She Said, He Said: Connection, sensuality are core to fulfulling sex and relationship
She Said, He Said
Dear Lori and Jeff,
My boyfriend and I have been together for about three years and although we don’t really have any specific problems with our relationship, we do seem to be diverging on what we want in the bedroom. We started out like most new couples, always wanting to be together and having trouble keeping our hands off each other. As time went on, I was hoping to have a deeper, more emotional sexual connection, but he seems to want the opposite — a much more rowdy and physical act. I’m not saying I don’t occasionally enjoy that, but I’d also like our intimacy to include a bit more feeling and tenderness. Is that too much to ask for?
Lori and Jeff: We’ve encountered many situations (including our own marriage) where men and women approach sex and intimacy from different angles but, ultimately, we’re all wanting the same things: connection and some form of sensuality.
Jeff: Even with a more open dialogue about sex in contemporary culture, I think many women still misinterpret the sexual intentions of men. From an observer’s perspective, we do seem to prioritize the physical aspects of sex but there is a whole world of inner workings going on beneath the surface — sometimes hidden even to the man himself.
In her provocative book on relationships and sexuality, Esther Perel writes, “Through sex, men can recapture the pure pleasure of connection without having to compress their hard-to-articulate needs into the prison of words.”
Let’s face it, sometimes men can have a difficult time understanding and expressing our emotional needs — we’ve been given the green light to pursue sex but not necessarily to talk about our feelings. There often seems to be more pressure on men to change by learning how to express our emotions, rather than women to be more flexible in sometimes accepting physical intimacy as that emotional expression they seek. This also plays into our bids to initiate sex. If our advances are accepted, we can feel some of those emotional needs being met. If not, we could feel emotionally rejected. It may not seem like it from the outside, but men are a lot more emotionally complex than we’re given credit for.
Lori: Is an emotional connection during sex too much to ask for? Certainly not. But I am curious about exactly how you’ve asked for it. Many partners are reluctant to talk about sex with their partners. Instead they drop hints, employ passive-aggressive maneuvers or pray that their significant other has suddenly developed ESP. We know that it can be uncomfortable (and for some, straight up terrifying) to have a candid conversation about your carnal desires. Let’s be honest, sex within the context of an emotionally committed partnership is one the most vulnerable experiences we have as humans, and also why it’s so special. Random hookups, and even sex in the beginning of relationships often feels easier and freer because we’re not emotionally invested yet. If the person thinks we’re quirky or weird, we don’t really care that much. If we ask for something that they can’t or don’t want to give, sayonara.
But when we’re emotionally invested in the relationship, being exposed (in all senses) takes on a new level of vulnerability. The fear of judgment and rejection can simmer under the surface, inhibiting us from expressing our full sexual selves and asking for what we really want. So if you haven’t directly asked yet, it’s time to do so. To help you get clear, you may need to explore for yourself what a “deeper emotional sexual connection” looks like to you. Is it manifested through behaviors, words, tone, style or pace?
Lori and Jeff: If you want something different than what you’re getting, speak up. Just don’t assume that you know your partners motives. Consider the possibility that you both have the same desires at heart, but that you’ve been perceiving his sexuality through the bias of your own lens. As the French novelist Marcel Proust wrote, “The real voyage of discovery consists not in seeking new landscapes but in having new eyes.”
Lori and Jeff are married, licensed psychotherapists and couple-to-couple coaches at Aspen Relationship Institute. Submit your relationship questions to info@AspenRelationshipCoaching.com and your query may be selected for a future column.