Sexual Desire. In a study of what men and women desire in sexual relationships, Elaine Hatfield and her colleagues (1989) found that the top two desires for married men were for partners to initiate sex more and be more seductive. The top two desires for married women were for partners to talk lovingly more often and be more seductive. Clearly both men and women want their partners to be seductive – but in different ways. Neurophysiologically men’s desire for sex is physically driven, most prominently by visual cues; women’s sexual desire is motivated by the wish for intimacy and connection. Essentially they want to be with each other but they need different cues for desire and arousal.
How do we move to mutual desire? We accept the differences and work with them. In the broadest example – if he really likes skimpy underwear – buy him some and buy yourself something you will both love (humor is never a bad thing in sexual plans). If you want her to feel desirable and desirous in the bedroom, value and affirm how she looks and how she thinks and what she does in many other places in your lives.
What else should we consider? For both men and women, feeling valued by their partner plays a major role in their sexual desire and receptivity. The fact that someone does not initiate a sexual overture does not mean they are uninterested or will be unreceptive. It just means that someone has to start. The most valuable factor in enhancing desire for both men and women is the memory of a mutually satisfying sexual experience.
Imagination. Stephen Mitchell (2002) tells us that beyond biology, sexual connection is always partially an act of imagination. There was a line from a song by the Everly Brothers “You Never Close Your Eyes Anymore, When I Kiss Your Lips.” What that translates into is: “You don’t love me enough to suspend reality. I am no longer a trigger of desire and imagination for you.” This suspension of reality and triggering of desire is something very important in reclaiming intimacy.
Research suggests that 70% of American men and women fantasize while making love (Fisher 2004). What they fantasize about is less important than the capacity to do so because fantasy fosters the ability to trust and let go in a way that facilitates desire, arousal and orgasm. In the aftermath of trauma when illusion has been shattered and life has become frightening and painfully real, partners’ sexual relating can be jeopardized by the inability to relax and suspend vigilance. Reality has assaulted imagination and fantasy.
Recapture Fantasy Together. Reach back to the magic of your fantasy and dreams about each other as a way to recapture the capacity to access imagination.
What was your fantasy after your first date together? Take turns sharing. When do you fantasize most about your partner? Is it associated with a certain song, something he or she wears, a fragrance, a certain type of message sent or received? Let the other know. Play it. Wear it. Enjoy it. Share it. Laugh about it.
Have an Affair with your Partner. Take nothing for granted. Leave notes. Meet for the 10 minute cup of coffee. Steal a kiss in a public place. Notice what the other was wearing the day before. Plan the date. Don’t invite another couple. Go somewhere you’ve never been. Book the cheap motel.