Sexless Relationships and the Layered Cake Metaphor

Alysha Jeney, LMFT, looks at a lack of sex in relationships, the layered cake metaphor and what sex positivity looks like. 

A lack of sex in relationships can vary from trust issues to health related dysfunction. Sometimes circumstances such as having a new baby or struggling with infertility can throw everything off.  Or maybe you just not know what you like or are struggling with feeling sexually confident. There are moments, however, when the “reasons” for the lulls are not as easy to identify and often couples will enter therapy seeking the answers.

Imagine a romantic relationship is like a layered cake. Each layer builds off of each other and without one, the entire cake feels incomplete.

The answer to “Why aren’t we having sex?” can often involve a missing ingredient(s) somewhere within the layered cake.  Here are the layers:

  • The first layer is the foundation, which is friendship. This could entail respect, kindness, fun, commonalities, trust and appreciation.
  • The second layer is emotional connectedness that is more intimate than with a friendship. Maybe this entails emotional vulnerability, compassion and understanding. It can include feel seen, validated and reassured by your partner.
  • The third layer is nonsexual physical intimacy. This can include flirtatious love taps, long kisses, hugs and overall affection.
  • The top layer is sexual intimacy. This can include foreplay, erotic play and any type of sex play.

Sexless Relationships and the Layered Cake MetaphorSometimes, couples nurture the layer that comes the easiest to them. These same couples may also focus too heavily on the lack of sex and be really uncertain as to why. As you can see, if you don’t have a strong, respectful and engaging friendship that allows you to feel emotionally safe and non-sexually connected, it is challenging to feel motivated to have sex.  When couples can focus less on sex when they are experiencing a lull and focus more on the other layers of the cake as a whole, sex often develops without much effort.

Whether you are in a longterm relationship or just starting out, you know sex changes; it evolves, it slows down, it’s hot, it’s cold. Sex has moments of passion, lust, spontaneity and even discouragement. No matter what gender, color, age, sexual preferences or history, we all have cycles in our sexual connection to ourselves and each other from time to time.

If the layered cake is complete, be sure to also pay attention to your attitudes about sex.  Sex positivity allows you to be open to new experiences without guilt, shame, or obligation. When you take ownership of your sexual self and explore your inhibitions, you may uncover a lack of trust or insecurity that is something you need to take a look at. Sex doesn’t have to look any sort of way. It doesn’t have to be labeled as “good” or “bad,” it doesn’t have to be done a certain type of way or a certain number of times per week. Being positive about sex can inspire true desire and intimacy between you and your partner, no matter how long you have been together.

One way to be sex positive is to talk about Sex.  Seems simple, but the more you talk about sex with partner, friends, community, etc, the more you may feel liberated of any stress, assumptions and/or pressures that you may be subconsciously holding onto. Talking about sex helps open the barriers of any sexual taboo(s) and helps to normalize them.

It’s also important to become aware of what sexual “baggage” you bring into the bedroom.  We all have baggage! And it doesn’t imply something is wrong with you, but rather it acknowledges that sometimes we have obstacles in our life that hinder us from growing. Maybe you have had sexual trauma; a very strict and/or religious upbringing about gender roles and sex in general; negative past sexual experiences; lack of trust in yourself or your partner; negative body image; etc, etc. Find a sex therapist that may support you through this process.

*If you’re looking for a fun way to try to reinvigorate your sex life, check out Alysha’s Loving Request Date Box!

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