of high school and has not remitted to the current day. Like Isiah, I think there’s a lot of credence to the fact that stress, tiredness and time poverty are impacting the sex lives of Gen seXless.
When talking to clients and friends I often hear that sex has become another task they must do. They see sex as a sign that the relationship is healthy and therefore set about proving that point by adding sex to their task list. They may also be responding to a partner’s request to have sex more frequently or to a misperceived expectation that their partner actually wants more frequent sex. In our modern lives we often need to be “on” and to perform and deliver. For many members of Gen seXless, sex has become another task which they will either succeed or fail at. If that isn’t a disincentive not to avoid sex I don’t know what is.
To this end, I’ve seen several young men in my practice who use Viagra as a performance enhancing drug. They don’t suffer from erectile difficulties yet by taking Viagra they last longer and feel they can provide their partner with “super sex” which leaves them feeling that they have succeeded at the task at hand.
Isiah offered two tips to help individuals or couples who see sex as a task or as yet another thing they have to do well. She says that often couples see being intimate as being intercourse-focused. Isiah recommends that if one or both member of the couples don’t feel like having sex that they choose to do an activity together rather than each of them going off to do separate things. For individuals and couple who are focused on giving their partner an orgasm she suggests being less orgasm-focused. The focus on orgasm puts a lot of pressure on both parties. Isiah says women don’t always need to have an orgasm and that the sex alone often provides a satisfying sense of closeness and intimacy. In my experience, contrary to popular belief, for many men sex isn’t just about getting off, but rather an important signal that lets them know they are accepted. This takes the pressure off you too, ladies.
Let’s face it: most people are time poor. There’s so much to do and not enough time to cram it all in. How does it come to be that people actually run out of time for sex? I suspect that by the time a couple finally get into bed they are often simply too exhausted. Isiah notices this in her practice and has identified a culprit. A common shared pastime of couples is to watch TV, especially recordings of TV series, and they will stay up to 10-11pm doing so before dragging themselves to bed exhausted. Isiah says that couples often believe they are spending quality time with each other when watching shows, but the truth is that this is actually contributing to a decline in their ability to be present to each other. You may very well be able to point your finger at Breaking Bad or Dexter for your problems in the sack.
What to Do to Address the Problem?
If you’re having relationship problems, suffering porn addiction, or having difficulties managing stress, then counselling is an excellent place to start out making changes in your life. You can organise an appointment with me or Nelly using our online booking system. If you need assistance with reinvigorating your sex life with your partner, I highly recommend contacting Isiah McKimmie from Passionate Spirit Sex and Relationship Coaching. She offers consultations using Skype which means you can work with her wherever you are in the world.
Do you feel lacklustre about sex? Does it bother you? Let me hear your thoughts in the comments section below.
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