Hierarchy of Sexual Development


Most things in life are developmental.

“There are very few human beings who receive the truth, complete and staggering, by instant illumination. Most of them acquire it fragment by fragment, on a small scale, by successive developments, cellularly, like a laborious mosaic.” -Anais Nin

Most things in life are developmental. Human lifespan has programmed continuous growth and maturation into our genetic code, which acts as an imperative that makes skill building one of the richest aspects of daily living. Nowhere is this truer than in our foundational relationship to our sexuality. Last weekend I shared a multi-generational afternoon at the lake. There were four of us there: my daughters separated by a decade -12 and 21, a good friend who is 34 and me at 48.

As I sifted through the shared conversations on our physical relationships, a developmental hierarchy emerged that I had never before seen in the magazine reports on sex throughout a human lifespan. Although sexual development may not always fit these chronological time spans, I do believe that, like any hierarchy of knowledge, we pass from one level to the next by mastering the phase we are in. As obvious as that seems, the lack of real information and the diverse experience of sexual pleasure confound the process for many. So I am taking a leap here in outlining the basic levels of development that need to happen through our first five decades.

Children experience their sexuality at different ages and in different intensity through their first decade. Most discover their genitals and how it feels to touch before they hit adolescence. If they have already been shamed by their emerging recognition of sexuality or if there is no safe place to learn about the powerful and mysterious feelings their body holds, adolescent years become a power struggle internally and with family.

Since sexual discovery is critical during these years, mastery here is about free access to information and the assurance that sexual curiosity is normal and healthy. My twelve-year-old has “gone out” with a couple of boys, which is really not much more different than hanging out with her brothers and their friends. She is in no hurry to engage in sexual acts; although she is curious about how people kiss and why you would put your tongue in someone else’s mouth. I adore the innocence of this early special friendship and wonder why some children feel so rushed into more sexuality than their emotional life can hold.

Sometime in the teens or early twenties, people become sexually active. The presumption for both genders is that sex is something you just know how to do. Unfortunately, this explains the large number of young people who begin their sex life disappointed; anxious enough to use large doses of alcohol or drugs to move towards sex, as well as the remarkably small percentage of young people who have satisfying orgasmic sex. It takes time to learn about your physical response and be able to control it when you first start making love. The idea that you should already know how creates a pressure cooker which entraps both people. When I answer the questions of my 21-year-old daughter and her boyfriend, I always remind them to approach lovemaking with the mind of a curious student and with an open heart that cares more for your partner’s feelings than any ability to perform. This level of mastery is about recognizing and being able to articulate the basic building blocks of your own sexual response.

Simple as that seems, many people never achieve any satisfying level of clarity about what the pleasure buttons are or how to consistently turn them on. Usually by the thirties, you have identified a path to sexual intimacy that sometimes includes orgasm and shared pleasure. The frustration of not being able to repeat the great sex you recently had marks this time. It was in my thirties that the idea of the G-spot became real. The times when deep orgasm exploded were perfect accidents. However, I didn’t yet understand the dance that would create those results predictably, making our sexual relationship a crap shoot. My husband and I never really knew if it would end in sparks flying or with us turning our backs to each other.

Getting past the angry games of initiation and rejection is crucial to this level of mastery. Building a language where both people can find pleasure together consistently is key to mature sexual development. To the degree that the conversation stays focused on what went wrong and who is to blame greatly reduces your chances of finding the resolution and hot sex you both crave. One clear measure of maturity and mastery is finding forgiveness for the times when he couldn’t last, or when I couldn’t find the spot, or when we couldn’t find a rhythm together.

Approaching sexual connection with curiosity and wonder are the keys which keep you engaged even as your hormonal input begins to wane. Having achieved an ability to know what works and to be able to discuss it, to be even more curious than I was when I was younger, keeps my sex life growing. In fact, working through all these developmental milestones in sexuality will guarantee that you arrive at your 5th decade with all the tools you need to have some of the best sex of your life.

This article was originally published at . Reprinted with permission from the author.