Over the past few weeks I have seen many expressions of romantic love and it got me thinking about what romance means to us. There are some things that most people think of as being romantic, candle lit dinners, escapes away as a couple, walks along the beach, gifts of flowers, chocolates and the little things we love. But there are other people who don't like those things, they may not like surprises while others love them, they may prefer a sporting game, a day to engage in a hobby, a drive in a sports car, or gifts of clothes,sporting equipment, plants or whatever the person loves.
I see a similarity here, sometimes surprises and more often the things the person loves.....their interests, their favourite foods, drinks or gifts.
So how do we know if our partner likes surprises? They will have talked about this at some point, they may like to be organised or prepared. As an example I decided to surprise my partner with a weekend away, in another state, to attend Mardi Gras. I knew they really wanted to go to Mardi Gras but I also knew they were scared of flying. I decided that I would not let them know that we were flying until the last minute, less time for them to be anxious. I let them know a couple of days before to set the weekend aside and what to pack, there were lots of questions which I was very vague in answering. On the morning we were to leave it was raining very hard, by now they had a suspicion about where we were going, so tested the waters one more time by showing concern about flying and their fear of it raining in Sydney. This was when I realised I had to let them know we were flying so they could prepare themselves, as they needed time to get used to the idea. I was able to keep some of the other surprises I had in store for when we got there,but it was a better experience for them to let them know what to expect.
How do we know what are the little things they love? We will often know of their hobbies, sports, love for outdoors, adventure, fine dining, collecting and the things they have always wanted to do.
We can also look at what are their languages of love.....gift giving, quality time, acts of service, words of affirmation or touch. Incorporating these into what we do for our partners shows we know them and what will really speak to them that we love them. The language they speak is usually the one they hear but some people have become very good at speaking the other person's language when theirs is something different. So how do we work out what is their language? What makes their eyes light up, when do they show lots of appreciation for what you do and what do they ask of you in their bids for attention? The image below will show some of the ways people express their love language, click on it and save to enlarge on your own computer.
So get out there, work out your partner's love language, surprise them....or not, with something they will love. Get romantic, what ever that means to you and the ones you love.
Consent is a topic that has come up a few times over the past week. I have been asked to do a presentation on consent, pleasure and orgasm and over the past few days I have seen this discussed in regards to a social media post.
The social media post was being discussed on the radio. A young man took a photo of an attractive, young woman wearing very short, shorts while doing her shopping. He posted it on social media saying he would like to meet her and would be at the shop every evening, for a week, at the same time that he saw her. The radio hosts were discussing if his behaviour was romantic or creepy. I was very tempted to pull my car over and call up, but there was no where for me to stop. One of the male hosts was very adamant that it was creepy, the female host thought that perhaps the woman would not mind and maybe it was romantic, as he was too shy to go up and speak to the woman in the shop. the people that called, both male and female all agreed it was creepy.
Personally I agreed but it got me thinking.....creepy is a very subjective term and we may all describe different behaviours as being creepy. So lets step back from that and look at the situation ethically and legally. Ethically this was a case of non consent, the woman did not consent to having her photo taken, she did not consent to it going on the internet, let alone national television and radio. And do any of us know the legality of taken and releasing publicly, the image of another person. I know that in a work context we must have a media release form signed by the person in the image, unless it is a wide group shot at a public event where it is hard to pick out individual people. And I know if someone did that to me I would not be ok about it....what about you?
So back to consent....what is it and when do we need to get it?
Consent is required in many situations when we are engaging with others and especially when it is another person's body. We may have people in our lives where there is an unspoken level of consent to touch; our children, family and sometimes close friends, but for others consent is required or non consensual touch can breach legal boundaries.
When it comes to sexual touch then consent is paramount, it is illegal to touch another person , in a sexual way, without their consent. There are many codes of ethics that also disallow consensual sexual contact between the person providing a service and the person accessing that service.....therapist and client, doctor and patient, teacher and student.....a power imbalance is present and it then brings doubt as to whether the touch is really informed consent or subtle coercion.
Here is a short clip comparing consent to a cup of tea. It is a simple explanation on consent, which is much more complicated than this, when you consider capacity, intoxication and conditional consent (they will have sex if there is a condom, then they remove condom without informing).
Watch the tea and consent clip here and about consent and riding a bike that explore some of the other considerations can be found here
Here is another clip that explains some of the intricacies of consent by looking at the kink community, where SAFE, SANE and CONSENSUAL are the mantra and essential to all interactions.
So I hope the notion of consent is a little clearer and something that you are more capable of negotiating.
While travelling to town this morning an advertisement came on the radio, you know the ones, "Do you want longer lasting sex? ", reinforcing the belief that a person with a penis has to pump away for hours to satisfy a person with a vagina, that penetration is the only way to have satisfactory sex this is what is expected of you, anything less and you are not measuring up.
When I hear these ads or see the bill boards I cringe, the pressure it puts on people to engage in a particular sexual activity and apparently for a certain amount of time is horrendous. According to these companies this is the requirement to satisfactory sex and to pleasing your partner. I wonder if they have really asked the partners if this is what they want, and have they not read the research that shows most women don't orgasm from penetration but rather clitoral stimulation and women who have sex with women report having the most satisfactory sex and longer sessions with their partners than women who have sex with men (no penises there).
We get so many messages about how we should look and act that it can be very confusing and demoralising if we feel that we are not doing what others are doing, or doing it as well or as often. Where are the sex positive messages that talk about connection, pleasure and foreplay or outercourse?
So what do heterosexual men and women have to learn from same sex attracted women? For one, that it is not all about the apparently mighty penis or penetration, not that they don't have penetration but it is not all that they do and consider to be sex. Penetration for women who have sex with women may consist of fingers, toys and fists, is sometimes not practised at all and is often prefaced with a whole range of other activities that they consider 'having sex' or 'making love' or whatever they may call it.
These women often take their time, no need to rush to the big O. Touch, taste, sight, smell and sound will all come into play. Kissing, caresses, fondling, bodies rubbing together, fingers and tongues exploring every inch of each other's bodies, teasing, touching and tantalising, whatever the imagination can think of. Pleasuring each other at the same time, or taking turns, exploring each other, watching and listening for responses, tasting and touching skin, mouths, breasts, vulvas, clits, everywhere. Revelling in the sights, the sounds and the scents of the woman they are with.
So what can be learned by opposite sex couples.....all of this can be done with both partners no matter what their sex or gender, exploring and giving pleasure to each other.When some or all of these techniques are utilised, reaching the edge of orgasm and then finally release then penetration can be added if both wish.
There is so much more to sex than just penetration, by exploring other options it can take the pressure off penetration having to last a long time. And realistically the average for a man to last once penetration is achieved is usually 5-10 minutes, it is only regarded as a dysfunction if it is less than 2 min from penetration to ejaculation. While many women will need 20 minutes or more to be ready for penetration let alone orgasm, some may be quicker but there is no need to rush the pleasure. Take the pressure to perform away, have fun, enjoy each other, the way you feel and how you make the other person feel....remember it is all about the journey rather than the destination.
It's that time of the week again and I have read another interesting book "Where is my libido?" by Dr Rosie King. Men and women everywhere will have thought this at some point, menopause, ageing, new baby, work,fatigue, illness, pain, life stressors....all of these things can impact on our libido, desire, sex drive, whatever you like to call it.
Often when a change in libido is first noticed, it may have actually been going on for a while, but we have thought it was going to get better and it just...didn't. Maybe we don't want sex as much as we used to, maybe my partner wants it more than I do, or maybe I want it but not with my partner. Lack of desire can be something that is life long, maybe something new, or may only occur in certain situations.
You can assess your sexual desire by asking a few questions of yourself:
Have I ever felt strong sexual desire? (maybe this is lifelong)
Have I lost desire to be sexual with my partner but still feel inclined to masturbate or feel attraction to others? (this is situational)
Have I lost the desire to masturbate as well as engage in sexual activity with any partner? (this is general)
Do I have low desire but once we get started I can get aroused and enjoy sexual activity? ( there are different types of arousal cycle, for many there is desire that leads to arousal but for some there needs to be arousal before desire kicks in)
There can be both a biological urge to have sex (LUST) and a psychological dimension (SEXUAL MOTIVATION), libido is a mix of both that leads to the willingness to have sex. It is important to understand that to increase the willingness to have sex,it is not just about feeling horny, it is often, for many women, the motivation that is more important. So what motivates us to have sex, Dr Rosie King lists the following:
A belief that is is good for our relationship, goodwill towards our partner (caring for them), the rewards of a pleasurable experience,to show love and affection, to give and receive pleasure, intimacy, closeness, comfort, security, reducing tension (in self and relationship), or simply because it is good.
What others can you think of?
By exploring your reasons for having sex (other than lust) you can start to see that you may have several that have nothing to do with a physical release or 'getting off'. There are many other reasons that we can have sex and as previously stated, often once we get started desire or lust can appear.
It is also important to look at what inhibits us from having desire, there can be physical, emotional, relationship, sexual or lifestyle inhibitors and Rosie lists many in her book. She also looks at what things can enhance our desire: feeling good about yourself and your relationship, being rested, healthy and fit, feeling emotionally balanced, relaxed and happy, feeling attractive and being attracted to others, having the right environment and enjoying the sex you have and feeling sexually satisfied. The journey to having desire will include decreasing the inhibitors and increasing the enhancers.
One of the key ingredients in having desire towards your partner is Goodwill in your relationship. What is that you ask? Rosie explains it as " a friendly disposition of kindness and compassion between you and your partner, it makes you wish the best for each other and motivates you to work to bring about your partner's happiness. When you have goodwill you are happy to oblige each other, to give aid, support and encouragement.....it is essential for negotiating a compromise between your needs for sex and your partner's when you have a desire discrepancy".
So how do we increase goodwill? Appreciation helps to build goodwill while resentment will diminish it, and communicating your love effectively (talk each other's love languages) will enable you to show each other your goodwill. Dr John Gottman, also has some tips: focus on each other's positive qualities, accept each other as you are, be tolerant and let go of minor irritations(choose your battles), take advice from each other, resolve conflicts willingly and in a healthy way, love generously and cherish each other.
If you find that the sexual dance between you and your partner has become one of a pursuer ( the person who wants sex more) and a distancer (the person who wants sex less) there are 8 steps to change this into a mutual dance towards pleasure:
1. See the pattern you have both become entrenched in (awareness)
2. Do not assign blame (self responsibility)
3. Stand in each other's shoes (empathise)
4. Do not judge each other (acceptance)
5. Generate goodwill (you now know what that is and how to do it)
6.Do not engage in mercy sex or become emotionally withdrawn (explore your emotions when denied and do not have sex that may bring regrets....negotiate what works for you both)
7. Disarm the cycle (recognise your own behaviour and stop)
8. You both must be willing and able to change (this dance takes two, dancing in rhythm with each other)
So now you have worked all this out, it is time to negotiate and make having sex easier. Next time your partner asks for sex maybe consider "Why not" (you have now worked out all the reasons why you have sex, so why not), cultivate positive thoughts about sex (think of all the nice things about it), have decision-driven sex ( make a time and place,it removes some of the inhibitors and increases the anticipation), be truly consensual, maybe engage in outercourse (foreplay with no demands for penetration), negotiate what activities you will engage in (I don't feel like this tonight but we could do that), "good enough sex" ( maybe not earth shattering, mind blowing sex but an enjoyable encounter for all involved), or the 'sex hierarchy".
What is the Sex Hierarchy? It is a negotiation that involves 4 choices when one partner declines sex:
*no sex for either partner (when one declines the initiator decides that they can wait)
*they stimulate themselves (self stimulation for the person who initiated)
* you stimulate them (the decliner assists in the stimulation of the initiator)
*negotiated sexual activity (maybe a quickie instead of a lengthy session, a mutually agreeable compromise)
So as you can see there was lots of interesting information and suggestions in Dr Rosie King's book, if this has peaked your interest I suggest you get a copy and explore further.
A lack of libido does not necessarily mean the end of desire, passion and intimacy in your relationship, it can be worked on to the benefit of the relationship and all involved.
Richelle has had a passion for sexuality and sexual health since 2001. She has worked in the field since 2006, providing sexuality education in schools, and adult education in the topics of diverse sexualities and gender identities, LGBT health issues, sexual health and LGBT relationships.
This is a space for me to share with you my journey as a Sexologist, the things I learn and the people I meet and what I think and feel along the way.