When most people begin a relationship the sexual chemistry is strong and sparks fly. Sex is frequent and intense in the romantic love/passionate sex/idealized couple stage of the relationship. However, this sexually-charged phase is usually short-lived lasting around six months or so - and up to two years if you're lucky. If you value sex and the relationship, the challenge is to create a couple sexual style which will enhance desire, pleasure, and satisfaction in your ongoing relationship. But how do couples-married or cohabitating, straight or gay-to integrate intimacy and eroticism into their relationship? Is there a way to balance your "sexual voice" with being an "intimate team"? How does a couple go about developing a mutually comfortable level of intimacy; sharing non-demand pleasuring; adding erotic scenarios and techniques; and maintaining positive, realistic sexual expectations?
In my new book Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style, these questions and more are answered and it all begins with defining your unique couple sexual style and using that style to your advantage in and out of the bedroom.
Through my research, I have pinpointed the four most common couple sexual styles (by order of frequency) to be:
• Complementary-mine and ours
• Soul Mate-best friend
• Emotionally Expressive-fun and erotic
Contrary to "pop psych" there is not a "right" style which is best for all couples. Each partner needs to be aware of her/his preferences, feelings, and values and choose the balance of intimacy/eroticism and autonomy/coupleness which will enhance sexual desire and function. Be aware of strengths and vulnerabilities of each couple sexual style so you choose what is right for you.
Complementary Couple Sexual Style
This is the most common couple style because it balances each person's sexual voice with being a securely bonded intimate team. Each partner has the freedom to initiate a sexual encounter, can say no or offer an alternative way to connect, values both intimacy and eroticism, and can play out their preferred erotic and intercourse scenarios. What are the vulnerabilities for this sexual style? The two major traps are treating sex with "benign neglect"-sex falls into a routine but not energizing pattern. The second trap is that when life changes, for example, having a baby, rather than valuing couple time, they fall into traditional parenting roles and lose their erotic playfulness.
Traditional Couple Sexual Style
These couples follow traditional gender roles where sexual initiation and intercourse is the man's domain while intimacy and affection is the woman's domain. This is the most stable couple style, high on clarity and security, and low on drama and the need to negotiate sexual issues. The vulnerabilities are role rigidity and with aging the man finds it difficult to function sexually without her stimulation. The other traps are not dealing with sexual problems until they are chronic and the woman feeling her needs for intimate connection and validation are ignored.
Soul Mate Couple Sexual Style
This is the cultural ideal-the most intimate relationship. Sharing intimacy and eroticism with the same person, feeling accepted and loved for who you really are (warts and all), maintaining a secure bond are powerfully validating emotionally and sexually. However, this can be a very risky sexual choice. You feel so close that you de-eroticize your partner, the woman feels disappointed in the man and relationship because he fails to meet unrealistically high expectations, and inability to be resilient when dealing with hard issues such as an affair.
Emotionally Expressive Couple Sexual Style
This is the stuff of movies and love songs-vibrant, playful, erotic, high sex energy. These couples use sex to heal emotional conflicts, are experimental and take sexual risks, and have sexual fun and intensity. The traps are too much emotional and sexual drama drain their bond and threaten relationship stability, overemphasize sexual experimentation and eroticism at the expense of intimacy, use sex to avoid dealing with other problems, and this level of intensity wears the partners out.
Choosing the Right Style for You
A "wise" choice of a couple sexual style challenges you to weigh both emotional and practical factors, choosing not just for the short term but what will bring sexual satisfaction over the long term. Remember you want to choose a mutually acceptable sexual style which facilitates sexual desire, pleasure, and satisfaction. You want sexuality to play 15-20% role in enhancing relationship vitality and satisfaction. Just as important, emphasize the strengths of your chosen couple sexual style and be mindful of traps/vulnerabilities so these don't subvert couple sexuality. You want to celebrate yourself as a sexual person and experience desire and desirability as a sexual couple.
Barry W. McCarthy, Ph.D., is a professor of psychology at American University, a certified marital and sex therapist, and recipient of the 2009 Smart Marriages Impact Award. McCarthy and his wife Emily have collaborated on 11 books which have sold more than a million copies, including Rekindling Desire, Getting it Right the First Time, Getting It Right This Time and Men's Sexual Health. Their most recent book is Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style.