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Wednesday, January 13, 2021

Relationships: What is Good Sex? Part 3: What is Sealed Off Sex?

This is the third in a series of articles about what is good sex (see my prior articles:What is Good Sex - Part 1 and Part 2: What is Solace Sex?).  In this article, I'm focusing on what Dr. Sue Johnson, the psychologist who developed Emotionally Focused Therapy For Couples (EFT), describes as "sealed off sex."

What is Sealed Off Sex?

What is Sealed Off Sex?
Sealed off sex, as described by Dr. Johnson, is sex that is primarily associated with one-night stands or casual sex where novelty is primary (see my article: 7 Signs Your Relationship is Based on Lust and Not Love).

The primary focus is on lust, sensation, sexual prowess and having an orgasm.  Generally, there is little to no emotional connection with sealed off sex.  However, there are times when a couple's relationship starts off being based on casual sex and it has the potential to develop into a deeper, more committed relationship. 

If the couple wants to develop a deeper, more committed relationship that goes beyond lust, they would need to work on developing emotional connection and vulnerability (see my article: Emotional Vulnerability as a Pathway to Greater Emotional Intimacy in Relationships). However, if only one person is interested in having a committed/monogamous relationship, there will be conflicts.

Clinical Vignette: Sealed Off Sex
The following clinical vignette, which is a composite of many cases, illustrates the dynamics of sealed off sex in a relationship:

Sam and Beth
When they first met through a dating app, neither Sam nor Beth were looking for a committed relationship.  Both of them were in their mid-30s and they each had just ended a prior long term relationship.

Initially, they both agreed that they weren't looking for a serious relationship, they were both dating other people, and when they got together, it was mostly for casual sex.  

But as time went on, Beth began to feel emotionally attached to Sam, and she no longer wanted to date other men.  Even though sex was passionate with Sam, Beth was no longer  happy to just hook up with him. She wanted more of an emotional connection with him, and it was becoming too painful to her that he was seeing other women.

Due to their initial agreement to keep things casual between them, Beth was hesitant to talk to Sam about being exclusive. But when she realized that she had fallen in love with him, she knew it would be increasingly painful for her to settle for just a physical relationship.  So, she broached the topic one day when he came over to see her (see my article: Dating: Is It Time For the Talk?).

As soon as Sam heard that Beth had developed deeper feelings for him and she wanted an exclusive relationship, he told her that this wasn't at all what he wanted.  He reminded her that he said from the start he wasn't ready to be in a relationship.

Beth wasn't surprised by Sam's response, but she was disappointed.  Knowing that it would only become more hurtful to continue seeing Sam under the circumstances, she told him that they should stop seeing each other.  Sam was disappointed and he told her that he had hoped they could continue to see each other as they had been, but he realized things had changed for Beth and he understood why she didn't want to see him anymore.

Over the next few weeks, Beth tried to avoid looking at Sam's social media accounts. Part of her didn't want to see pictures of him with other women, and another part of her was very curious.  But as soon as she saw pictures of him out with other women, she was overcome with sadness.

Sam didn't think he would miss Beth, but as time went on, he realized he was thinking about her a lot.  So, he called her and asked her to meet for coffee to talk things over, and she agreed.

As they sat facing each other in the coffee shop, Sam admitted that he missed her more than he anticipated.  He asked her, once again, if she would consider resuming their casual relationship without any commitments, and she reiterated that she wasn't comfortable doing this, so they were still at an impasse.

Over coffee, Sam told Beth that, even when he was in a committed relationship, he had been unfaithful to his girlfriend.  Originally, Sam had told Beth that he and his prior girlfriend grew apart and that's why they broke up.  But he now admitted that his prior girlfriend found out about his infidelity with many different women. He said she gave him a chance to change, but even though he loved his girlfriend, he couldn't stop seeing other women for casual sex, also known as sealed off sex, so his girlfriend left him.

As Beth listened to Sam talk about how he destroyed his prior relationship and she saw how ashamed he felt about his behavior in that relationship, she realized his problem was much worse than she had ever anticipated.  She also realized that if he couldn't be faithful in his prior five year relationship, he probably wouldn't be faithful with her.

Sam told her that he wanted to change because he realized he would have no chance of having a meaningful relationship if he couldn't stop philandering, but he had problems controlling his sexual urges.

Shortly after that conversation, Sam sought help in therapy where he began to work on the underlying issues, including unresolved trauma, involved with his sexual compulsivity.  He began to develop an understanding about how unresolved trauma can affect relationships).

After a few months of working on his underlying issues, Sam was able to make a commitment to Beth and they got back together.  In the meantime, he continued to work on his issues in therapy.

Sealed off sex is casual sex which is usually devoid of emotional connection.  

Although the vignette in this article involves sexual compulsivity, this doesn't mean that everyone who has casual sex is sexually compulsive.  

Many people enjoy casual sex and it's not a problem. However, for people who have problems because they experience their sexual behavior as out of control, sexual compulsivity with underlying trauma is a possibility that should be explored with an experienced mental health practitioner.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you are struggling with sexual problems, you're not alone, and you could benefit from seeking help from an experienced psychotherapist who can help you to work through your problems.

Taking the first step, setting up a consultation, is often the hardest, but it can also be the first step to transforming your life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist (see my article:  The Therapeutic Benefits of Integrative Therapy).

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more abut me, visit my website: Josephine Ferraro, LCSW - NYC Psychotherapist.

To set up a consultation, call me at (917) 742-2624 during business hours or email me.