People often think of sex as being pretty straightforward: Arousal leads to intercourse, which typically leads to orgasm. Your sexual experiences may, indeed, unfold just like this. But, this model of sexuality is not totally accurate and can create many problems.
Dr. Suzanne Iasenza, psychologist and sex therapist, recently gave a workshop in which she clearly outlined some more accurate and helpful ways of thinking about sex. Two particularly important and far-reaching points were:
The “goal” of sex is pleasure, not orgasm. By thinking about sex in this way, there are so very many ways to enjoy it. Sex therapist Joann Loulan highlights that you can stop at any point in the sexual cycle and appreciate the pleasure it brings.
Just being open and willing to have sex can feel good. For instance, if you are overly busy parents of young children who rarely have alone time, it can feel good just to know that your partner would love to be intimate. In addition, it can feel good to have desire (and to know your partner desires you), to feel sexual excitement, and to have an orgasm. If your focus is solely on orgasm, think about how much you are missing out on, whether or not you and your partner orgasm.
Seeing orgasm as the goal of sex not only limits the enjoyment that sex can offer, it can actually be harmful to some people. They suffer from feeling inadequate, broken, and unable to have a fulfilling sex life because they are not experiencing orgasm, or don’t experience it all the time. If this describes you, it is extremely important to rethink the importance of orgasm. You can have a very fulfilling sex life even without “the big O.”
With this broader understanding of what is sexually fulfilling, you no longer need to fake excitement and orgasm. Instead, you can honestly communicate about what feels good, helping each other to truly increase your pleasure.
There are two parts of arousal, genital and subjective – and these don’t always go together. To clarify, you can be genitally aroused, but not psychologically aroused; and you can be psychologically aroused without being genitally aroused. This may be particularly surprising for men to learn because they are much more likely to experience these two forms of arousal as going together. Fully absorbing this fact can change how you interpret, and so experience, many sexual encounters.
For instance, by wanting, feeling, and appreciating physical closeness with your partner, a physically intimate experience can be quite pleasurable – even if your body is not turned on. But if you believe that you should be physically aroused for sex to be successful, then you are likely to see the whole experience as a failure, and possibly an indication that something is wrong with you. What could have been amazing becomes a source of great distress. On the other hand, by recognizing both subjective and genital arousal as pleasurable, you can enjoy them whether they occur separately or together.
As you reflect on these ideas, reconsider what you believe about the dance of intimate relationships. Changing your beliefs can transform how you think about and approach sexual encounters, opening you up to a greater range of options for more fully enjoying them.