WHY IS SEX SUCH A MASSIVE ISSUE FOR UNHAPPY COUPLES?
Sex shows the most vulnerable surfaces of the body in the most openly exposing positions. This experience causes many to only have sex with the lights off; to close their eyes to avoid eye contact so their partner cannot see the real vulnerable self lurking in the windows to their souls.
Culture has taught us that sex is an end in itself, that the big O is the end goal. It’s teaching us that our physical bliss can be brought on by the mechanics of sex. The positions, techniques, and toys. Sex, for many of us, is about physical satisfaction.
But how important is good sex in a committed, romantic relationship?
Good sex is important, but not vital to happy relationships. According to research done by sex educators Barry and Emily McCarthy, happy couples account only 15 to 20 percent of their happiness to a pleasurable sex life. Unhappy couples, on the other hand, attribute 50 to 70 percent of their problems and stress in the relationship to sexual problems.
While satisfied partners view sex as one of many sources of intimacy and pleasure, conflicted partners often view it as the number one source of trouble. Ironically, sexual distress in a relationship tends not to be caused by sexual dysfunction.
The lack of sex is actually birthed by the lack of connection, leaving partners to not feel emotionally safe enough to expose their vulnerable parts. Desire wanes, sex becomes less enjoyable, and partners start to feel hurt. Maybe even rejected. They shut down even more, leading to less sex and more hurt feelings. Spiraling their sexuality into the dungeon of an asymmetrical relationship.
Sex tends to be the focus of unhappy couples because it tends to be the first thing to walk about the door of the relationship. But a lack of sex is not the culprit. Great sex is a byproduct of emotional connection. The deeper the emotional connection, the better the sex. Unhappy couples thrive in either disconnection or an intense negative connection that causes little arousal.
Partners who are emotionally available, responsive, and engaged in their partner go on a safe excursion into each other’s erotic wilderness. Being this type of partner is not easy for most of us. It requires allowing ourselves to be fully seen by our lover; to feel secure in ourselves and our relationships so we can surrender to the sensations created between ourselves and our partners. It requires trust. Feeling understood. Emotional and physical safety.
Our emotional connection defines our relationship in bed and out. Ultimately our emotional vulnerability and personal development defines the depth of our ability to connect on an emotional level. This depth shows up in three types of sex styles:
The James Bond bachelor lifestyle of having sex with drop-dead gorgeous women who are trying to kill you is an ideal many men follow. This sexual style is very easy. All it requires is an erection and just enough arousal to achieve an orgasm. As a man, it’s rather easy for me to go from arousal to orgasm with little emotional communication. Whether it’s my testosterone or cultural conditioning, avoiding connection with the person fondling my genitals was easy. It felt safer than exposing up my enduring vulnerabilities.
But my venture into this sexual style was a byproduct of being cheating on by my college sweetheart. Impersonal sex tends to be created by those of us whose life experiences have taught us not to trust others with our vulnerable spots.
So we shut down emotionally. We numb ourselves to feeling just enough to survive the sexual encounter. We ride to orgasm and let out a sigh of relief that we achieved our goal. Many of us don’t like masturbation because we find it lonely, yet we want to have sex with someone else so we can ignore her (or him).
This is perfectly understandable. Some people have issues about their own body image. Even more have issues about being seen on the inside. We feel inadequate. Unworthy. So we tune out to get close enough to copulate, because being truly seen is hard to tolerate.
The problem is that our partners feel used and objectified, rather than being valued and loved as a human being. We never open up, thus keeping the gateway of real eroticism shut.
For both men and women, emotional neglect shuts the door to a richer dimension of sexuality. According to Omri Gillath, a psychologist at the University of Kansas, young people who stay emotionally distant have more sexual partners, but they don’t enjoy it as much as those who are vulnerable enough to get close to others. While excitement exists, passion is extinct.
This sexual style for one person often tends to sleep with our next sexual style: Self-Worth Sex in the Most Toxic Relationship of All.
When we feel inadequate, we perform to meet the expectations we create in our head. Self-worth sex happens when we use sex as validation that we are valued and desired by our partners. Sex is no longer about sex; it’s a test of our self-worth. When our partners reject our sex request, we take it personally and get scared. We wonder if they’re going to leave us. If we are inadequate.
When sex becomes the anti-anxiety pill, it cannot be truly erotic.
I experienced this style of sex in my first committed relationship after I was cheated on. While this did keep the relationship stable for a while, it also caused me to feel more insecure and fall prey to negative cycles of self-talk. My mind created theories of my partner cheating and being disappointed by my performance in the bedroom. I never felt big enough. I felt I couldn’t last long enough or please her enough even if she achieved orgasm every time.
My sense of inadequacy fueled my obsessiveness in pleasing her. I felt a need to perform up to a ridiculous imaginary standard I made up in my head. As our relationship continued, I became demanding. I began suffocating our love, trying to validate my self-worth. My girlfriend became exhausted by my ridiculous expectations and constant desire to have sex.
I really didn’t care for having sex as much as we had it. To me it was the only way I knew how to connect with her and feel valued. Sex was the only time I was sure she loved me and the only time I felt emotionally safe about our relationship. I’ve grown a lot since then. Other relationships have allowed me to feel worthy enough that I no longer have this style of sex.
Emotionally Connected Sex
Recently I’ve had glimpses into intense, emotionally open sex. Full of responsiveness, tender touch, and erotic exploration. Sex that leaves you feeling fulfilled and deeply connected to your partner. For me, this was not an easy place to walk into. But the secure emotional connection I created with my partner allowed us to be tender and playful one moment and erotic and wild the next.
Emotionally connected sex causes lovers to attune to each others inner states and shifting arousal. Connected partners can reveal their sexual vulnerabilities and desires without fear of being rejected. The relationship is built on a safe foundation of trust and security that partners can expose their deepest fears and reveal in their fantasies.
Emotionally connected partners trust each other. They can relax, let go, and immerse in the pleasure of lovemaking. They can talk about what turns them off or on without getting embarrassed, ashamed, or offended. Partners can laugh when the guy’s penis decides to take a nap during the act.
Couples who have emotionally connected sex prove that we can connect and reconnect. We can fall in love again and again. We can surrender to sensation and explore our erotic nature. But all of this requires a safe foundation. A secure base to stay open to such a vulnerable human experience.
Emotional presence is the best guide for satisfying sex.
Couples will often seek endless novelty to battle “boredom.” But toys, techniques, and positions will only please you to the extent that you are willing to open up to your partner. This is not for the light-hearted, but a journey for the bold.
Walk boldly into your sexuality,
P.S. Those of you who are seeking to have emotionally connected sex, but feel stuck in impersonal sex or self-worth sex, sign up for a couples clarity call. Often these sexual styles are not caused by sexual preferences, but by ongoing narratives about ourselves in our own heads.