31 Jan 2023

Intimacy, sex and relationships at different life stages

From Nine To Noon, 11:30 am on 31 January 2023

The question of what's "normal" when it comes to intimacy is one that Jo Robertson gets asked a lot.

Usually, this comes up when partners have mismatched libidos, the Auckland sex therapist says.

"There's a sense between them of 'who's normal between us and which person is right?'" she tells Kathryn Ryan.

no caption

Photo: Alejandra Quiroz/Unsplash

No caption

 Jo Robertson Photo: Supplied

Couples struggling with their intimate connection can benefit from "taking intercourse off the table" for up to two months, Robertson says.

"What that does is it creates play. It stops being about an end goal. What if it's about exploring each other's bodies, exploring other ways of getting pleasure… it always prompts people to be more creative – and that's what we want."

She often hears from women who want to "go back" to the sex life they had at an earlier time, and has to break the news to them that there's actually no way to do that.

"Your life is different, it's changed, just the same as if you're going through menopause. Your body is different, the hormones have changed. Men's hormones also have changed."

Many people aren't aware of how an 'estrogen dive' – a dip in female sex hormone – can affect intimate relationships, Robertson says.

"Women often don't even know they've got a sex hormone and it's going to impact libido, it's going to impact arousal, it might even make sex a bit more painful."

People experiencing pain during sex should take it seriously, she says, as it can lead to significant psychological damage and often doesn't get better by itself.

She recommends talking to a sex therapist if possible and seeing a physiotherapist who specialises in the pelvic floor.

"Whenever something is a little bit painful you need to stop and absolutely get some support at that time."

Mutual trust and strong communication are essential for any healthy sexual relationship, Robertson says.

"Do you trust each other and do you like each other? Are you friends and do you feel safe with the other person?"

There are not necessarily any rights or wrongs when it comes to intimacy, she says, but both people must feel safe to talk openly about their personal expectations and desires.

"What are you referring to when you think 'sex should be like X'? What is the picture you've got in your mind, where did it come from and is it the same as your partner has got?"

Robertson shares, albeit "reluctantly", that on average New Zealand couples have sex about 47 times a year – "kind of once a week".

Jo Robertson is giving workshops to rural women at this month's Shepherdess Muster festival in Gisborne.


How couples therapy can help bring people back together

Serafin Upton provides sex and couples therapy sessions to people all over New Zealand.

Let's Stay Together - BANG!

Kiwi couples share some of the ups and downs of decades together.

Love & Marriage - BANG!

Kiwi couples talk about how intimate relationships have changed over the years.