What's Your Sexual Style?

How a couple can share desire, pleasure, and satisfaction.

Sex Is a Team Sport, and There's No 'I' in Team!

Couples commited to avoiding traditional sexual power struggles

Power struggles are bad for everybody – especially when it comes to sex. Perhaps the most common male-female sexual power struggle is the debate over whether and how frequently to have intercourse. The man stereotypically says sex is energizing and fun, wondering why his female partner doesn’t value more frequent sex like she appeared to during the first year of their relationship. The woman traditionally counters by wondering why her male partner doesn’t enjoy the kind of intimacy and touching that makes her feel good and desirable like he did during the first year of their relationship.

The best way to extricate yourself from this sexual power struggle is to accept that you are in a no-win situation.  You and your partner want to be intimate and sexual friends, not be adversaries. The essence of healthy couple sexuality is giving and receiving pleasure-oriented touch. When sex becomes a power struggle where you are trying to prove something to yourself or your partner, you are playing a losing game.

In essence, sexuality is a team sport, not an individual pass-fail performance test of intercourse and orgasm. Central to embracing that in your relationship dialogue is to recognize that there are many kinds of touch - sensual, playful, erotic, and intercourse - that are dimensions of sexuality (this is described in detail in my blog "Shifting Gears").

Rather than defining sex strictly as intercourse, this broader definition of sexual connection focuses on sharing pleasure and eroticism in a fun, cooperative milieu. Approaching a sexual encounter with the understanding that partners are not clones of each other and have different needs and wants can be freeing. Of course, the best sexual encounters are mutual and synchronous - meaning both partners experience high levels of desire, pleasure, eroticism, and satisfaction. However, healthy couples are also aware that the majority of sexual encounters are positive, but not synchronous. That is normal and healthy - intimacy and sexuality can have a range of motivations, meanings, and outcomes. Most importantly, an asynchronous encounter cannot be at the expense of the partner or relationship.

Traditionally, asynchronous sexuality has favored male sexuality, especially for couples 45 and younger. When an encounter has been at the expense of the woman’s sexual comfort or pleasure, especially if the male partner blames her for not being as aroused or orgasmic as he is, the man ‘wins’ the sexual encounter but loses a satisfying sexual relationship.

When couples stop being sexual, especially after age 50, it is almost always the man's decision. Often he has lost confidence in erections, intercourse, and orgasm. Men and couples who use their awareness of broad-based couple sexuality and accept that at times asynchronous sexuality is better for the woman than the man will continue to be sexual in their 50's, 60's, 70's, and 80's.

What is the sexual bottom line? Women, men, and couples who accept that sexuality is a team sport involving more than intercourse are the ones who thrive. They are motivated and empowered by giving and receiving pleasure and eroticism, and committed to not falling into sexual or emotional power struggles. Power struggles split and drain the relationship. When each partner maintains a positive sexual voice and accepts they are not clones of each other, they can enjoy a vibrant and flexible sexual relationship. The couple who commit to the sexual mantra of desire, pleasure, eroticism, and satisfaction maintain a satisfying, secure and sexual relationship.

Barry W. McCarthy, Ph.D., is a tenured professor of psychology at American University and a best-selling author.

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