Sex and its Interconnectedness
The activity of sex means different things for different people. In our culture, we have opened up the discussion around sex which leads to it being a topic of taboo to a rapid liberalization. A lot of credit for this also goes to pop culture and social media where sex is normalized and accepted as part of human needs and activity. This is majorly prevalent in the urban, cosmopolitan cities. However, this transition towards liberalization also comes with a lot of skewed ideas of what is acceptable and what isn’t. It is fairly, common to see conversations around sex that are hyped, where the focus is on performance, body count, or shame around being inexperienced or having too many experiences. Other ways it is addressed is in culturally sanctioned form like pressuring couples to have a child. For the longest time penis penetrating the vagina was considered as sex but now any sexual act that an individual considers to be sex is counted as sex by experts.
People react to sex in different manners based on their culture, experiences, sexuality, and the messages they have received. Based on this again some individuals would be excited by it and some would be apprehensive about it. There are again many ideas and assumptions as to whether orgasm should occur during sex, whether the other person should find me desirable at all times and if they aren't aroused that means something. Every individual is unique when it comes to the way they experience desire, pleasure, and arousal, alone and with a partner. That is why normalizing discussions around it and actually being curious will be helpful to have open and honest discussions on sex.
There are two types of desires that exist. One is responsive desire and the other one is spontaneous desire. The responsive desire is there when there is a gradual build-up of sexual desire like when someone is being cuddled or touched in a particular way. Spontaneous desire is a desire that exists without any initiation. Both of these types of desires are normal. Some individuals might experience spontaneous more and some responsive. The linear model of sex depicts spontaneous desire where there is foreplay, penetrative sex and orgasm. Whereas the circular model of sex speaks of a switch in activities without having any hierarchies, it could go from holding hands to kissing to oral sex, to cuddling to holding hands again. Here the focus is on engaging in improvisational sex which is non-scripted sex. Sex where both partners present themselves for the interaction with exactly the bodies, desires, preferences, and energy they have at the moment, and choose to focus on connection and then pleasure, rather than other outcome measures such as PIV or orgasm will lead to a pleasurable outcome that individuals have towards sex.
Developing differentiation is essential when it comes to communicating one’s needs, wants and desires. Differentiation means being able to identify what you think/feel/believe/prefer, and being able to share that information with someone else. Even if you think they might not be comfortable hearing it. While also being able to stay present, grounded, and curious when someone else shares something about themselves with you that you may not be comfortable hearing. Differentiation helps the couple engage in a dialogue, which minimizes unsaid expectations, and pressure to perform or even engage in sex. Painful sex can lead to an aversion to it, therefore it is crucial to check in with yourself and enquire about your consent and willingness to have sex.
Couples with an improvisational sexual style adjust in the moment to whatever emerges either physically or emotionally and have a flexible sexual repertoire, including ways to have deep, relaxed sexual encounters, quickies, and everything in between. Both partners feel free to communicate their preferences at the moment. They have good manners and skill at self-soothing, and do not project their distress on their partner. They know hardness comes and goes for both female and male bodies, and the same for other physical signs of arousal, and that those signs change with age, mood, and circumstance too. They know that each partner is responsible for their own pleasure and orgasm. They have relaxed and non-pressuring ways of communicating about feelings that come up during sex.
Another important thing to keep in mind is that sexual health is inextricably bound to both physical and mental health. Sexual life is impacted by emotional, physical and sexual well being. So having a healthy lifestyle acts as a physiological backbone to not only physical health but as well as sexual health.
Some ways we can keep a check on our physical well-being can be done by:
Getting regular exercise for thirty minutes a day every day, or it might be twenty minutes to a sweat every day, or six days out of seven can help in maintaining your physical health.
Inflammation in the body also impacts our sexual health. Gums are one of the primary sites of inflammation in the body, so flossing one’s teeth also helps to reduce inflammation in the body as well as eating a healthy diet.
Making dietary changes with the help of a trained nutritionist may also help.
There are various things that you and your spouse can practice as homework for engaging in a healthier sex life:
Mutual partner exploration: This could be done in turn or simultaneously, with no outcome goal other than to explore pleasure. It helps to build sexual repertoire, and it helps to reinforce the idea that pleasure and connection are the meaningful outcome goal.
Body map: This involves making an outline of a body front and back where the partners are engaged in exploring each other’s body and seeing places that are pleasurable, numb or triggering. This will help each partner to know what works and doesn’t work for the other person. This practice can be engaged with periodically as things do change with time.
No goal touching: In this activity, the focus would be to have no orgasms. The activity is to see how much pleasure you can generate from your partner. You can get an orgasm by accident but that shouldn't be the goal. You can make your own rules like genitals can be off limits and could just involve touching over the body and discovering erogenous zones and or eroticizing any part of the body that activates the brain.
Self-pleasure in couple interaction: Achieving an orgasm, or engaging in pleasure should be one’s own responsibility. As a partner, one can simultaneously experience self-pleasure and share the space with one another.