Many people believe the myth that sex should be spontaneous. This myth goes hand-in-hand with its twin – the fantasy that sexual compatibility is an “instant fit” and that sex is supposed to be easy, tension-free and uninhibited. These combined fantasies drive the myth that sexual spontaneity and compatibility are either “there or not there”, right from the start, and that they continue throughout a relationship.
We like to think that sex arises from an impulse that is “natural”, biological and unprompted. We like to believe that sexual compatibility arises from “chemistry” or some sort of magic.
In reality, sex is not a “natural function”. Sex is not a “drive”, as explained by David Schnarch in his book “Intimacy and Desire.” If this was true, it would mean that healthy people would want sex virtually all of the time, unless there was something “blocking” them. Having this misguided belief leads you to see yourself as defective or broken if you don’t want sex all the time. If you’re in a long-term relationship, wanting sex all the time with your partner would put you in the statistical minority.
Holding on to the myth that sex should be spontaneous shows how impatient and uncomfortable we are with seduction, playfulness, imagination and eroticism. As Esther Perel says in her book “Mating in Captivity”, all of the above take time, effort and a full awareness of what we’re doing. Many people think premeditated sex is suspicious and unromantic. But in actual fact, the first ingredient we need for a healthy sex life is the willingness to begin a sexual interaction. To do this we have to own our desire and to express it intentionally.
Anticipation drives desire
Even in the beginning of most relationships, the myth that sex should be spontaneous is present. We forget that whatever seemed to happen “spontaneously” or “in the moment” during those whirlwind days was the result of hours or even days of preparation. We planned when and where to meet, we showered, shaved, sprayed, planned what to wear, what to say, which restaurant, movie or music we’d enjoy. All of that took a lot of organising, a lot of detail, a lot of imagination and importantly, a lot of anticipation. Anticipation of pleasure drove what seemed to be spontaneous.
If you’re missing and longing for the “spontaneity” of the early days of your relationship, the secret to sustaining desire in a long-term relationship is to stop expecting sex to be spontaneous. In an ongoing relationship you have to make it happen. Committed sex is intentional sex. It requires you to practice the following internal thoughts and actions: “I want to want”, “I’m willing to start and see what happens”, “I want to participate”, “Let me hold you close” and “Can we have sex tonight?” It’s a willingness to explore uncertainty with the person you live with.
The aim is to practice becoming comfortable with the tension of sexuality as a consciously acknowledged and welcome part of yourself and your life. This requires you to be present, fully engaged, and willing to start a sexual interaction – as long as there is mutual consent. It especially requires you to give up the myth that sex should be spontaneous.
But beware if any pressure is put on you to engage sexually. That shows there is no consent or respect for you and your boundaries. This is a large warning sign.
Intention and attention are key to a good sex life
Many committed couples spend what little downtime they have doing housework, running errands and managing the kids. Look at how much time and attention goes into those chores and how little attention you pay to your sex life! You know that your garden doesn’t manage itself, you have to make time and put effort into watering, weeding and fertilizing it regularly and repeatedly, otherwise your plants will die. Unless you put time, energy and attention into your sex life and nurture your sex life, it too will wither and fade away.
Any worthwhile skill, like cooking or playing music requires the willingness to make time for and to practice that skill. It takes focus, commitment and intention. That’s how we get good at doing something. Scheduling a sex date with your partner doesn’t have be another item on your to-do list. It’s about making time and creating space for an erotic interaction between you. Sex and eroticism can be anything that brings you connection and pleasure. What happens in that space is open-ended, but creating the space requires you to be intentional.
Planning and cooking a delightful meal takes imagination (what will I cook), effort (planning, shopping and preparation) and focus (paying attention to subtleties), all before you eat the meal (engage in the sensual experience). People seem reluctant to bring the same intent to their erotic life. This reluctance often stems from a child-like wish to be loved “just as we are”, without any effort on our part, just because we’re special. That need is totally appropriate for babies, but totally inappropriate for adults. It is one of the many causes of sexual problems which prompt people to seek out sex therapy.
We can walk around home wearing our faded track suits and scruffy slippers. This may add to our partner’s love for us, but it won’t make them sexually desire us. Just because you live with someone doesn’t mean they’re readily available to you sexually, nor should they be. If anything, they require more effort, not less. Sex is not a “duty” you do. If you want sex to remain alive between you, it needs your attention and care, not hanging on to the myth that sex should be spontaneous.
Barry McCarthy states in his book “Rekindling Desire” that the new sexual mantra is desire/pleasure/eroticism/satisfaction, with desire as the core dimension. The new mantra highlights that sharing pleasure and eroticism is more important than individual sexual performance. Satisfaction involves feeling good about yourself as a sexual person and bonded as a sexual couple. This mantra allows couples to have a shared language. A crucial concept is that each partner is responsible for their own sexuality.
Planning creates anticipation
Anticipation means we’re looking forward to something. It is a particularly important ingredient of desire. Planning for sex helps create desire. Fantasy (imagining what you’d like to happen) is the main ingredient in anticipation. As Jack Morin Says in “The Erotic Mind”, “An erotic fantasy is an image, thought, or feeling within your mind that is sexually interesting to you”. Fantasies don’t necessarily bear any relationship to real life. If you give yourself the freedom to fantasise, you can enjoy, within the safety of your own mind, fantasy scenarios that you would never want to experience in reality.
Fantasy is how me imagine what a particular activity is going to be like. It’s a kind of foreplay that happens before any interaction. Longing, waiting and yearning are core ingredients of desire that can be generated with planning, even in long-term relationships. And keeping the passion alive is especially helpful to maintain sexual health as we age and in developing sexual intelligence.
Waiting to “be in the mood” is like waiting for a dream to come true. Planning gives you something to look forward to while you’re doing the housework or balancing the bank accounts. Tammy Nelson says sex can be spontaneous – if you plan for it. What you can look forward to is more than the sex. It’s the ritual of connecting for one purpose – pleasure.
Think about your erotic life rather than your sex life. Eroticism is about imagination, play, aliveness. Eroticism is not necessarily pornography, although pornography can help eroticism. Animals have sex. Eroticism is purely human. It requires imagination and the anticipation of pleasure. Eroticism requires the cultivation of excitement, an intention to connect for pleasure. Because eroticism is so connected to imagination, it is another form of play.
Play and eroticism
Play is a safe space where we can experiment, pretend we’re in another world, take chances, and not know exactly what is going to happen. When we play we put aside disbelief – we pretend or fantasise that something is real even when we know it’s not. We can let go of our day-to-day selves. The main feature of play is that it serves no other purpose than enjoyment and pleasure. Eroticism isn’t something you do, as Esther Perel says, it’s a space you enter, a place you go to. Can you see how totally different this is to the myth that sex should be spontaneous?
As children we play all the time. We imagine that a cardboard box is a horse or that a towel is a flowing dress. Sex often is the last area where we, as adults, can allow ourselves to play. The willingness to enter a safe space for play with our long-term partner requires intention and planning. It’s about making time to meet and carving out a space to do so.
Looking forward to that is how we practice letting go of our everyday self. The safety of our partner and the consent to enter a mutual interaction of play brings back aliveness and uncertainty into our life. You cannot make someone play with you. In play, we don’t know what the outcome will be. Play allows us to anticipate connecting solely for pleasure. Play deepens the bond between you. Doing this with a long-term partner is how we learn the art of cultivating eroticism.
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