When it comes to sex, do you know fact from fiction?
In my work as a relationship coach, I read articles related to new research on all kinds of topics, including human sexuality, and some of what I’ve been reading about sex lately really disturbs me. It seems that that we, as a society, are increasingly adopting a clinical view of sex that reduces it to a mere bodily urge to be satisfied … like eating. Most of the advice out there about making sex great reads like an article on running in a sports magazine. “Do it this way, not that way;” “try this technique;” “overcome your mental resistance by doing such and such. It will be worth it.”
In my work with couples, I see the effects of a culture over-saturated with these kinds of messages about sex. Instead of leading to better relationships, it’s like a low-level poison. These messages are creating burnout and boredom that is sucking the life out of many couples. So, I’ve decided to put together a list of problematic messages being sent in the majority of articles I’ve read lately. I’ve also offered my suggested “antidote” for each problem. These are countervailing attitudes that bring vitality and joy back into sex.
Misconception #1: Sex is just a biological function.
It should be pursued for health reasons, like exercise. Within this framework, partner selection is neutral. Hook ups, masturbation, and “friends with benefits” are just another way of taking care of this need. This is seen as an updated contrast to the old, moralistic attitude that sex should be saved for marriage.
But even as we seem to be elevating sex to new heights by the attention we’re giving it, I contend that we are actually devaluing it. It is losing its pleasure because we’re not making it special enough. It has become common, ordinary and relatively meaningless.
The reality: Sex is an expression of adoration.
It’s between two people who are deeply in love, in the context of a mutually committed relationship. A merely physical act can’t even come close to the joy of intimacy in this kind of union. Casual sex is like using a beautiful, hand-crafted golden bowl to store the rock salt you use for melting ice on the front steps. It may be functional in that capacity, but the use is not in keeping with its intrinsic value and risks damaging something very precious.
Misconception #2: Sex is about gratification.
It’s a goal-oriented activity focused on the almighty orgasm. The problem is that the more you pursue a physical thrill, the less thrilling it becomes over time. So you have to look for new ways to regain the old thrill. You become subject to the law of diminishing returns, and the old thrill never really comes back.
The reality: Sex is about connection.
The richest and most satisfying sex happens when you don’t have any agenda at all, except breathing each other in and feeling each other on every level — body, soul and spirit. In this state, your love for each other feeds your desire and arousal, which in turn feeds your love in an upward spiral of passion. It may beautifully resolve itself in a release … or not. But this kind of intimacy bonds you tightly together and keeps the closeness in your relationship.
Misconception #3: You’re bound to get bored, so spice things up a bit.
Articles abound recommending new positions, new locations, new sexual acts, using pornography, sharing fantasies and a host of other things that would not have been allowed in print twenty years ago. Some of the suggestions are potentially problematic for the couple relationship. Most also activate the law of diminishing returns.
The reality: You’re bound to get bored, so agree to a period of abstinence.
When food becomes boring, try fasting for a week. I guarantee you that a simple apple will look delicious at the end of the week, while junk food and sweets will have no appeal. If your sex life as a couple is boring, forbid yourselves from touching each other for a whole week. Dedicate yourselves to the fine art of flirting for that week. If you even last that long, I guarantee that the fire and passion will be back.
Misconception #4: Keep reading about sex (or watching porn), we have more for you!
As a society, we are addicted to our digital information consumption. Families actually sit around the table at a restaurant and text each other instead of talking. Whenever people have a few spare minutes, they bury their heads in their smart phones, iPads, or eBook readers. We are inundated with information, but lonelier and less connected than ever. We have become jaded from too much exposure to information about and images of sex.
The reality: Keep the mystery and vulnerability in bed by getting your information from your partner.
Is it really so important to know what other people are doing? When sex was mainly a taboo topic that was addressed once by your same-sex parent in an awkward conversation about the birds and the bees, it was a great mystery. The joy of discovery and exploration belonged to the young couple whose information and experience came from each other.
There may have been some whispering in the back rooms, rumors of things “some” people did, but if you ever did dare explore that behavior, it was a very private moment with your lover and involved equal risk and vulnerability on both sides. You learned about sex, and you learned what pleased your partner, all at the same time. It was a wild adventure!
Misconception #5: Everybody’s doing it.
In fact, sexlessness is a real problem that’s increasingly afflicting us at a societal level. Our over-consumption of sex information and behavior is actually destroying intimacy, trust and understanding between the sexes.
More and more often, I hear stories of men unable to engage in intercourse with a real woman because of all the pornography they’re consuming. More and more often, I hear young women despairing of any satisfying relationship with men because they’re being treated as if they are the unrealistic, virtual women of the digital world, mere extensions of the male ego there for enjoyment, but not expected to have their own needs and desires.
Many young people claim to be completely comfortable with the recreational sex lifestyle, but studies show that the most frequent and most enjoyable sex is, on average, being had by married couples. You can argue that my morality is showing here, that I’m just an old-fashioned reactionary. My question in return is, how’s that hip attitude about sex working for you? Just because all things are permissible does not mean they are all beneficial. It is important to consider the question of whether these changes have been healthy for us.
The reality: Be the chooser.
While none of us can single handedly change a culture, each of us can control our own choices. Here are some suggestions for healthy choices around sexuality that honor and care for yourself, and open the door to that vibrant and joyful intimacy we all crave:
- Choose your partner carefully and lovingly. Don’t rush into sex.
- Choose a relationship that is based on mutual love and respect.
- Limit the amount of information you consume related to sex.
- Choose your sources of information about sex carefully.
- Avoid behaviors that activate the law of diminishing returns.
- Be gutsy enough to stay strong when you feel pressure (real or imagined) to lower your standards.
If every person in America made those choices, we could experience a majority of relationships between men and women based on mutual respect, trust and understanding. Maybe then our children, growing up in an atmosphere of love, would have their creative energies freed to bring peace and prosperity to the whole world. Hey, it could happen!
Erotic Love Map Quiz from John Gottman