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We’ve been married for 14 years and I feel like we’ve had a good marriage. I discovered that my husband was looking up advice articles on “spicing up” sex in marriage, but what he was reading was offensive to me. It felt pornographic and I’m upset that he would be researching this without talking to me about it. Our sexual intimacy has certainly changed over the years with a busy family and careers, but I had no idea he needed something different. He swears he’s not been viewing pornography. He says he’s only trying to find ways to improve our sex life. How do I address this with him? I don’t want to overreact, but I don’t like him looking at stuff that I believe is way out of bounds for our marriage.
These days it seems that everyone is telling couples they’re doing it wrong in the bedroom. Media outlets, especially men’s and women’s magazines, constantly remind us that there are secrets we don’t know about sex and that everyone else is having more and better sex. It’s easy to feel inadequate when the privacy of the marital bed is crowded with critical voices.
All of this noise can affect couples in a variety of ways. It can cause feelings of inadequacy and shame. It can also create comparisons and criticism. Your husband may feel like he’s missing out on something or would like a little more variety, or he may be feeling like he’s not adequate in the bedroom. Before jumping to erroneous conclusions, try asking him why he felt pulled to research things about sex.
You may find out that his curiosity has nothing to do with your behavior in the bedroom. If he is struggling with his own feelings of inadequacy, you can have a loving conversation about how you feel about him. This is a great opportunity to find out where he feels inadequate and work together to help him feel more secure in the relationship.
If he’s looking to simply improve the intimate relationship, then you might suggest you both do some learning together. There are many good books and less-worldly sources for sexual information. Often times it’s less about a new technique or a new position that will spice things up but finding ways to feel more connected.
If he opens up with criticisms and complaints about something you’re doing (or not doing), then let him know that you’re open to a discussion about his needs and preferences. Clarify that the problem with his approach is that he completely left you out of the process.
There is nothing wrong with either marriage partner wanting something different in the sexual relationship. Changing needs and desires are a normal part of moving through life. Children, health issues, work schedules, and life events require regular adjustments, especially in the area of sexual intimacy.
Since the only person you can directly change is yourself, you might also ask yourself if there are things you already know that could make your intimate relationship better. You might find out more about why he feels he can’t approach you with his needs. Have you shut down his requests in the past? Does he have difficulty owning his preferences in other areas? Healthy sexual intimacy requires a high level of self-awareness, emotional maturity, mutual respect and compassion from each person as they hear, observe, and respond to the delicate needs of one another. If you both struggle to respond to each other’s needs outside the bedroom, it’s not going to happen very successfully in the bedroom.
You mentioned a concern about pornography. One of the dangers of pornography use is that it creates sexual appetites and preferences that are often outside the comfort zone of the other partner. Pornography focuses on technique and performance instead of connection. If your husband has viewed pornography, it will make it more likely that he’ll want to bring new behaviors into the bedroom.
However, the influence of pornography isn’t the only reason a spouse may want to try new things in the bedroom. Some people feel secure in routines while others like novelty. There is nothing wrong with either, but open and honest communication about preferences is essential if the relationship is to stay safe and connected.
Some couples feel they need more techniques and tricks to enhance their sexual intimacy. I certainly think there is room for couples to explore healthy and tasteful ways to improve their lovemaking, but I also think it’s wise to make sure they’re not seeking intensity as a fix for a lack of intimacy. In other words, increasing the intensity of your sex life isn’t going to fix the absence of secure emotional connection.
This experience with your spouse seems to provide insight that you both need to have an honest conversation about your sexual intimacy. If he’s sneaking around looking for ways to improve things without your input, then his inability to ask for his needs has to be addressed before you can even talk about the bedroom. Work together to create a safe environment where each of you can be heard and valued as you begin to explore how to improve your sexual intimacy.
Thanks to Laura M. Brotherson, author of “Knowing HER Intimately”, for her helpful review and suggestions for this article.
Geoff will answer a new family and relationship question every Friday. You can email your question to him at firstname.lastname@example.org
About the Author
Geoff Steurer is a licensed marriage and family therapist in St. George, UT. He is the owner of Alliant Counseling and Education (www.alliantcounseling.com) and the founding director of LifeStar of St. George, an outpatient treatment program for couples and individuals impacted by pornography and sexual addiction (www.lifestarstgeorge.com). He is the co-author of “Love You, Hate the Porn: Healing a Relationship Damaged by Virtual Infidelity”, available at Deseret Book, and the audio series “Strengthening Recovery Through Strengthening Marriage”, available at www.marriage-recovery.com. He also writes a weekly relationship column for the St. George News (www.stgnews.com). He holds a bachelors degree from BYU in communications studies and a master’s degree in marriage and family therapy from Auburn University. He served a full-time mission to the Dominican Republic. He is married to Jody Young Steurer and they are the parents of four children.