Despite all the self-help books, all the blogs and forums and social media, and all the coaches and therapists (almost none of whom have much training in sexuality), people still do things to undermine their sexual experience, preventing their satisfaction.
Patients often ask me questions about sexual technology–about new positions (sorry, there aren’t any), how to squirt during cunnilingus, how to last longer before ejaculation, whether to have a threesome, and so on.
But I generally think it’s more important for people to stop doing stuff that limits satisfaction and connection before thinking about new techniques, getting new sex toys, or deciding what their orientation or identity is. Here are a few examples of low-hanging fruit–what you could stop doing to undermine your sexuality.
- Have sex when you don’t want to
About three out of ten people who come into my therapy practice periodically have sex when they don’t want to, or do stuff during sex that they don’t want to. These people are not forced or threatened; not physically coerced, most aren’t even verbally bullied.
And almost half of them are men, not women.
These people pressure themselves. They say they owe it to their kind, patient mate. They say it’s their duty. They say they need to prove to themselves that they’re normal, or manly or womanly, or really gay or really straight. They say they don’t want to be selfish. They say they ought to enjoy things that they don’t. They say not being in the mood isn’t a good enough reason to say no. They say they’re afraid their partner will leave them.
Long-term, this doesn’t work well. People with limited desire or narrow preferences get more limited or narrow after a few months or a few years of sex they don’t want. They find more reasons to say no that aren’t really honest. They become less interested in non-sexual affection. They may start sleeping on the couch, or in the guestroom, or with the kids.
If they don’t become resentful, they become depressed. If they don’t become depressed, they become resentful. If they’re resentful enough, they may have an affair. Yes, someone with restricted sexual expression may have an affair because it looks like a chance to feel normal, to feel desired instead of used, to feel seen and accepted as they are. It may also be a silent “screw you” to the partner they feel has been mistreating or misunderstanding them.
When people are afraid that they won’t get erect or lubricate or orgasm, and have quiet, desperate sex without simply admitting their fear, their experience is rarely playful and pleasurable. Who would be eager to have more sex like that?
- Open the relationship when you have poor communication
An open relationship (different people call it “poly” or “swinging” or “consensual non-monogamy”) involves some sex and a lot of talking—if you do it right.
If it doesn’t involve a lot of productive talking, it will involve a lot of pain and arguing. In that case, people will frequently blame non-monogamy. If the relationship ends, some observers will say “what do you expect? They slept with other people.”
Interestingly, when monogamous couples split people rarely blame monogamy—“What do you expect? They were only sleeping with each other.”
When couples don’t get along, the solution is not to open the relationship. They have to learn to get along first. Even if sex is the main source of conflict, people have to learn to cooperate, talk honestly, and listen better before taking on the challenges of non-monogamy. If couples don’t want to put in the work to do so, they may not belong together. And non-monogamy may actually finish off the relationship.
Which, interestingly, some people want—but are unwilling to admit, whether to themselves or their partner.
- Couple up despite desire discrepancy
If you’ve already done this, my brilliant insights come a bit late for you. But if you’re in a not-yet-but-almost-committed couple in which your sexual desire is much lower or much higher than your partner’s, be realistic. That means facing the likelihood that you each hope the other will change, that neither of you will, and that you’re heading for years of struggle.
Every week, patients ask me “How important is sex anyway? Are sexual difficulties so important that it should scuttle an otherwise good relationship?” The amount of sex that people have is not a good predictor of relationship satisfaction—plenty of happy couples have little or no sex. But they can be happy only if they’re both content with little or no sex. When people continually disagree about sex, it quickly becomes a very big deal.
In this matter, how much people love each other is irrelevant. Unfortunately, “compromise” rarely works here: if A wants sex daily, and B wants sex annually, “compromising” by having sex half as much as A wants won’t be acceptable to B. And having sex twice as much as B wants won’t be acceptable to A. And love will have nothing to do with it.
How important is sex in a relationship? For most people, after the first few years, if the sex is satisfactory it’s not that important. But if the sex is conflict-ridden, it soon becomes the center of the relationship.
- Work hard to not masturbate
Periodically, some new patient will think that I’ll be shocked by some unusual thing they’re into. I never am. But here’s what does shock me—the number of women who demand that their guy stop masturbating.
Guys typically respond in two ways: they don’t commit to stopping, inviting conflict, or they commit to stopping and they don’t, inviting conflict.
Sometimes the demand is “I don’t want you watching porn,” but if you ask for clarification, it’s often “I don’t want you masturbating without porn, either.”
I sympathize with women who are sexually frustrated. They frequently believe that if you cut off a guy’s solo sexual outlet, he’ll turn in desperation to his wife for sex. This simply doesn’t work.
Guys who enjoy sex with their wives rarely, after masturbating, decide “ah, this is easier than great sex with my wife.” Like women, men withdraw from partner sex because it isn’t enjoyable enough to make it worth the effort, or they have issues with intimacy or sexuality. Making guys hornier (or crabbier) by taking away their masturbation doesn’t typically change this.
Regardless of gender or orientation, when someone demands that their partner stop masturbating or watching porn, they’re proposing a solution to a problem. They’d be much better off discussing the problem directly, instead of arguing about a particular solution.
If you enjoyed this, I bet you’ll like my short video, “Desire for What?”, at www.youtube.com/watch?v=nH4Kcd8oeF8