A Fulfilling Sexual Relationship Starts with Self-Understanding

fulfilling sexual relationship

People feel and act differently when they are turned on. This obvious statement has implications, I believe, for a couple’s sex life and for improving a sexual relationship. It raises the question(s):

  • Who do you become during sex?
  • Who do you become when you’re turned on?
  • Which aspects of yourself do you leave behind when your sexual-erotic self emerges?
  • Which aspects of yourself become more central when you feel sexual?

More and more, psychologists and psychoanalysts are writing about “multiple selves” – rather than one consistent, unified self (my subjective experience of selfhood as well as the “me” I present to the world), the concept of multiple selves is much more fluid, capturing the complexity of our subjective nature. From this perspective different self-experiences are continuously arising and dissipating within us, depending on both internal and external circumstances.

Take for example the experience of feeling confident. During the experience of confidence, you may think and feel and act in subtle, or maybe even dramatic ways that are very different from your other self-experiences (such as when you feel tender, or uncertain, or adventurous). One example is the person who is very successful in his/her career; in this role, self-assurance, assertiveness, decision-making, determination, and a good dose of spunk are central.

But sexually, this same person may not want anything to do with these types of self-experiences. During sexual arousal and sexual activity, passivity may be desired, the relinquishing of control that allows for a surrendering to someone who will take charge and direct the sexual action. In this example, the self-experiences—the sexual-erotic self of this person that emerges in his/her sexual relationship—is very different from the self s/he exhibits in the work world.

The connection to one’s sexual-self extends beyond sex as an activity—rather, it’s about subjective experiences that you must become attuned to so that these self-experiences can become fully integrated into your relationship. When parts of you remain sequestered from your relationship, the vitality of who you are is dulled. And the danger exists that these self-experiences may seek expression outside your marriage or relationship in order to be recognized and validated.

Improving Your Sexual Relationship by Getting to Know Your Sexual-Self

We may struggle to bring our sexual-erotic self fully into our relationship because this aspect of our being isn’t fully integrated within who we are—your sexual-erotic self and the longings that make up this part of you may conflict with your conscious ideals (conscious ideals that are influenced by family-of-origin issues, cultural ideals, gender roles). When such a conflict exists, we may struggle with our own sexual desires and sexual fantasies because of shame, because we believe that they are somehow abhorrent and in direct contradiction to the self we wish to be. Freud argued long ago that our core internal conflicts center around our sexuality.

One way to become more attuned to and integrate your sexual-erotic self into your sexual relationship is to imagine that this aspect of you is a separate person that you’ve just met; someone you’re curious about, someone you’d like to get to know better. To do so, imagine your sexual-erotic self answering questions like:

  • What types of things turn you on? Turn you off?
  • What were your earliest sexual experiences and fantasies growing up? How do these continue to influence you?
  • What scares you a little about your own desires and sexual appetite? (For instance, fear of losing control; fear of being too needy for your spouse/partner.)
  • Do you like to feel powerful or powerless during sex? Or is mutuality more erotically-charged for you?

These are just a few questions you can reflect upon to connect more intimately to your sexual-erotic self. Can you think of other questions? Are there any questions you’d like to ask but are apprehensive to even consider?

Getting to know your sexual-erotic self is a process that will occur over time. Improving one’s sexual relationship often starts with greater self understanding. So don’t rush this process, and if you ask a question of your sexual-erotic self with no apparent answer, just remember that asking the question is often more important than whatever response might arise.

Finally, if it feels emotionally safe, maybe you and your partner/spouse can ask these (and other) questions to each other’s sexual-erotic self. After all, communication is key to creating a more rewarding and fulfilling relationship and sex life.

All best,

Dr. Rich Nicastro

(Featured image courtesy of Stuart Miles at FreeDigitalPhotos.net)