Think back on the amazing sexual encounters in your life: what was the context? Partner and activity matter a great deal, but context is what makes it possible for the same person performing the same act to feel earth-shattering one day and ho-hum the next. The truth is, sex is an act of communication and what you have to say changes moment to moment.
Whether you are sleeping with a man or woman, desire and arousal are highly individual. For some people, the best cure for stress is a little sexual release while for others stress shuts those responses down. As a general rule, desire falls into three categories:
- Spontaneous desire: sexual feelings spring up regardless of context.
- Responsive desire: a person becomes aroused in the presence of overtly sexual cues.
- Variable/hybrid desire: a person might feel desire spontaneously or in response to sexual behavior; it depends!
Research shows that while men tend to experience spontaneous desire and women responsive or variable, we all experience some variation. Which speaks to your experience? Sexual conflict can arise when a certain response is expected (by you or your partner) but another is more natural. Get to know yourself –that way you can ask for what you want – and get to know your partner. Sex and communication go together like hugs and kisses. Here are some exercises to encourage communication and get turned on:
- Get to know each other’s bodies: the skin on your back has different sensitivity than the skin on your thigh, neck, genitals, face, and so on. Learn about your body and your partner’s body: get naked together, select a location, put two fingers right next to each other, slowly move them apart, and ask your partner to let you know when it feels like two separate sensations. The further apart your fingers are when they notice a difference, the less sensitive this area. Beyond being a good excuse to touch each other, this should give you ideas for places to kiss and caress in the future.
- Take sex off the table: schedule some intimate time in which penetrative sex, or even orgasm, is not on the menu. Focus on all of the other ways you and your partner can turn each other on and feel good – kiss, touch, talk (famed sex researchers Master’s and Johnson called this “sensate focus”).
- Watch pornography together: want to know what turns your partner on? Ask them to choose some pornography for the two of you to watch. Or make a decision together. It can be pretty sexy to watch people have sex (and our brains like it too – mirror neurons make it so our bodies respond whether we perform an act ourselves or witness it). Whether you like your porn professional, amateur, feminist, role-play, or something else, there’s something out there for you.
Remember, above all else, explicit consent is the sexiest element one can have in their sex life. Not sure your partner likes what you’re doing? Ask – and respect their response!