Happy Valentines Day everyone. In light of the holiday lets talk about sexual intimacy! Sex is one of the most important and evocative topics couples explore in therapy. I bare witness to the tenderness, anxiety and excitement that surrounds intimate sexuality in my practice and I love supporting couples in developing rich, rewarding and reliable sex. I want to crystalize a few key concepts and give some tried and true advice regarding intimate sex.
We have something very special that makes sexual intimacy possible - our neocortex! This neocortex makes us self aware and this makes intimacy possible. Just as this self-awareness allows us to see ourselves, it allows us to experience being seen by another. It is this intimacy factor that gives humans unparalleled sexual potential. The intimacy factor makes sexual potential something that increases with time, commitment and age. Any couple willing to do a few simple (but not easy) things can develop sexual intimacy and have great sex long after the honeymoon phase wears off.
David Schnarch PhD in his book Passionate Marriage says that sexual intimacy has to do with disclosing yourself through sex. People who can let themselves be seen and known have better sex. This is why maturity as an individual and as a couple is potentially correlated with better sex. As we ripen we have more internal richness to share. A mature, committed relationship is secure and revealing yourself is safer and more rewarding. Popular opinion often confuses genital prime with sexual prime. Sexual prime actually develops as we mature as people and as couples and it is sexual prime not genital prime that is associated with better and more meaningful sex.
In order for couples to capitalize on this and have increasingly great sex they must let go of certain fantasies. If you prefer reality to fantasy you will have great sex. If couples are going to have great sex they need to learn to be intentional and communicative and we do that by making friends with reality. I am a huge proponent of the sex date as a means of practicing sexual intimacy and if a couple is going to make, keep and enjoy a sex date several fantasies must be dispelled.
- The fantasy of spontaneity: Many people have the fantasy of “being taken” or “overcome by sexual desire.” While this can be pleasant and may be a part of a couples’ sex life or sexual history, it is not a prerequisite for great sex. I think clinging to this fantasy keeps us sexually immature because in the “being taken” fantasy there is no communication, accountability or vulnerability. In short this fantasy lacks intimacy. The sex date is an opportunity to practice intimate sex which is intentional, communicative and based in reality rather than fantasy.
- The fantasy that we need to be young or look a certain way to have great sex. If our sexual potential has to do with personal depth and experience then it only makes sense that we get better with age. Think about it: how comfortable with yourself were you when you were 17? How self aware were you? How much life experience did you have? As David Schnarch says in Passionate Marriage, “Cellulite and sexual potential are highly correlated.”
- The fantasy of what sex should be. One of the most important things we can do is expand the margin of what “counts” as sex. Many people keep sex in a narrow margin in which only orgasm, erection or penetration are included. The fact is, in a sexually intimate relationship that is intentional and mature, your margin will have no bounds. The sex date facilitates a sexually intimate relationship that is highly explorative and subjective. Couples must expand their horizons if they are going to have a sexual relationship that is based in reality rather than fantasy. Sexually intimate couples are not trying to adhere to someone else’s definition of sex and don't compare themselves to other couples. Sexually intimate couples know themselves and are confident knowing what they want and need.
To establish a wonderful practice of making and keeping a sex date follow these steps:
- Talk to each other. A sexual issue isn’t a sexual issue at all - it’s a talking issue. Talk about the sex you are having now. Talk about how often you are having sex. Talk about how often you want to have sex. You know each other better than anyone - use this knowledge to determine a frequency that will be realistic but also really nurturing to your relationship. Once a week works really well for many couples but there is no prescribed frequency - it is whatever works for you.
- Schedule a recurring sex date. Talk some more. When and where do you like to have sex. Mornings, evenings afternoons? Look at your schedules and set a recurring time that will be held as sacred by the two of you. Remember - during this time you will be prioritizing each other above everything else.
- Keep the sex date. You will be tested. Schedules, in-laws, menstrual cycles, moods, arguments, children, jobs, illnesses and more will try to derail you. This is part of the sex date’s magic - it makes you accountable. If changes need to be made they must be discussed and agreed upon. Sexual Intimacy is not for the faint of heart. If you persist you and your partner will create a wealth of real life sexual intimacy that will facilitate your personal growth as well as the growth of your relationship.
Keeping the sex date has many profound benefits:
- The sex date strengthens your couple bubble by making your relationship a top priority and keeping outside forces at bay.
- The sex date strengthens communication because if you do this consistently you will talk through and deal with many things that will try to deter you from keeping the sex date.
- The sex date strengthens intimacy.
- The sex date facilitates personal development. You are accountable, you communicate, you show up, etc.
- The sex date deepens self-acceptance. Got a cold? You are still sexy.
- The sex date facilitates couples having more sex! Many people think they have to wait until they are overcome with desire or wait until they “feel like it.” to have sex. I want you to remember the important fact that after 5 minutes of being sexual- many people then feel like having sex….
I hope this is helpful to you and that you feel inspired to develop sexual intimacy that is based in reality rather than fantasy. You are worth it. Your relationship is worth it. A sex date is structured but what you do within that structure is not prescriptive - the sky is the limit. I encourage you to be intentional, communicative and to let yourself be known by your beloved.