Our latest Global Glue talk featured a fascinating lecture by Dr. Jenni Skyler from the Intimacy Institute. The topic was the one that we, as a culture, talk about the most without really saying anything important: sex. It will take multiple posts to share some of her wisdom, and to really begin a conversation about the roles of intimacy and sexual desire in a relationship. Sex can make a relationship stronger, or it can tear it apart, or fall anywhere in between.
One of the most impactful pieces of information she shared is a map or a graph of the human sexual response. Each piece of that pie deserves its own article, and today we are going to start with the reality and role of desire.
(Everything I am sharing here came directly from Dr. Skyler, and I myself need to put all of this into practice.)
The first human sexual response is desire.
Desire is the strong want of something or someone, and is one of the most powerful forces controlling people. Unfortunately, as they say, the flame that burns brightest burns half as long, and desire is typically the first thing to go in long-term relationships and marriage.
When we have been with our partner for 10, 20, or 30 years and have “had” them sexually hundreds of times, and our brains recognize that we will continue to “have” them for the rest of our lives, it can be difficult to generate feelings of desire. Basically, as flawed human beings we sometimes don’t want what we already have and often want what we can’t or don’t have.
So, how do you maintain sexual desire in a long-term relationship?
Communication. Communication is arguably the most important part in maintaining an active sex life in a long-term relationship, perhaps more important than the physical part. It is awkward and difficult to talk about sex, even with our partner, but we have to be able to communicate our wants and needs and desires.
Our largest sex organ is between our ears; desire happens in the brain. Seduction and desire happen easily with new partners in the honeymoon phase, but it’s the hardest thing to maintain and manufacture years into a marriage.
Knowing how to seduce our partner is a learned skill. Get curious about your partner’s turn-ons, ask them questions, tune into and share your own turn-ons.
This is a lifelong project, as demonstrated by Global Glue couple Helen & Sydney. 69 years into their marriage, Sydney says that he and Helen are still learning how to approach each other sexually. It is this attitude of continually learning and developing a sense of curiosity and openness toward your partner’s sexuality that will keep a sex life going many years in.
Helen and Sydney have been together for 69 years, and they are still working on how to best please one another sexually.
Even if you think you already know everything there is to know about your partner, try to approach your partner with a “beginners mind.” Our bodies and our minds are always changing, so if we think that our partner will like and feel what they liked and felt a week, a month, or a year ago, we are likely mistaken.
How do we begin to communicate if we aren’t comfortable talking about sex?
Offer something of yourself. Be vulnerable enough to say specifically what you like and don’t like. “I really love it when you … ,” “I would love it if you spent more time doing … ,” “When you do … I feel …”
Ask questions. When I asked Jenni how to word these potentially awkward conversations, she said that she likes opening the door with a simple, “I’m curious … ,” “I’m curious what you feel about … ,” “I’m curious if you like it when I … ,” “I’m curious what turns you on ….”
Listen and put what you hear into practice. If our partner tells us what they like and don’t like, but we don’t change our behavior, then we miss an opportunity. It can be challenging to listen without taking what we hear personally. We all want to intuitively know how to rock our partners’ worlds in the bedroom, and feel that we hold the key to their sexual satisfaction, but that is unrealistic over time. We have to learn our own body and our partner’s body, and that takes practice. It is an evolving skill that needs to be practiced over time–we change, our bodies and desires change, our need for new sensations evolves and grows, or our desire for the familiar increases. Sexual compatibility over the length of a relationship has to be a constantly-adapting facet.
Sadly, Hollywood feeds us images about sexual desire that often don’t match reality, movies typically don’t depict partners discussing their sex lives, and we are made to believe that sparks should fly with a look and few words. The truth is, the more words you share with your partner about what you are feeling and experiencing sexually, the better. As always, we would love to hear from you, please share in the comments what works for you, and stay tuned as we continue to dive into Dr. Jenni’s talk over the next four blog posts.
To learn more about the Global Glue project, click here.