Let's Talk About Sex

A thriving, healthy sex life doesn't just happen. Communcation—with your partner, with kids, with your doctor—is key.

Homepage Image: iStock/Shutterstock

Love, Sex, and Relationship Stuff

A couple's guide to intimacy

The famous psychotherapist, Dr. Albert Ellis, helped launch America's sexual revolution. He is well known for stating his views on love and sex in an earthy tone. For women he offers this advice: "She’d better let her partner know, in no uncertain terms, what she really wants in bed and what he can do to help her get what she wants.” (Ellis, The Sensuous Person: Critique and Corrections pp. 15-16.) 

Here is a sample of Ellis'  ideas that apply to having an extraordinary love-sex life:

1. The sexual revolution that started in the 1960s encouraged people to choose what they sexually wanted to do, and what they did not want to do. This invigorated communications among couples about being loving as well as sexual.

2. Sexual flexibility (choosing among positive alternatives and acting with openness to experience) is consistent with good mental health. Although this is less likely today, some still suffer from rigid, puritanical, sex ideas, such as sex is wrong and wicked. This sex is sordid view places artificial restrictions on sexual enjoyment and can lead to sexual guilt.

3. Sex and love are not the same. However, a great sex relationship can lead to love. Love can lead to a great sex relationship. (In choosing a life partner, seek someone whose sexual interests and desires roughly match your own. You'll have fewer sexual conflicts and better times for loving.)

4. The feeling of love is natural, altruistic, and healthy. Because there are so many different kinds of love, the word is often hard to define. For example, do you know if you are infatuated or “in love?” You are in love if you think you are. If you are passionately in love, you don’t have to define it. You strongly feel it.

5. Sex and love are both natural, but still involve work, compromises, and tradeoffs, such as going along with a partner’s sexual preference in return for satisfying a preference of your own. You bear responsibility to participate in a sexual way that is enjoyable for you. Simultaneously, you have a responsibility to try to find ways sexually to please your partner. You have no guarantee that you can succeed. Your responsibility is to try for mutual pleasure.

6. There are sizeable differences between people in their sexual desires and preferences.  For example, a woman’s sexual experience is at multiple physical and psychological levels and can vary in intensity and quality depending on conditions and her partner. You’d wisely accept this variability as a slice of reality.

7. It is irrational to believe that you can only passionately love one person at a time, that romantic love lasts forever, that romantic love insures a stable, compatible, and durable relationship, and that you can’t survive without an enduring, romantic, love. By putting aside these regulatory rules about love, you are more likely to feel free about love, accept its fragility, and experience its durability.

8. If you have trouble getting aroused with your partner, imagine yourself with someone whom you think would be sexually stimulating. You can play out this fantasy in your mind as you simultaneously pay attention to your partner’s responses and sexual preferences. (An unsatisfying sex-love experience, at one time, does not mean for all times.)

9. Some restrictions placed on sexual functioning are dysfunctional. The imposition of absolute and highly prejudicial standards and fictions to define normal sexual functioning can lead to a poor love-sex life. For example, insist that your partner fully satisfy all your sexual desires, and you’ve found a formula for contention that can dampen both of your sexual desires and destroy a relationship. Avoid distracting yourself with expectations that all orgasms need to be mutual, peak, experiences. It’s nice if that occasionally happens. Few—if any—couples always come together in that way.

10. Sexual performance anxiety is a byproduct of how you think you must perform.  Women, for example, can best attain more highly satisfying sensual and orgasmic experiences by scrapping what they think men expect them to achieve. Men, who relax and enjoy themselves with their sexual partner don’t have their minds crimped by fear that their partner will reject them as a lousy lover. This unsexy thinking can extend into self-castigations that interfere with sexual enjoyment. Instead of rating and berating yourself for not meeting lofty sex standards, forthrightly communicate with your partner about your sexual interests and desires. Learn more about what pleases your partner, and apply what you learn.

11. Neurosis is smart people acting stupidly.  When a sex-love relationship follows a dysfunctional pattern, it is probable that you’ll find a combination of shortsighted drifting and goofing (a form of procrastination) where you put off acting to change the pattern. Couples can practically always make their relationship work better. You can consciously—and conscientiously— take corrective steps to improve communications, alter dysfunctional behavioral patterns, and make allowances for each other’s foibles and faults.

12. Jealousy varies between cultures and societies but seems common to couples and relationships in the western world. A rational jealousy relates to your view that you’d strongly prefer to maintain your relationship with your mate and, therefore, do not want your mate to be too strongly involved or attached to others. A healthy jealousy is likely to lead to fewer conflicts and bad feelings. On the other hand, an irrational jealousy centers on the belief that you must never allow your partner to show any interest in others or to have interest shown to them. The suspiciousness and hostility that commonly spins from this ego-centered insecurity practically always weakens relationships.

13. Rational coping statements are useful in keeping perspective on both reality and what is important. Here is an example for dealing with a debilitating fear of loss: “It would be a tough pill to swallow if I lost the love of my life, but I’d survive and eventually find another.” By taking the pressure off yourself, you may feel less intense, more flexible, and emotionally available.  That’s a path to relationship durability.

14. Without a sane outlook toward love and sex, and empathy for your lover, your chances for achieving a deep level of intimacy and sexual ecstasy are meager. Compensating by acquiring volumes of information to learn to do better, may not help. Indeed, trying to absorb knowledge from books may lead to an overly intellectualized approach, information overload, and a rigid approach to love and sex. Instead, learn enough, and practice what you learn.

15. It is unethical to string someone along for sex by lying and deliberately causing that person to think that he or she has a future with you, when that is not the case. This concealment of motives and deception deprives another of freedom of choice. This doesn’t make you a rotten person, but one who acts rottenly in this instance. As an alternative, express yourself honestly. See what happens. If this sex relationship doesn't pan out, try to establish a sex relationship with someone else.

16. There is nothing wrong with various forms of sexual pleasure, providing they are not compulsive or harm others.

This is an Albert Ellis Tribute Series blog. For information on Ellis’ rational emotive behavioral theories and practices, go to his only official website: REBTnetwork.org. To deal with performance anxiety, see The Cognitive Behavioral Workbook for Anxiety.

Special to this blog is A Flower in Darkness photo image by Dale Jarvis, AreaOne Art and Design, Fayetteville NC

© Dr. Bill Knaus (Co-author, Albert Ellis Revisited. Routledge. In press.)

Let's Talk About Sex