1. Sometimes things don’t work the way you want.
Nine out of ten of my clients have outrageous sex-expectations. They expect to have “good” sex every time. Or they expect that their body will respond every time, even most of the time. Their definition of “good” sex is electric orgasm – a definition I find to be limiting and problematic, particularly in long-term, monogamous relationships.
There are many reasons why so many of us have great sex-expectations, but here’s the truth. Sometimes penises don’t get hard, and vaginas don’t lubricate. You might want to have sex more than anything, but the presence of desire doesn’t guarantee that your body will respond.
So give yourself a break. If you expect to be aroused every time you or your partner wants to have sex, you and your partner are going to be disappointed at some point. And if you don’t examine your sex-expectations purposefully, you might be disappointed every time.
2. You are responsible for your own pleasure during sex, not your partner’s.
This principle is one of the most important and influential in determining the outcome of the sexual process. You are responsible for yourself. If this principle is true outside of sex (at work, at school, within other systems), then it doesn’t magically disappear when you enter the bedroom. It is also true in sex.
This principle enables you to gently admit that you’re not having a good time in sex or that you’re not aroused. It also enables you to own your part of what’s happening without blaming yourself for single-handedly “destroying” your sex life. Because you are only responsible for yourself, you are not responsible for your partner’s enjoyment.
3. You are only one part of a couple’s dynamic.
Even though you are responsible for yourself, you are still part of a system, a couple’s dynamic that affects you directly. Some of the sexual dysfunction you experience may be partly related to how you and your partner are interacting. This principle does not absolve you of personal responsibility, but it does enable you to communicate with your partner directly.
Here’s the crux, as a loving partner, you are responsible for communicating and responding to each other’s needs. This principle does not make you responsible for your partner, but it does make you responsible for how you listen to your partner, how you respond to your partner, and how you communicate your own needs.
4. You are allowed to ask for what you need.
Because you are part of a couple’s dynamic, you are allowed to ask for what you need from your partner. They are not responsible for reading your mind and for determining what you need. You have to ask for what you need.
This principle requires that you understand what you need enough to ask for it. Although a good sex therapist can help you with every principle in this list, helping you understand and communicate your needs is a primary goal of sex therapy.
5. Emotions affect arousal and sexual satisfaction.
If you aren’t communicating directly with your partner about what you expect, about what you want, and about what you need during sex, you may be disappointed with how things are going. You may be afraid and anxious about having sex. You may not be interested in having sex at all. Those feelings directly affect your ability to “show up” during sex, to bring all of yourself to one of the most vulnerable experiences available to human beings. If you and your partner are struggling during sex, these emotions and many more are most likely present in your encounters.
Aside from taking personal responsibility, the most effective and immediate thing you can do to improve your sexual functioning is to talk about how you feel. It may be cliché, but not discussing your feelings guarantees that they will continue to show up during sex. Revealing your feelings about sex to your partner will help you communicate your needs and discuss ways you both can take responsibility for improving your sex lives.
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