Sex. It’s that three letter word that can be at the centre of any romantic relationship. Sex can represent emotional connection, physical passion, or, for some couples, can signal the demise of the relationship. Couples who feel they have a satisfying sex life tend to give sex less priority in their relationship. In contrast, couples who feel their sex life is not satisfying report that sex is a crucial component of a relationship – once it is lacking, it seems to increase in importance.
One thing that many couples forget is that sex is about more than just the act of intercourse– sex incorporates the entire mind and body. Let’s instead think about physical intimacy and connection as a whole. When couples arrive to counselling with trouble in sexual paradise, this is usually where we begin. What is the current state of physical affection, comfort, and closeness in the relationship? Does this couple use touch in a variety of forms to comfort and soothe one another in a variety of ways? Moreover, is there emotional intimacy and closeness, or is this also an issue?
Another misconception is that as partners, we are supposed to fulfill all the sexual needs of our significant other entirely; if our partner wants sex to be a certain way, we must fill that need or risk unhappiness in the relationship. This pressure can be stifling. What this view of physical intimacy does is actually counter-productive – instead of freeing and opening up sexuality, it demands and restricts it. If I am constantly looking to please my partner, I myself am not able to let go and please myself. Pressured sex can feel inauthentic, performance-based, and unfulfilling.
Esther Perel, author of Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, asserts that each partner is responsible for seeking their own pleasure sexually. This serves to remove pressure to perform sexually and instead gives each partner full permission to let go and seek their own pleasure while also connecting with the other. In effect, each partner is using the other for their own gratification – in this scenario, the sentiment becomes “I am looking to please myself by connecting with you and you are looking to please yourself by connecting to me”. It is this very desire for one’s partner for self-gratification that amplifies physical attraction, intimacy, and pleasure. Who doesn’t want to be deeply desired by their partner?
Don’t be afraid to have conversations with your partner about what makes you tick – express likes and limits in a way that says, “I desire you and I am freeing myself to seek you out in this way” instead of “this is what I want and you should fulfill me”. Give your partner permission to voice and seek out their pleasure as well. Pleasurable physical touch can be as simple as running fingers along your partner’s arm in a way that is enjoyable. If you and your partner are working on deepening sexual intimacy, start small. Take intercourse off the table for a moment and focus on pleasurable touch. This will relieve some pressure and create space for the entire experience of physical satisfaction.
While sex may be one layer of a relationship, it is not the only layer. Working on sexual intimacy and closeness can be relationship-enhancing, and likewise, working on other layers of the relationship can be sex-enhancing. By changing how you deal with this three-letter word, you can open up room for it to thrive.
By Jennifer Goldberg, RP, M.Ed., CCC.
Jennifer Goldberg is a registered psychotherapist who works extensively with couples at The Counselling Group. She incorporates current topics arising out of her couples therapy sessions into themes and issues covered in Couples Corner.
Looking for couples counselling? The Counselling Group offers a variety of experienced couples therapists who can support positive changes and growth in your relationship. For more information, please call 613 722 2225 ext 352 to speak with an intake worker today.