#Love – 21st Century Relationships – Trish Murphy

Want sex and intimacy? You need courage and honesty

Broadside: Loss of sexual desire after the early stages can prove difficult to fix

Mon, Sep 19, 2016, , Irish Times

Trish Murphy

Perhaps sex is another area of our lives that we have to excel in and we are too exhausted or too fearful of recrimination to engage with it.

New reports from the US, the Archives of Sexual Behaviour, suggest that those born in the 1980s and 1990s are having less sex than those born in the 1960s. The fact that sex is happening less than ever, even while online dating apps such as Tinder are so widespread, is a strange dichotomy.

Some theories suggest that stress, lack of time and technology are all having an impact on our intimate lives. The growing usage of porn is influencing our expectations of sex and it is arguable that performance has become the focus rather than pleasure or fun. Perhaps sex is another area of our lives that we have to excel in and we are too exhausted or too fearful of recrimination to engage with it.

Another aspect is that much satisfaction is achieved via a screen and the trouble and trauma that might be involved in engaging another human can result in procrastination or avoidance. One half of a couple can go to bed and the other go online. They can argue that they are not causing their partner any bother, but the impact can be similar to an affair: betrayal, questioning of attractiveness and some level of deceit. Intimacy requires that we are honest with each other, face up to the issues underlying our relationships and that we like the other person enough to let them really know what is going on.

Many couples do not have sex, and loss of desire following the early initial sensual phases of a relationship can prove difficult to fix. They often hope that romance will return by itself at some future time, but this rarely happens as the couple becomes used to a pattern of a relationship with little or no intimacy. Mismatched desire is also a common feature and couples struggle with the consequences. One person may spend their time looking for opportunities for intimacy while the other tries to predict when this might be and avoids it. The result is often suffering, rejection and frustration. Individuals too can avoid engaging with sex as performance anxiety and overexposure in social media can be extremely off-putting.


The aim of sexual intimacy is not mutual orgasm (though this might, of course, be desirable) but to experience pleasure, connectedness and spontaneity. In established couples, this will require deliberateness and effort, and many couples will find it awkward and somewhat excruciating. We all know how difficult it is to change a habit such as taking up exercise or giving up chocolate; it takes motivation and self-discipline, but in the end we expect that we will be better off because of this effort. Sexual intimacy might need to follow the same track in that it will need to be scheduled; motivation will be needed to overcome the impasses and focus kept on the overall aim of a pattern of sensual connection.

Many failures If there is a porn issue, there may be many attempts at giving up; and many failures. The partner cannot be kept in the dark about this as secrecy and deceit are what keeps the couple separate and suffering. For both the porn user and the partner, this is a very difficult time as admitting to failure and feeling betrayed again and again are huge difficulties to overcome. Yet sticking by that person through the rough times might be the cornerstone of a relationship. If we want sex and intimacy for the long run, we need to have the courage to address what is happening now and not wait for some time when circumstances will be better.

All relationships involve taking a risk and being somewhat vulnerable, but this grows confidence and courage and so whatever our age or circumstances are, it might be a great developmental step to risk a relationship. Of course, the risk includes rejection and separation and yet if we can accept this as part of the process, we can get to share our lives with someone for whatever time it lasts. As Elizabeth Gilbert says in her book Committed: “To be fully seen by somebody, then, and be loved anyhow – this is a human offering that can border on miraculous.”

Trish Murphy’s new book, #Love – 21st Century Relationships (Mercier Press, €14.99), is out now