Just one third of UK adults in relationships are happy with their sex lives and men and women have very different ideas about what counts as cheating.
That’s according to a new report by relationships charities Relate and Relationships Scotland, which found that just 34% of UK adults are now satisfied with their sex lives, compared to 45% in 2015 and 46% in 2014.
What’s more, 32% of people have experienced a sexual problem and many counsellors have reported a rise in helping those with relationship problems linked to porn use.
Meanwhile 19% of men don’t consider passionately kissing a person other than their partner to be cheating, compared to 9% of women.
With sexual satisfaction strongly linked to overall relationship quality, health and wellbeing, the charities say more needs to be done to address the issue.
One in three have experienced a ‘sexual problem’.
The Let’s Talk About Sex report of 5,000 gay and straight adults uncovered that one in five respondents felt low libido or differing sex drives was placing a strain on their relationship.
A corresponding survey of relationship support professionals found that one in four (24%) had seen more clients in the last year who were experiencing sex-related problems that were impacting on their relationship.
In addition, almost half (47%) of the professionals said that they are seeing an increasing number of clients where pornography is causing problems in their relationship.
A third (32%) of UK adults said they had experienced a sexual problem such as loss of desire or problems keeping or maintaining an erection.
Women were more likely to say they had experienced a sexual problem than men (37% compared to 26%).
Relationship support practitioners said the top three most common causes of sexual problems for women were lack of emotional intimacy, lack of communication between partners and tiredness.
For men however, the professionals said lack of communication between partners, stress and sexual dysfunction were the top three causes.
Relate counsellor and sex therapist Denise Knowles, said: “Sex is a big part of couple relationships but when things go wrong we’re not always great at talking about it.
“I often see couples sweep sexual problems under the carpet, sometimes turning to the ‘quick fix’ of porn to meet their needs rather than working on their relationship and sex life together. Of course many couples enjoy watching porn, but the danger can come when people begin choosing it over real life sex with their partner.”
She said communication can be the key to improving your sex life.
“We’d all benefit from talking more openly about sex and shouldn’t be afraid to seek professional help if we aren’t feeling satisfied or are experiencing a sexual problem,” she said.
“Sex therapy helps to unpick what isn’t working so you can enjoy a healthy sex life again. The result is often a happier relationship and improved wellbeing.
“Given the impact that porn is having on relationships, we also need to educate young people about what healthy sexual relationships look like and about the pros and cons of porn.”
There’s disagreement over what counts as ‘cheating’.
The survey also uncovered that a third of respondents (33%) have had a partner cheat on them and a further one in 10 (9%) said they suspect that a partner has cheated on them but lack proof.
The charities say this mistrust and suspicion can have a negative impact on relationships. Yet in the digital age, what actually counts as ‘cheating’ has become more difficult to define.
The majority of people (62%) didn’t think watching pornography alone was cheating although women were twice as likely as men to say that it was (20% compared to 11%).
Almost one in five men (19%) didn’t consider passionately kissing a person other than their partner to be cheating compared to 9% of women. Younger people aged 16-24 were much more likely to say that flirting was cheating: 45% thought it was cheating compared to 31% across all age groups.
Whatever people consider to be cheating, only 33% of people thought that a relationship could survive an affair.
This was at odds with the opinion of relationship counsellors and sex therapists, 93% of whom thought it was possible for a relationship to survive an affair.
What needs to change?
As well as recommending counselling, Relate and Relationships Scotland want authorities to do more to support happy relationships in light of the findings.
They are recommending that:
:: Commissioners of health services improve access to sex therapy and relationship counselling to provide support for people experiencing sexual problems, to overcome the current “postcode lottery”.
:: Policy-makers drive forward this expansion of access through issuing guidance and by looking at including indicators of sexual problems, dysfunction and satisfaction with sexual relationships (for example) in national health outcomes frameworks.
:: Government provide training and guidance on sex and relationships for frontline health professionals to help them improve referrals/signposting to services and support professionals, and to understand the role sexual relationships play in our health and wellbeing and how relationships may come under pressure from sexual problems (for example as a consequence of a long-term health condition).
:: Government commission longitudinal research into sexual satisfaction in the UK across all ages to investigate trends and to provide evidence on the relationship between sex and health across different stages of life.
:: Government ensure that Relationships and Sex Education (RSE) – now becoming a compulsory subject in English secondary schools – is taught by fully trained and confident subject specialists: either appropriate Third Sector organisations or specialist teachers. This would ensure quality of provision to prepare young people with the right skills, knowledge and expectations to form and sustain satisfying, healthy sexual relationships.