Is it even possible for a couple that stopped having sex to start back up again? My girlfriend and I (we're both women) have been together for four years, and we haven't had sex for two. I thought the sex was good, but apparently she was going through the motions. She's a sex worker, and it took her a while to figure out she was not being present, and she wanted to stop having sex with me until she could figure out how to change that. I get that and respect it. We have an open relationship, so I started having more sex with other people. And while it's fun, I do find myself wishing I could have sex with someone I actually care about — and I only care about her. She says she wants to start having sex with me again, but we don't really know how to do that. Everything is kind of terrifying and awkward. I love her more than I knew I could love a person, and if we never do figure out how to have sex together, I'll still stay with her. But for two people who are both highly sexual and want to have sex with each other, we sure are perplexed at how to make this work.
— Sex Or Romance Dilemma
"Let's cut to the chase: Yes, it is possible for a couple that has stopped having sex to start having it again," said Dr. Lori Brotto, a clinical psychologist and a sex researcher at the University of British Columbia.
You ended on a note of despair, SORD, but Brotto sees two good reasons for hope: You and your girlfriend are completely open and honest with each other, and you're committed to staying together whether or not the sex resumes. Your communication skills and that rock-solid commitment are the bedrock on which you can rebuild your sex life.
"There are two aspects of SORD's question that jump out at me: One, the reference to wanting to be present for sex, and two, the description of the situation as terrifying and awkward," said Brotto. "SORD's girlfriend likely perfected the practice of 'going elsewhere' during sex while at work, which meant that it became almost automatic for her. This is classic mindlessness, and it is why mindfulness — the state of full awareness to the present moment in a kind and compassionate way — may be a tool for her to consider implementing."
Mindfulness is the subject of Brotto's new book, Better Sex Through Mindfulness: How Women Can Cultivate Desire.
"The practice is simple," said Brotto. "It involves deliberately paying attention to sensations, sounds, and thoughts in the present moment — and noticing when the mind gets pulled elsewhere and then gently but firmly guiding it back. Mindfulness is also about not berating yourself for finding it challenging or judging yourself for the thoughts you have."
In her practice, Dr. Brotto has seen research subjects successfully use mindfulness to cultivate and/or reignite sexual desire and relieve the awkwardness and fear that some people experience with sex.
"The uncertainty surrounding what will happen when they try to reintegrate sex can be terrifying for some couples," said Brotto. "What if it doesn't work? What if neither of them has desire? What if the sex is just plain bad? If SORD and her partner are worrying about the anticipated sex, that can make it damn near impossible to remain in the present. The good news is that mindfulness can help with the tendency to get lost on the thought train."
So here's what you're going to do, SORD: Order a copy of Dr. Brotto's new book and read it with your girlfriend. And while you wait for the book to arrive, you're going to try a mindful touching exercise called "sensate focus."
"She will invite her girlfriend to touch her from head to toe, minus the genitals, for 15 minutes — without the goal of triggering arousal or desire," said Brotto. "SORD's role is to pay attention to the sensations emerging, and curtail any thoughts by redirecting attention to the here and now. After 15 minutes, they switch roles so SORD becomes the giver and her girlfriend is the receiver. This is not foreplay. It is not manual sexual stimulation. It is a mindfulness exercise designed to teach a person to remain in the present while receiving sensual touch."