Pleasure and Connection: A Different Way of Thinking About Sex

Aug 29, 2022

In my last post, I introduced a concept called the linear model of sex. Here’s a quick recap: We tend to settle into sexual routines, in which one activity leads to another, which leads to another. For instance, for some couples, kissing might lead to cuddling, which leads to naked touching, and the encounter finishes with penetrative sex and orgasm.

Trouble With a Focus on a Specific Outcome for Sex

The trouble with this perspective is that it leads us to focus on a specific outcome for sex. In other words, our measure for whether sex is going well or not is based on whether or not we can achieve the activities in our habitual sequence. Now, one problem here is that if achieving a specific physical outcome is your measure for successful sex, it’s much harder to rebound emotionally if something doesn’t go as planned.

But there’s another huge issue with the linear model. It takes our attention off of what actually makes sex wonderful. When we’re focusing on a physical outcome, we can end up losing sight of what we really want out of the encounter—often, a pleasurable experience and a connection with our partner.

Producing Pleasure and Connection

If I could give you one piece of advice, it would be this: Instead of focusing on a specific outcome—like achieving penetration, or each having an orgasm at the same time, or in a particular way—make your goal to produce as much pleasure and connection together as you possibly can. That means, if that one activity you usually do isn’t quite working for you, don’t get stuck—switch it up to something else fun.

“But Martha,” I can hear you asking, “If it’s as simple as that, why isn’t everyone doing it?”

Overcoming Challenges

Naturally, it’s a little more challenging in practice. Sex is emotionally charged and laden with taboos, and that can make it hard to talk about, even with our closest person. That’s one big reason why we tend to get stuck in patterns that aren’t really working for us—because it can be more comfortable to just go through the familiar steps than to take a leap into the unknown by communicating.

Moving toward valuing pleasure and connection over outcome is a growth process. The easiest part of that growth process is deciding to do it. The hardest part is developing the emotional muscle to communicate honestly in an intense and emotionally charged moment—for instance, when some part of your sexual routine isn’t working and you need to tell your partner that you want or need to do something else.

As a therapist, I work to support my clients as they build skill and confidence handling pivots during sex, and communicating well in those highly charged situations. If you’re anticipating that you’re going to find doing this challenging, I really hear you. I wouldn’t be doing this work if I didn’t know how tough that can be. I also wouldn’t be doing this work if I didn’t believe that it’s completely worth it.

Consider this: Honesty is hot. Knowing exactly what your partner wants and how to give it to them is an awesome feeling. Knowing that you can tell your partner exactly what you want and work with them to get there is pretty amazing, too. There may be some awkwardness or a few bumps to the ego along the way—but the reward is a stronger connection, freedom from stress and suffering when things don’t go as planned, and a whole lot more fun.

Originally published on Psychology Today.

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