Rekindle Sexual Desire by Understanding Your Sexual History

Rekindle Sexual Desire

Sexuality is much more than a physical act or body-based experience—it’s a state of mind and way of being. While influenced by hormones, sexual desire and expression (or lack of expression) are powerfully shaped by your deep-seated attitudes and relationship to your own sexual longings, as well as your feelings about your partner/spouse and his/her desires.

When we fail to give ourselves permission to be fully sexual beings; when our inner battles and restraints prevent us from feeling securely grounded within the currents of our own sexual desires; and when we refuse to accept the richness and form our fantasies and sexual urges take, we severely deplete the soil where sexual desire must take root. I’ve seen this occur for many of the couples I work with, clients who repeatedly struggle to create rich sex lives, only to find themselves trapped in a sexual dead-end.

In long-term marriages and relationships, the tendency to (re)capture sexual passion and fulfillment frequently directs the couple to look outside themselves for what might be missing or needed: “We need more time together without distractions”; “Our lifestyle is ruining our sex life—we have to manage stress better”; “Can you wear that sexy outfit I like?”; and so on. While attending to the relationship conditions that you and your partner require to bring about meaningful sexual intimacy is indeed important, this focus might not, however, give you the complete picture of any hurdles that may exist.

Sometimes you must seek within to find what is missing.

Sexual Desire Lost and Found: Meet Zack

Zack’s libido had been like a roller coaster throughout most of his thirteen-year marriage to Cindy. During their relationship, there would be times when Zack’s libido would soar and he and Cindy would connect sexually in ways that felt transcendent to both. But the most common and painful pattern was that for extended periods of time, Zack showed little interest in sex. This caused Cindy significant distress since she was a highly sexual person and loved connecting to her husband sexually. As a result, Zack felt guilty about making Cindy feel undesired, which on occasion caused him to push himself to have sex. Cindy stated: “I could tell when he wasn’t into it. He was going through the motions for me, and that made me feel even worse.”

In order to rule out any possible medical reasons for his diminished sex drive, Zack had a thorough physical exam and received a clean bill of health (normal hormone levels and no apparent medical explanation for his lack of sexual desire). It was at this point that his doctor suggested Zack seek out a therapist to help determine if there was any possible psychological explanation for his erratic libido.

Zack clearly loved his wife and was emphatic about finding her attractive. He openly discussed the relationship’s strengths as well as the challenges he and Cindy faced at times as a couple, challenges that would feel quite familiar to anyone in a long-term relationship. By all accounts, their relationship was strong and Zack couldn’t pinpoint which facts led him to feel highly sexual at times.

Reclaiming Your Sexual and Erotic Self: Understanding Your Sexual History

At this point I asked Zack to recall his sexual history in as much detail as possible and to begin keeping a journal to help him reconnect to his sexual-self. While journaling he was to pay close attention to whenever he felt sexual (all thoughts and feelings, even the slightest sexual and sensuous urges). He would also examine when he felt connected and disconnected to his body. You cannot feel sexual while you’re not attuned to your body-based urges, yet many of us exist in chronic states of somatic disconnection. The demands of life and advances in technology habitually yank us further and further away from ourselves and as a result, the emotional and physical undercurrents of our sexual-self too frequently go unnoticed.

Like so many men, Zack’s early sexual experiences were surrounded by anxiety, bravado, misinformation and secrecy. And the social pressure to share details about his sexual adventures (and “conquests”) with his buddies clashed with the reality of these sexual experiences. And because of his family’s conservative values (which viewed premarital sex as sinful), Zack internalized the message that sex for pleasure’s sake was only allowed within the framework of marriage. Sex became something he both desired and enjoyed and something he felt he shouldn’t want but was allowed under certain circumstances.

Over the course of his sexual history, a mental wedge developed that disconnected Zack from his sexual, erotic self; where his instinctive sexuality once stood now existed a constructed belief system, a belief system that left him sexually impoverished. Zack was able to experience the pleasures of sex but unable to experience himself as a sexual being who could deeply feel his own sexual energies both in and out of the bedroom. As a result, sex was something Zack did, an obligation that occurred like the myriad of obligations that directed his life. What he lost early in his sexual development was the freedom for sex and sexuality to be an inherent part of his identity, an extension and expression of an essential part of his being.

Taking a thorough sexual history allowed Zack to examine the powerful influences that he internalized, influences that continued to strangle his sexual-desire and prevent him from freely expressing himself sexually. As a result, he often waited for his wife to initiate sex since this put him in the comfortable and familiar position of dutiful husband who was taking care of his wife’s needs rather than having sexual needs that stirred within him. As Zack began exploring the history of his sexual life, it became more and more apparent to him that what was once alive in him was forced underground where it slowly atrophied.

The next step for Zack was to begin noticing the subtle life that still existed in his sexual, erotic-self—to both connect and accept these sexual sensations, feelings, urges, thoughts, images and fantasies. Insight into why and how he disconnected from these experiences wasn’t enough; he had to reengage and nurture these self-experiences. Journaling gave him the tools needed for this new, life-long journey.

Spice Up Your Marriage/Relationship Action Step:

In upcoming blog posts, we’ll examine the ins and outs of taking a sexual history and how to use this information to enhance your sex life and spice up your relationship. Self-understanding (exploring your sexual history and your peak sexual experiences, as well as any struggles you may have) can help shed light on problems that might exist regarding sexual intimacy in your relationship.

Here are a few questions to get you started:

  • How did you first learn about sex? What seemed to impact you the most about what you discovered?
  • When was the first time you felt like a sexual person? Describe any positive and/or negative associations you had about feeling sexual. Do these feelings still exist in some form?
  • What has been your greatest struggle regarding sex and sexuality? How do you understand this struggle?

(Featured [top] image  “Pensive Woman” by David Castillo Dominici/