Ask Dr. Love: Q&A with a Sex Therapist
Let's face it...sex, love, and marriage aren't always sunshine and rainbows. As much as we would like our closest relationships to cruise along without incident and without much effort, they take WORK! Sometimes, though, no matter how hard we try, we will still need a professional to listen, assist, and support us as we work to get back the spark in our love life...and there's absolutely no shame in that!
This post features special guest Dr. Kyle Zrenchik of All In Therapy Clinic out of Minnetonka, MN. He is a Doctor of Couple & Family Therapy, a Certified Clinical Sexologist, and the creator of what he calls the "Couples Erotic Flow". Dr. Kyle, or "Dr. Love" as he's known on the radio, has been kind enough to answer some questions for the Intimacy Advisor that I thought would best help you, my readers! Read on to see Dr. Love's advice for love, sex, and your relationships. The doctor is in, and he's ready to help you get your groove back!
One of the most common questions I receive come from couples who seem to have mismatched sex drives…one person wants lots of sex, as often as possible, and the other person just doesn’t seem that interested…ever. How can couples overcome this?
The first thing to understand is that this is quite common. This issue, called Desire Discrepancy, where one partner wants sex more than the other, is more common than people realize. It is rare that both people have the same level of desire and drive (unless they both have no desire, of course). So, don’t get too down on yourself or your relationship.
For the person with lower sexual desire:
A good first place to start would be to look at all of the biological things that can impact desire. Are you getting enough sleep? It’s hard to be “hard” if you are constantly tired. Are you treating your body well? Are you eating healthy and drinking enough water? It’s unlikely that you are going to feel sexy if you have chronic heartburn, are frequently dehydrated, or are constipated, right?? Could you be on a medication that hinders your desire? All of those factors come into play in how our body responds to erotic stimulation or manifests sexual desire. We are not designed to want to mate if we are feeling ill, exhausted, or bloated.
After looking at the biological, then look at the psychological. Is there underlying anxiety or depression that is robbing you of your erotic connection? I like to tell people that you cannot feel horny and anxious at the same time. Are you in your head too much and worrying about things instead of focusing on what is happening in the bed? People that have low sexual desire also may experience body image and self-confidence issues. It is crucial that you find yourself sexy if you want to have sexy-time. Also, is there a negative sexual experience in your past that is still affecting you today? You may be surprised how sexual trauma, traumatic births or difficulty conceiving, or past relationship issues show up in our bodies.
Lastly, after looking at the psychological, examine the relationship. Long-term satisfying sexual connections come from loving and stable relationships. When couples lose trust, when they disconnect emotionally, when they stop flirting, when they feel resentful, or if they feel unseen, it often affects their sexual connection.
If you have never had a sexual desire, and you cannot trace the cause to any one thing, then it is unlikely that you will ever find a sexual desire. Not all people enjoy or even need sex at the same level. However, if you did have desire, and you have felt it decrease over time, then there are a lot of reasons to be hopeful that it can change. Rediscovering or rekindling desire is about identifying what barriers are preventing your bod from doing what it naturally wants to do (which is essentially to eat, sleep, and fuck all day).
For the person with the higher desire:
It is quite easy for you to get discouraged, and for understandable reasons. You are a sexual being, and you want to experience that with your mate. It’s discouraging when you have a need that is not being met. From my experience, your partner is also aware of how your need is not being met and is not feeling too proud about that, either.
So, let me give you some tips here:
#1 - Don’t be a jerk
We know you are not getting enough action. But being mean and throwing a fit is not going to help the situation at all. Tantrums are a big turn off, and you cannot pressure anyone into having sex with you.
#2 - Don’t be pathetic
Being whiny, pleading your case, or begging are signs of desperation. Just like tantrums, desperation is a natural repellant. Guilting your partner into sex is a sure-fire path to problems down the line.
#3 - Be seductive
When you were first dating, I am sure you tried really hard to be sexy and seductive. It’s very easy to forget about the importance of flirting, seduction, and “warming up the engine”, thinking that all one should need to do is roll over in bed and say “wanna do it?”. Seduction is a lot like cooking ribs; low and slow. Don’t forget that your partner was once really attracted to you, and likely still is. Exude confidence, be flirtatious, and find your sexy.
#4 - Focus on non-erotic touch for now
As couples grow old together, sometimes they forget about the importance of non-erotic touch; hand holding, back scratching, shoulder rubs, cuddling in bed, etc. When couples are frequently in contact, they are less likely to grow sexually distant. Also, focusing on touch that doesn’t lead to sex helps your partner relax and reconnect without feeling pressure or fear of disappointing you.
Any couple experiencing problems in their sex life must remember that, regardless of what the issue is, they must tackle it as a team in order to work past it. Be open to new ideas, talk and discuss things, be vulnerable, and ask for help when needed. Finger pointing is unnecessary and counter-productive. Sitting down and talking about sex, or the lack thereof, like two adults is the foundation to any satisfying sex life.
Do you ever “prescribe” sex toys for couples as a way of dealing with sexual struggles? If so, what kinds, and in what ways do you share that they can help?
Absolutely I do! There are so many wonderful toys out there that can be used to enhance anyone’s sexual connection. If you are experiencing a sexual problem, toys can also be used to help you overcome a hurdle. Let be break down a few of my favorites:
Female sexual pain (Vaginismus):
The interior walls of the vagina are designed to stretch. However, sometimes they do not stretch as easily or as smoothly as they should, causing acute pain. If this is the case for you, consider using a vaginal dilator or a dildo. With these, you can insert something into yourself and allow you body to relax and take in more. If you feel tightness or stretching, that’s okay (as long as it is within reason). Just breathe, keep it moving, and focus on what feels good to help you overcome the temporary discomfort.
Penises get firm and rigid when they are engorged with blood. Hot, right? Well, if you notice yourself having frequent soft erections, it may be because there is not enough blood pooling in your shaft (or if you want to get all technical, your Corpus cavernosum and your Corpus spongiosum). Using a Cock Ring helps to restrict the flow of blood out of your penis, aiding in achieving a bit more rigidity and girth.
Women unable to orgasm (Anorgasmia):
If you have found yourself never orgasming from vaginal intercourse, then you may be one of the many women that are reportedly unable to orgasm via vaginal stimulation alone. In this case, you may be only able to achieve orgasm through external, clitoral stimulation. The women I have coached through this have been most successful using a bullet vibrator, a small vibrating wand or a pill-shaped device. They are cheap, reliable, and often-times become a girl's best friend. Use it to discover your clitoris, find your vibe, and see if the orgasm follows.
I am always surprised at how many people have gone their whole lives and have never used lube. It’s like having a massage without lotion or body oil. Sure, you can, but why would you? Sometimes women get dry before sex is done. That’s okay. It’s a vagina, not a fountain. Find a good lube, and use it frequently. If you are using a sex toy, then choose a water-based lube. If you are just using what god gave you, then I suggest a silicone-based lube (silicone-based lubes tend to last longer but can ruin sex toys). You want a lube that lasts as long as you do, and there is no reason you shouldn’t have that because there are 100 different kinds on the market! Find one that works for you and kick sex-ruining friction out of the bed.
Sex is a sport. At least...I keep trying to petition the Olympics to consider it a sport. More on that later! Sometimes our bodies are just tired, or are having a hard time being flexible. If this is the case for you, then consider getting a Liberator cushion. They are great for providing some back or body support when getting busy. No need to throw your neck out when going down, right?
Communication often seems to be the major difficulty in relationships. Do you have any go-to advice or top tips for couples who are facing communication roadblocks which are affecting their love life?
Communication challenges are the single greatest (and most common) challenge a couple can face. If a couple finds themselves unable to talk to each other well, it’s hard to do most anything else well. There are countless books and podcasts about couple's communication, as well as tools that any trained therapist can give you for the specific challenge you face. So, of course, one general option would be to pick up a book and start reading from those that have gone through what you are going through; they may be able to offer a lot of insight.
What many communication challenges boil down to is an inability to listen or an inability to be vulnerable. I coach my couples on two important rules of engagement:
#1- Speak to be Heard (instead of speaking to persuade)
#2- Listen to Understand (instead of listening until it’s your turn to speak)
Let me speak to the first rule. Sharing your thoughts and trying to persuade are two different things. When you are sharing your thoughts about something (something that you like, something that your partner did that bothered you, something that happened at work that has you concerned), avoid trying to get the other to agree with you. Saying things like “You have to realize how annoying you are being” leave little room to disagree or have another opinion. But saying something like “I am frustrated when you interrupt me when I am talking” or “I am worried about our daughter’s performance in school” is simply you sharing your experience. The person listening is more likely to want to continue to listen when you share your experience. Your partner may not respond perfectly every time, but if you speak to be heard, instead of speaking to get the other person to do or say something specific, you are probably going to inherently be more compelling and persuasive.
The second rule speaks to the importance of listening. Listen to everything, both what you partner is saying, and what your partner isn’t saying. Read a little between the lines. If they keep bringing up how hurt they were that you did not call them back, something seemingly innocuous, then there might be something more going on. Ask them to share more. Keep listening until you get to the real root issue. Maybe they have been feeling lonely, or maybe they worry that you don’t find them special any longer. Maybe they just need your support to talk through some difficult issue in their life. Don’t jump to the conclusion that your partner’s frustrations, fears, joys, or sorrows are always about you. A good mechanic may listen to the customer saying “I think there is something wrong with the engine”, but they also understand the importance of listening and doing their own investigation until they can accurately discern what is going on. Listen to understand. Avoid listening just as a means of waiting until it is your time to speak.
Couples that communicate effectively can navigate most any problem life throws at them well. That is because they feel secure in the relationship, and know that any problem that they face will be dealt with as a team. Whether you like it or not, your partner's problems are your problems, and vice versa. You are a team, so remember to communicate like one.
What kinds of challenges is couple’s therapy or sex therapy most suited to assist with, and what advice would you give to a couple who thinks therapy may help them, but they are hesitant to get started?
You are right to see couples therapy and sex therapy as slightly different. Couples therapy is a good place for couples that are looking for either some overall help in their relationship, or who are more wanting to work on communication and emotional intimacy. Sex therapy is really a specialty, more for those that are wanting to focus on their sex life. It can be done as a couple, or as an individual.
There is also more stigma and vulnerability that comes from going to see a sex therapist than there is going to see a couples therapist. Never have I ever seen someone’s social media post say “Can’t wait until I go see my sex therapist on Thursday!! Slay!”. While it may take a little courage to begin the process of working with a sex therapist, people are often surprised by how nice it is to be able to talk to a trained professional about one of the most intimate aspects of life. Sex therapists are some of the least-judgmental, most understanding people you can find. It’s kind of part of the job!
If you are considering working with a sex therapist, consider finding one though the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists (AASSECT https://www.aasect.org/referral-directory) or by searching on Psychology Today (https://www.psychologytoday.com/us). These sites will provide a list of trained sex therapists and couple's therapists in your local area.
Whether you are looking for a couples therapist or a sex therapist, I would encourage you to take your time to find the right one for you. It’s easy to find a therapist; it’s a bit more challenging to find someone you really connect with. The relationship you build with your therapist makes a huge difference on your experience and the results you will gain. So do the homework and find someone with the experience and the personality that resonates with you most.
A giant thank you to Dr. Kyle Zrenchik (Dr. Love on WCCO radio) for participating in this interview with me! You can read more about him and his amazing work with couples here.
Our love relationships are a HUGE part of our lives, and the health of our relationship & sex life absolutely has an impact on our overall mental health. Let's drop the stigma and normalize couple's therapy and sex therapy as just something we need to do for our health. Seeking counselling and mental health treatment should be as typical as going to the doctor for an illness. If your relationship is sick...go get help!
~The Intimacy Advisor~