A couple sits in my office, at opposite ends of the couch, describing their sex life as “disappointing” and “frustrating”. After inquiring further, I learn that sexual pain has prevented intercourse and they now choose to avoid sexual interaction all together. That, along with comparisons to previous sexual partners, has left both feeling either broken, undesired, disappointed, and hurt. They both want to connect with one another sexually, but fear entices them to avoid those encounters, as if to avoid further rejection or discouragement.
The interaction between this couple, though heartbreaking, represents a common belief system about sex and intimacy; that is, the definition of [heterosexual] sex is vaginal penetration which leads to orgasm. This extremely limited definition will lead many couples to disappointment about their sex life and their own sexual capabilities. In fact, this narrow expectation of sex may actually drive people away from intimacy.
One of the biggest issues with this narrow perspective is it limits our sexual experiences and minimizes any other sexual expression. A couple that is not able to have vaginal penetration, due to medical complications, sexual dysfunctions, etc, are left to believe that what they have left to express their love physically is missing the mark or not as intimate as intercourse, when in fact, the array of other sexual activities may prove to be more physically enjoyable and intimate than intercourse.
More importantly, however, this belief emphasizes that the apex of the sexual experience is the orgasm rather than the intimate connection. If sex is all about achieving orgasm, then it becomes a performance with a physical end-goal in mind. When that is not achieved, for whatever reason, a couple will experience disappointment and withdrawal. Whereas, if the intent of becoming sexual with a spouse is to express love in a physical form, then whatever is done within that interaction, which edifies both people, will achieve its end. With or without the orgasm, with or without the vaginal penetration, the couple has the opportunity to make love and connect with each other in a very deep, profound, and intimate way.
A healthy sex life for a couple is deeply profound and has the power to draw them closer together or put a rift between them. Sex and intimacy can be challenging during certain seasons of our lives. Therefore, I urge couples to be proactive about that aspect of their lives. Nurture your sex lives with time, energy, love, and compassion. And if it is hurting or unhealthy, seek some help to get you back on track. It will be worth it.
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