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Saturday, June 19, 2021

Changing Your Sex Script: Part 2: The Beginning Phase: Sexual Arousal

In Part 1 of this topic, I began a discussion about sex scripts and why they're important to your relationship.  In this and subsequent articles, I'll continue this discussion, which is based on my experience as a psychotherapist, who works with individuals and couples, as well as the book, So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex by Ian Kerner, Ph.D., LMFT.

 Changing Your Sex Script: Sexual Arousal

How Do You and Your Partner Get Started When You Have Sex?
According to Dr. Kerner, who is a couples and sex therapist, a good place to start is with how you and you partner get started when you have sex.

Some questions to consider:
  • When was the last time you and your partner had sex?
  • Who initiated sex?
  • How did one or both of you indicate an interest in having sex?
  • When and where did it happen?
  • What was the context?
  • What were you doing before you had sex and how did you become sexual with each other?
Was It a "Hot Start", "Warm Start" or a "Cold Start"?
A hot start involves lots of sexual excitement and passion.  Both you and your partner are sexually aroused and want to have sex.

A warm start is when you and your partner are feeling good and comfortable but not necessarily sexual.  However, each of you is open to being sexual.  There's a willingness to have sex even though neither is feeling especially excited or passionate.  

A cold start is when you and your partner aren't feeling especially sexual to start, but you have sex anyway.

Your Sexual Desire Framework
As I mentioned in my prior article, one of the most common problems that couples have is a differences in sexual desire.  

It's not unusual for individuals in a relationship to have these differences.  What's important is that each of you understand how the other experiences sexual desire and under what circumstances in order to have more satisfying sex.

Some people experience spontaneous sexual arousal and some experience more responsive sexual arousal (see my article about spontaneous and responsive sexual arousal for a more detailed explanation).  

There's no preferred or better way to experience sexual arousal.  When there are differences between you and your partner, you can each learn to adjust (see my article: Overcoming Differences in Sexual Arousal: Spontaneous Arousal vs Responsive Arousal).  

Spontaneous sexual arousal is what is often portrayed in movies, TV programs and pornography.  Both people are portrayed as being highly aroused with little need for foreplay.  

Since spontaneous arousal is what is often portrayed, most people assume that spontaneous arousal is common and "normal."  However, many people experience responsive sexual arousal.  Their desire is more deliberative.  It doesn't start instantly.  

Getting into the mood to have sex happens gradually for people with responsive arousal.  They  need more sexual cues to get aroused.  They might need more space and time. It's also more likely they need to make a conscious decision to allow sexual cues from their partner to get them aroused.  

People who have responsive arousal are often labeled as "not sexual" or "asexual," but this is often not the case.  Their desire framework isn't abnormal.  It's just as "normal" as someone with spontaneous desire--it's just different.

Knowing this can be a huge relief to many couples who think their sex life is doomed when each of them experiences sexual arousal in a different way.

It's often assumed that men experience spontaneous sexual arousal and women experience responsive arousal, but this isn't necessarily true.  There are plenty of women who experience spontaneous desire and some men who are more responsive.

Sexual Turn-Ons and Turn-Offs
According to Dr. Kerner, in a responsive desire framework, sexual arousal precedes desire.  Context is very important.  

For instance, anxiety and stress make it harder to become sexually aroused.  The environment needs to have more turn-ons than turn-offs for people with responsive desire (see my articles: Understanding Your Sexual Accelerators and Brakes - Part 1 and Part 2).

When each person understands the other's sexual desire framework and their turn-ons and turn-offs, they can learn to adjust to one another.  

In order to know your partner's experience, you need to be able to talk about sex, which is often challenging for people who might need the help of a couples therapist to overcome their inhibitions (see my article: How to Talk to Your Partner About Sex - Part 1 and Part 2).

What is Spectatoring During Sex?
Masters and Johnson developed a term called "spectatoring" to describe the experience of watching yourself self consciously while having sex instead of being present in the experience.

Instead of being present with your partner, when you're spectatoring, you are both a participant and a spectator in the experience.   

Spectatoring often occurs when there is performance anxiety, which is a sexual inhibitor and often gets in the way of becoming fully sexual aroused.  

My Next Article
In my next article, I'll discuss sexual motivation.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you're having problems in your sex life, whether it's as an individual or as part of a couple, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional.

Rather than suffering on your own, an experienced psychotherapist, who works on relationship and sexual issues, can help you to overcome your problems so you can lead a more fulfilling life.

About Me
I am a licensed NYC psychotherapist, hypnotherapist, EMDR, AEDP, EFT and Somatic Experiencing therapist.

I work with individual adults and couples.

To find out more about 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.