When we fall in love with someone, we usually find interests and beliefs that we have in common. As the relationship deepens we begin to discuss our expectations of the future: how many children we want, where we want to live, whether we are politically liberal or conservative, etc. However, in the area of sex, many of us think about it, but don't talk about it until it becomes a problem.
Do you expect your partner to read your mind and fulfill your needs and desires without being open and honest? When you assume that your lover's beliefs about sex are just like yours, you may be in for a rude awakening. That is what happened with these couples.
Case 1: Jessica, a very attractive 21-year-old college senior came in for counseling in order to deal with low self-esteem. Although she was bright and beautiful she hadn't had any steady boyfriends until she met Ted. Jessica explained that she was now in a love relationship that looked like it could turn into a commitment, but one of her worries had to do with her lack of confidence as a sexual partner. She was worried about not being able to please her lover. Apparently Ted criticized her for having the wrong kind of orgasms! I was baffled when I heard this. In over 30 years of counseling individuals and couples about love and intimacy I have never heard that there were right and wrong kinds of orgasms!
Case 2: Patrick and Louise wanted relationship counseling after 18 years of marriage. They came from very different religious backgrounds and cultures but loved each other. They thought they were happy until Louise discovered that while she was on a business trip Patrick had had phone sex with someone else. He had only done this once, but it had shaken the foundations of their relationship. Louise felt as if he had cheated on her with another woman and equated it to having a love affair. She couldn't handle his infidelity and was afraid that this was going to lead to the end of their marriage.
Case 3: Barry, a man in his early forties, had been living with Joan for two years. Both were divorced but committed to each other. Barry had been browbeaten by his dad and was very non-assertive. Unfortunately Joan sometimes turned into an equally stern inquisitor. At those times Barry would feel like a powerless child and lie to avoid her wrath. When Joan confronted him about watching porn he was mortified and couldn't admit it. As a result she was considering ending the relationship.
While these cases are all very different, what they share is that someone in the relationship was uneducated about sex and what they could or should expect from their partners. Our society provides almost no adequate sex education in our schools, and most of our parents didn't receive sex education at home or school so they too were filled with misinformation that they passed on to you.
Do you remember when you learned about sex? Who taught you what was right or wrong: parents, your church, other relatives, erotic books and magazines or friends? Were you told that it was OK to touch yourself "down there" or that it was naughty or bad? Were you taught the correct names of the parts of your sex organs?
For instance, neither Jessica nor her boyfriend Ted had received effective sex education. Ted thought that orgasms are either vaginal or clitoral, but Jessica's orgasms felt wonderful so she couldn't figure out why Ted wasn't glad for her. As a result of his disapproval she told herself that she must be a terrible lover. I suggested they get some books about sexuality with illustrations to look at and discuss in order to enjoy what they already had and create an atmosphere where Jessica could feel good about herself.
The other couples also made assumptions about what thoughts or activities were "good" or "bad" without checking it out with any kind of authority. As a result it almost ripped their relationships apart.
If you feel angry, troubled, or turned off by the behavior of the person you love and are dissatisfied with your sex life, take some time to go through this Six Step Sexual Assessment together.
- Make a list of what you consider to be questionable sexual behaviors that your partner is interested in. For instance, oral sex, anal sex, masturbation, watching porn, reading dirty books or magazines, phone sex, sexting, posting nude selfies online, having sex with someone other than your partner or spouse, group sex, open marriage, lap dancing, sex with a prostitute, sexual touching in public, nursing babies in public, etc.
- Separate the list into two categories: the sexual activities or behaviors that are acceptable to you and those that offend or disgust you.
- As you list each behavior, share who told you it was good or bad and why. Does it help you or hurt you to continue to believe that?
- What does your spouse or lover do that makes you feel betrayed, angry, scared or in danger?
- Does your behavior or that of your partner affect the rights, health or safety of the other?
- Which activities do the two of you enjoy and think enhance your relationship? For each one, decide how much is too much and how much is the right amount. Who decides?
If you haven't done so already, buy a book about human sexuality written by an expert and compare your beliefs with what science now knows about sexuality. I highly recommend books and blogs by Dr. Marty Klein who tells it like it is!
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