In his classic 1978 book “Male Sexuality” (now available as “The New Male Sexuality”), Dr. Bernie Zilbergeld discussed the concept of conditions for good sex. He said that everyone has conditions, or requirements, for enjoying sex.
I believe conditions can be divided into three categories: those about ourselves, about the environment, and about our partner. Examples of conditions include:
- About yourself: you need to feel clean; you need to have no chores pending;
- About the environment: you need privacy; you need a soft, romantic room;
- About your partner: you need someone to say “I love you;” you need someone to be enthusiastic.
Many common conditions express cultural ideals. For example, some people can’t enjoy sex if they believe that they can be heard. Thus, they can’t make love at home unless their kids are gone; they also have trouble in motels if they believe the walls are too thin. Other people can’t enjoy sex unless the man initiates, or makes more money than the woman.
Some conditions are more unusual: some people can only enjoy sex if the woman is wearing high heel shoes. Others require handcuffs or candlelight, or the risk of being caught. Otherwise, sex is boring or scary.
Each of us can benefit from identifying and understanding what we need to function sexually. Then we can ask ourselves: do our conditions fit our values? Do our conditions attract the kind of people that we want? Or are our conditions so narrow that satisfaction is almost impossible? If you desire a sense of danger, for example, you’ll be fine as long as you’re with a partner who is not hostile or self-destructive. Similarly, if you can’t enjoy sex before every single one of your chores is completed, you may never enjoy sex in this lifetime.
How do your conditions match with your partners’? If you need a lot of time to feel connected and relax, and your partner is impulsive or non-communicative, it will be hard for you both to feel comfortable at the same time. Similarly, if you like to talk nasty, but your partner enjoys lots of soft words and loving looks, it may be difficult to create an environment you both like.
Couples in such situations, unfortunately, argue about who is right and who is “unreasonable,” “uptight,” or “kinky.” This is no substitute for real communication.
Most people in such situations need to share their disappointment, anxiety, and self-criticism. If a couple can decide that neither partner’s conditions are wrong, they can begin to strategize about how to make love in ways that satisfy them both. People can take turns getting their conditions. Or you can interpret your conditions in new ways. For example, if privacy is an issue, playing music during sex can provide a sense of seclusion. Making love wearing a blindfold can provide the same sense of romantic solitude.
Similarly, instead of needing to be squeaky clean before making love, a talk with your partner about how she actually feels about your body smells may be helpful. Your partner stroking your genitals with a damp towel may satisfy your need for cleanliness in a way that enhances the sexual mood rather than detracting from it.
Are there conditions that are simply wrong? Certainly, needing someone to be injured, or that you take serious risks, is problematic. Similarly, if the sex that you require makes you feel bad afterwards, that’s a problem. If you have concerns about your conditions, discuss them with a close friend or a professional. Remember, though, that the issue is not for you to have “normal” conditions, or the same conditions as your partner. Ultimately, you want to be able to have sex that celebrates who you are, whatever partnership you’re in–and to have sex that enhances your life.