NYC Psychotherapist Blog

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Saturday, August 7, 2021

Relationships: What is Rec-Relational Sex?

In his book, Tell Me About the Last Time You Had Sex, Dr. Ian Kerner, couples/sex therapist in New York City discusses the three general categories of sex:
  • Procreative
  • Relational
  • Recreational 
  • Procreative Sex: Just like it sounds, when couples are focused on procreative sex, they're trying to get pregnant.  
  • Relational Sex: Couples who engage in relational sex are focused on intimacy, affection and emotional closeness.
  • Recreational Sex: The focus in recreational sex is fun, pleasure, adventure and play.
What is Rec-Relational Sex?
According to Dr. Kerner, many couples in committed relationships have either lost the recreational aspect of sex or they never had it from the start (see my article: Sexual Wellness: Overcoming Sexual Boredom in Long Term Relationships).

What is Rec-Relational Sex?

He indicates that for these couples, if they're having fun with sex at all, it's often when they're on their own when they're masturbating alone (also known as solo pleasure) with sex toys or porn.  

Alternatively, they might be having recreational sex as part of an affair because they crave the newness or novelty of these experiences.

Rec-relational sex, according to Dr. Kerner, is a combination of relational and recreational sex within a committed relationship.  

In rec-relational sex, couples finds ways to add novelty and excitement to their sex scripts (see my articles: Understanding Your Sex Script and Changing Your Sex Script).

One of the ways this can be done is by cultivating psychological sexual arousal, also known as psychogenic arousal (see my articles:  Enhancing Sexual Desire With Psychological Sexual Stimulation).

One of the challenges that many couples face in long term committed relationships is coming up with sexual activities that allow them to be erotic and sexually adventurous.  Often, one or both partners fear talking about their sexual fantasies because they think they will be rejected by their partner (see my articles: Exploring Sexual Fantasies Without Guilt or Shame).

Clinical Vignette: Rec-Recreational Sex
The following clinical vignette, which is a composite of many different cases without any identifying information, illustrates how a couple can develop a more satisfying sex life with the help of a couples therapist:

Tina and Bob
Tina and Bob agreed in their first session of couples therapy that, after 25 years of marriage, they were both bored with their sex life, but they didn't know what to do to spice it up.

During the history taking part of the couples therapy assessment, they told their couples therapist that their sex life was exciting and fun when they first met and during the first two years of marriage.  

But after they had children, everything changed.  They were often too tired to have sex and when they did have sex, it felt routine--like they were just going through the motions.  Now that their children were grown and out of the house, they knew they had an opportunity to improve their sex life, but they didn't know how to do it.

After Tina discovered flirty texts between Bob and a female colleague, she became concerned.  Eventually, Bob admitted to her that he had a brief extramarital affair with this colleague, but he broke it off long before Tina discovered the email.  He said he loved Tina and he was generally happy in their relationship.  He regretted having the affair and the hurt it caused Tina.  He knew he jeopardized his marriage.

Over the next few months, Tina expressed how betrayed she felt that Bob had the affair, and Bob listened.  He knew he needed to listen and really take in Tina's sadness and anger if they were going to repair their relationship (see my articles: Why Do People in Happy Relationships Cheat?).

Both Tina and Bob wanted to salvage their marriage, and Tina wanted to know what was at the root of Bob's infidelity.  At first, he wasn't sure, but as they continued to explore this in couples therapy, he realized that he no longer felt sexually desirable to Tina and he wanted to feel desirable again.  He said he wasn't trying to justify the affair, but if he was honest, this is what he was feeling (see my article: The Connection Between Infidelity and the Need to Feel Desirable).

Once Tina and Bob had made progress in repairing the emotional damage of the affair, their couples therapist asked them to talk about their usual sex script, and they admitted that it was almost always the same:  Bob would ask Tina if she wanted to have sex and, if she did, after a few minutes of foreplay, they would have sexual intercourse.  

With regard to their sex script, Tina admitted, reluctantly, there were times when she felt so bored that she couldn't wait for sex to be over so she could go to sleep.  She said she almost never had an orgasm, although she sometimes faked it so Bob wouldn't feel hurt (see my articles: Closing the Orgasm Gap Between Women and Men - Part 1 and Part 2).

Bob also said he wasn't satisfied with their usual sex routine, but he was afraid to tell Tina what he really wanted sexually because he feared she would laugh at him.

Initially, Tina and Bob were hesitant to talk about their sexual fantasies as part of a discussion in couples therapy about psychological sexual arousal (see my articles: The 7 Core Sexual Fantasies).

Their couples therapist explained the meaning of rec-relational sex and she encouraged each of them to take risks in terms of sharing sexual fantasies with each other that they might never have shared before.  

Gradually, Bob opened up about wanting to try role play--something neither of them had ever tried in their relationship or in any previous relationships.  As an example, he said he wanted to role play being two strangers in a bar where he would pick up Tina and take her to a hotel for hook up sex.

Tina was intrigued by the idea of role play, and she said she would like to try it to spice up their sex life.  She also said she wanted to watch porn with Bob.

Over time, Bob and Tina experimented with watching ethical porn, reading erotica to each other, role playing and their fantasies about BDSM, which is bondage and discipline, dominance and submission and sadism and masochism.  They weren't ready to engage in BDSM and they weren't sure if they would ever be ready, but they both got sexually aroused by talking about these fantasies (see my articles: Destigmatizing Fantasies of BDSM).

As they integrated new and adventurous ways of relating sexually, their sex life became more fun and exciting and, at the same time, they also revived the emotional intimacy that had been missing from their relationship after the affair.

Rec-relational sex is a combination of relational sex and recreational sex.  

For many couples the combination of emotional intimacy with sexual excitement and fun helps to create novelty and sexual satisfaction in a loving relationship.

Getting Help in Therapy
Everyone needs help at some point (see my article: Common Myths About Psychotherapy: Going to Therapy Means You're Weak).

A skilled psychotherapist can help you to overcome the problems that are keeping you from living the life you want.

Instead of struggling on your own, seek help from a licensed mental health practitioner (see my article: Overcoming Your Fear of Asking For Help).

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.