Sex and sexual intimacy can bring couples together or tear them apart. Our sex lives are rarely perfect, but, as imperfect humans, we often feel anxious about discussing this important aspect of our romantic lives. With loving candor and empathy, Dr. Carla dives right into the heart of why sexual intimacy issues arise and how you can resolve them with empathy, understanding, and imperfect love. From exploring differing libidos and desires to the effects of health, stress, and relationship quality, Dr. Carla explores the root causes of sexual intimacy issues as well as the simple steps partners can take to create intimacy and harmony with imperfect love.
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Creating Perfectly Imperfect Sex and Intimacy
Addressing the Root Causes of Sexual Intimacy Concerns with Loving Awareness
One of the most common complaints that I hear from both clients and readers is sex life complaints. Be prepared. This chat is all about sex and relationships. As Mr. Rogers says, “Everything in life that is human is mentionable, and anything that is mentionable is more manageable.” When we look at sex through that lens, then it becomes something that we can talk about. Not something that we have to hide away for the night in the bedroom or secret room. We can learn the important strategy of talking to our partner about our sexual wants, needs, and frustrations and having back-and-forth conversations about what is going right and what isn’t.
Sex, like all other aspects of relationships, is certainly imperfect and sometimes it’s downright. The ins and outs, no pun intended, of sexuality and sexual intimacy are important for us to be able to talk about like any other part of life. As I often tell people, “You don’t worry about asking your partner for more salt or pepper when you’re having dinner, why not ask your partner for a little more salt or pepper when it comes to her sex life?” Let’s start with the basics.
First, our relationship stages play a big part in our sexuality. In the first phase of the relationship, which is the infatuation stage, our hormones are in control. We tend to get very interested in our partners. We want to have sex and lots of it often. Sometimes if we’re the kind of person who wants to wait to have sex, it’s hard because our hormones and desire to connect with another person intimately can be pushing us forward.
It’s normal during the infatuation stage to have high levels of sex, passion, and desire to have sex. Often though, in the second stage of a relationship, when reality begins to hit and the hormone rollercoaster has waned, we often find that we’re a little less interested in sex. That’s when we want to start realizing the importance of matching libido styles and not blaming ourselves or our partners if our libido levels are different.
Think about it. If we have two partners with both very low libido, they may be asexual or not simply very interested in sex. It might not be very compelling for them, but they tend to be a good match in the long run because they find other ways of expressing sexual connection and finding sexual intimacy. For them, low sexual intimacy is fine. It’s not a problem. If you have someone where it’s a low level of sexual libido and the other person has a moderate libido level, that too can be fine. They can work to meet in the middle and create strategies that make both people feel seen, heard, and connected.Struggling with sexual issues in your relationship? Join Dr. Carla for a candid, upbeat dive into the root causes--and cures--for sexual intimacy issues. With a bit of awareness and loads of imperfect love, you can bring true intimacy into your… Click To Tweet
We start getting into trouble when we have extremely mismatched styles. If we have somebody with very low libido and somebody with very high libido, it’s hard to meet in the middle because one person may want sex once a month or year, and the other person may want sex 1 or 3 times a day. That gets more difficult to navigate. If we have people on the other end of the spectrum where they both have very high libido levels, they may have copious amounts of sex, be happy with that, and not tire of that exercise having an abundant sex life.
Notice that it’s not that any form is right or wrong, good or bad. It’s about having your libido styles as closely matched as possible. When they aren’t matched, being able to talk about that, explore it, and say, “What are some strategies we can do to help you find other outlets for your libido that work for both of us or other ways for you to bring your libido up a little bit? Is it more play, cuddling, or touch? What can we do to create more harmony in and out of the bedroom?”
That’s an important piece about libido levels to know that it’s not anybody’s fault. As long as you’ve ruled out medical issues, it’s no one’s fault. It’s just a different level of appetite like we have different appetite levels for food. Sometimes our sexual appetite is inherently different from our partners. We want to work on it and talk about it. We don’t want to blame.
That leads us to the second important issue. Sometimes, we do have well-matched libido levels, but due to factors like pregnancy, work stress, job stress, parenting stress, bad health issue, or ongoing health problem, libido levels can naturally decline. When that’s the case, we want to talk about that. Notice that I’m focusing on talking. Not talking at each other, but communicating about what’s happening inside, what your needs are, what your desires are, and finding ways to meet in the middle to allow for that temporary or sometimes permanent drop in libido.
Truly, there are more ways to show your partner that you love them than having sexual intercourse in copious amounts of cuddle time, bath time, hug time, bringing up those levels of oxytocin, that very bonding neurochemical. There are other ways to create true intimacy and sexual intimacy rather than intercourse. If intercourse and sexual intimacy are problematic because of health or other issues, remember that you are not broken. There’s no need to feel badly about who you are as a human being.
It’s simply that sometimes life brings us these challenges as a way of asking us to find other ways to engage. I think different client stories and other life stories I’ve heard where couples have found beautiful ways to bond with each other that bring them very intimately together. Sometimes in sexual ways, but in other ways that create a bond that is lasting, which is the most important part of a loving relationship. Making your partner feel loved, seen, and safe.
Now moving to the next piece about sexual intimacy. Sometimes partners have very different ideas about what it means to be sexually intimate. Some partners may like lots of play and sex toys. Other partners may like to keep things very simple and straight. Other partners may like to have different options of where to have sex, which as long as it’s safe and not troublesome to other people, go for it. We want to stay within the confines of what’s appropriate, what’s legally allowed, and what’s safe of course.
To be able to talk about those differences and when one partner likes to be more exploratory than the other partner likes to push boundaries, it’s important to be respectful of the other person’s needs. It’s sometimes wonderful to push our own boundaries and try different things, but we never want to force a partner into doing something that feels inappropriate to them, wrong, uncomfortable, or certainly hurtful. I’m all for play and fun. No pun intended, but I am for foreplay. We want to remember that it’s all about finding that beautiful space where we can please and engage with each other, but never cause harm to each other in the bedroom or out.
That leads me to the next piece. When we’re looking at things like pornography, some people like to use pornography and this is a personal thing here because I spent years working with sexual offenders. Research shows, and some people such as myself believe that pornography unless it’s something that both people find benefits them in a deep way, in general, can be a real detractor from an intimate relationship. I’m going to overgeneralize here and be very clear that I’m overgeneralizing, that we want to understand that pornography can lead to objectification.
One of the problems with pornography and this is the biggest one that I see in many ways, is that if we learn that we can create this ideal partner, this man that’s gorgeous and perfect stud, or this woman that’s flawlessly beautiful, or whatever it is that somebody is looking for, then we will by comparison. We often find our own partners in their natural, beautifully imperfect state, which is true for all of us. We’re all imperfect, but videos could sometimes make it seem less.
Once we do that, we instill in the brain that our partner is less than and that can cause trouble down the road. As well as pornography when we are seeing that we can have sexual satisfaction brought to us with a click of a button and no sweat, mess, emotions, or making him or her happy, then we become very self-absorbed. Self-absorption is the death knell for a healthy relationship because sexual intimacy is all about others, giving, receiving back and forth. That’s that piece.Self-absorption is the death knell for a healthy relationship because sexual intimacy is all about each other. It’s giving and receiving. Click To Tweet
Let’s move into the piece of makeup sex. I’m not a fan. Here’s why. Anything that we do, be it good or not good for the psyche becomes programmed in us. If we learn to be in that chase, anger, aggression, and then we create a reward of makeup sex, we are perpetuating battles. We are giving ourselves a reward for battling with our partner and know how the reward cycle works when we are doing something negative and we get a reward for it.
Negative would be fighting in toxic ways and then rewarding it with feel-good sex. We are creating a reward for something that is not ideal for our relationship because we try in a relationship to get away from fighting and into having healthy arguments. Disagreements are fine. They’re normal and natural, but we don’t want to go to war with our partner. That’s not the most bonding behavior.
Last but not least, there are some times, and this goes back to the infatuation stage in a relationship when a partner chases us when we’re dating. Sexual energy is very high because men and some women, people of any gender like to chase and some people like to be chased. Often, if that’s what it’s about, the conquest getting a partner, then we can lose interest once we’ve gotten them and had that conquest. We want to be careful about that part in our own relationships that we don’t want to lose interest in our partner because we got them and we’re now in a committed relationship. We want to work for a lifetime on creating sexual intimacy.
That connection that feels good and magical is that special sacred time in a relationship when we can be with our partner in a way that we’re not with anybody else. It’s a very bare vulnerable state and shows up. Allowing ourselves and our partner to be vulnerable and putting aside thoughts of not that we don’t want to play sometimes in the bedroom about a chase and all of that, that’s fine, but in the day-to-day, we don’t want to lose that interest in our partner and desire to be with them in intimate ways. There are many ways to be intimate with your partner and it doesn’t need to be just sex.There are so many ways to be intimate with your partner that don't need to be just sex. Click To Tweet
That covers some of the big sexual intimacy questions that I often get. Remember, sometimes sex, when there’s sexual dysfunction, is symbolic of bigger issues underneath that may need to be addressed in therapy or with a good self-help book to start with. A big question that I hear from people is, “My wife doesn’t want to have sex with me anymore. My husband doesn’t want to have sex with me anymore.”
Often underneath that is a lot of unresolved issues, whether childhood trauma, relationship issues that were not addressed, resentments that are sitting there festering, and then the husband or the wife wants to have sex and the other partner is going, “I’m still mad at you from what you did at our wedding dinner 20 or 5 years ago. When I saw you looking at that other guy, I am still angry at you.” I want to make sure that we keep our relationship clean in general, but that’s a topic of another show altogether.
It’s been such a joy to spend time with you. I hope that this topic of sex, sexuality, and sexual awareness didn’t cover a lot because there are many ways sexuality manifests in our lives. This is a lovely start about knowing that sex is imperfect because we are imperfect, but that we can continue to travel the road with our partners to create imperfectly loving and beautiful sexual intimacy that starts with our hearts. Thanks for sharing your time with me.