This is the fourth article in the five-part series on Why Gender Matters.
As an SDC member, you probably have more sexual experience than the average person and are curious about anything new you can learn about your sexuality and sexual behavior.
Rather than focus on your sexual behavior, per se, I want to explore how your thoughts, self-talk, mental images, and feelings about it connect to your sexual identity and your overall sexual satisfaction. If you remember from my very first SDC article, your thoughts, self-talk, mental images, and feelings about your sexual identity are central to how you see yourself as a sexual person and how you rate your overall level of sexual satisfaction.
There are three dimensions to your sexual behavior:
- your sexual activity level
- the specific activities you engage in
- your sexual relationships
The three combine to give you an internal picture of how you view your sexual behavior. There is no right or wrong sexual behavior pattern. The only criterion that matters is how it meshes with your personal sexual value system. Behaving in ways that are consistent with your values is associated with feeling very satisfied with your sex life.
Level of Sexual Activity
One of the things I NEVER discuss with students and clients is the average level of sexual activity in the USA or the world. If I gave you a number like 3 times a week or 5 times a day, you’d instantly compare yourself to it and judge your sexual behavior based on it. I’d much rather you look at your level of sexual activity in terms of whether or not you are satisfied with it. It doesn’t matter what the number is compared to someone else’s standard or average. The only criteria you need to compare it against is your own standard for happiness.
The only other thing to mention regarding this is that your level of sexual activity will vary over the course of your life as it changes. A host of variables will influence your sexual activity level over the course of your life. For example, your age and overall health status will impact it. So will your relationship status and availability of suitable partners. Lastly, your work and family demands on your time and energy will influence it. These are just a few of the things that will impact your sexual activity level over the course of your life.
The important thing is to understand these factors and accept them. To compare and judge one stage of your life with another sets the stage for unhappiness. For example, to say to yourself, “Something must be wrong with me, I’m not having sex as much now as I did when I was…” (fill in the blank) is really not very helpful since now and then represent two different cycles in your life with different demands, etc.
Specific Sexual Activities
As you know, there is a wide range of pleasurable sexual activities available to you at any point in your life. They can be solo or with a single partner or with many. They might take 30 seconds of intense action or 3 hours of prolonged play. They might involve sex toys and other paraphernalia or nothing but your hands, mouth, and genitals. There is no absolute rating scale regarding your sexual activities. For example, giving yourself an orgasm through masturbation is no better or worse than coming after being handcuffed by your partner to the bedpost and penetrated anally. You might enjoy one more than the other, but in terms of their absolute value, they are equal. They are both pleasurable sexual activities that you enjoy and choose to engage in. They need not be compared to themselves or any other activities or standards set by anyone other than you.
As anyone in SDC knows, there are infinite possibilities when it comes to sexual relationships. My own feeling is that the only thing that should limit the nature and number of your sexual relationships is your own personal sexual value system. It doesn’t matter if you value one monogamous sexual relationship or one hundred non-monogamous ones — the most important thing is that whatever you choose, it meshes with your sexual values.
The key to sexual satisfaction is behaving in ways that are consistent with your personal sexual value system. Trying to live up to the expectations of others will only cause you stress and sexual problems.
Your Thoughts, Self-Talk, Mental Images, and Emotions
As I mentioned earlier, troubling thoughts and self-talk and painful emotions and mental images regarding your sexual behavior can keep you from enjoying it to the fullest. What your mind tells you about your behavior is as important as your actual behavior.
For example, imagine that you are in a polyamorous lifestyle. You live with your husband and two children ages 8 and 10 and have a lover who is also married but does not have kids. You and your husband both work full-time and just bought a new home in the suburbs. Juggling full-time work, parenting, and managing the new home often leaves you little opportunity to be with your lover during the week. You’re also finding that there are nights you’d rather have a little time to yourself to relax in the tub, masturbate, and read a good book before turning in instead of being with either of your lovers.
You think back to “the good old days” when it was just you and your husband sharing a nice apartment in the city and both of you having unlimited time and energy in the evenings to be with your lovers and have as much sex as you wanted to. You look at your life today and say, “this isn’t as good as it was back then.” This kind of comparing is not helpful and contributes to being dissatisfied with your sex life.
A more helpful way to think about this would be to look at them as two different cycles in your sex life. Rather than judge them and compare them to each other, you could choose to accept them for what they are and shift your focus onto maximizing sexual opportunities in your current life cycle — whether they are solo, with your husband, or with your lover. You could tell yourself, “The time I had when we were childless and living in the city was great. It wasn’t better than what I have now, just different. I enjoy sex as well as the other parts of my life.”
This kind of shift aligns your values regarding your marriage, kids, home, career, and lover with your sexual opportunities in a positive way. It also puts things into a different perspective — one that sees this as the current cycle you are in. As you know, cycles change and open up opportunities for new growth and change.
In my next article, I’ll talk about your ever-changing sexual response and how it relates to mindfulness and your sexual satisfaction.