Intimate love — 18 January 2007
You can improve your sexual intimacy

A common complaint of one or both partners in a committed relationship is that their sexual connection is no longer what it used to be. Improving your sexual intimacy is possible and multifaceted. Several key factors need to be addressed when one attempts to better the frequency and/or quality of physical intimacy.

Body image is a central element in the level of openness, readiness and availability for physical intimacy. Findings reported by Oxford Social Issues Research Centre, state that “men generally have a much more positive body-image than women, who are bombarded by media standards for weight and size that is achievable by less than 5% of the female population.” It is therefore understandable that when a woman does not feel attractive, she is less likely to believe that her partner finds her desirable and is less inclined to be sexually available.

Relationship issues such as: resentment, hurt, criticism, lack of sufficient appreciation, and not feeling valued, respected or cherished, contribute to withdrawal and reduced interest in sex. Since romantic encounters entail great vulnerability, they can only be successfully achieved in the presence of trust and safety. Life’s demands and the complexity of expectations couples have of each other contribute to disappointments and distance that reduce safety and closeness.

Effective communication, which can remediate some of the strains caused by daily stresses, is often avoided. Couples are either unskilled, too fatigued, embarrassed, hopeless about change, or simply overwhelmed to take the necessary path of verbal sharing.

When emotional connection created through verbal attention and sharing is low, the nonverbal cues for initiating intimacy often go unnoticed. Couples who are not close avoid communicating or even making eye contact with each other. This state of contact avoidance reduces the chances for sexual intimacy. For some couples the standoff entails waiting for the other mate to come forth lovingly, while both wait.

Fighting does not necessarily inhibit sexual arousal for all couples. Some pairs actually like to make up after a fight and may turn the energy of confrontation to the ecstasy of passion. However, for many other pairs the negative emotions evoked during even a spat are sufficient extinguisher of desire for some time to come.

Once you feel good about yourself and about your relationship, you communicate well and are emotionally close and loving and both ready for sex, you then need to undertake the steps of making love. Sex is a process-not an event. Men and women need to know what is sexually arousing and what is pleasing and displeasing to the mate and help facilitate that process. The only way to assure your partner’s satisfaction is through detailed discussion and non-defensive cooperation.

Sex can be a uniquely pleasurable and healthy activity of connection for couples of all ages. According to the University of Chicago’s National Opinion Research Center, adults, on average, have sex about 61 times a year. Sexual activity for married couples is 25 to 300 percent greater than for non-married individual: married couples between 18-29 average 112 times per year and those 70 years and older enjoy sex 16 times a year on average. An AARP survey showed that mid-life and older adults surveyed were extremely satisfied or satisfied with their sex life and found it an important factor in their quality of life equation.

Since sex is an important part of health, connection and pleasure, couples can improve their frequency and quality of physical sharing by:

• Being verbally enthusiastic about the other person’s physical attractiveness to you.
• Staying healthy and fit to increase your positive self-view and energy.
• Increasing positive communication to balance for life’s stresses and frustrations.

• Being attentive to partner’s concerns, worries and joys, being physically affectionate, verbally supportive, accepting and romancing your mate outside the bedroom are safety- inducing acts.
• Assessing the impact of fighting on your and your partner’s sexual readiness. Reducing its frequency if it curtails physical closeness.
• Knowing what turns your partner on, what feels good and what is to be avoided for maximum pleasure and sharing with each other your preferences and wishes.
• Negotiating the nonverbal invitation for physical intimacy so that rejection will be avoided and interest is clearly identified.
• Realizing that frequency of sex is proportionally related to safety and closeness felt by both of you. No lovingly treated person is frigid.
• Knowing that sex life is achievable through respectful discussions and loving and cooperative efforts to maximize both partners’ satisfaction and pleasure.

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About Author

Offra Gerstein, Ph.D. is a licensed psychologist in clinical practice in Santa Cruz, California for over 25 years, and specializes in relationship issues for couples and individuals for improved quality of life. Her work includes: mate selection, marriage, long term relationships, gay and lesbian couples, work relationships, parenting issues, family interactions, friendships, and conflict resolutions. Offra has lectured extensively to various groups, conducted support groups for several organizations, and has been writing a weekly column "Relationship Matters" for the Santa Cruz Sentinel since 2001.

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