I need to be physically warm. Which means that I keep my environment overheated. This is not a good thing for couples who arrive in my therapy room, anxious, with attendant dysregulated temperatures and emotions. And then they endure the discomfort of a therapy session in what begins to feel like a Bikram yoga studio. I'm inviting you into my therapy room. Think of this blog as a relationship workshop that you are attending with me. Get a notepad and pencil or take notes on your device and find a cool space to consider a hot topic, namely your sexuality in relation to your everyday relationship satisfaction and conflict, with your significant other.
Begin by doing the math. Think about conflict. How many negative interactions compared to positive interactions do you have with your partner daily? John Gottman, psychologist extraordinaire, studied relationship health. Over 40 years he conducted research with more than 3,000 couples. It is the most extensive study ever done on marital stability and divorce prediction. Here's Gottman's formula - 1:5. Use it for your own calculation. It means that for every negative interaction a couple has (eye roll, dismissive body language, actual negative utterance, etc.), there need to be at least five positive interactions (a kiss, a genuine loving look and genuinely positive comments).
Count how many times in a day you smile, hug, positively encourage, listen to your partner and how often you criticise, put down, verbally, emotionally , sexually or physically abuse and finally shut down from your partner. It does not take a math genius to get that the more negative interactions you're having, the less happy you feel in your relationship. How many conflicts did you have today? Make a note of this in your monthly diary. Expand on this now, consider the frequency of your sexual interactions. Perhaps you are finding that your sexual interest is directly correlated to this formula.
That is, the more positive interactions you have, the hornier you feel, the more inclined you feel to initiate and to respond to sexual initiations from your partner. And vice versa. Add on another dimension, namely sexual difficulties. Tick off your daily sexual difficulties: Think about how, if at all, these influence your sexuality:
- Did you experience any pain or physical discomfort during sexual activity ?
- Did you have difficulty becoming or staying sexually aroused physically?
- Did you have difficulty becoming or staying sexually aroused mentally?
I recall a couple who could not bear to be in the same room together. They were unable to make eye contact, spoke in staccato sentences about each other, and both their bodies were stiff and ungiving. He complained about sexual infrequency and she spat out anger when describing her longing for emotional tenderness and sexual pain. I reckoned they had a ratio of five out of five on negative interactions. Over the weeks of therapy something magical (read this as blood, sweat and tears) happened. One day they arrived and together melted onto the couch.
I commented that it looked as if they had had sex #justsaying. Like teens, they giggled and when I asked what shifted them, she said "He listened to me, was empathetic" and he said "She looked at me, she hugged me." Let's keep going, I ask you to rate your level of sexual satisfaction, between 1 -- 5, 5 being the most satisfying. How happy were you today with your sexual relationship with your partner? Make a note of this in your daily diary.
I know you are understanding that the more conflict you have, the more likely it is that you will have sexual difficulties and, the less sexual interaction you want PLUS the less satisfying the sexual play feels. Let's talk about sexual play. Tick off your own repertoire and answer daily in your diary:
What sort of sexual activity did you engage in?
- Nongenital touch;
- Genital touch;
- Vaginal intercourse;
- Anal intercourse;
- Oral sex (me on my partner);
- Oral sex (my partner on me);
- Other sexual activities.
I have no doubt that your sexual repertoire is dependent on, and limited by, the amount of conflict, sexual difficulties, sexual satisfaction and frequency you have daily. I mean, who wants to kiss a mouth that has just hissed nasty comments to you?!
At the annual SSTAR meeting I attended in Montreal in April 2017, I was impressed with the study done by Jean-Francois Jodouin. His hypothesis and result was that daily marital conflict is associated with sexual difficulties for women, not men. Thirty-five heterosexual couples, recently married, with no children, 18-40 years old, average age 25.6, participated. Both partners kept a daily diary for 30 days. They measured:
- sexual difficulties;
- couple conflicts;
- sexual behaviour;
- sexual satisfaction;
Results = 83 percent marital satisfaction, 71 percent sexual satisfaction. These are young happily married people, with 19 percent females, 16 percent males stating one or more daily conflict. Yet look at the sexual difficulties these young people, women especially, experienced in happy marriages: 32 percent of men and 67 percent of women stated daily sexual difficulties. This would be either desire, arousal difficulties or sexual pain.
Unsurprisingly he found that for women, but not for men, conflict is associated with difficulties in sexual desire and satisfaction. As many previous research findings have shown, women's sexual difficulties are more sensitive to relationship factors. Most fascinating and inspiring is his finding that the variety of sexual repertoire can mediate desire and conflict. Bottom line: change your sexual repertoire! This just may be the solution to less conflict, more desire, and increased satisfaction.
I encourage you to keep a daily diary, measuring your daily conflict, sexual difficulties, behaviour and satisfaction. Tally up the results after a month and share them with each other. Perhaps it will encourage you to up your positive interactions, lower your conflict, and lie back to enjoy warm increased sessions of satisfying varied sexual play!