This guest article from PsychCentral is written by Joyce Marter, LCPC.
“To have her here in bed with me, breathing on me, her hair in my mouth — I count that something of a miracle.” — Henry Miller
A client once 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 struck me as wildly paradoxical. How could I, a person with whom my client has a strictly professional relationship, know more about his sexual life than the woman with whom he has sex?
His comment not only revealed the tremendous trust and intimacy involved in the therapeutic relationship, but also the fact that he, like many people, was embarrassed and not openly communicating his sexual needs and desires with his partner. He and I explored this further and decided together to invite his wife into treatment. As an experienced couples therapist, I facilitated a safe environment in which I coached and supported them through an honest exchange about their deeper feelings about their physical relationship. I accomplished this by providing an open and non-judgmental environment, demonstrating empathy and respect for each of them.
With this couple, I served as a grounded and comforting presence: normalizing, honoring and exploring their sexual and relational needs and experiences. I was able to bring them to communicate more vulnerably and directly about their physical intimacy and hear and understand one another on a deeper level. I guided them through the small changes in communication they each needed to make to rebalance and revitalize their emotional and sexual intimacy. Through loving attention, effort and commitment, combined with courage, they were able to establish a much more profound, mutually-fulfilling and powerful sexually intimate connection.
For most, sexuality is intensely private. For many, open and direct sexual communication is fraught with fear, anxiety and fear of judgment. For mostly good and even bad, many people are guided by their religious beliefs, which serve to provide a strong moral compass or foundation, but inevitably lead people to feel that their fantasies or wishes are somehow wrong/bad/dirty/evil. Consequently, many struggle with feelings of guilt, shame and anxiety around sex and have not fully honored, accepted or expressed their authentic sexual selves. When these urges and feelings are repressed or forced underground, they create emotional, personal and sexual distance between the two partners, hence, the healthy expression of sexual needs suffers.
One of the many blessings of being a therapist is that I have nearly two decades of data that have reinforced my awareness that we all have our sexual issues and variances and that is a normal part of the human experience. Not much shocks me at this point in my career. (Although I admittedly was stumped when posed the question, "Should a butch lesbian who cheats be expected to replace her strap-on when men do not have that same option?")
After one of my couples 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!"
As a therapist, I am comfortably natural at helping my clients resolve their intimacy issues. In therapy, I work hard to create an open and non-judgmental environment while demonstrating deep respect and care for my clients. Because I feel that sexuality is an important aspect of the human emotional/relational/spiritual experience, I often explore this aspect of my client's lives as appropriate and when a solid therapeutic rapport is established. This creates an opportunity for my clients to explore and process their sexual experiences, attractions, disappointments and longings. For many, therapy is the first place they have verbalized some of these sexual components of self. It can be a very cathartic, healing, psychologically integrating and empowering experience.
After nearly 20 years of counseling individuals and couples, it is clear that there is also a "chicken and egg" relationship between sex and relationship problems. Sometimes it's hard to tell which came first. Some couples are sexually disconnected because of relationship issues and others have interpersonal conflict that stems from sexual problems. Perhaps it doesn't really matter which is addressed first, as long as there is a shared, open and courageous attempt to resolve their issues.
Like love, sex encompasses the mind, body and spirit. At the very least, sex provides stress release. At its greatest, intimate sexual expressions can be a transcendental experience of mind-blowing, out-of-body, shared ecstasy. 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. The connection can be deepened through a trusting emotional bond and shared sensual and spiritual experiences.
Most people desire a fulfilling sexual life and yet many do not prioritize it or talk about it with their partners. Therefore, I encourage you to do the following:
1. Quiet your mind via meditation and ask the deeper self within what you desire sexually.
2. Notice any negative thoughts or beliefs 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 gratifying sexual life."
3. Write down the issues that are preventing you from having the sexual life you want.
4. Create 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, seek individual therapy about your addiction to porn, carve out time for coupling, etc.
5. Because many people are overly focused on their minds, connect with your body through exercise, stretching, progressive muscle relaxation and mindfulness techniques to increase body awareness and subsequently improve your sexual experiences. Take care of yourself so you feel desirable and confident. Keep reading...
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