This month’s blog about sexual disappointment is adapted from a post written by one my sex education teachers, Martha Kauppi. For my clients who are therapists, I highly recommend you get some training from Martha. You can read her original blog here.
Many people have not received clear, science-based education and information about sex and sexual functioning. Due to this sad fact, many people suffer unnecessarily from sexual disappointment. There are two crucial pieces of psycho-education that everyone should know.
- Erections come and go through the course of a sexual interaction
- An erection is a physiological sign of arousal, and anxiety kills arousal. No-one can stay erect if anxiety is present.
Here are two more helpful pieces of scientific fact:
Fact 1: less than 20% of people with a vagina and clitoris reach orgasm from vaginal penetration alone. The vast majority, more than 80%, require direct clitoral stimulation, and most need quite a lot of time spent on clitoral stimulation to reach orgasm. You can read more information on my Myths About Orgasm blog.
Fact 2: most people with a penis are able to reach orgasm without being fully hard. It might be easier to do this with self-stimulation than for a partner to do it, but for most, it is possible.
Knowing these facts, if an erection is lost during a sexual interaction, instead of struggling with sexual disappointment, the partner with a vagina could manage their reaction by self-soothing, in that moment, by engaging in some positive self-talk like:
“I know my partner is attracted to me, even though I sometimes have some insecurities about my body. I know that erections come and go, so this erection fading is not a reason to think my partner isn’t attracted to me. Also, I would really love more sex play that involves clitoral stimulation. I can show my partner that there’s no need to be ashamed or embarrassed, and that I don’t need to be focused on an erection. I could take the lead here, and we could see how much pleasure we could generate not related to penetration. I might even reach orgasm in the process, which would be a fun side benefit.”
The partner with a penis could also use the knowledge above to give a different meaning when an erection is lost. Their sexual disappointment could be managed by saying:
“It’s OK. I can show my partner how attracted I am in this moment in many different ways. I would love it if she became really highly aroused. And clitoral stimulation, as well as a few other things that I know she enjoys, will get her there. I always get really turned on when she’s really turned on, and my erection will probably come back. If it doesn’t, that’s OK, I can still touch myself and reach orgasm if I want to. And we can have penis-in-vagina sex another time.”
Sexual disappointment is inevitable. Whether it’s erection issues, lubrication issues, sex pain, premature ejaculation, postpartum low desire, mismatched desire or some other sex issue, everyone will sometimes find themselves in a situation where their body doesn’t cooperate in a sexual activity. Taking this personally is just not helpful. Our bodies cannot obey our wishes. Practicing being mindful and present during sex helps a lot.
Knowing how to handle these moments is the number one skill-set needed in order to have great sex for a lifetime. A sexual situation that doesn’t go as planned is not an emergency. It’s only a sexual disappointment that is happening in this moment. Keep it focused on what you can do now to avert sexual disappointment.
In fact, these moments are an opportunity to connect on a deeper level, to get in touch with your partner’s vulnerabilities, and to respond authentically to moment-by-moment experience. The unexpected can be beautiful, moving, and, above all, sexy – if you learn to meet it with curiosity and flexibility. Talking about sex in helpful ways is also very important. Research shows that only 9% of couples who can’t comfortably talk about sex with each other say that they’re satisfied sexually.
The problem is, our cultural script of how sex “should” go doesn’t include the unexpected. Movies and porn rarely show the unexpected. And unfortunately many people get their sex education from movies and porn. There are many myths about porn and people believe that what they see in the media is how their bodies “should” function. Those people are acting. And there are lots of props like make-up, lighting, scripted moves and sounds. It’s not real sex at all.
Porn, among many other things, has negatively impacted our cultural script about sex. In big ways our cultural script does not take into account that we all have bodies that change over time and are affected by stress, illness, relationship tension, lifestyle choices, age, where we’re having sex and life circumstances.
We’re taught that when our bodies don’t cooperate, it’s a sign of either a problem in the relationship or a pathological “broken-ness” that requires medical intervention. Of course, medical interventions can be an important part of improving sexual function. But nothing should have the power to get in the way of the intimate connection between partners, regardless of physical ability or sexual function.
For you and your partner to handle any moment of sexual disappointment well, you will need to:
- get good at self-regulation/self-soothing during a stressful situation that feels emotionally tense, and
- keep your focus on strengthening connection and pleasure, regardless of what sexual activities you engage in. You don’t have to stop any sexual interaction because your body isn’t responding in the way you think it “should”.
Helping you move from freaked-out to flexible-and-connected during expectable disappointments is a really important sexual skill. You absolutely have the ability to increase your self-soothing skills in stressful situations. When you apply those tools to sexual situations, you will experience a huge difference in the quality of your intimate interactions.
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