Sunday, January 15, 2012

Sexuality and Sex Therapy

Sexuality and Sex Therapy
Part I

by Edward A. Dreyfus, Ph.D.

 
  • "Will he want to go to bed with me?"
  • "Should I tell him about my herpes?"
  • "Should I try to kiss her?"
  • "Will I be able to get 'it' up?"
  • "Will I last long enough?"
  • "Am I a good enough lover?"
Despite the fact that we live in the post-Victorian, post-human potential movement, post-free love movement, we are still uncomfortable with our own sexuality. One would think that with all of the talk about sex, all of the books written about sex, and all of the movies depicting sexuality, we would finally have reached a point in our evolution where we would be as comfortable talking about, and experimenting with, sex as we are talking about food; sharing sexual information as readily as we share recipes. But this is not the case.
We are uncomfortable talking to our friends about sex; we are uncomfortable asking for help with our sexuality, and we certainly would not take lessons in how to increase our enjoyment of sex. We will take cooking classes to learn how to prepare a gourmet meal. We will take dancing lessons to better be able to trip the lights fantastic.
We will take golf lessons, tennis lessons, and any number of other lessons to increase our expertise and enhance our abilities. However when it comes to sex, we assume that we should be able to function optimally without help. Furthermore, if we should want to increase our sexual pleasure or should we feel uncomfortable with some aspect of our sexual life, we feel embarrassed in seeking counsel.
Generally we carry the belief that we should know everything there is to know about sex as if sexual behavior was encoded in our DNA. Most of us carry attitudes about sexuality that we learned when we were adolescents. We seldom take the time to update that information. As adults we operate on the basis of adolescent notions of sexuality. Ignorance is one of most effective deterrents to effective sexual functioning.

Human Sexuality

There are no rules for the human sexual response. We can respond to the same sex or the opposite sex. We can have a sexual response when we are alone or with someone. We respond to living beings and inanimate objects. Human sexuality includes all of the senses -- smell, touch, sound, sight, and taste. Sexuality involves imagination, fantasy, and imagery.
Boys tend to learn about their sexuality through locker-room talk, erotic magazines and movies, and trial and error. Girls gain their sexual knowledge through conversations with other girls and women, love stories and movies, and experience. Generally speaking, for men the sexual act is often a combination of pleasure, sexual release, and power. For women, sexuality is often intimacy, affection, and pleasure. Just think about the terms men and women use when referring to sex. Male terms tend to be aggressive, even hostile, while female terms are gentle, loving, and even spiritual. Women make love, men get laid.
These attitudes and values affect the manner in which the genders approach sexuality and, in large measure, contributes to their appreciation of the sex act. Furthermore, these values affect how men and women perceive themselves and how they view each other. Generally, men establish their identity through performance.
From childhood through adulthood, they measure themselves by such things as how far they can spit, how fast they can run, how far they can throw a football, grade point average, penis size, salary size, staying power in bed, and the number of women they can "conquer." One way or another, performance matters. Women generally measure themselves by how attractive they are to men, the power held by the men that are attracted to them, and by how they are treated by these men. If men treat them kindly then they are good, if men treat them poorly they perceive themselves bad.
Men and women bring these attitudes into the bedroom, playing out their roles as performer and seductress. During love making, the male is concerned with whether he will perform well enough or whether he will fail. Rather than focusing on his loved one, he is concerned whether she will be pleased with his performance. She, on the other hand, is concerned with whether he will think she is attractive enough. Is her buttocks too big or are her breasts are too small?

The Dance of Sex

Love-making is similar to ballroom dancing. Each person may or may not be a good dancer. One person may be a great dancer and the other may not be terrific. However, it is how they dance together that matters. Some people can dance well alone, but not with a partner. To be beautiful and satisfying, ballroom dancing demands cooperation, communication, and consideration. One partner must not go on his or her own without communicating to the partner; and the partners must cooperate.
No couple expects to dance well together, no matter how well either one may dance alone, without practicing together. It does not matter how easy it might be to dance with other partners, one's current partner is the one that matters if you wish to become a good ballroom dance team.
All of this is true for love-making as well. Yet we often believe that good love-making should "come naturally," without education. We covet beliefs that somehow people should know how to make love together and should not have to talk about it or practice with the intent of improving our style so that it is mutually satisfying.
Clearly, if your dance partner continuously stepped on your toes and was unwilling to discuss the matter, it would not take long before you either stop dancing or find a different partner. Yet the majority of couples do not communicate about their love-making and are not open to exploring their sexuality with one another. Even the most experienced lovers often practice poor love-making strategies. People, especially men, become defensive when their partner wants to discuss their sex life as if they were about to be criticized.
Communication between dance partners and lovers is essential for having a satisfying experience. The partners must frequently communicate verbally and non-verbally with one another in order to learn to anticipate each other's moves. With sufficient practice, the dance of love seems effortless. Lovemaking should be fun, playful, affectionate, intimate, and fulfilling. When something goes awry, either because of faulty communication, inappropriate attitudes, or antiquated beliefs, a sexual dysfunction may emerge.
Remember: Most sex goes on between your ears, not between your legs! Good sex starts with a healthy attitude about sex.

The cardinal rules for good sex are:

 
  • respect your partner
  • adopt a healthy attitude
  • share your thoughts and feelings with your partner
  • talk about what you like and don't like
  • be honest
  • experiment
  • have fun and relax
  • practice.

About the Author:

Dr. Edward A. Dreyfus is a Clinical Psychologist, Marriage, Family, Child Therapist, and Sex Therapist. Dr. Dreyfus has been providing psychological services in the Los Angeles-Santa Monica area for over 30 years. He offers individual psychotherapy to adolescents and adults, divorce mediation, couples counseling, group therapy, and career and vocational counseling and assessment.His book, Someone Right For You, is available in the Amazing Bookstore Catalog.
Originally published 5/28/98
Revised 1/22/09 by Marlene M. Maheu, Ph.D.
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