Healing Sexual Conflicts

Pick battles big enough to matter, small enough to win.
-Jonathon Kozol

Most of the arguments that couples have about their sex lives are not about sex. Sex is the container, where we are most acutely aware of the spaces in our relationship that fail to connect, that make us feel small, unloved, invisible, and that reflect our deepest conflicts.  It is a little ironic that our potential for our deepest pleasure also contains our most intense turmoil, but not that surprising when you consider the “sexophrenic” culture we live in, which is split between shameful prudishness and the blatant exhibitionism that occupies media, music and mainstream advertising.

Perhaps the most universal of sexual arguments is the one that involves conflicting desire. This issue is often a precursor to many relationship endings and, while there is an extensive laundry list of medical reasons that explain low libido issues, there are probably more mental, emotional and spiritual issues that are expressed through the divergence of sexual desire. My new book, Love that Works, examines and breaks down sexual conflicts to its basic elements.

The drive to create and sustain an intimate fire is based on what I call the ground of the relationship. The ground is reflected in the kind of thinking we engage in about our partner and our relationship. It is the foundation for our fire. Even if you don’t express your doubts or resentments aloud, you can be sure that your partner feels the effect of negative thinking and the resulting sexual relationship is like trying to start a fire in a swamp.

Taking the discussion out of sexuality and expanding your questions is a good way to broaden the conversation and gain a wider perspective. When you talk about wanting more sex- consider what that means to you. When you turn away from sex, consider what you are refusing.

Communication is the currency of your relationship and what I call the air, which allows a fire to start and be sustained. As hard as it is for many people to talk about what they like or don’t like in their sexual encounters, this is sadly not the most significant communication that is missing. Our willingness to self-disclose is the breath that connects us to the life of our connection. Ask yourself what is not being said or heard in your relationship. Consider when you became aware of or resentful about the sex drive issues, what else was happening or not happening. What do you most wish your partner would listen to or express?

Feeling safe in one’s relationship is perhaps the most vital ingredient in moving towards an intimate fire. Our sense of safety in our relationship comes from the daily assurances that there is someone there for you.  This safety issue explains why orgasm rates are so low in casual sexual encounters. It is almost impossible to deeply tap into our sexual fire when our sense of security is compromised. This issue often looks like withholding sex from our partner or, in the inverse, asking for sex as a way to get some other need met.  When you and your partner are asking for sex or wondering why you don’t feel the same urge, how does your feeling of being seen, cared for, or valued come into the equation?

Sexual satisfaction is not really ever about quantity, although this is often the way we track and measure our connections. How else can you think of your intimate relationship that doesn’t have anything to do with quantity? Many a sexual argument focuses on issues that create more defensiveness and shame, neither of which contains opening to the more interesting questions that can shift your relationship. Encountering the issue of conflicting desire is practically guaranteed in any long-term relationship. Thinking about it as a defining passage in your relationship begins with addressing the real questions that are at the foundation and feed your intimate life. Approaching our times of conflicting desire from the broadest perspective of what it feels like to love and be loved is a path that will more likely arrive at compromises that are workable for everyone.


Jane Barton
Jane Barton5 years ago

"split between shameful prudishness and the blatant exhibitionism that occupies media, music and mainstream advertising."

Herein lies the problem, you can't build an intimate fire with a prudish pervert, it just won't happen. These people have mental problems and sex originates in the brain. It's called "desire". I disagree that media and music is "blatant exhibitionism", in fact there is nothing
"wrong" or "sinful" about nudity. If there was, then why don't we make dogs wear diapers?
Humans are just animals, like every other animal on earth, they just THINK they are superior and special. They think when THEY have sex it's some kind holy, sacred act. It isn't, it's their ANIMAL coming out. People who have lived in fear, shame and guilt all their lives can't just "decide" to "let go". The "shame" has been imbedded in their brains and they need large amounts of therapy to heal that. I would love to hear some current stats from real doctors on how successful "healing sexual conflicts" actually is.

Annemarie W.
Annemarie L7 years ago


Valerie Van Den Broeck
BLABLA B7 years ago

I am too shy to have sex, I guess.
My girlfriend as well.. We don't dare to do anything nor talk about it.

Lika S.
Lika P7 years ago

Keep the intimacy going. So when the sex is gone, you still have romance.

Diane Wayne
Past Member 7 years ago

When couples start making love instead of "having sex" alot of conflicts will be resolved.

Katherine B.
Katherine B7 years ago


Kersty E.
Kersty E7 years ago

It's too true that the best sex is with someone you love, who loves you back. When my marriage broke down, everything else fell apart first, one thing after another. Trying to patch up a failing marriage with sex is like trying to light a fire on damp coal. It really doesn't work. Communication is the key.

Paige G.
Paige G7 years ago

Important points.

Mary L.
Mary L7 years ago

And sometimes you can loves someone deeply talk frequently and it still doesn't work. If the love is strong, there are other things to use besides organic equipment.

Mac R.
Mac R7 years ago

I think that was the best column I've read of yours, Wendy. You said so much so concisely, covering a LOT of ground. Anyone who needs this info for their relationship problems will "hear" what you're saying and they hopefully will explore it further. Good stuff!