MANILA, Philippines - Relationship experts tell us a "healthy sex life" is crucial to a happy marriage--but what does that mean?
Once a week? Mind-blowing orgasms? Steamy text messages and smoldering looks over a candlelit dinner?
Let's cut through the myths and expectations and get to the reality of married sex, as shared by 50 couples, who finally talk about the problems they're too shy to bring up (even with their girlfriends!) and the insights that only decades of married life can bestow.
1. Sometimes sex hurts
When women complain that "sex isn't fun anymore" they'll get the general advice to experiment or try different things to spice up their sex life. That oversimplifies the problem.
Sex may be painful, due to vaginal dryness or oversensitiviity, and husbands can take this as an affront.
This adds pressure to sex, creating a vicious cycle where the harder they try to have fun, the less fun it becomes.
As Dianne (not her real name) said, "It got to the point that I'd dread sex kasi masakit tapos nagiging sensitive pa ang asawa ko. (Because it hurts and my husband gets sensitive about it.)"
Vaginal dryness (also called atrophic vaginitis) can be caused by hormonal changes. The moisture layer coating vaginal walls becomes thinner, leading to dryness, itching, burning, pain or even light bleeding during sex.
It's very common as women approach menopause but can also be caused by lack of sleep, allergy medication, cigarette smoking, douching and even weather fluctuations.
Dr. Eddie Concepcion, a doctor and acupuncturist, advises women who have this problem to seek medical attention.
"Female moisture is a sign of good health so any imbalances will cause dryness. They may not be serious but it's still worth looking into, especially if you have vaginal burning, soreness or painful sexual intercourse," he said.
2. Not everything is a porn movie
Does great sex have to be wild sex? Pornographic films might suggest so.
But adult films, like any other form of entertainment, are supposed to be taken with a grain of salt.
Porn stars train intensively to perform the astounding feats of coital acrobatics and endurance.
Special effects also enhance their performances through editing, looped footage, prosthetics and condensed milk fired from a water pistol.
In reality, the average orgasm is attained after 10 to 20 minutes of intercourse. After that, it starts to chafe.
But it couldn't hurt to try somethig new--even if you decide you hate it and will never do it again. Your partner will appreciate your open-mindedness.
"For men, it's our love language, in all its forms and positions," Dr. Concepcion said.
3. There are dry spells
Different couples have different levels of frequency of sexual activity. These cycles are unpredictable and connected with our life situations.
Tracy said her she loses appetite for sex when she gets stressed at work. "I just want to sleep when I get home," she said.
"I was less interested in sex when my kids were very young--my eldest was 3 years old at the time, and I had a newborn," recalls a woman named Weng. "All my attention was on them 24/7."
With no time even for herself, she resented that her husband made sexual demands.
Things changed when her children grew older and less clingy. Now, Weng says she and her husband "relax and enjoy sex even more."
It's normal to have a temporary dry spell. Just don't let that deteriorate into a total lack of romantic connection.
Hold hands, cuddle in front of the TV, stay in bed on Sunday mornings to talk about anything except household and parenting duties. Nurture the emotional intimacy and the physical intimacy will follow naturally.
4. Too tired to have sex?
Stress can significantly affect libido. We either avoid sex or go through the motions without enjoying it. The problem usually corrects itself if the stress levels go down.
Unfortunately, many working moms suffer from Harried Woman's Syndrome (HWS). Women's stress levels are mild-to-average but never subside.
This drains physical and emotional energy levels, but since we don't encounter bigger crises, we think they're okay.
Symptoms of HWS include loss of interest in hobbies, irritability, depression, difficulty concentrating, fatigue even after a night's sleep, sudden changes in appetite and low sex drive.
"Any woman who exhibits HWS should see her doctor for a thorough checkup, but she also needs to examine her lifestyle," said Dr. Avdesh Sharma, director of the Parivartan Center for Mental Health in Hauz Khas, New Delhi.
"Stop being a superwoman," he tells his patients. "Stop being in high gear, 24/7. Accept your limitations."
5. Sex can get better
Not everything is doom and gloom. Some women "Working Mom Magazine" interviewed said they actually enjoy sex more now.
"After many years, my husband and I know more about each other and are more honest with each other," said Leslie. "I'm more comfortable saying what I want and not feeling dyahe (awkward)."
Patricia, meanwhile, noticed her sex life improved soon after she and her husband got through a marital problem.
"I think that brought us closer together and our sex life reflected that," she said.
It's also common for women to become more sexually aggressive during menopause, said Dr. Concepcion, who has been married for 23 years. "They become more interested, more exploratory and more aware of their orgasms."
Married couples also adapt to their environments and situations. This becomes an opportunity to rekindle their passions and be more aware of what pleases their partners and themselves.
"But the secret to great sex--like anything in marriage--is honesty. Tell your husbands what you want, what you feel, and what you need--not once but lots of times," Concepcion said. (Working Mom Magazine)
For more information, grab a copy of Working Mom's exciting February 2010 issue with Ballsy Aquino-Cruz on the cover! Working Mom magazine is available in all leading bookstores and newsstands nationwide.