Are you dissatisfied with the frequency you are having sex in your relationship? Does it seem like a chore or obligation? Or, does it seem like it acts as a substitute for meaningful conversation? These are all usual experiences that couples can face in relationships, especially when they are long-term. Here, I will describe some techniques to improve your sex life, permanently.
Rife with sex often comes anxiety, vulnerability, and self-judgment. Individuals’ worst views of themselves can come out and can dictate the level of emotional intimacy and frequency that sex provides in relationships. These insecurities can be debilitating, causing partners to say, “is it something I did?” or “What’s wrong with me?” When these vulnerable inner-experiences are not shared between partners, sex and relational intimacy is likely to suffer.
In my years of experience working with couples who struggle to navigate sexual relationships, one couple stands out to me as representing how anxiety can be a disease that infects sexual relationships. This couple, husband (Matt) and wife (Lydia), came in to my office wanting to work on their sex life. They discussed how they have been married for several years, had two children, and have only had sex a handful of times. Both Lydia and Matt described how they were reciprocally attracted to one another. They enjoyed spending time together, they were effective and loving parents, and they loved each other deeply, but when it came to sex, neither could get to the point of being vulnerable physically. Lydia would explain how she was uncomfortable with her body and did not want to be naked. Similarly, Matt would be attracted to her and aroused by the situation, but then when clothes came off, he would freeze. He described wanting so badly to please his wife, to be intimate with her, but his anxiety would overwhelm him. Lydia would take it personally and began to assume she wasn’t pretty enough, or wasn’t loved enough by him, despite what he would say to the contrary. Their issues were raw and real.
There’s a reason why, as adolescents, we thought of sex in terms of “bases.” 1st, 2nd, and 3rd bases help both people build up to identity-defining, 4th base. The colloquial term holds a lot of psychological merit. As humans we are programmed to complete things in steps, but when steps are skipped, anxiety becomes paramount. I was resolved to re-teach the “bases” through well-known sex therapy techniques to help Lydia and Matt achieve a fulfilling sexual relationship.
Techniques to improve your sex life – lift the performance anxiety?:
I channeled my sex therapy training and explained a technique called “sensate focus,” developed by renowned sex theorists, Masters and Johnson. This technique is targeted for individuals who struggle with overwhelming anxiety, whereby they are unable to perform sexually or in some cases get aroused. It is designed to gradually desensitize individuals to the anxiety-provoking experience of sex, gradually. The orgasm, the experience that is often loaded with the most anxiety, is not the focus, just being with one another is key. The point of the build up is to get each person in touch with their own sexual needs and communicate them with their partner, accordingly. I coached Lydia and Matt through several stages of sensate focus experiences, facilitating the process of being attuned to their respective sexual needs, and understanding the value of touch connecting it to anxiety. The experience was a success for Lydia and Matt as they were able to eventually consummate their marriage comfortably and communicate their needs fluidly. It just took both of them to use their anxieties and vulnerabilities as a means for connection, rather than disconnection.
How to do this at home – Where to Start?:
Akin to the concept of sensate focus, there are ways to cultivate intimacy in your sex life without using extreme measures. If you struggle with similar insecurities and they are impinging upon your sex life, I would recommend trying these steps in order to jumpstart your sexual re-discovery. It will take approximately 30 – 60 minutes.
- Start from the most basic form of intimacy – eye contact. Try staring at your partner for 5 uninterrupted minutes. You will learn a lot about them. Notice how they look at you. What are they communicating? What are you thinking? What do you want to tell them? Then after the 5 minutes is up, talk about your experience.
- Move to holding hands – Notice the hand positioning. Is intertwining fingers naturally comfortable, or are you inclined to be passively cup the other person’s hand? What does that mean? Ultimately, it would ideal to build up to being able to hold hands for an entire episode of a TV show. Reflect afterwards.
- Participate in an old-fashioned make out session fully clothed. Try kissing passionately for 10 minutes. It is important to discuss your experience once you come up for air.
- Be naked with your partner. Touch on a bed or couch without having sex. Appreciate the intricacies of your partner’s body. Notice their facial expressions as you travel up and down. This experience can be awkward at first, but incredibly fulfilling. Notice what it is like to get to know someone through touch.
- Try moving to conventional sex, doing all of the first four steps at once. Make eye contact, while holding hands and kissing naked. The steps (1-4) that you’ve become used to will make the final step less worrisome.
Remember to talk and reflect after each step. Identify what each person could do differently in a non-judgmental way. Share what you like and dislike. Make your anxieties transparent!