Exploring Your Sexual Map in Marriage Understanding where you've been sexually will help you move forward in your married sex life. BY DENISE J. CHARLES
Jen Ziel Klewitz (www.JenZielKlewitz.com)
Exploring your sexual history will help you chart your bright future.
“ Something as basic as our initiation into sex can have a telling effect on our sexual experience in marriage.”
So much is written about sex and how we can make it more pleasurable or more meaningful in our relationships. As can be expected, we tend to focus on the techniques and trinkets we can use to spice things up in the bedroom. From sex toys, to lingerie, to romantic settings and date nights, there seems to be no shortage of ideas on how we can keep the passion alive. For many who struggle with their sex lives in marriage, sometimes there are, however, deeper issues to confront—issues that a few gadgets or tricks can’t easily solve. This brings us to the issue of understanding our sexual map and how, throughout our lives, it works to shape our interaction with sex and our sexuality.
I first introduced this concept of a sexual map several years ago when doing a seminar for couples and immediately it made intuitive sense to those who participated. Everyone could recount memories, experiences or stories, which actively influenced how they perceived sex. When we think of a literal map, we think of certain keys and symbols, which allow us to decipher or interpret where we’re going. When it comes to our sexuality, mapping takes on a similar meaning—our family history, personal and social experiences, self-perception, values and general socialization—act like keys or symbols which inform the sexual map which we develop over time.
Our sexual map basically speaks to how we think about sex; what we perceive it to be based on knowledge and experience and how we go about interacting with it as a result. This combination of experiences, beliefs and influences are in fact responsible for the sexual style or personality, which we have adopted by our adult years. Since sex begins in the brain our sexual self is not just about penile-vaginal interfacing, it is a combination of all the knowledge and experiences, which inform how we respond to sex.
The experience of sexual success in marriage is therefore not simply contingent on the latest trick we have gathered from a magazine article. Our awareness and understanding of how our sexual map shapes our sexual inclinations and expectations can go a long way towards enriching our sexual experience with our spouse. The reality is that while our sex lives in a relational context may focus on a shared experience, our sexuality is one that is very personal and private. What we experience and bring to the sexual table often goes way back to our earliest experiences or understanding of sex. While there is nothing wrong with this, using our sexual map for maximum effect involves building an awareness of how our sexual past shapes our present.
Something as basic as our initiation into sex can have a telling effect on our sexual experience in marriage. In what context did we first learn about sex? Were we reliably taught by parents, teachers or by significant adults in our lives? Did we imbibe stories or myths from friends or siblings? Did our expectations emerge from a steady diet of steamy romance novels or from the graphic images of pornography? Was a positive, sexual relationship modeled to us by our parents? Did we experience sexual abuse or rape as a child or as an adult? Were we emotionally ready to handle the headiness of sexual connection when we started to have sex? Was our first sexual relationship or experience a healthy or positive one?
While these questions are not exhaustive by any means, the answers are critical for our understanding of how our past influences our present sexual relationship. Because the human brain functions to store images and memories, we can never discount the potential for such memories to influence our expectations, thinking and behaviors with regard to sex. How then can our sexual map serve to deepen and enrich our sexual experience as opposed to harming or retarding it?
Openly Communicate Experiences
As a couple, you should be prepared to bring your sexual past into the open, especially when things are not exactly up-to-scratch in the bedroom. You must be willing, at times, to go beneath the surface of your sexual issues. A sense of shame, the memory of abuse, body-consciousness or a feeling of sexual inhibition, could be preventing a woman from releasing herself fully to the experience of sexual arousal. This could affect her ability to freely lubricate, to maintain arousal or to achieve orgasm. A husband’s experience of career or financial failure, or his hidden issue of sexual abuse as a child, could also affect his interest in sexual intimacy with his wife. While one’s partner may not be a professional counselor, bringing past trauma into the open as a couple, and having one’s feelings validated, can go a long way toward bringing the emotional release that is often needed for a greater sexual experience to occur. At the same time, exposing "secrets" or previously undisclosed issues can serve to strengthen the sense of intimacy between partners and deepen the bonds that they share.
Sometimes negative feelings about sex, a lack of interest, failure to achieve orgasm or a relegation of sex to the back-burner of the marriage could all point to a need for a re-framing of past negative sexual experiences. Because the lens of your experience and perceptions will impact how you are able to enjoy sex, you may need to create, as a couple, new realistic expectations for your sexual journey together. These may include things like:
* How often you have sex? * The need for ongoing intimacy outside the bedroom? * The need for more romance * Practicing in tangible acts of kindness, which make each partner feel valued? * Ongoing dialogue about sex in your marriage? * A willingness to experiment more sexually and a deliberate effort to meet your partner’s sexual needs in a way that affirms them.
If the attempt to chart a new sexual reality as a couple is problematic or if one partner continues to feel a sense of sexual disconnection in the relationship, then this may point to a need for counseling intervention or therapy. Putting negative experiences behind us is not always easy, however, in a positive, accepting environment, couples can learn to rewrite a new sexual map together for the benefit of their marriage.