May 8 2012
Psychotherapist and counsellor Johanna Sartori is our regular columnist. This week she discusses sex and relationships.
When politicians and commentators are looking for scapegoats, it doesn’t usually take long before the breakdown of the family unit, and rise of the single parent are touted as the cause of any given social ill.
So, it would be easy to believe that we are a nation of individuals incapable of maintaining close relationships, but actually, if you look at the evidence, the opposite appears to be true. The percentage of people aged 25 – 74, who lived alone in 2000 was 57%. Far from increasing, by 2010 the percentage had actually fallen slightly to 53%. In the same year the majority (77%) of dependent children were living with a couple, either married or co-habiting, rather than with a lone parent. What’s more, these relationships seem to be happy ones, with a 2009 survey reporting that 92% of participants were satisfied to some extent with their partners and a substantial 54% were completely satisfied!
However it would appear sadly that this level of satisfaction does not extend to a couple’s physical relationship; a survey last month by stylist magazine reported that whilst 77% of respondents were in a relationship, 43% were dissatisfied with their sex life. Given the overall suggestion that relationships are broadly good, I began to wonder what expectations are around when it comes to sex within those relationships. Hollywood shows us beautifully choreographed sex scenes where lovers have artfully ruffled hair, no cellulite and flattering camera angles; is that what we have come to expect in our own bedrooms? Best selling author EL James has been credited with re-igniting the sex lives of women in long term relationships with her Fifty Shades trilogy, but do we really all need multi-talented and handsome millionaires (who apparently have no need for sleep) to make us feel like a physical relationship? Life is invariably a bit messier and untidier than make believe, and we are in trouble if we start to think that sex can be sanitised in this way.
The Stylist survey reported that 15% of respondents felt that the recession and associated worries were impacting their sex life. However the reason for 35% of respondent’s dissatisfaction was a lack of time. That got me wondering what it is that gets prioritised before sex. The world is full of busy people, but I have often found that people who “do” a lot, have developed a habit (consciously or unconsciously) that excuses them from just “being”.
When we sit still and concentrate on ourselves, the thoughts and feelings that we hear, can be difficult, forcing us to acknowledge the reality of who we are, which is often at odds with the person we think we are supposed to be. “Too busy” therefore often has an element of being a constructed defence rather than a statement of fact. The level of intimacy involved in sex, even for those in long term relationships can feel too vulnerable, and “too busy” becomes a useful excuse.
Sex is the most basic of functions, it’s been around for ever, (obviously!) and without it we would cease to exist. It’s is ironic therefore that it is often the area of so many problems. I think the overriding thing that struck me about these figures is the discrepancy between the suggestion that 77% of the population are reported to be satisfied with life overall, but only 43% of the stylist survey are satisfied with their sex life. It suggests to me that there are an awful lot of people for whom sex is not important, and perhaps an awful lot of people who could usefully discuss their expectations in this area with their partners.