In my last post, I made a case for why good sex is not about a particular sequence of events, but how we interpret and understand those events. What might be a disappointing sexual encounter to one person could be perfectly satisfactory for another–all based on the meaning they make out of what happens, whether the partners are able to stay connected, and how they communicate about it.
But if we accept that idea, what comes next? How do we go about getting what we really want out of sex?
The first step is to figure out what a good sexual encounter means to you. This could be fairly consistent, or it could be different with each encounter, or with different partners. It could even shift from moment to moment within the same encounter. Whatever the case may be, it’s worthwhile to start getting into the habit of looking within and asking yourself “What do I want out of this moment? What am I seeking to feel about myself and about my partner?”
There are infinite possible ways to answer these questions, but here are a few examples of potential responses:
● To feel closer to your partner
● To experience pleasure
● To give your partner pleasure
● To relieve stress or anxiety
● To explore something new
● To show love and affection
These are all perfectly good reasons to have sex. The trouble comes when we associate one of those goals with a particular event or activity. When this happens, your assumptions about what a sexual encounter “should” look like stand in the way of actually getting what you want.
For instance, say one partner is seeking to feel close and connected, and their partner loses their erection partway through sex. If the first partner interprets that as meaning “my partner isn’t attracted to me,” then they’ll feel hurt and disappointed. When one or both partners make negative meaning out of any particular event or lack thereof, the sexual encounter may become disconnecting rather than intimate.
It doesn’t have to go this way. If the first partner is able to hold steady despite their fear, stay connected with their partner, perhaps moving to another activity they enjoy and which doesn’t require an erection, this can be a very positive and satisfying sexual interaction.
In another scenario, the fearful partner could choose to open up to their partner about their fear and thereby potentially have a very connecting and mutually validating interaction. This may or may not involve continuing or returning to sexual contact; either way the encounter can be positive and connecting.
Bodies are messy and unpredictable. They often don’t do what we want them to do. If we attach too much symbolic value to the ways bodies function in sex, we are likely to be disappointed. Rather, we might ask ourselves what these symbols mean to us–what does erection, or wetness, or orgasm signify? How can we go about fulfilling the underlying needs, even when bodies aren’t functioning in the way we hope for or expect?
There are measures of success, in this case in a sexual interaction, that we have some control over and those we do not. Body processes are influenced by so many factors that they are largely outside of our control. However, our part in partner interactions is certainly within our control. When you and your partner are seeking a connecting, pleasurable interaction, what kind of partner do you want to be when things don’t go as planned? The wonderful thing about pleasure and connection is that there are SO many roads to get there! When a roadblock arises, try this:
• Take a deep breath, letting it out very slowly. Calm yourself.
• Look into your partner’s eyes. Your partner is right there with you in this moment.
• Choose a path that leads to connection; that might be talking, quietly touching, saying loving things to one another, or any number of other activities.
• If you both want to, explore activities that are likely to lead to pleasure. Be careful what you do with your mind: it may want to aim for certain outcomes that are symbolic for you, but don’t let it! Instead aim for pleasure and connection. Let the rest take care of itself.