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The Art of Relationships

with Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

There is an art to maintaining the intimate relationships in our lives. Read on to explore our experts' perspectives, and learn new techniques to improve your own relationship skills.

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Wednesday, June 27, 2012

Balancing Your Sexual Motivation

By Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD

Couple in Bed

People make love for all kinds of reasons, in all kinds of circumstances. It can be part of a long-term romantic relationship or be essentially the whole relationship in a one-night stand, or anything in-between. One way to think about it, though, is to classify it as either purely physical, purely emotional, or bonding sex.

Purely physical sex is driven by a desire for sensual pleasure. This is the no-strings-attached mentality and an emotional connection with your partner is not part of the act. If you remember the movie Pretty Woman, you probably also remember that Julia Roberts’ character played a prostitute who has a strict rule of not kissing on the mouth because is was too personal, could prompt an emotional attachment, and move the act out of the purely physical realm (which is, of course, exactly what happens).

Purely emotional sex is driven by a need to feel emotional reassurance. This need can often be met even better by just cuddling.

Bonding sex is motivated by a desire for physical and emotional closeness. It provides emotional comfort, sexual pleasure, and a deep sense of bonding between the partners. This is genuine love making in the sense that the partners are in tune with each other in each moment and with each move; they are truly expressing and, in a sense, creating love.

People frequently talk about bonding sex as the ideal model of what loving couples do. While this is an important and beautiful experience, it is not the only “good” sex. And it’s a problem to see bonding sex as what everyone should strive for all the time. There is a very real place for physical and emotional sex. Also, the truth is that partners having the same deep, connected, physically arousing sex at the same time does not generally happen. More often than not, one partner is more aroused or satisfied than the other.

With that understanding, it is also important to note that people who are stuck in only having purely physical or emotional sex are missing out on a lot. Everyone has some need to feel emotionally connected. And everyone has a body that can experience pleasure. When people cut off either of those needs and engage only in physical or emotional sex, they frequently experience sexual problems.

Those who turn solely to physical sex focus purely on the act and are likely to struggle with performance. If this describes you and you are unhappy with your sex life, then it is time that you work on emotional intimacy in your relationship – outside of the bedroom. Think about how your partner treats you. If you feel safe with him or her, then you might consider opening up a little about yourself – your thoughts and feelings. It will take time for you to feel comfortable with making yourself vulnerable with your partner. But with persistence (and perhaps the aid of self-help materials or therapy), you will feel closer, more secure, and happier with your partner and your sex life will improve, too.

Those who are interested only in emotional sex are likely to have problems with arousal. If this describes you and you want to change, then it is time for you to work on feeling better about yourself and really letting yourself take in positive feedback from your partner. This can be a difficult and disorienting process because it will challenge your beliefs about yourself and your partner. You would probably benefit from reading self-help materials or seeing a therapist to help you.

So, if your sex life does not live up to what you would like it to be, consider these three motivations for sex. Think about whether you are able to move between them or whether you are too focused on one. Use this awareness to guide you to a happily satisfied romantic and sexual life.

If you would like to join a general discussion about this topic on the Relationships and Coping Community, click here.

Photo: Pixland

Posted by: Leslie Becker-Phelps, PhD at 5:22 am

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