We all want something from sex otherwise it wouldn’t be such an issue for so many of us. When asked what it is we want from sex, in his book “Sexual Intelligence” Dr. Marty Klein, who for more than thirty years has been a marriage, family and certified sex therapist, says that people talk about things like excitement, orgasm, intimacy, feeling desired, being a good lover, passion, connected kissing and many such things. He believes that most people’s answers about what we want from sex boil down to this: we want some combination of pleasure and closeness.
Interestingly, during sex most people focus on anything but that. Klein reports they focus on how they look, smell, sound, how they can avoid unwanted activity (like being tickled), “… ignoring (or preventing) pain; hurrying to climax; trying not to climax too quickly; maintaining an erection or lubrication; suppressing emotions; trying to function the “right way”; silently, indirectly urging their partner to do a certain activity…”. Does this sound familiar to you?
Even though we say we want pleasure and closeness from sex, if we stay focused on everything but that, it’s no wonder so many of us are dissatisfied. In our search for sexual satisfaction, most people especially focus on how their genitals are working. Many of us have thoughts like these: “I hope I’ll stay hard enough to make them happy”, or, “If I’m taking too long to climax, I fake it or try to hurry it up.” Klein says that “Focusing on how your penis or vulva is working is an enormous distraction from pursuing pleasure or intimacy”. He advises that even though many people think this is how to make sex better, it’s a misguided approach.
Dr. Klein explores many of the reasons we focus on all these other things during sex. One inappropriate reason is that we think “being sexy” is crucial to satisfaction. He proposes that there are other things we want from sex apart from pleasure & closeness, even though that’s what we say we want. These other desires include such things as feeling sexually desirable, feeling sexually competent, having our masculinity or femininity validated, reassurance that we’re “normal”, and getting relief from performance anxiety, to name a few.
Usually the strategies we use to have these desires met are not successful, but we persist in using them again and again. Because of this Klein argues that “…we’re putting a lot of pressure on sex to address these essentially non-sexual needs …we have emotional needs that we try to address with sex, but sex is not the best way to satisfy them”. Could this help explain that the reason we don’t focus on pleasure and closeness during sex is because we’re looking for something else, and may not even be aware of it? This idea may clarify why so many people are sexually dissatisfied – sex in fact can’t deliver psychological satisfaction.
Because of this other psychological agenda, it’s very easy to feel alone during sex. And naturally it’s harder to create the sex you want if you don’t talk directly to your partner. He suggests that it’s worthwhile practicing telling your partner that you want more from sex than orgasms. But be very clear in saying that you’re not expecting your partner to provide a good emotional experience for you. Tell them that you’d like your sex life to be more of a collaboration, and that you realise you need to change too.
Success or failure seems to be what sex is about for many people. This takes the form of worrying whether we inadvertently disappoint, hurt or irritate our partner, appear inadequate or inexperienced, or make a fool of ourselves. For millions of people, says Klein “I didn’t mess up too badly” is as good as sex gets. He holds out the hope that sex can be transformed into a place where “…mistakes are simply not possible, and where virtually nothing can go wrong – not because we become sexually perfect, but because we radically redefine sexual “success” and change our sexual vision”.
Many people want to “perform” well during sex, thinking that this is the way to ensure satisfaction and avoid “failure”. But because we can’t use willpower to bring about an erection or lubrication, so much of sexual “performance” is beyond our control. This means that the pressure to “perform” well leads to anxiety. Inevitably, this performance anxiety adds to the sexual difficulty that people have because focusing on sexual performance often makes our “performance” worse. “You can’t have amazing sex when you’re focused on other emotional needs, especially if they’re unconscious”, says Klein.
So, what is it that people really want from sex? Talking about this accurately and honestly is difficult for many of us – either because we don’t have the vocabulary or because we’re embarrassed or scared to do so. Learning to talk about what we want from sex, instead of talking about what our bodies might do, means we’d be learning to talk about how we’d like to feel. And how do people want to feel with regard to sex? According to Klein, people want to feel: “unselfconscious; passionate; like they have all the time in the world; attractive; competent; special; like they’re inventing sex; youthful; graceful; unintimidated”. Doesn’t this sound wonderful? Our challenge, he says is to create such experiences while we relax.
Changing Your Sexual Vision
Many people say that what they want to feel during sex is how they felt when they were young adults, when they were beginning to explore their sexual identities. They say they want to just “do it”, not communicate about it, they want spontaneity, they want sex to be “natural”; and that thinking about sex takes all the romance away. Klein talks about how these decisions about sex (which are actually myths), with their major and long-reaching impacts on us, are being made when we are young – from the perspective of a youthful body and lifestyle.
As our bodies and lifestyles change, it’s logical that what Klein calls our “sexual vision” needs to change too. Not changing our sexual vision over the years often creates difficulties. He says that many people have a sexual vision that’s “10, 20 or 30 years out of date with a body and lifestyle that can’t support that vision comfortably”. Unfortunately, sex isn’t going to be like it was when you were young. This is a major disappointment for many people, and instead of challenging and reshaping that sexual vision, many people believe there’s something wrong with them or their partner and they want a therapist to fix both. Klein asserts this is a “…culturally and psychologically driven mistake”.
I recommend this book to anyone who is dissatisfied with their sex life. It will help dispel many of the myths surrounding sex and provides useful tools to help you develop Sexual Intelligence. It also shows how counselling can help you see that gender stereotypes, the myths about intercourse and orgasm, the assumption that loneliness during sex is inevitable, all belong to a sexual vision that is out of date.
Counselling can help you craft a new sexual vision using the tools of Sexual Intelligence. It also will address the frustration, grief, or sadness about letting go of old sexual ideals so you can create new, more realistic notions based on who you, your partner and your circumstances are today.
You deserve the best trained relationship coaches if you’re planning to invest time and money in your relationship. If you’re not ready to book an appointment, call us on 0421 961 687 to book a FREE 10 minute phone consultation to discuss how we may be able to assist you.