The past can hinder our experience of physical intimacy in a relationship, but, for a relationship to thrive, we must constructively face our sexual past.
Sexual intimacy in a relationship matters vitally. As I wrote in the June issue of this magazine, a strong sexual connection is critical to lasting happiness, with as much as 32 percent of divorces relating to sexual issues. Unfortunately, we don’t often admit when this aspect of our relationship is unsatisfactory. Often, we are in denial about it. There seem to be just too many hurdles to overcome, from the internal emotional/psychological barriers, to the practical challenges of planning for intimacy in the midst of an over-scheduled life.
Desire discrepancy (that is, when one partner wants sexual intimacy much more) is the most common problem in terms of marital sexual issues. Sometimes, it’s indeed a problem of ageing; changing libidos and hormones can affect performance and/or lubrication. However, desire discrepancy can in fact conceal something else, something potentially festering and ultimately destructive over time: an unresolved past.
Sexuality is as much a social fact as a physical or biological expression, and this is where as humans we are vulnerable in our relationships. Animals behave purely instinctively in this area, whereas we humans have managed to layer sexuality with shame, fear, social etiquette, and much more. We all have a history of influences on our relationship to sex, from the moment we are born. We bring this inheritance to the relationship. Sex is not something we routinely discuss at the dinner table, and culturally we are only just starting to discuss it directly with our partners. The past can be a very deep wound that we prefer not to re-open. Or ignorance (lack of an adequate sex education) means that we are missing some basic information about the sexual anatomy of pleasure, how to read and respond to arousal, and the delicate dance of communication that the best intimacy involves.
Some signs that you would benefit from re-addressing your sexual inheritance:
- You and your partner have a very unbalanced desire for sexual intimacy.
- You feel an aversion to intimacy, or experience pain or discomfort or a sexual dysfunction.
- When intimate, you have uncontrollable memories or emotions from negative past experiences.
- You more often default to pornography or erotica as a sexual stimulant, rather than seeking intimacy with your partner.
- You have inherited shame about sexuality from religion, society, or family culture.
- Your past includes sexual abuse or trauma.
- You have had inadequate sexual education (you do not know about the g-spot, prostate, how the clitoris works, multiple orgasm, etc.).
- You do not have a good relationship with your body (you don’t see it as a source of sexual pleasure).
Steps to take towards healing
Shame and past abuse or trauma
If this is the demon of your sexual past, it is important to get some counselling, because telling your story is the first step to releasing its hold over your present life. You might find that telling the story a lot can help you to feel validated, to allow yourself emotion, and to grieve. After some time telling it, you will benefit from relearning to associate pleasure with intimacy.
One means of re-associating sexuality with pleasure is by using NLP and hypnotherapy. A simple way to start on your own is to build on what we know from studies in neuroplasticity, and develop new habits that grow your brain’s synapses and rewire your physiological responses. Sleep on the wrong side of the bed. Learn a new physical skill (a sport or artwork). Crucially: self-pleasure in an exploratory, non goal-oriented manner (see below).
There are so many classy sources of good sex education, but don’t just Google it. Find a reputable online bookstore and read reviews. You will be surprised, if you haven’t fully explored this topic, to learn all kinds of amazing things we now know through science—about the female orgasm, for example (including ejaculation), about male multiple orgasms, about using bondage for fun, and much more. Read as much as possible, and playfully initiate exploration with your partner. It’s never too late to learn new techniques in the bedroom, and it’s a wonderful way to reconnect if you’ve been having a hard time in that department.
Learn to love your body
This does not refer to appearance; it refers to loving your body for the pleasure it gives you. So often, people see their body as an object to work out (to look fit), to adorn (if you are fashion conscious), or something which gives them a rush of endorphins during exercise. You might just see your body as something that gets work done—from breastfeeding to lawn mowing! People who love sex have something in common: they love their bodies for the pleasure their bodies give them. This kind of self-love is attainable for everyone. You can fall in love with your body’s erotic potential, but like with any love relationship, it takes time, gentleness, and getting to know yourself well.
Find ways to enjoy your body. Get to know yourself naked, first, and start to enjoy sensation, without pressure for sexual pleasure. Just explore, very slowly, every single part, and not just the obvious ones. Over time, you can increase this to genital stimulation, but don’t rush there. Full erotic pleasure involves much more of the body.
Finally, consider exploring tantra, Orgasmic Meditation, or other mindful sexuality practices that help you get in touch with what is essential in your intimate self (rather than follow some society dictate about what is sexual).
It’s never too late to reassess your past, and take steps towards a fulfilling sexual future.
Most of all, be kind to yourself, and enjoy the journey.
Emma Michelle Dixon, PhD, is a sexuality and relationship coach, bodyworker, and workshop facilitator based in Sydney. She regularly presents workshops and talks on matters of sexuality as well as facilitates retreats on sexual healing.
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