NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Sunday, June 20, 2021

Changing Your Sex Script: Part 3: Understanding Sexual Motivation

I have been focusing on sex scripts in relationships in my recent articles (see my articles: Changing Your Sex Script: Part 1 and Part 2).  In the current article, which is continuing with the beginning phase, I'll be discussing sexual motivation.

Understanding Sexual Motivation

The Most Common Reasons For Having Sex
There are a lot of reasons why people have sex.  According to Dr. Kerner, who wrote So Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex, sex researchers David Buss and Cindy Meston identified the most common reasons:
  • Experiencing sexual attraction
  • Experiencing physical pleasure
  • Expressing love
  • Feeling sexually desired by the other person
  • Wanting to escalate the depth of the relationship
  • Wanting to have new sexual experiences
  • Marking a special occasion to celebrate
  • Encountering an opportunity to have sex
According to Dr. Kerner, Buss and Meston identified 237 reasons, so the list above only represents the most common reasons.

There are no value judgments for why people have sex as long as it's between consenting adults.  

Sometimes a partner doesn't start out wanting sex, but they know their partner wants it or they know it will make their partner feel powerful.  So, this is enough of a reason for them to initiate or respond to sexual overtures from their parter.

The "Willingness Window"
Couples give many reasons why they're not having sex, including feeling tired, not having enough time, feeling preoccupied with their children, stress, anxiety and a variety of other reasons.

According to Dr. Kerner, as part of the sex therapy, he sometimes assigns couples homework where they agree to schedule at least two "willingness windows" per week in which they engage in some kind of arousal-generating activity to see if responsive sexual desire emerges.

He suggests that one window focuses on an activity that is physical/sensual.  This could include a massage or kissing.  The other window focuses on psychological arousal, which could include reading erotica out loud to each other, role playing a sexy scene, watching ethical porn, etc.  

A Willingness Window: A Fictional Scenario
The following fictional vignette, which is a composite of many different cases with all identifying information eliminated, illustrates the willingness window for a couple in couples therapy:

Ann and Ted
Ann and Ted, who were both in their late 40s, were married for 10 years.  When they started couples therapy, they told their therapist that even though they had passionate sex during the first two years of their marriage, after they had children, they rarely had sex.  Neither of them felt motivated to have sex most of the time. They both agreed that, on average, they were having sex, possibly once a month or less.

After their therapist explained spontaneous and responsive sexual desire, Ted indicated that, when he wasn't feeling exhausted from work and the kids, he experienced spontaneous desire.  He said he needed little in the way of foreplay to feel sexual.  

Ann, on the other hand, said she almost never thought about sex. She also said she never initiated sex anymore, and she sometimes agreed to have sex because she knew that Ted "needed it." But she said she usually didn't feel sexually aroused during those times.  She also preferred not to lock their bedroom door, in case one of the children needed them during the right, but then she was preoccupied with whether the children would come into their room while they were having sex.

Ted responded that he realized that Ann wasn't really sexually aroused when they were having sex and this was a turn-off for him.  He felt this was "pity sex."  He said he had suggested novel ideas to try to spice up their sex life, but Ann just seemed like she wanted to get it over with.  This left him feeling unattractive and undesirable.  It also made him less likely to initiate sex.

Their therapist also explained the concept of sexual accelerators and brakes. Based on Ann and Ted's descriptions of their sexual dynamics, she said that when Ann worried about the children coming into the room, this was a sexual brake for her.  Another example of a sexual brake or inhibitor was Ted's feeling that Ann was engaging in "pity sex" during the few times when they were sexual.  

She said she would need to get to know them better to find out about each of their sexual accelerators or their turn-ons.

After a few sessions where their therapist obtained information about each of their family histories and sex histories and ascertained that there was no trauma or intergenerational trauma, she suggested a homework assignment of two times per week where they practice the willingness window and then come back the following week and talk about it in their next session.  

The therapist emphasized that there was no pressure to have sex if both of them didn't feel like it at the time but, if they agreed to the assignment, they had to set aside two times, one to focus the physical/sensual and the other time to focus on psychological arousal.  

Both Ted and Ann agreed to try the homework assignment and talk about each of their experiences in their next couples therapy session.

Next Article:
I'll continue with the next part of this vignette in my next article and include a discussion about psychological and sensual arousal.

Getting Help in Therapy
If you have been unable to resolve problems on your own, you could benefit from working with a licensed mental health professional.

The first step, contacting a licensed psychotherapist, is often the hardest, but it can also be the start of living 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.