Do You Have a 'Dead Bedroom'? How to Improve Sexual Intimacy

Many social media sites have popularized the term, “dead bedroom,” where one person's disinterest in sex leaves their longtime partner feeling frustrated, unappreciated, depressed and resentful.

Usually, a struggle develops between the couple over sex, which causes the relationship outside the bedroom to suffer.

“There are many reasons why couples experience 'bed death,' which is the more commonly used term,” says psychologist Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD.

“It's a situation of the chicken and the egg, and which came first. Is it because of a bad relationship – you don't like your partner, you're unhappy with the person, other things are going on – and it's led to no sex? On the other hand, is the lack of sexuality the cause of other problems in your relationship?”

Effects of Disinterest in Sex

Lack of or disinterest in sex can be inordinately draining on a relationship, and can tear couples apart, Dr. Kingsberg says. While most people need more than sex to sustain a relationship, clinical studies have shown that when sex is good, there is a 15 to 20 percent added value to a couple's relationship.

“Sex is really important to most couples and should not have an expiration date,” Dr. Kingsberg says. “We tend to take the early stages of high passion – or limerence as it is called – for granted, but after awhile that falls off.”

And so does the dopamine rush it produces, along with the feel-good chemicals that sexual passion releases. Which means, says Dr. Kingsberg, that you have to work to create passion in your relationship.

“It can be very hard to maintain romance sometimes,” she says. “It's easier when you're getting dressed to the nines, having champagne and going to a hotel than it is when there are a couple of kids in the next room and you're thinking about paying bills. The smart and successful couple recognizes that romance takes work, that it has to be stoked.”

When There Is a Physical Basis

In order for a couple to re-engage in a healthy sexual life, they will first have to examine the reasons that led to their dead bedroom and the discrepancies between their desires. If the lack of sexual activity and/or interest has a biological basis, it means taking steps to correct them, Dr. Kingsberg says.

“That's why it's important to talk to your health care provider about your sexual concerns,” she says.

For example, some sexual issues are gender-specific. For men, a common complaint is erectile dysfunction that may have a downstream negative effect on sexual interest. For women of all ages, the most common sexual dysfunction is hypoactive sexual desire disorder (HSDD), which is the persistent loss of sexual interest or desire.

In postmenopsausal women, other conditions besides HSDD can cause their interest in sex to wane. Many postmenopausal women lose interest in sex if they are experiencing pain due to vulvovaginal atrophy (VVA), a component of genitourinary syndrome of menopause (GSM) caused by thinning of the vaginal tissues from the loss of estrogen after menopause.

Other medical conditions that can affect both sexual function in men and women include:

  • Conditions like diabetes, high blood pressure and high cholesterol
  • Heart disease
  • Side effects of medications
  • Excessive alcohol usage
  • Smoking

“All of these conditions are treatable,” Dr. Kingsberg says. “The important thing for couples to realize is that they do not need to suffer in silence.”

Sheryl Kingsberg, PhD is an expert in sexual medicine and Division Chief of Behavioral Medicine at University Hospitals MacDonald Women’s Hospital. You can request an appointment with Dr. Kingsberg or any University Hospitals doctor online.

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