by Dr. Denise Renye, Licensed Clinical Psychologist and Sex Therapist, MEd, MA, PsyD in San Francisco, CA
Finish-Line Sex or Meandering-Journey Sex?
When it comes to sex, most of us haven’t had anything close to an adequate education. If anything, we were taught directly or indirectly to focus on a goal, namely, orgasm, and more pointedly, the male orgasm or ejaculation. This “sex education” is not really an education because it’s an old, patriarchal paradigm that was created in a traditional, fear-based fashion. It focuses on sexually transmitted infections – what they are, how to avoid them, and so forth — and less on the pleasure of the sexual act itself.
Understanding Goal-Oriented Sex by the Numbers
There are many ways to conceptually understand sex, why we have it, why we want it, and what it’s all about. One way is goal-oriented sex. Goal-oriented sex centers on male ejaculation with that being of primary importance. Of secondary importance is either avoiding or inducing procreation. This is backed up scientifically. For instance, a 2017 study from the Archives of Sexual Behavior looked at more than 52,500 adults in the U.S. — including those who are lesbian, gay, and bisexual — and found 95% of heterosexual men reported they usually or always orgasmed during sex, compared with just 65% of heterosexual women. And many of these men are unaware entirely if their female partner orgasmed.
It’s clear goal-oriented sex prioritizes the man’s orgasm and not the woman’s in a hetero-focused or designed relationship, because otherwise, those numbers would be more equal. Certified intimacy educator Shan Boodram said in The Zoe Report, “Because the male orgasm is crucial to procreate, our society has built this idea that the male orgasm is crucial for sex; that sex begins with a hard penis and ends with a flaccid penis. Because women don’t have to orgasm to create life, it took a different level of societal importance.” Again, the numbers back that up — fewer heterosexual women are having orgasms during sex than heterosexual men.
Communication about Sex Goals, Desires, and Experiences
There hasn’t been a lot of space in this so-called “sex ed” to include teaching how to communicate around sex. This includes having the skills to be able to voice that you haven’t had an orgasm and that you want one, or that you genuinely don’t. The skills of being curious and asking about a partner’s pleasure are also not taught. Traditionally, female pleasure has taken a backseat to that of males, although that may be changing, especially with the sex-positive movement.
A Pleasure-Oriented Approach
Yes, some limited types of sex can lead to procreation, but the majority of sex has nothing to do with procreation and is instead about desire as well as pleasure. This is where the hetero world can learn a great deal from the gays!
Boodram goes on to say, “In fact, the orgasm numbers for women skyrocket in same-sex partnerships compared to heterosexual relationships. When you are with a same-sex partner, there is nothing to prove — it’s just about what feels good, and that is when naturally more orgasms and more pleasure occurs.” Without having rigid, “finish-line-driven” sex goals that govern your sexual experiences, you’re able to be more exploratory.
What Boodram is referencing here is pleasure-oriented sex. It’s sex-positive in nature and takes the focus off of sex being mostly about procreation. It also takes the focus away from an end result and instead draws attention to the present moment, to cultivating pleasure with or without an orgasm. Sure, orgasms are great, but how can you create more pleasure overall, not just at the very end?
Sex Is Not a Performance
Shifting to pleasure-oriented sex can also provide some symptom relief for people who have experienced hypoarousal, decreased desire, premature ejaculation, erectile dysfunction, delayed ejaculation, and anxiety. Typically, a traditional way of considering sexual anxiety is to frame it as “performance anxiety.” However, sex need not ever be a performance. Turning sex into a performance takes a person out of the moment and their body. It intellectualizes the process instead of making it an embodied experience. The analyzer self takes over and there is a dissociation from the pleasurable experience.
Many therapists, including sex therapists like Dr. Renye, offer knowledgeable support for individuals and couples with sexual concerns of all kinds. Use our advanced search to find a therapist who specializes in Sex and Sexuality.
Embodiment Helps You Stay Present
As I’ve written about before, embodiment allows you to be in touch with the body signals that you get on a regular basis. If you can sense them, you can use them to your advantage. You know what you like and don’t like more and more as you progress in your journey of embodiment. When you are navigating a sexual or sensual situation with someone, you are in a better position to know and communicate things such as “Let’s try this out” or “I’d like it if you touched me slower/faster/lighter/harder,” or “Stop what you are doing; I’m not into it. I’d like this or that instead.”
Oftentimes, less-experienced lovers naively think that explicitly voicing what they want kills the moment. Quite the opposite can be true. By following your knowing, you have the confidence to stay with yourself (not abandon yourself) during sex. This increases genuine confidence and increases the possibility of pleasure for all involved. In short, you’ll enjoy sex more.
Change Your Approach — and Your Sex Goals
Not only will transitioning from goal-oriented to pleasure-oriented sex bring more pleasure to sex, but it can also be a way to practice empathy by focusing on pleasure for your partner(s). If your sex goals are about connection, You’re checking in with them verbally to receive consent and affirmation that they are indeed having a pleasurable experience. You’re attuning to someone else, which can make you a better lover overall. And who doesn’t want to be a better lover?
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Frederick, David; et al. “Differences in Orgasm Frequency Among Gay, Lesbian, Bisexual, and Heterosexual Men and Women in a U.S. National Sample.” Archives of Sexual Behavior. Feb. 17, 2017. https://link.springer.com/article/10.1007/s10508-017-0939-z
Powell, Vanessa. “This Common Mistake Could Be Ruining Your Sex Life.” The Zoe Report. February 29, 2020. https://www.thezoereport.com/p/goal-oriented-sex-could-be-ruining-your-intimate-life-22579581
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