This month I am introducing a resource found in a Ted Talk called The Sex-Starved Marriage presented by marriage and family therapist, Michele Weiner-Davis M.S.W.
The talk relates to a recent workshop we held at CRR on Healthy Sexuality presented by our Clinical Director, Michelle Mays. Very well received, we had a full house, many of whom were couples in recovery working on rebuilding their relationships. I heard from many clients that it had a deep impact on the increasing their sexual health. In her TED Talk, Weiner-Davis offers helpful thoughts on both the essential role of sex for connection with a couple, and the functioning of desire and arousal in the human sexual response cycles.
Weiner-Davis argues for the value of sexuality as part of bonding and connection with our spouse or partner. She asserts we are hard wired for connection and that rejection and disconnection hurts the same as physical pain. She addresses issues related to varying sex drives between partners and the impact of the low desire partner which puts the brakes on sexuality for the couple.
Weiner-Davis is not addressing couples dealing with sex addiction, infidelity, and betrayal. I suggest for couples in recovery from sex addiction, her message is valuable but is not applicable for all situations.
At one point, she applies the Nike slogan “Just Do It” to the low desire partner. I want to be careful to say, for a partner of a sex addict it is not appropriate to engage in sex when he or she is not ready or does not feel safe. However, after walking the road of disclosure, processing hurts, voicing pain, seeking forgiveness, and deciding the relationship is worth saving – then restoring healthy sexuality between partners is an important part of finding the connection couples desire and need.
A valuable portion of the video starts at minute 12:50 where Weiner-Davis addresses the human sexual response cycle. She states desire and arousal do not always occur in the consecutive pattern of desire first and then arousal, as is often assumed.
This is important for both individuals as the channels of arousal have been affected by both trauma and sexual acting out behaviors. Sexually compulsive behaviors involve repeated novel experiences or visuals bringing heightened neurobiological stimulation and response. The sex addict becomes conditioned to this intense “turned-on” feeling prior to sex. In contrast, in a long-term intimate relationship, there is rarely the same rush as occurs during acting out behaviors. When this same intensity is not experienced it can seem easier to withdraw from sex altogether. On the other side, the partner is often struggling with the trauma triggers as she tries to resume being sexual with her partner. Mental images of her spouse previously acting out elicit fight or flight responses. Consequently, couples in recovery can find themselves being non-sexual over the long term.
However, if a couple in recovery learn how to embrace, touch, and caress with intimacy, even if that “turned-on” feeling is not present initially, they may often find that their touch and sensual connection will lead to becoming aroused and they can have positive and even powerful sex with one another. Not because of the hyper-stimulated objectified thinking of, “you’re so hot-I need you now”, but rather from a feeling of “I love you, and as we are being close sensually I am aroused within that.” Keep this in mind as you watch Weiner-Davis’ Ted Talk to understand the relevance of the sexual response cycle for the recovering couple.
By Cheryl Schenck LPC, CSAT