How we define sex or what we consider to be sex can create problems for couples.
Inherently, sex has no meaning, people give sex meaning through the influences they got from their family of origin, religion, culture and social messages. Then each individual must integrate all of these messages into a cohesive one picture for one's self. Given that all these sources are influencing us on how we shape and give meaning to our definition of sex, you see how sex can have a lot of different meanings for a lot of different people.
More importantly, two married people may have different meaning about sex and this can create conflict. More conflict can follow if people do not know how to effective talk about sex. Many people assume that SEX is a pretty straight forward concept and only has one mean (theirs), but it does not. Many couples do not spend enough time effectively exploring what sex means to their partner and how they enjoy it or what things they like or don’t like.
The purpose of this article is to help people think differently about how they define sex and being open to considering a new way to look at sex. How people define sex or don't define it often contributes to sexual problems they are experiencing.
So when discussing sex, what acts constitute sex? For many people, they narrowly define sex to mean intercourse with a penis and a vagina. Intercourse is the only kind of sex that requires an erect penis. So you can imagine if a couple has defined sex to mean intercourse and the man cannot get an erection, there may be problems i.e. no sex as defined by the couple’s definition only. The problem isn't the lack of an erection, it is how the couple are defining sex! Change the definition of sex to mean a much broader range of behaviors and all of a sudden a lost erection isn't such a big deal, couples just choose something else to do.
For many couples they'll be having a wonderful time of hugging and kissing and groping and fondling. They will really be enjoying themselves and then all of sudden the man will lose his erection and they STOP DOING EVERYTHING! When I ask couples, why did you stop? They say matter of factly, well, the man lost his erection- like this means they have to stop (because they defined sex to mean erection based sex)!
The couple believes that they have to stop if the erection is gone. This is not a helpful belief. In fact, it is very limiting to enjoying your partner and expressing yourself sexually as well as problem solving a lost erection. If you limit yourself to defining sex as intercourse, you limit how much fun and enjoyment you can have as a couple. You create problems where none need to exist.
In reality, there are many types of sex. There is of course intercourse, there is oral sex, anal sex, digital sex, sex with toys, there is mutual masturbation, masturbation of self, there is phone sex and there is sex-texting or sex over skype. In fact, Dr. Gottman of the Gottman Institutes defines sex as any kind act you do during the day! Now all of sudden, with such a broad definition of sex, the fact that someone doesn't have an erection isn't such a big deal anymore and they can go on to do lots of other things that are equally as fun.
But some people reading may say, well yeah, but all that other stuff is “JUST foreplay.” First of all, there is no JUST anything. It is not JUST oral sex or JUST kissing, or JUST Intercourse. It is oral sex, it is kissing, it is intercourse. Using the word “JUST” implies that there is some hierarchy to a sexual experience that one type of sex is better than another and that all that other “stuff” doesn't count unless we do the real stuff i.e. Intercourse.
In discussing sex, we do not use the word foreplay, everything is sex and it is all good. Instead of viewing sex like a pyramid, with intercourse at the top, I get clients to imagine sex like a circle. It is all equal. It is all good and we pick and choose from different stuff depending what we as a couple feel like on that particular time.
If couples set intercourse as the goal and everything short of that is a failure, you can start to see how anxiety producing and nerve wracking sex can become. Now people start worrying how their bodies will behave, they worry about their performance, they ARE WORRYING instead of enjoying themselves and their partner and that is not what sex is about.
Regardless of how you define sex, what most people want from sex is to feel good and have fun. If our beliefs about sex and how it works are inaccurate we can set our sex life up to be anxiety producing and anything but enjoyable. Is how you think about sex helping you to get the sex life you want?
A lot of times people don't think about the purpose of sex. The purpose of sex varies from person to person and from night to night. There is no standard meaning sex has to have. Couples get to decide for the relationship what sex will mean and its purpose. For someone people, sex is about intimacy and sharing, for other people it is about releasing tension or baby-making, for some other people it is a form self-expression and still others it is a form of recreation. There are many purposes for sex and the more open you are to expanding its meaning the more fun you and your partner can have.
People run into trouble when they have rigid fixed meanings on sex, especially when these conflict with their partners. The cool thing about sex is that couples don't have to have the same meaning. This sharing of meanings and views can be part of what makes sex more interesting.