Sex: it’s what’s for dinner. When most of us think of having sexual intimacy with a partner, most of our minds will go to penetrative sex (whether it’s vaginal or anal). But, what if you can’t have vaginal or anal sex? Or what if you don’t want to? What if every time your partner touches you, you flinch because you assume they’re only looking for sex and you’re tired, stressed out or hangry? If you feel this way, you are not alone. The majority of couples entering sex therapy, especially for mismatched libido, report that when their higher desire partner even touches them, their mind immediately goes to sex, which then immediately triggers feelings of pressure and anxiety. Nothing kills the mood like anxiety and pressure.
When we limit our sexual expression and sexual activity just to penetrative sex, we are missing out on a variety of other pleasurable and intimate options. When we limit our views of sexual intimacy only as penetrative sex that ends with orgasm (specifically for a man or someone with a penis), we are also creating more pressure on performance and pressure to orgasm. When our sexual menu is limited to just penetrative sex, we can be setting ourselves up for failure, especially as our bodies age. In fact, some couples who report having a “sexless relationship” (hello aging) find it is due to men having less consistent and firm erections, which can impact desire and sexual self-esteem. When our only model for sexual intimacy is reliant on an erect penis, we can get into trouble.
But what if sex, or penetrative sex, wasn’t for dinner. Or rather, what if it was simply an option for dinner on a menu of other options, such as oral sex, manual stimulation, masturbation, erotic massage, showering together, kissing, and so forth? What if as a culture we reframed our idea of what sex means and help eliminate some of the pressure and emphasize pleasure and connection more than penetration and orgasm? That sounds like the kind of world I want to live in!
I encourage my clients to think about what is on their sexual menu besides penetrative sex. Every person and every couple’s menu could be different. If you’re in a partnership, your menu doesn’t have to be the same as your partner’s. When thinking about having a sexual menu instead of assuming physical intimacy means sex, it alleviates some of the pressure and allows each partner to have a stronger voice regarding their sexual needs and interests.
Less pressure + practicing using your sexual voice = pleasure and connection.
When thinking about what’s on your sexual menu, I encourage you to think about what sounds authentic to your desires and your pleasure. Your sexual menu doesn’t always have to be touch, it can be reading erotic fiction together, watching porn or sexual imagery, sharing fantasies, or whatever excites you and fuels your desire. Instead of having a one-item menu (a.k.a. penetrative sex), create a sexual menu with your partner with plenty of options and variety for a less pressured and more pleasurable sexual experience.
~ Rebecca Hirsch, LMFT