It shocking but true: 15 percent of people say they aren't having sex in their marriages. On average, married couples have sex 58 times a year—that's a little more than once a week. Dr. Laura Berman says sexless marriages are the number one problem she sees in her couples therapy practice. "We've had sexless marriages forever, but we're just getting more comfortable talking about it," she says.
Linda and Doug are ready to start talking about sex. They say they've had sex only a handful of times over the past five years, and they've had no sex at all for the past two years.
Married for nine years, Linda and Doug have three children. "The dynamic of our sex life changed after we got married just because more things started getting into our lives," Doug says.
Having kids had a major impact on their sex life, Linda says. "I feel like we're living two separate lives caring for our three boys," she says. "It's hard to see the man that I originally fell in love with."
Linda and Doug say the sex stopped completely after they conceived their third child and that they are no longer physically attracted to one another. "I want to feel that he's attracted to me, that he's excited to be with me," Linda says. "I questioned whether I was still attracted to Doug."
Doug says he's stopped seeing his wife in a sexual manner. "It's like she's so worn down she's just trying to get through the day," he says. "If this doesn't get fixed, I think our marriage is at stake."
Once Linda and Doug became solely focused on raising children, they say the deep discussions they once had stopped. "Those conversations were where our best connections came from, and we really started getting separated from each other. You almost kind of lose track of how you did it," Doug says. "Before it was so natural, so easy. We really wanted the connection."
Even after two and a half sexless years, Linda says they hardly talked about the issue. "When it was spoken of, it wasn't productive at all," she says.
On the surface, it seemed that much of the problem for Doug and Linda was rooted in the fact that they stopped spending time together. "When we spent time together, it was a lot of those logistics: 'Who's doing what? What do we have to get done?' You know, kind of domestic stuff," Doug says.
When Dr. Berman took Linda's sexual history, an even bigger issue came up. Linda told Dr. Berman she had once been forced to have sex against her will. "I could have put him in jail, if I had told someone," she says. "I was essentially raped."
Linda says she's never told Doug about her sexual past. "With Doug, [sex] is just something I don't want to do that often."
When Linda finally told Doug about the rape, he says he had mixed emotions. "I was angry and empathetic at the same time. I was kind of back on my heels and wanting to be there and not sure what to do, you know? I was just kind of looking at things through a different lens at that point."
Rape changes a person's relationship with sex, Dr. Berman says. "Your power is taken away, and it's a major sexual trauma. So not to have told anyone, not to have had a chance to work through it in therapy, not to have had a chance to heal and be carrying that secret around, the weight of that secret—when she knows that that was part of what was making her hold back—that was part of what was helping her shut down."
Linda and Doug's first homework assignment from Dr. Berman was simply to touch each other. "They had to get naked. They had to spend like 10 to 15 minutes, each of them on the other. No genital touching. No breast touching. Not about arousal. Just about sensuality and touch," Dr. Berman says.
Doug says the assignment worked well. "It was great because of the connection, but then our conversation at the same time, you know? It wasn't about anything outside the bedroom. It was just us talking," he says.
The couple's second assignment was a field trip to Tantric yoga.
The Yogic version of having sex, the tantric yoga exercise was supposed to help Linda and Dough reconnect with themselves and each other. "It was really interesting to have that connection. You kind of feel parts of your body creak that haven't creaked in a while, and you have a sense of energy in your body too."
For their third assignment, Dr. Berman sent Doug and Linda to the Pump It Up Kids Zone. "The idea is to kind of bring you here to a place where we can let your silly side out a little bit," Dr. Berman says.
"It was kind of neat to have a giggle," Doug says.
After hitting up a sex shop for assignment number four, Linda and Doug were faced with the final exam: to have sex. "It took a little longer than we thought just because after those three intense days, we got into a pretty heated argument that evening," Doug says. "I think some of the stress and stuff were hitting us, and we really had to reflect upon what Dr. Berman had told us about communication, how to talk. And, I think we got back to a good point when we went to bed, but we still hadn't had sex yet."
The next morning, Doug says he and Linda started cuddling and connecting. "Linda kind of jokingly said, 'We really need to do our homework,' and it was really inviting and connected, and so we did our homework, and it was great fun. It reminded me how that used to be with her, more than five, 10 years ago. It was fantastic."
Now that they've introduced sex back into their lives, Doug says they are scheduling for it so they don't fall back into old patterns. "I really found that knowing that it was scheduled, I was really looking forward to it."
Many couples worry that scheduling sex takes the romantic spontaneity out of it, but Dr. Berman says it's necessary. "It's a mind shift that you have to make because our instinct, our belief and the way we've been socialized, is that sex is supposed to happen spontaneously," she says. "But in most of our lives, our crazy, busy, kid-ridden, mortgage-ridden lives, if you wait for it to happen spontaneously, it's not going to happen."
Printed from Oprah.com on Friday, December 6, 2013