“Intimacy transcends the physical. It is a feeling of closeness that isn’t about proximity, but of belonging. It is a beautiful emotional space in which two become one.”
~ Steve Maraboli
In relationships, emotional and physical connection go hand in hand.
That is why it can feel frustrating and confusing when you feel close to your partner yet still encounter sexual issues.
The question of whether you are sexually compatible with your partner is more nuanced than you might think, and it goes beyond a simple “yes” or “no” answer.
Rather, you can begin by gaining a fuller understanding of how your own sexual desire and arousal system works.
Sex educator Emily Nagoski refers to the Dual Control Model, or your sexual response system, to understand sexual difficulties in relationships.
The Dual Control Model says that we have both a sexual excitation system (SES) and a sexual inhibition system (SIS) – things that turn us on and turn us off.
Nagoski uses the metaphor of accelerators (SES) and brakes (SIS) – things that either increase or decrease your arousal.
- For instance, accelerators might be physical aspects of your partner, such as how he looks or smells, as well as emotional qualities such as how he treats you.
- Similarly, brakes might be some aspects of physical appearance, bad habits, performance anxiety, relational conflict, risks associated with being sexual (such as fear or STIs), or past negative sexual experiences.
When you are turned on, your SES identifies sexually relevant information in the environment, or things that hit your accelerator.
When you are turned off, your SIS identifies aspects of your environment that counteract sexuality, or things that hit your brakes.
In either situation, your brain takes in things that you see, hear, touch, taste, smell, or imagine and sends signals to your genitals to either become aroused or avoid arousal.
Basically, your body is designed to let you know whether or not it is an opportune time for sexuality.
That said, when you think you are sexually incompatible with your partner, it may be that you are simply experiencing more brakes than accelerators.
Thus, the key to becoming sexually compatible is increasing arousal by avoiding these brakes and hitting your accelerators. This process involves working with your partner to identify each other’s brakes and trying to minimize them.
The good news is that, while your brakes will likely remain the same, you have power to change behaviors that trigger them.
For instance, you may not like being close to your partner after a sweaty gym workout, so you ask him to shower before being sexual.
Maybe you have trouble trusting your partner which negatively impacts your sex drive, so you go to counseling.
Perhaps you don’t like being sexual when you are tired, so you might work on getting more sleep.
If your partner can respond to your needs and make the necessary changes, then you are more likely to become sexually compatible.
If your partner cannot respond to your needs or make changes, then you are less likely to be compatible.
Ultimately, the most important factor in the outcome is a willingness to both communicate about and meet each other’s needs.
Tim Horvath, MA, LMFT – www.ChangeBeginsAtHome.com
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