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  • Writer's pictureShaun McMahon

Why Most Relationships Lack Sexual Intimacy (And How To Fix It)

What if I told you that the biggest reason that most relationships lose their sexual intimacy is because people do not understand sex?

“But Shaun” you might reply. “What’s there to not understand about sex? It’s pretty simple when you think about it”.

Sure. It is. And that’s part of the problem.

When it comes to intimacy in relationships, most people think of ‘sex’ as meaning a very one-track, linear thing. But in fact, sex can mean many different things, and redefining it, along with what it means for you and your partner, can be the difference between having no sex life at all, and having one in which both partners feel equally fulfilled.

The Linear Model of Sex

Let’s face it; sexual education in the Western World is pretty lackluster. Sex-ed class in High School is typically an awkward and uncomfortable affair during which we’re told about STI’s and the risk of pregnancy. Before that, we’re left to piece together snippets we see in movies or TV shows, or to our horror, having to witness what our parents do around the home.

When you add the more recent ease of access to pornography we end up with a very confused landscape of mixed messages about what sex is and what it looks like.

So when it comes to relationships, most people think of sex being a linear affair. Here’s how it’s “supposed” to go down:

Something happens between two people which signals the possibility of something happening. A flirtatious look, a seductive touch, or sometimes for the relationships which have gotten stale over the years, a question like “wanna do it?”.

From there, things usually proceed to kissing, which can also involve the removal of clothes. After that, there might be some oral sex, followed by the big one.

That’s right. Penis in vagina sex.

Assuming everything has gone well up until that point, the man will eventually reach orgasm and finish, and if she’s lucky, the female partner will as well.

After the big (or disappointing) finale, the gentle peace of sleep awaits.

There you have it. The linear model of sex. Granted, there might be some variation for non-heterosexual couples, but this is what most couples think of when it comes to having sex.

As you might be starting to notice, there are a few problems with this. Perhaps the biggest one is that, for something which is supposed to be fun and exciting, it has a lot of potential to become boring and stale rather quickly. There’s a likelihood that one or both partners will end up dissatisfied with the experience, and that it turns into a chore rather than a passion-filled escape from the daily grind. Over time, intimacy takes a nosedive, and most couples wind up scratching their heads and wondering what went wrong.

If you’re worried that there’s no way out of this cycle, I’d like to take this opportunity to introduce you to a brand new way of approaching sex.

The Circular Model of Sex

While the Linear Model of Sex has its appeal, the chances are high that it’s going to become boring quite quickly, unless one tries it with a different partner, or introduces something to spice things up. Whether that’s sex toys, or tying someone up, or a cheeky costume, ultimately underneath that flair people can still often find themselves following the same rote pattern.

Martha Kauppi of the Institute for Relational Intimacy likens this to being on an escalator. Once you’ve taken those first steps, you find yourself with only one path to the top, and consequently, only one way out.

This can serve as a barrier for many partners, who feel they wish to be intimate with their partner, but don’t want to go all the way. They fear that if they get things started, it’s going to lead to full blown penetrative sex, and they just don’t want that. So instead, they cut off any intimacy entirely. The result is them ending up getting no intimacy at all, and their partner blaming themselves for not being attractive, or feeling constantly rejected and ultimately giving up.

The Circular Model is a different way of thinking about sex. Rather than an escalator, imagine you’re going to a buffet. You’re presented with many different options, and not only do you get to choose what it is that you want, you’re also free to say no to something you’ve said yes to before, or try something you’ve not tried before.

Rather than the end goal being to orgasm via penetration, instead the goal is to feel intimately connected to your partner. For both partners to feel comfortable expressing their wants and needs, while also being ok with their partner saying no. Because for this to work, consent is key, meaning that both partners need to agree.

Where this differs from the Linear model is that it opens up new options to explore. For example, let’s take a couple in which the female partner doesn’t want to have penetrative sex because she’s too tired. In the linear model that would kill the whole point entirely, but in the circular model there are still plenty of options. For example, she might offer to sit by her partner while he pleasures himself, or for him to use a toy on her, or for them to just spend the night cuddling and kissing.

Closing Thoughts

Of course, no approach is perfect, and in these situations one partner might still feel dissatisfied because their partner hasn’t satisfied them. What’s important to keep in mind is that you, and you alone, are responsible for your orgasm. It doesn’t mean your partner can’t lend a helping hand, but simply that it’s unrealistic to expect your partner to give in to your every whim and desire for the entirety of the relationship.

What the Circular Model of Sex offers is a way for you and your partner to creatively engage each other in an intimate way that strips away the pressure and stress of the Linear approach to sex. Rather than feeling the need to perform a particular set of acts in a particular sequence in order to achieve the goal, you’re freed up to explore and experiment with each other. Like a buffet, you can pick and choose what you want to have, and also have the excitement of being able to meet the sexual needs of your partner.

Introducing the Linear Model to your partner is a great way to spice things up in the bedroom, but such conversations can be daunting for people, especially because they revolve around sex. If you’re worried about bringing this up with your partner, I’d be more than happy to help.

As a sex-friendly couples therapist I often have conversations with my clients about their intimacy wants and needs, and how to best navigate this with each other. While I can’t promise an instant fix, I can help you to have these difficult conversations and compromise on a solution that suits you both. Click here to arrange a free 15-minute consultation with me today.

Source: Martha Kauppi, Institute for Relational Intimacy


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