One of the hottest, and most common, issues my clients bring to me is the issue of sex. S.E.X. For a lot of people, having a conversation about sex ends up either casually callous or considered private and personal. In my experience, both of these are just dichotomous ways of avoiding a real conversation about a real issue in relationships. Sure, some folks out there have a healthy sexuality coupled with a confident self expression of said sexuality, a genuine attunement to their partner(s) and the ability to give and enjoy climax; the way sex should be. But if we relinquish our egos for just a moment, we see that most human beings experience some degree of suppression or dysfunctional expression, some dysfunction, when it comes to sex. I get it. You really want to believe that this does not apply to you. It may not. But it probably does.
Sex as Validation.
In a world where true connection is sparse, human beings still innately yearn to be connected to one another, to feel wanted, valued, desired. This longing isn’t at all sexual in nature, but it gets translated into any form necessary to get that fix we need. We post pictures and brag subtly about our lives to make ourselves seem desirable and important, to fish for compliments that validate our existence. Sex, for many, has become another source of validation for our egos. Sure, sex is also pleasurable. But sex is most pleasurable when we’re connected to a person, when we know their desires, what they enjoy and deeper than that, who they are and how their essence exudes in a sexual experience. Instead, we use sex as a way to feel validated. If someone is willing to have sex with us, that means we are wanted, attractive, better than, desirable. Most often, when I work with clients who have a revolving door of sexual partners, we discover that there is an underlying fear or inability to authentically connect with others, spawning from an insecurity that leaves them needed an external source of validation. Sexuality becomes the means to that end.
Fear, and all of it’s mechanisms, run the show for most of our lives, however blissfully unaware of this we may be. And sex is no different. When we are so concerned with looking good and being good enough in every aspect of life, our neurology generates an algorithm for survival that shows up in the bedroom no differently. I’ve had people share things with me from preferring the lights off to keeping a shirt on to avoiding certain positions during sex to avoid looking less-than-sexy doing the deed. I also encounter a lot of women who are timid or fearful about expressing what they want or like physically from their partner(s).Other forms of insecurity and fear are more subtle, like the conversation in your head about your performance, about getting her off, about lasting long enough and for the women, faking orgasms to spare his ego or to put an end to an experience that isn’t pleasurable. I’ve got some bad news for you. If you’re doing any of these things, or any variation of these things, you are suppressed in your sexuality and not fully present during sex.
People generally respond to suppression in two ways. The first is with passivity which, when it comes to sex, looks like the examples above. Essentially, the passive response to suppression is to accept it and “people please.” The alternate response to suppression is aggression. With sex, that typically gets expressed with a one-sided, dominant experience. That’s not to say that this type of sex can’t be pleasurable for both partners. Just that what’s underlying may be an unhealthy expression, particularly when the dominant partner isn’t really concerned or connected with the experience of the other, and is primarily focused on their own expression and desires.
Porn: Fueling the suppression/aggression dynamic
I won’t make a case for pornography being inherently bad. It may or may not be, but that isn’t my angle here. What porn absolutely is, however, is detrimental to true sexual connection between partners. The problem with porn is that it becomes, for many, a guideline or expectation for what sex could, or should, be like. And that’s not at all based in reality. It’s quite the opposite. Porn is acting, it’s fantasy. When we fail to recognize that, it becomes problematic and reinforces both sexual suppression and aggression. If we can’t be fully and completely present and self expressed in the experience of sex because of expectation, ultimately both partners are missing out on what the experience could be like.
For men, primarily, frequenting porn or using porn as a how-to causes a tremendous disconnect when it comes to sex. An unrealistic expectation develops of how women think, act and feel about foreplay and intercourse. That expectation keeps you from being present to the cues and communication of your partner. For both men and women, the expectation to perform and be like the actors gets internalized and one’s true sexual desires and pleasures get suppressed beneath the expectation. Insecurity around meeting the expectation replaces authentic self expression of sexuality. As I mentioned before, sometimes the response to this suppression becomes aggression, which is only reinforced by the aggressive nature of quite a bit of pornography, leaving the “aggressor” none the wiser to his own sexual dysfunction and to the dysfunction being put on his partner.
Sex in Relationships
Because sex is an emotional experience for women, sex that lacks connection will often leave a woman feeling disinterested, particularly in relationships where this becomes the norm. Combine that with the insecurity/expectation dynamic and you’ve got a recipe for disaster. If a woman is consistently not getting what she wants from sex, that suppression will lead to either acceptance in the way of avoiding or refusing sex or faking orgasms to end the experience as quickly as possible. Or, alternatively, she will react with aggression, by way of proactively seeking out a source of emotional connection, be it an affair or some other way of disconnecting from the relationship and developing connection elsewhere. In essence, if you are not allowing yourself to be fully present and connected to your partner during sex, the sexual experiences and the relationship will be impacted.
For men, sex is more primal and egoistic in nature than it is for women. Vulnerability and communication is also more challenging for men. When men want something from sex, they are more likely to use the aggression approach initially and to simply take it. However, in relationships this tends to dwindle as their suppressed partner becomes disengaged. When ego is at play and facing failure or weakness, validation often takes precedence over communication, which can also lead to some form of infidelity or outward validation seeking.
When the sexual relationship starts to break down, all of the insecurities and expectations start to reinforce and perpetuate the dysfunction. Having a healthy and satisfying sex life takes an openness and willingness to communicate verbally, to be present to pleasure cues, to letting go of expectations and insecurities and to surrendering yourself to a free flowing and organic experience.