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Craft the Relationship You Desire

Published in Women's Services, Gender Medicine, Sexual Medicine, Men's Health, For the Health of It Author: Joni Steffens,APRN,CSC

How do we sustain and celebrate sexual connection in a relationship, especially those that last years or a lifetime?

Emily Nagoski, sex educator and author of Come As You Are, says that sexual connection is not about the frequency of sex or having particularly adventurous sex. She describes two characteristics of couples who sustain sexual connection over the long haul:

  • those with a friendship built upon trust and
  • those who make sex a priority 

Emily’s key on how we nurture sexual connection?

“You look into the eyes of your best friend, and you keep choosing to find your way back.” 

I love to nerd out on sex science — physical sexual functioning, neurobiology, pharmaceuticals, the impacts of chronic health conditions and aging. The stacks and files in my office attest to this. I want to know what compels people to make their sexual relationship a priority. I want to know how they find themselves back.

Peggy Kleinplatz is a clinical psychologist, educator and researcher of optimal sexual experience. Her work steps beyond alleviating the symptoms of sexual disorders that simply bring us back to normal — she aims for what we can become. Peggy asks the question “What kind of sex is worth wanting?” The answer can be insightful. For example, women (and men) will frequently sit in my office distressed over low sexual desire. They wonder if they are somehow broken. Yet, when given space to share their experience, I am struck with a sense that their desire response is quite normal. What they are often lacking is a desire for the suboptimal sexual relationship they have. Their desire for sex worth wanting is quite intact. But they feel stuck.

Where do we begin to craft the sexual relationship we desire?

Prioritize. We are busy. We have responsibilities. We have 24 hours in a day. It’s magical thinking to believe our relationship can flourish on autopilot. Prioritizing sexual connection means being intentional and making a commitment. It’s asking ourselves the hard question — how much are we invested? It’s making hard decisions about what we have to set aside, give up and say no to the rest of our life so we can focus on what we say is a priority.

Do. In the words of Yoda, “Do. Or do not. There is no try.” We choose to be curious, to be open to discovery, to be intentional and focused and to seek growth. Many resources are available to help us do this work. You can seize the opportunity of knowledge and learning with books, podcasts, videos, seminars or working one on one with a professional. Immerse yourself. Once armed with a better understanding, build a practice with strategies that enable you to achieve what you desire. Develop your capacity to tolerate uncertainty, imperfection and the inevitable setbacks without being overwhelmed with a sense of failure.

Celebrate. Pleasure, joy, connection, playfulness. Embrace what captured you in the beginning and what keeps you here now. For many, a sexual relationship is integral to their relationship. Sex, like the rest of our relationship, waxes and wanes over time. However, it is that finding ourselves that lights the fire that seemed so effortless in the beginning. How fantastic is it to have a space in our relationship where we can momentarily set aside the stress and responsibilities of being grownups? We thrive when our heart beats a little faster and our breath is taken away. When we make our sexual connection special and sacred, when we celebrate the intimacy and pleasure it brings us — we just might be creating sex that is worth wanting.

If you are interested in taking a step toward asking the questions and finding the answers in yourself, join a like-minded group on Feb. 11 for the Craft the Relationship You Desire seminar for couples. What a great way to set the stage for Valentine’s Day!