This guest article from PsychCentral was written by Margarita Tartakovsky, M.S.
Recently a client said to me, "I'm nervous to talk with my wife about my sexual needs, because you are the only person who knows that part of my life." This statement really struck me—both because it revealed the tremendous intimacy of the therapeutic relationship and also the fact that my client, like many people, is not talking with his sexual partner openly about his desires.
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At my first job out of graduate school, I provided HIV education to recovering addicts, most of whom (including the men) had prostituted themselves when they were using drugs. As part of my training, the agency sent me to a week-long training on sex. One of the exercises at the training involved the therapists writing every slang term we could think of for very every sexual act and body part on white boards around the room (you can imagine the laughter that ensued…) The result of this training (and the next 17 years of counseling clients) is that I have learned to talk very comfortably with people about their sexual lives. And for many, it is the first time they have verbalized some of these sexual components of self.
In therapy, people share and process their sexual experiences, attractions, fantasies, fetishes, addictions and longings (not much shocks me at this point in my career…) Many also discuss the obstacles that keep them from having the sexual lives they want. These include body issues, relationship issues, trauma history, guilt or shame induced by religion or culture, dysfunctions, side effects from antidepressants or other medications, etc.
There is a chicken and egg relationship between sex and relationship problems—sometimes it is hard to tell which came first. After one couple filled a session discussing their various relationship issues, the wife concluded, "I really think if we were having good sex, these issues would not be as big of a deal. So, I'd like us to work on our sex life." Her husband's eyebrows shot to his hairline in surprise and he blurted, "Fine by me!"
Like love, sex encompasses the mind, body and spirit. At the very least, it provides stress release. At its greatest, sex is transcendental. It's a dance of giving and receiving, connecting and letting go. Sex can become better as you move through life, gaining experience, body awareness, confidence and capacity for emotional and relational intimacy.
Most people desire a fulfilling sexual life and that many do not prioritize it or talk about it. Therefore, I encourage you to do the following:
- Quiet your mind via meditation and ask the deeper self within what you desire sexually. Notice any negative thoughts that induce fear, guilt or shame—breathe them out and let them go. Replace them with a mantra such as, "I am a sexual being and deserve a healthy sexual life."
- Write down the issues that are preventing you from having the sexual life you want. Then write down a plan for how to address and resolve those issues. (For example, talk with your doctor about your medication side effects, hit the gym to feel sexier, get in couples’ therapy about your relationship issues, get in individual therapy about your addiction to porn, carve out time for coupling, etc.)
- Connect with your body through exercise, stretching, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness techniques to increase body awareness. Take care of yourself so you feel desirable and confident.
- Find your voice and dig up the courage to talk with you partner(s) about your sexual feelings, needs and desires. Be open and honest. Use "I" statements, rather than "you" statements to decrease defensiveness (i.e. "I desire more oral sex" versus "You never go down on me.") Similar to parenting and management, sexual communication requires that you give three positive statements for every piece of negative feedback ("I love when you do this, this and this, but am not really loving that…") Ask your partner what he or she wants (detach from judgment and defensiveness.) Be open in your communication and aim to be a good lover (like karma, this will come back at you.)
- Care enough about yourself to nurture and tend to your sexual life. Like most things in life worth having, achieving your best and healthiest sexual self requires attention and effort.
Because everything is interconnected, you will find that when you awaken your sexual self, you will tap into powerful life energy that will inspire the rest of your life to blossom.
"The sexual embrace can only be compared with music and with prayer." ~Havelock Ellis
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