Last month I was at a party, immersed in conversation with a small group of people I’d just met.
When I told them what I do for a living, I knew what was coming next.
“Oh, you write about sex and relationships? That must be so much fun!” said one of the women.
Eyes wide, she was beaming with excitement like she’d just met Carrie Bradshaw in the flesh. I couldn’t disappoint her, so I gave my stock response.
“Yes, yes it is.”
Don’t get me wrong – my job is pretty amazing. But it isn’t always fun.
What I didn’t want to tell her is that writing about sex is a bit like watching the sausage get made. When you see all of the ingredients up close and personal, day after day, sometimes the final product loses a bit of its appeal. Knowledge is power, but there’s also a fine line between being informed about sex and having it lose all of its mystery – to the point where you feel disconnected from the act itself.
(A prime example is when your partner grabs a bottle of lubricant from the nightstand and instead of thinking, “this is going to feel great!” the first thing that pops into your mind is, “the viscosity of this product is middling and I’m not sure how I feel about non-sustainably sourced seaweed extract as an ingredient.” True story. I’m really good at killing my own mojo.)
Better blowjobs. Longer lasting erections. More intense orgasms. Between the thousands of articles promising you all of the above and the fact that sex is literally everywhere (advertising, movies, television), being a sexual being in 2017 feels a bit like you’re stuck in a non-stop loop of Daft Punk’s 2001 mega-hit which urged us to “Work it. Make it. Do it. Make us. Harder. Better. Faster. Stronger.” It’s impossible to feel like you’re not falling behind – even if you’re a sex writer.
According to scientists, it’s this disconnect from sex that could be hurting us the most. In a recent study, Canadian psychologists Frédérick Philippe and Robert Vallerand looked at what they refer to as “harmonious sexual passion.” Through several tests, they found that people whose sexual desires were harmonious with other aspects of their lives were able to enjoy sex in an open, spontaneous, and non-defensive manner.
On the other side of the spectrum, there’s “obsessive sexual passion.” When individuals found it hard to integrate their sexuality into other parts of their lives, and viewed sex as a goal, rather than something that could be fully enjoyed, it lead to negative emotions, intrusive thoughts about sex and attention to alternative partners.
Clinical sexologist, Dr. Anne Ridley has witnessed this phenomenon in her practice. “When feelings of shame and guilt are connected to one’s sexuality, often it is compartmentalized, becomes a complex, or kept separate from their partner.” This leads to the aforementioned obsessive behaviours, she says.
Ridley says the goal is to find a way to integrate and accept your desires so that they can be shared with a partner. When you’re able to do this, Ridley says, “intimacy deepens as each can be seen in their totality of desires and acts of pleasure.” But this is easier said than done in a culture that’s obsessed with sex, but also teaches us to be ashamed of it from a very young age.
I propose we start by acknowledging that none of us are perfect and that sex isn’t a competition. We’re all doing the best we can. Next, we give ourselves permission to bring our fantasies into the light while supporting our partners in doing the same.
In her experience, Ridley says a willingness to understand and participate in your partner’s fantasies can go a long way. “Even if their sexual tastes do not line up exactly, the effort is attractive and new doors opened to sexual possibilities,” she says.
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