What keeps the sexual excitement alive?
The sexual relationship between two people is of upmost importance in maintaining a happy and healthy relationship. So there are a few key elements which are important in order for sex to be fulfilling to both partner.
Firstly, trust in the relationship should be implicit. Without trust, it’s difficult for us to truly be open with our partners on a sexual and emotional level – both imperative if you want a relationship to grow. In trusting one another, we allow ourselves to be vulnerable in front of our partner, and in being vulnerable we allow them to show their care for us. If we feel wanted and cared for, our sexual interest in that person is often far greater than when we don’t feel these things.
Secondly, without attraction, sex will be very unfulfilling. When we engage in a sexual relationship, it is generally because there is something about that person that we are sexually attracted to. When we don’t feel sexually attracted to someone, it’s rather difficult to want to be sexual with them. This can also happen on the flip side, when we don’t feel we are sexually attractive and so we shut ourselves off from sexual advances.
Next is variety, and this doesn’t mean trying something new or outrageous every night or even week. Variety is about not getting stuck into a habit. Sure, it’s normal for us to have certain routines; we are human after all and creatures of habit by nature. But when our sexual routine becomes habit, we will often lose interest. As Dr Ruth always says, “sex should never be boring!” And she’s right. If you feel like you’re in a certain routine and you play out the same scripted experience each and every time you engage sexually with your partner, then think how you can change this. It may be as simple as beginning physical foreplay outside of the bedroom, or placing one of you in charge for an evening of sexual play. Either way, small changes to your routine every now and then can keep things interesting and lively.
Fourth is probably the most important aspect of a healthy, happy and satisfying sexual relationship, yet it is the area in which most couple’s struggle – and the crux of this article… Communication! Think about it, if your sibling does something to upset you, or your child does something that isn’t allowed, you will generally explain to them why you’re unhappy, and perhaps after a discussion about it, hopefully move forward. Why don’t we do this with sexual conversations with our partners, the person who is supposed to be closest to us? Reasons often include being embarrassed, not knowing how to say what we want to say, or even fear of judgement from our partner. However, all of these reasons pale in comparison to not being sexually open in the way we communicate, which therefore often hinders our own sexual satisfaction and can even lead to resentment. Learn to address sex – whether negative or positive. Being able to talk openly about all aspects of sex should actually enhance your sexual relationship and desire.
Steps to make talking about sex easier…
It’s often very easy to have a conversation with our partner about things going on in each other’s lives, but when it comes to sex, a natural act that we generally enjoy, we struggle to know what to say or how to express our true feelings, especially if things aren’t going that well in this department. Most couples have a wonderful, well-practiced way of avoiding this conversation.
- Prepare – This takes team work. Don’t bring up a sexual concern when you’re on your way to a family lunch or before fetching the kids. Agree in advance that you need a time and place (not the bedroom and not after a very long day) to discuss sexual concerns you have. Remember to let your partner know how important this is to you and to respect your partner if they are feeling this way too. Make ground rules! Couples have different dynamics, as do men and women. One of you will probably be more of a talker and the other a thinker. Remember to give each other space to both think and speak. When your partner talks, maintain eye contact and listen to them. Do not interrupt or think ahead what you want to answer (you’re not listening then, so remember to be aware and actively listen!). If you need to write down the main points of the conversation that is ok too – it means you are both paying full attention. Remind each other that you care for each other and respect each other.
- Reminisce – Want to relax a bit and ease into the conversation about sex? Start by reminiscing about a sexual experience you found particularly fun, adventurous or fulfilling. If you are struggling to think of such an experience, rather discuss small gestures that your partner does that you like, such as a hug at the end of the day or morning kiss.
- Don’t compare – as much as possible, avoid comparing yourself or your partner to any previous experience. Nothing can ever be gained from this approach. Furthermore, don’t try to compare yourself to what you were both like when you first met if you have been together a long time. After many years together, you have grown and changed as people and so it will not be helpful to compare yourselves to what you once were. If you’re partner asks what they can do that someone else did for you, you need to gently address that nothing will be gained from a conversation like that, and that it is diverting you from the real conversation about the two of you. Tell your partner that you wish to talk about how you and they can change things, not how old habits can creep in to new adventures.
- Start kissing – when we have been together for a while, we often forget how important the basics are, such as kissing. Don’t skip the “setup”, and make sure you’re arranging time for discussions, but before you start, spend 5 minutes kissing each other. Many couples forget how important this is in their relationship, and it helps you relax and ‘break the ice’ in terms of sexual conversation. When we kiss, our hormones associated with attachment are elevated, stress hormones decrease, and our bond is strengthened. Once you’ve spent a little while locking lips, it seems easier to talk about what you would or wouldn’t like to see happen with sex. Always begin with the things that you like and expand on these. Be aware that some of what you or your partner suggest may push you out of your comfort zone, but that it might be fun to try together and if it doesn’t work then you can discuss why, compromise or move forward.
- Don’t procrastinate – If you make a commitment to try something new with your partner or explore a new side of yourself, don’t procrastinate. It will only stir up negative feelings and may increase anger and resentment. If you commit to something, make sure you follow through.
Barriers to intimacy
Fears of intimacy – Sternberg describes intimacy as a sense a closeness, feeling of being connected or bonded, sense of welfare for a partner, high regard for a partner, trustworthiness, emotional support freely given to a partner, etc. Intimacy can take place on many levels, including physical, emotional, intellectual and spiritual. Most often than not, when there is a fear of physical intimacy, an individual will also have lowered sexual interest and even arousal.
Fears of rejection or abandonment – Often grounded in childhood experiences or from continual experiences of being rejected by a partner, an individual will be avoidant of being close to their partner so as to avoid rejection. Furthermore, if a person fears that their sexual desires are going to cause a negative response in a partner, avoidant behaviour will often take place as well. People will often remain quiet so as not to upset the balance in a relationship, and in the process they will hinder their relationship from developing fully.
Fear of anger – fear of anger can either be the fear of getting angry with a partner, or the fear that they will get angry with you. People may not initiate intimacy for fear of being criticised or where their feelings may be aroused and anger may surface. Anger and resentment can supress sexual interest, desire and arousal and so it is important to address feelings of anger first with yourself and then with a partner. Anger should be productive not destructive. Not hearing a partner’s anger can result in impaired communication or avoidance of discussion of intimate topics, and not expressing one’s own anger verbally may prevent the development of intimacy.
Fears of feelings – Just like anger, if you are not able to express your feelings or let your partner have the emotional space to express theirs, intimacy may become strained. This too can result in avoidance and thus avoidance of intimate contact too.
Fear of losing control – this can take place on two levels: (1) fear that someone else will take control of you or control your behaviour, or (2) that there will be a loss of self. The first scenario often produces conflict in the relationship, and the second can produce avoidance and resentment in a relationship. We often get concerned that by giving in to a partner’s desires; we will be unhappy or lose a part of ourselves. And thus we avoid conversations of a sexual nature that we feel may place us, or our relationship, into this position.