Sexuality is a crucial energizing force in the lives of human beings. At its best, sex in an intimate relationship is an expression of the emotional bond between two people. It is best understood in terms of the dynamics of the relationship in which it exists.
A healthy sexual relationship reflects the quality of the bond between two individuals. In my experience as a therapist, couples who cherish each other; are demonstrative about their love; and are committed to the relationship’s growth tend to be most content in their sexual lives.
Most often, eroticism is at its height in the beginning of a relationship. Then, mysteriously, it tends to subside. But monogamy need not be monotonous if the couple is open-minded enough to learn about the emotional parts of their relationship that are impeding passion and willing enough to bring novelty, intense closeness, and sensuality into their sex life.
Before anything else, in order to have a good sex life you need to see yourself (regardless of body image) as a sexual human being who has an inherent right to sexual pleasure. Know for a fact you are innately lovable and sexy.
Recognizing the positives in your partner is also mandatory. This means not focusing on his love handles or the skin beginning to sag under her arms. Focus on your partner’s general beauty. Love everything about them.
Listen to what feels good to your partner and what doesn’t without taking it as a sign of your inadequacy. Feedback from your partner is critical in negotiating satisfying sex. When there is distress in the relationship, this feedback is often given and received in the context of fears and anxieties.
Sexual Desire Discrepancy
It is common in intimate relationships for there to be a high-desire partner and a lower-desire partner. Even happy couples have learned to compromise, to deal with the issue with some objectivity and humor and to not let it affect their relationship outside the bedroom.
For some couples, however, a desire gap can wreak havoc in the quality of their relationship and may be a steppingstone to divorce court. The high-desire partner may experience shame, rejection, self-doubt, and isolation as a result of being turned down for sex repeatedly. The low-desire partner may feel controlled, obligated, inadequate, resentful, and tyrannized.
Sexual/marital therapy offers a way out of this dilemma if the partners are committed and willing to keep an open mind. Therapy also offers an avenue toward growth, novelty, and excitement in their sexual relationship.
Suggestions for the Partner with Greater Desire
- Keep your anger and sense of rejection intact.
- When asking for sex, be direct.
- Approach sexual intimacy out of amorous feelings and desire, not out of habit.
- Study your partner’s body and hot spots. Become an expert on how to create arousal in your partner.
- Realize people sometimes may need longer and more varied kinds of sexual stimulation to become aroused.
- Don’t heighten your level of sexual longing by, for instance, looking at porn.
- Your partner may have certain conditions that make them ready for sex: the kids may have to be asleep, the dishes may need to be washed, you both may need to bathe, a certain article of clothing may need to be worn. Whatever puts your partner in the mood, try to honor it.
- Consider (non-porn-based) masturbation as a way of meeting some of your unmet physiological needs.
Suggestions for the Partner with Lower Desire
- Realize it’s up to you, not your partner, to create your arousal.
- Be attentive to sexual cues like smell and touch.
- Have reasonable conditions for sex to occur.
- Masturbate less often.
- If you’re simply not in the mood, say so clearly, but try to combine it with other forms of physical affection (cuddling, massage, hand-holding, etc.).
- Live a lifestyle that is vigorous and healthy.
Marital/Sexual Counseling and “Optimal Sexual Functioning”
Eroticism cannot blossom in an environment filled with chronic anger, resentment, power plays, blaming, withdrawal, hurt feelings, sadness, resignation, defensiveness, lack of trust, poor communication, or ambivalence about intimacy and commitment. The goal of couples counseling is to replace these states with positive feelings, a sense of togetherness and of shared time and activities.
When couples/sex therapy skills are used with intense intimacy between partners, the result is the experience of sexual potential, a realm few people experience because it takes willingness, commitment, energy, and fearlessness.
Counseling restores a sense of parity in a relationship. When one partner believes they are somewhat powerless or resents the other’s unilateral decision-making about sex, the situation is ripe for a control struggle. This “push-and-pull” spills over into the sexual relationship in the form of attempting to control sexuality by withholding sex, or in the inhibition of sexual desire.
One of the functions of couples/sexual counseling is to enhance techniques that promote relational and sexual health. These include:
- Clear communication, in and out of the bedroom.
- Conflict management.
- Behavioral exchange skills, which teach partners to express positive and specific requests for behavioral changes in their partners in and out of the bedroom.
- Become more detailed in your view of your sexuality. (Exactly what can you do to make a sexual encounter seem more magical? What communication problems are keeping you sexually deprived and emotionally distant? Is it embarrassing to ask for what you want sexually? Why you aren’t you setting aside enough time for sex?)
When couples/sex therapy skills are used with intense intimacy between partners, the result is the experience of sexual potential, a realm few people experience because it takes willingness, commitment, energy, and fearlessness. The reward for your efforts, however, can instill in you a new sense of sexual vitality. With this type of optimal sexual functioning, you’ll have more knowledge, confidence, closeness, and eroticism than ever before.
When sex is taken from a purely physiological act and is experienced as a physical/emotional/intellectual/spiritual union, the boundaries of the personal ego melt away and you can experience something larger than yourself. Sustained passion in a long-term relationship can be a much more fulfilling experience than the hormone-driven clutching at each other that occurs at the beginning of a relationship.
© Copyright 2017 GoodTherapy.org. All rights reserved. Permission to publish granted by Dorothy Hayden, LCSW, therapist in New York City, New York
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