If you want to have sex with your wife, don't worry so much about nibbling on her ear. Instead, take out the trash. According to a new study that just made headlines, more than 40 percent of women and 30 percent of men have little interest in sex, can't have an orgasm or suffer from physical problems related to intercourse.
And many of those problems are the result of resentment, disappointment and a lack of communication and trust among couples, sex experts say.
"Like the saying goes, the most important sex organ is your mind," said Dr. Sujatha Reddy, an Atlanta gynecologist. "And I think, in most cases, bad sex is an indication of other things being wrong."
Sex therapists William and Lynda Dykes Talmadge, an Atlanta couple married for 30 years, say for many patients, the first issue that has to be fixed is not the sex, but the relationship.
"There are four primary ways that people foster closeness: the ability to talk to one another; sharing projects and good times; affection, including hand-holding and touching; and sex," said William Talmadge.
If those elements are out of balance, things are likely to be rocky, especially if one partner is feeling ignored. As the resentment builds, the spouse will tend to back away from the sexual realm.
"If there was one thing I would say men do wrong, it's that they don't get that intimacy leads to sex," Talmadge said. "That being an involved husband and father is going to lead to a happier sex life."
The thing women do wrong is fail to take any responsibility for the couple's sex life, not initiating sex or even expressing her desires, said Dykes Talmadge, also a psychologist. Too often, women are "merely reacting to the sexuality of their partner," she said.
That can lead them to be "overwhelmed by the sexuality of the male -- and pushing it away."
Often, that reaction is because of the way women are raised. Many families and religions foster deep prohibitions against sexual exploration until marriage, she said. But after marriage, some women are not psychologically ready to make a leap from a guilt-ridden, forbidden act to an encouraged part of marriage.
Chores also aggravate the situation, with women often taking on too much and feeling too stretched by other people's demands, Dykes Talmadge said. "Everyone has to have enough personal space and I find women typically don't take enough."
Men also struggle with problems related to the mechanics of sex, including impotence, erectile dysfunction and premature ejaculation. Many can be helped either through counseling -- as in the case of premature ejaculation -- or through impotence medications such as Viagra, which increases blood flow to the penis, allowing men to sustain erections.
But Talmadge said he sees several men -- starting at about midlife -- just slowly give up as their performance wanes. Usually starting in the 50s, men go through gradual physiological changes that affect their sexuality.
"It takes longer for them to get an erection and they may not feel the need to ejaculate or have an orgasm in every sexual encounter. But what we see in some cases is men beginning to back off because they no longer feel they're in the game."
David Woodsfellow, an Atlanta psychologist specializing in marital therapy, said many studies have shown that men in their 20s and 30s tend to report a higher desire for sex than women; but by the time they reach their 40s and 50s, the tables turn -- with women wanting sex more frequently.
The dysfunction study, released last week in the Journal of the American Medical Association, found similar results.
Pub Date: 02/22/99