by Carole Jackson, Bottom Line Health
Are you sexually satisfied? For so many people, sex is more a source of anxiety than pleasure. Instead of bringing them closer to their partners, sex often makes them feel inadequate, perhaps due to concerns about their aging bodies. They look back nostalgically to a time when sex was satisfying and give a sigh, thinking that itâs just something else you lose as the years pass.
But things could be very different. What really helps is a bit of intelligenceâsexual intelligence.
Hereâs what that meansâ¦
KEEPING UP WITH CHANGE
On TV and the Internet and in magazines and movies, we are surrounded by youthful, sexy people. Sex is portrayed as mind-blowing, athletic and amazing. Weâre conditioned to think thatâs the way all sex is supposed to be.
But as we grow older, our bodiesâand our livesâchange. Also, factors such as medication use, chronic pain, familiarity with your partner and accumulated resentments can reduce libido during this phase of life.
So it makes sense that sex will be different during middle age and beyond. It may be difficult to adjust expectations, but the way to change your sex life is to change yourÂ ideasabout sex.
Itâs a given that most people want pleasure and closeness from sex.Â But many focus on other things altogetherâ¦
How am I doing?Â It is very easy to equate sex with performance. This can mean constant self-evaluation. Is my erection as firm as it should be? Will it last? Am I attractive or skillful enough?
Is this normal?Â People may think,Â I like this, but is it morally acceptable?Â Unlike most activities they do for enjoyment, they may worry that their tastes in sex show them to be bad or wrong.
With all these anxieties, how much pleasure and closeness are people likely to experience when having sex?
AN INTELLIGENT SOLUTION
To have satisfying sexual experiences, you donât need to be a hotshot in bed. You need a combination of emotional skills and physical awareness, both of which are essential to sexual intelligence.
Partners must be patient and sensitive to each otherâs feelings and keep any disappointment in perspective.
Physical awareness includes understanding how your own body and your partnerâs body have changed over time. What are your bodies still capable of doing, and what canât they do anymore? It means knowing what makes you and your partner feel goodâwhere you both like to be touched, how you both enjoy being kissed, what aids are preferred. Sexual intelligence means accommodating these preferences, whenever possible, with good humor.
Important:Â Remember that emotional skills and physical awareness typically are more central to good sex than sexual technique.
BE IN THE MOMENT
Many people get into the habit of having sex while thinking about something else entirely. This undermines pleasure and intimacy.
Much better:Â Focus on the physical sensations. What specifically are you feeling in your arms, legs, genitals, fingertips? What do you smell and taste?
Soak up the emotional experience, too. Feel the pleasure, relaxation, excitement and fun. Also feel the closeness to yourÂ partner. If youâre anxious, worried or rushed, notice that, too, but donât judge or analyze the feeling then. Set it aside to think about or talk about later. Bringing your attention back to the moment is helpful when you start to worry about your performance or appearance or what your partner is thinking. More self-acceptance and less self-criticism often enhances libido.
DONâT BE SHY
For better communication, you must view the person you have sex with as aÂ partnerrather than as a critic or judge. Since this person is your partner, you shouldnât feel reluctant to ask for what you would like in bed.Â Even better:Â Show your partner how you would like to be touched. And if something feels good, say so (and do it with a whisperâitâs sexier).
Take time to discuss your sexual relationship. It may feel awkward at first, but talking about performance anxiety is the best way to get past it. Also, this is the time to discuss with your partner anything new that you would like to try. And, if there is anything that you definitelyÂ donâtÂ want to do again, make this clear. During this discussion, work out details, such as preferred time for sex (some people like the morning, others the night), place and even room temperature. Since initiating sex is a problem for many couples, discuss signals to use when one of you could be in the mood.
WHAT IS SEX, ANYWAY?
Most people consider âsexâ to be intercourse. This thinking is unfortunate. There are drawbacks to intercourse that can make it inconvenient, ill-advised or even impossible. It requires an erect penis and lubricated vaginaâ¦itâs difficult for people with various physical problemsâ¦chronic pain can make it uncomfortableâ¦and itâs not an effective way to have an orgasm for many women.
Speaking of orgasmsâthey probably get a good deal more attention than they merit. An orgasm is quite pleasant, but it lasts maybe five seconds during a sexual encounter that might be 20 minutes or more.
Consider that sex can be satisfying withoutÂ intercourseÂ andÂ without orgasm. A broader range of physically and emotionally gratifying activitiesâoral sex, manual stimulation of body parts you may have ignored, watching each other masturbate, etc.âare all options.
SIMPLE QUESTIONS TO ASK
In fact, you can think of sex in the same way you would think of other things you do with your partner. Was it enjoyable? Did you feel close to each other? How can you make it even better next time? In this spirit, youâre less likely to worry about success or failure and more likely to appreciate the rich range of experiences sex has to offer.
A couple should consider seeing a sex therapist if either or both have trouble discussing a sexual issue. To find a sex therapist, check with your doctor or consult the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists,Â www.aasect.org.
Source:Â Marty Klein, PhD, a licensed marriage and family therapist and certified sex therapist in Palo Alto, California. He is the author of seven books, including most recentlyÂ Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want from Sex and How to Get It(HarperOne).Â www.MartyKlein.com