The Honest Truth About Married Sex & Why So Many Spouses Are Sexually Frustrated

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romantic couple snuggling and laughing on couch

No matter how romantic the wedding was, the truth about sex after marriage is that a great sex life is not a guarantee.

However, this doesn’t mean sex can’t be fulfilling, fun and exciting just because you're legally wed. On the contrary — your sex life can be even more satisfying than before.

Why are there so many misunderstandings when it comes to married sex?

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The fairytale ending

Disney has long been a culprit in selling us messages about romance that lead to disappointment. From the moment we’re old enough to absorb their fuzzy tales of happily ever after — we’re hooked.

And while the newer editions might be more contemporary in terms of gender roles and ethnicity; the classics paint the same kind of picture over and over again.

  • Our partner is our savior (this is especially true for those in heterosexual relationships — the only kind of romantic relationship portrayed in Disney’s stories anyway!)
  • If the relationship is right we will be together no matter what obstacles lie in our way.
  • Happily ever after is what happens if we’re “right” for each other.
  • If we’re with “the one” we will always feel in love and our relationship will be effortless.

And even if most of us know intellectually that fairytales are, in fact, fairytales, this messaging has etched its way into our minds, affecting us on a subconscious level.

Making us feel like something is wrong with our relationship — when there might not be.

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Hollywood’s mixed messages

And then we have Hollywood and their ideas about sex after marriage. From rom-coms to dramas to thrillers — sex is an important plot point. It moves the story forward and often tells us a lot about the people on the big screen.

  • Frequent sex tells us a couple is deeply in-love and “right” for each other.
  • Sexless marriage or unsatisfying sex means things will never get better and they should just break up already.
  • That sometimes a lack of sex in a relationship (or "too much" sex) is the reason a woman’s life is ended in thrillers and horror films.

No matter the genre though, it’s clear sex often symbolizes depth and meaning about a relationship and a person.

And that marriages without it don’t survive and shouldn’t survive.

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What’s true about sex after marriage

There will be slumps — and that’s okay

While sex can be a barometer of how happy we are in a marriage — it isn’t always that way. If there’s anything I’ve learned over the years as a sex therapist, it is that sex isn’t simple.

And believing it should be, often leads us to draw conclusions about our marriage that might be false.

Almost all couples go through stretches of time where sex becomes a sore subject and difficult to navigate. Perhaps one person doesn’t feel in the mood and the other does.

Or reaching orgasm is difficult and stressful. Sometimes we experience pain during sex which can also create a complex relationship with sex.

No matter what the issue is, problems in one form or another are bound to arise. And the difference between them becoming problems our marriage can’t survive often lies in accepting that slumps are okay.

This doesn’t mean you can’t work to overcome them. On the contrary, a bit of effort is most often required to improve our sex lives.

But they shouldn’t necessarily be seen as a reason you shouldn’t be together.

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Sex after marriage absolutely can get better

In the words of Esther Perel “[Your sex life] doesn’t end when you take your vows. This is when the story starts.” As the article in Well and Good further says: That's because, according to Perel, once you say "I do," sex is no longer spontaneous — instead, it becomes what she dubs a "creative enterprise."

Whether you agree with Perel’s idea of sex as a creative enterprise or not, the basic premise is that sex after you say “I do” is something other than sex while dating.

Once married, our sex lives will crave some creativity in order for it to be exciting. And the good news about this is that sex with someone we love and respect, can feel that much more gratifying.

Because it’s not just a quick and dirty romp with someone you don’t know. It’s a moment of fun and connection with someone you know inside and out.

This can create tremendous sexual satisfaction, as well as emotional intimacy that feeds your marriage.

Sure, the novelty of the early days might be gone. But sex after marriage can create depth and reward that make those early days pale in comparison. If you allow them to.

RELATED: 7 Couples Married 25+ Years Reveal How Often They Have Sex

Frequency doesn’t equal satisfaction

It would be natural to assume that sex that happens frequently in a marriage means the sex is satisfying. Because why would you have sex often if you don’t enjoy it?

The thing is though — frequent sex doesn’t only occur in couples who enjoy having sex — it also occurs in couples where one of the parties has no sex drive, too.

Over the years as a sex therapist, I’ve observed many people having sex they don’t actually want or enjoy.

Why? For many reasons:

  • Because they’ve felt it’s part of their duty as a spouse.
  • To get their partner to stop nagging about sex.
  • Because they’ve read numerous articles about the importance of scheduling sex.

So while sex can be important in a relationship — it’s more important that the sex you have is sex you enjoy. Otherwise, you risk ending up having performative sex. Sex therapist Fogel Mersy comments on the sexual frequency and performative sex saying: “When people use a statistic to determine their sexual frequency, it reinforces performative sex, which is when you go through the motions just to check the box."

So, if you’re not having sex frequently —don’t rush to the conclusion that something is wrong. So long as the sex you’re having is satisfying, that’s the most important part.

RELATED: 5 Reasons Why Not Having Sex Every Day Is Great For Your Marriage

Sex problems in marriage are fixable

It’s possible to bridge the gap between you and your spouse when it comes to sex after marriage.

I have seen couples go from having no sex for years to reviving their sexless marriages. Finally experiencing pleasure and joy from that moment of connection, the kind of moment that used to feel pressuring and awkward.

I have also seen those who found it difficult to reach orgasm with a partner now experience orgasms easily. Knowing what they want and need to tip them over the famous edge. The point is, you don’t have to accept a bad sex life just cause you’re in the thick of it right now.

Just like you and your partner probably have different opinions about how important tidiness is, or who should take out the rubbish — sex is an area where differences naturally occur, too.

Try approaching your sexual differences as a team — and you’re more likely to find you can get that sexual energy back. Even if it’s been months or years.

RELATED: 5 Ways Your Husband's Sexual Frustration Is Affecting The Marriage (& What You Can Do Now)

The truth about sex after marriage is likely different than what you’ve been led to believe. Some couples stop having sex, others continue on like they used to. But dry spells and underwhelming sexual experiences can all be improved — so that sex can be something you enjoy and look forward to again.

Because low desire and mismatched libidos aren't necessarily a sign you’re doomed. They’re a chance to regain your connection and create a satisfying sex life. The kind you want and deserve.

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Leigh Norén is a sex therapist and coach who helps people create more sexual desire and intimacy in their relationships. She has a Master of Science in Sexology and hosts a blog with multiple resources including The Desire Test, a resource for people with low desire.