Chapter 7: Increasing Sexual Intimacy
I defined love, not as an emotion so much as freely expressed behavior, undertaken with the aim of fostering happiness and growth in the person loved. But there is something grim and joy-less and even a sense of hard work implicit in that conception of love. I would like . . . to spice this
conception with some laughter, some wholesome, lusty, fully expressed, mischievous, lecherous, saucy sex. Not sex as mere coupling, but sex as an expression of joie-de-vivre, of a sharing of the good things in life. Sex that is something deeply enjoyed, freely given and taken, with good, deep, soul-shaking climaxes, the kind that make a well-married couple look at each other from time to time, and either wink, or grin, or become humble at the remembrance of joys past and expectant of those yet to be enjoyed. Sidney M. Jourard, The Transparent Self (1)
Discussions of love often emphasize the hard work involved and miss the spice and joy. The same is true of intimacy, which if it is genuine is positive and pleasurable in its impact on a marriage. Even sexual intimacy, in some marriage manuals, is made so antiseptic and complicated that the essence of sexual enjoyment -- spontaneity, playfulness, lusty experimentation -- evaporates.
The feeling tone which is sometimes communicated is like the mood of a cartoon showing a tired, bedraggled couple on a vacation. The husband is saying, "How many more happy carefree days do we have to go?" Intimacy does take effort but if it is a burden, then it isn't the real thing. Sex is the dimension of intimacy which is most fun-filled. When sex is good in a marriage, the pleasure
side of all other dimensions is enriched and fed. "Sexual intimacy" is more than the mere physical familiarity of intercourse. Prostitutes have for centuries engaged in an impersonal profession.
"Sexual intimacy" is meant here to encompass the total experience of man and woman loving each other.
THE CENTRAL PLACE OF SEX
Sex is a powerful, pervasive drive in human beings. It is a dynamic force in the will to relate. It colors everything else -- a dull gray if it is poor, a passionate pink if it is rich. Some people seem to wish that sex were not such a prominent motivator in human relationships. Such people are something like the woman who greeted the news of Darwin's discoveries with, "Let's hope that it isn't true and if it is, that it won't become generally known." In any marriage, sexual feelings are intertwined with every aspect of the relationship. In a healthy marriage, sex is affirmed and enjoyed so that it gives the total relationship warmth, joy, and resiliency.
It helps the person who is uneasy about the prominence of sex in his thinking to know that nearly everyone is as interested in sex as he is, and many even more so.(2) In other words, it is utterly normal for both men and women to have a keen interest in sex and in sexual pleasure. Someone has remarked that there are two kinds of people, those who are interested in sex, and liars. Sex is here to stay -- a fact for which we can all be immensely glad -- and it must be integrated into the totality of the good life if that life is to be truly good.
In contrast to the left-over Victorian attitudes and feelings about sex still to be noted among some individuals and communities (attitudes toward sex education, for example), are the increasingly mechanized and exploitative and depersonalizing attitudes toward sex which are prevalent in our society. Television and magazine advertising, some film making, the Playboy philosophy and the
overemphasis on techniques are good examples. It is easy for the wonder and mystery of the "man-woman thing" to get lost. In the midst of what sometimes seems to be a national obsession with sex, it is often difficult for a couple to discover and cultivate the power of sexual intimacy which is so vital a part of marriage. Nonetheless, as Rollo May writes:
However much sex may be banalized in our society, it remains the power of procreation, the drive that perpetuates the race, the source at once of man's most intense pleasure and his most pervasive anxiety. It can, in its daimonic form, hurl the individual into sloughs of despond, and, when allied with eros, it can lift him into orbits of ecstasy.(3)
The raw power of sex is inherent in the fabric of creation -- its power is God-given. Regular enjoyment of this powerful source of unity and pleasure is one of the best things about a good marriage. In fact, marriage offers the ideal relationship in which sex can be enjoyed with depth, intensity, and continuity over the years. Marriage is by far the most dependable and fulfilling way of satisfying this basic physical and emotional need.
Sex fulfills four positive purposes in a healthy marriage. The first is reproduction or parenting -- the need to complete oneself in one's children. As Paul Tillich once observed, the biblical idea that mates become "one flesh"(Therefore a man leaves his father and mother and cleaves to his wife and they become one flesh, Genesis 2:24) goes beyond intercourse in its full expression. Two persons literally become one flesh in the joining of genes in their children. Sexual intercourse, of course, only begins the reproductive process. It plays a crucial but minor role. Seen against the background of the life-long process of parenting (one is always a parent after the process is begun), intercourse plays a tiny role. Only 1/1000 or less of sexual relationships in marriage have to do with reproduction. Obviously sex needs to be understood in terms of its broader functions.
Second, there is the unifying junction of sex. Max Lemer has described love as "whatever breaks and bridges the terrible pathos of separateness of human beings from each other."(4) Satisfying sex is one of those good bridging experiences! Not only is it a deliciously beautiful way of expressing emotional connectedness, it is a powerful means of strengthening a relationship. Sex feeds love and is fed by love. Everyone at times belongs to the "walled-off people," to use Dostoevski's phrase. The physical-emotional-spiritual joining of sex in marriage is a remarkable means of over-coming the walls and of merging two inner worlds. The joining of bodies and spirits is powerful therapy for our loneliness and inner isolation.
I know that love is worth the time it takes to find. Think of that when all the world seems made of walk up rooms and hands in empty pockets.(5)
As these lines of Rod McKuen affirm, the knowledge that love exists and is precious, brings light to dark days of aloneness. The power of the desire for sexual union stems from a basic truth about the world of living things:
The power of sex is due to the sexual division of virtually all of creation. Male and female were not created to exist separately. Woman was made to complete man; and man, woman -- anatomically, biologically, emotionally, mentally and spiritually. The power of the sex drive springs from the longings of the incomplete being for completion. A divided creation consequently suffers, longing for union and fulfillment. . . . The union sought, however, is more than sexual. It is a longing for a personal union of which the sexual is but a part and not the whole.(6)
The third function of sex in marriage is to enhance the enjoyment of life together. A satisfying sex life releases tension, renews tired spirits, and offsets the heartaches and failures of human existence. As suggested earlier, sex is a favorite way to drop the load of adult responsibilities and parenting duties and to let one's inner Child play regularly. In the midst of the worries and pressures of daily life, satisfying sex gives wings to the hearts of the mates. Together they celebrate the pleasures of life expressed in sex.
As the sayings of many languages put it, love & sex make one look at the world with "new" eyes. A sexual experience resembles a short vacation trip. A lover comes back to everyday conditions as a traveler returns home. Like the returning traveler he reacts more vividly and sharply to the accustomed environment.(7)
It is not surprising that the writer of Proverbs included the last clause in this list of wonders:
"There are three things which are too wonderful for me, yea four which I know not: the way of an eagle in the air; the way of a serpent upon a rock; the way of a ship in the midst of the sea; the way of a man with a maid" (30:18). The sense of mystery and glad wonder is familiar to couples who have learned to enjoy rich, full-bodied sexual intimacy.
There is a fourth function of sex in marriage -- to strengthen and complete one's identity. When a person asks the big identity questions -- Who am I? What am I worth? -- he cannot answer them apart from another question: Who am I and how effective am I as a man (or a woman)? Personal identity always includes sexual identity at its center. The firm sense of personal identity which is a prerequisite for intimacy in marriage and sexual relationships, is also strengthened and affirmed by experiences of interacting constructively with a person of the complementary sex. The sharpness of definition of one's own sexual identity is increased by joining worlds with a person of the other gender. The femaleness in a wife brings out the maleness in a husband, and vice versa. It is this mutual heightening of femininity and masculinity that brings zest to a marriage!
Couples in search of greater closeness need to go far beyond merely satisfying each other's physical desires. Of course, it is a mistake to withhold sex because the relationship is conflicted, or to use sex to manipulate the other. But beyond satisfying each other's physical needs, there is the context of those needs, the sexuality of each person; the maleness and femaleness which colors one's whole being. But the goal is never completely achieved; each of us brings a degree of unfinished identity to marriage, each of us needs to have our sexuality affirmed and rejoiced in by our mates. We have everything to gain and nothing to lose by nurturing each other in this basic way. A well-fed mate (fed in terms of his hunger for feelings of sexual power and worth) is the
only kind who can share in a sexual celebration in which one's own needs will also be satisfied.
Conflicts often occur among the various functions of sex in marriage and the roles which are related to them. As most couples who have children can document from their experiences, the demands of parenting, companionship, and sex sometimes run into head-on collisions. It is inevitable. Close, complicated relationships and conflict go together. But in healthy marriages the conflict accruing from these roles is more than balanced by the ways in which they are mutually reinforcing. The fact that two people like (as well as love) each other and therefore enjoy being together and communicating makes the sexual part of their relationship deeply gratifying. Sex without companionship in marriage is better than no sex at all; but its pleasure falls far short of sex within a relationship of loving and trusting. Furthermore, parents who enjoy their children, feel the fulfillment of participating in their growth, and share in the "one-flesh" unity of this ongoing experience have much going for the sexual and companionship sides of their marriage. The goal is to relate in such a way as to allow the power of sex to bring a glow to the totality of the relationship. As one mother of three teenagers put it, "The pain and the happiness of these years of raising kids together has given us hundreds of experiences of sharing; we feel joined in so many areas that sex is often like a feast."
DEEPENING SEXUAL INTIMACY
Sexual relationships are essentially human relationships. That sexual skills are interpersonal skills is a point often ignored, to the detriment of sexual fulfillment in marriage. What is the relationship between interpersonal needs, satisfactions, and conflicts, on the one hand, and sexual needs, satisfactions, and conflicts, on the other? This is a crucial question. There is powerful interaction
between these two sides of a marriage. Thus, one guideline to increasing sexual intimacy and pleasure is to improve the quality of the marriage as a whole. In practical terms, this means increasing communication skills and the ability to satisfy each other's heart-hungers, while at the same time practicing new techniques and tenderness in sexual intercourse.
At Ohio University a marriage survey of several hundred couples was made. The majority reported that they had intercourse twice a week, on the average. This was true both of the couples who described their marriages as "satisfactory" and those who saw them as "unsatisfactory." The husbands of unhappy couples tended to say that twice a week was more than their wives wanted but was satisfactory to them; their wives tended to report that it was just right for them, but less than their husbands wanted. In contrast, the husbands and wives in happy marriages generally said that twice a week was satisfying to their spouses and themselves. The problem was not in the actual frequency of intercourse (as the unhappy couples might have described it to a marriage counselor) but in their inability to communicate.(8)
In another study, people were asked to describe their own and their partner's feelings regarding a variety of forms of foreplay (from kissing and caressing to oral-genital play). Successful couples reported identical feelings and/or described their partner's feelings accurately approximately twelve times as often as did seriously conflicted couples.(9)
In an insightful passage on satisfying sex, William Lederer and Donald Jackson state:
What is special about sexual intercourse, a highly-satisfying male-female symbiosis, is that it requires a higher degree of collaborative communication than any other kind of behavior exchanged between spouses. Sex is consequently precious, but also perilous. It is the only relationship act which must have mutual spontaneity for mutual satisfaction. It can only be a conjoint union, and it represents a com- mon goal which is clear and understood by both.(10)
Sexual intimacy is rooted in a biological drive pushing toward the discharge of sexual tension. This is the physiological basis of sexual attraction in all animals. But in man there develops a unique blend of the physiological and the psychological. The physical need for release of sexual tension is intertwined with a variety of psychological needs: for the security and warmth of body-closeness and stroking; for feeling loved, nurtured, cared about; for affirmation of one's masculinity or femininity. Both the joys and the problems of sex center almost entirely in
the psychological-emotional area of relationships. It is in this unique human dimension that increased sexual intimacy is found. Sex without relationship is shallow sex, lacking in depth pleasure. As Clark Elizey says, "If sex is sought on the animal level, nothing but animal returns can be expected."(11) Deep soul-and body-satisfying sex is never simply physical.
To deepen sexual intimacy, a couple needs to enjoy sex in ways that will cause it to feed their love. A marriage is vital to the extent that there is a uniting of these two forms of intimacy -- physical and psychological. Satisfaction of the personality hungers of one's mate, particularly his sexual ego needs, is extremely important. Each partner should test his behavior in the marriage in terms of how well he uses opportunities to make his mate feel more adequate, attractive, and lovable as a male or a female. To say by words and behavior, "You're terrific in bed," or "We
make sweet music together," or "You made last night heavenly!" causes one to prize his or her sexuality, which makes it easier to be loving, passionate, and giving the next time. "Good sex interaction not only expresses one's own feelings, but . . . the partner needs to feel valued and felt as a person of worth, as a real live human being."(12) The wedding ceremony contains an implicit
truth about relationships in the phrase, "love, honor and cherish." A man and woman cannot really love deeply unless they also honor (esteem, appreciate, respect) and cherish (nurture, prize, hold dear) each other. The total quality and value of the relationship affects the meaning and satisfaction derived from sexual intercourse.(13) There is a fundamental difference between alienated and intimate sex -- the difference is love.
Cultivating the art of love-making is another way to increase sexual intimacy. Most couples, if they try, can enhance their repertory of sexual enjoyment; they can help make sex play better for themselves and each other. It takes time to improve sexual artistry, and that is often a problem in our frantic society. Setting aside time for regular "let's-enjoy-each-other" nights or days is a practice that pays big dividends. One couple near the termination of marriage counseling reported: "Up until we started having 'our nights,' sharing, including sex, got the tag ends of our time. We allowed other less important things to squeeze love-making into late, hurried moments which made it terribly mechanical. In the last months we've rediscovered what we've been missing. Wow!" A frustrated wife confronted her husband with her disappointment at the shallow, mechanical rut into which their sex life had slipped: "I get the 'now it's Friday night again' feeling about our love life. The long, lingering Sunday afternoon in the bedroom -- what happened
to that? Let's do something to get the life back into things."
Working hard to get the spontaneity back is something like relaxing as hard as possible. It's self-defeating. Setting aside regular times and protecting them from encroachment is a good place to begin. During that time, sharing is the key -- talking, listening to the rain, or reading a sexy novel together, taking a walk along a stream, eating by candlelight -- whatever both mates find relaxing, satisfying, and at least a little romantic. Each couple should discover what encourages spontaneity and playfulness. Having a number of paths to relaxed sharing is an advantage. Wives often find eating out particularly satisfying and romantic. "It gives us time to really talk and, what's more, I don't have to fix the meal! Being away from the kids lets me turn my parent side off for a while, which feels good." These words of a young wife could be duplicated by many other wives. Couples who love music may find their depth sharing in "listening together to the murmur of hidden meaning within music . . . until the harmonies of what it means to-be-human pulse also in you."(14)
Getting into the mood is much more than a prelude to intercourse. It is a delicious part of the
process, of which intercourse is the climax. The same applies to so-called "foreplay" -- a mis- leading label which suggests merely a warm up before the game starts. How unfortunate! Such a misunderstanding leads to feelings on the part of some husbands that "I'll have to work hard to get her ready." The sense of burden and duty takes the edge off what can be a mutually delightful experience of pleasure and shared tenderness.
Cultivating the art of love-making doesn't necessarily mean that a couple will increase the frequency of intercourse, although that may result from its becoming more enjoyable to both. On some occasions, sharing may be fulfilling and even delightful, without including intercourse. Those whose sex life is satisfying and beautiful may have intercourse with less frequency than unhappy couples who are frantically proving their sexuality or searching for a solution to their emotional pain.
There are times in a sex-enjoying marriage when the enjoyment is in quiet closeness. At other times, stormy, carefree passion meets the needs of both. Couples should be free to follow their own impulses sexually, to play and experiment with new positions, new settings, and new approaches to foreplay. Open communication about what gives each maximum pleasure is tremendously helpful in developing their unique style. Whatever gives both pleasure -- this is the one criterion for deciding whether or not to engage in various forms of sex play. If a wife enjoys
being kissed all over her body, she should say so. Overcoming embarrassment derived from left-over childhood feelings about sex helps free a couple to talk about and explore their mutual pleasure. Sex itself is a form of communication. Learning to read the nonverbal language is a part of the enjoyment of married sex -- for example, recognizing the signals of heightened desire in one's mate or, during intercourse, when the other is ready for consummating that experience of loving passion. However, checking out ambiguous nonverbal messages by asking the other, helps sex to be mutually satisfying.
Freedom to enjoy their own style of sex is sometimes inhibited by the need to succeed according to some alleged standard of what success is. The need to succeed is one reason for failure because it imposes pressures on the sex act which take the fun out and put the demand quality in. The pressure to succeed was illustrated by one couple who devised a ten-point scale on which they each attempted to rate the intensity of their orgasms. Those approaching marriage may be captives of the illusion that they must measure up -- "perform like everyone else." They may ask worried questions such as:
How often should we have sex? What is the best position? . . . Should we scratch and bite each other? What time of day should it be done? The questions sound like inquiries about the type of gymnastic procedures to be followed for attaining muscles like Mr. America's or a rear end or bust like Miss America's. Perhaps even worse off are the myriads of couples who don't dare ask questions and just assume they must be abnormal because their own practice differs from some so-called standard.(15)
To decide where sex fits into their particular marriage, a couple must look inward at the marriage, not outward at the deceptive advice and make believe standards set by others.(16) There are as many different and satisfying sexual relationships as there are couples who enjoy sex. Criteria like simultaneous orgasm, multiple orgasm, frequency of intercourse, should never be used as mechanical standards which suggest sexual failure if they are not met. To the question, "What is the ideal sexual relationship?" the only valid answer is, "There is no such thing!" Each couple should aim at the unique pattern which gives them both the greatest fulfillment, recognizing as well that their own pattern is changeable from one day and one year to the next, and that the degree of tenderness and passion waxes and wanes continually in their relationship.
At the same tune, the art of love-making for most couples can be continually developed. Skills do improve with practice and patience, and as skills improve and a feeling of greater unity develops, sex can become increasingly satisfying. Understanding the differences as well as the likenesses in the sexual responses of men and women, and in the particular man or woman one is married to, stimulates the growth of intimacy. Many of the old generalizations about male-female differences no longer apply. It is probably true that the arousal of passion is more closely linked with emotional factors in many women than in many men. If this is true in a particular marriage, it is
important for the husband to understand that his wife literally can't respond as she and he would like, when her feelings are hurt, the bedroom is cluttered, or the children are stirring in the next room. It is well worth the effort to create the needed atmosphere to allow her romantic side to flower. Many women experience sexual arousal more slowly than their husbands and respond to
considerable tenderness, caressing, fondling, and reassurances of love in the full enjoyment of intercourse. What many men discover is that the total sexual experience is much more satisfying and pleasurable to them if they allow themselves to enjoy longer periods of play. The too-rapid sex act often leaves the wife tense, angry, and unsatisfied; it also short-changes the man,
frequently without his knowing it.
Most women want lusty physical sex as intensely as men. Contrary to previous cultural myths, women can be aroused to a high, sustained level of sexual excitement. They may arouse more gradually but they can enjoy the full range of sex play including intercourse and orgasm, as
fully as men. (One of the liberating findings, as long as it does not become standard setting, of the Masters and Johnson research is that many women are capable of multiple orgasms -- a series of climaxes during the same experience of intercourse.) It is important for the husband and wife to cooperate, if necessary, in helping her achieve a climax. It helps for the husband to discover the areas of her body which are particularly pleasurable to her. On the basis of their research, Masters and Johnson recommend:
Rather than following any preconceived plan for stimulating his sexual partner, the male will be infinitely more effective if he encourages vocalization on her part. The individual woman knows best the areas of her strongest sensual focus and the rapidity and intensity of manipulative technique that provides her with the greatest degree of sexual stimulation.(17)
Manual manipulation of the clitoris up to and including orgasm may be a part of love-making which allows her to enjoy the full delights of the experience. The clitoris is the major center of sexual response in the woman's pelvic area and is the key to orgasm in many women.(18) The idea that a clitoral orgasm is somehow inferior to a vaginal orgasm has been exploded by the Masters and Johnson evidence that the distinction between these two types is a fiction. An orgasm, however induced, is experienced throughout the pelvic area (and the entire body, to some degree).(19)
The rejection of the Victorian idea that sex is man's privilege and woman's duty has freed woman to enjoy sex fully. It has also freed her to respond and relate to her husband in ways that make sex more fulfilling to him. The active, passionate wife is much more fun in bed than the passive,
dutiful "object of a man's desire." Many men need and enjoy the affirmation of a wife who is seductive and enticing, who is able to show her interest in sex and, on occasion, to initiate sexual relations. This communicates a masculinity-enhancing message: "As your female, I find you attractive and desirable as a male." The mutuality of present-day marriage in which the sexual
relationship can be one of joy both in satisfying the other and in receiving satisfaction from the other, can strengthen the maleness and femaleness of the partners, thereby strengthening the marriage. In "Lines to an Unhandy Man," Lois
You never made
A lamp base out of a Cracker Jack box,
An extra room out of an unused closet,
Or a garden out of a pile of clay.
All you ever made was A woman out of me.(20)
One can be sure that in the interaction which made a woman out of her, her husband became more of a man.
In some marriages, sexual intimacy carries too much of the over-all human need for intimacy. It may even be the only form of sharing and closeness. This overloading of sex and lack of
companionship tends to keep sex from finding its full flowering. It is well to remember that intimacy can exist in a relationship -- for example, a friendship -- without physical contact of any kind. When sex becomes a part of a relationship, as in marriage, a whole new set of possibilities and potential problems is introduced. Yet, the fundamental basis of interpersonal intimacy is
the same, with or without the sexual factor. Marital intimacy is much broader than sex, though all facets are colored by the sexuality of the partners. Two astute observers of contemporary marriage conclude: "It can be a good marriage even if the partners don't find heaven in bed." (21) Most couples achieve something less than heaven in bed and yet value and cherish the pleasure they do enjoy together. The ability to relax and enjoy what they have often enables them to
SEXUAL INTIMACY THROUGH THE YEARS
The challenge and opportunity of the sexual facet of intimacy is that it can stay robust and grow more satisfying through the years. Many people think of romance as the Hollywood-style, ecstatic
rapture of adolescent love; they assume that romance must fade sometime after the honeymoon, or at least in the first years of marriage. Understood in those terms, it does. What this limited conception of the romantic aspect of male-female relationships misses is that there is a form of romance appropriate to and available in each age and stage of the marital cycle. (See Elizey's book in the Bibliography.) Such romance and the sexual intimacy that is its driving force are changing, growing realities in good marriages. Romance continues in its varied expressions in a
marriage where two people are maturing in their love for each other. Such love will grow only if it is nourished day-in and day-out as a couple makes an art of keeping their romance alive and healthy. They develop what has been called a "high monogamy" -- "an intensified monogamy dedicated to honesty, loyalty and old-fashioned man and woman love."(22)
In the weeks and months after the wedding ceremony, the pink-cloud phase of romance may remain strong, but sexual adjustment problems are frequent. The "myth of sexual compatibility" with which young people grow up misleads many young couples into believing that because
they are "in love," they can go to bed on the night of the wedding and have a glorious experience. Oscar Wilde once commented that Niagara Falls is the second greatest disappointment of an American bride's honeymoon. Contrary to the myth, learning the art of love-making takes time and practice within a secure relationship (which most premarital relationships are not). Therefore,
sexual-adjustment difficulties are more the rule than the exception during the early years.(23) Guilt and embarrassment need to be worked through. It is important for the young couple to be released from the fear that if sex doesn't go well or isn't strikingly satisfying, it never will be. Getting off to a slow or frustrating start does not consign a couple to a lifetime of sexual
incompatibility. By investing themselves in enhancing the general quality of their relationship and improving their communication skills, they will probably do more to increase intimacy than by pouring their worried attention onto their "sex problem." If sex relations have not become more mutually satisfying after a year or so, it is wise to seek the help of a marriage counselor. But time, patience, and practice usually suffice.
The period after the first child is born is filled with adjusting to the new 'parental roles. Housework increases substantially and fatigue plus the new responsibilities may cause problems in the husband-wife relationship. The wife's overinvestment in the baby may interfere, as may the husband's jealousy. When couples say, "The romance has evaporated," they usually mean that the
courtship-honeymoon days are gone or at least diminished. A new, deeper romance is available, however, cemented by the bond of child- bearing and rearing. There is a lift and a thrill (as well as a lot of hard work) in building a loving home. The assumption that the romance of marriage naturally declines after advent of children is true only in those instances when a couple neglect
themselves and their relationship, and fail to engage in continuing courtship. It is true, in Gibson Winter's words, that "marital intimacy has to find a deeper foundation if it is to continue at the heart of marriage."(24)
Sexual intimacy can be a reality in the middle and older years. If a relationship has achieved appreciable intimacy in the young-adult years, and deepened during the child-leaving years, it is likely that it will enjoy a continuing sense of sexual intimacy. In the years of uncertainty around the menopause, wives often need reassurance and reaffirmation of their sexual desirability and
attractiveness. Husbands may be worried about slowing down in the sexual area and need the same kind of affirmation from their mates. It is significant that, in spite of the youth-orientation of our culture and the inherent problems of aging therein, Kinsey found an increasing percentage of marital coitus leading to orgasm for both parties, decade by decade. Certainly, if couples revitalize
their relationship during the middle years, there is no reason for sexual intimacy to decline. In fact, it can become deeper and richer because it includes the joys and heartaches, the accomplishments and disappointments, the storms and the peace of years of sharing each other's worlds.
A man who had been married for thirty years said: "‘I still like to hold my wife's hand.' He did
not get the same electric spark he received when he first held her hand, but holding it gave him a sense of security and strength. At times it gave promise of a more complete physical union. More often the touch of her hand said, I need you. I'm glad we have each other. I love you now as always.' This reaction he claimed was more thrilling, more satisfying than the exciting experiences of courtship."(25)
Two recent volumes. Sex after Forty(26) and Sexual Life after Sixty(27) make it clear that the spark can stay alive long, long after the early years of marriage. When sexual intimacy is lost it is usually because of unresolved emotional conflicts within and between the marital partners. Masters' and Johnson's study of the human sexual response showed that "Many a woman develops renewed interest in her husband and in the physical maintenance of her own person, and has described a 'second honeymoon' during the early fifties." In their study of geriatric sexual
responses and the problems of living within "our new found longevity," they reported: "There is no time limit drawn by the advancing years to female sexuality." Of husbands they said, "If elevated levels of sexual activity are maintained from earlier years and if neither acute nor chronic physical incapacity intervenes, aging males usually are able to continue some form of active sexual expression into the 70-and even 80-year age groups."(28) The general pattern of sexual intimacy established in the earlier years tend to be maintained in the advancing years.
A specialist on marriage, in speaking to a group of ministers about the crisis of middle age, referred to the shock of discovering one day that one is "married to a grandmother." A vigorous man, obviously in that age category, interrupted with the exclamation -- "But man, what
a grandmother!" It was apparent from the lift in his voice and the light in his eyes that they had discovered the deepening romance of the passing years.
COPING WITH SEXUAL PROBLEMS
It should be clear that, from the perspective of this book, sex is not a problem but a positive resource for relating. However, knowing how to deal with some of the problems that are associated with sex helps to keep it functioning as a positive resource.
Dorothy W. Baruch highlights the dual possibilities for pleasure and pain in sex:
Sex is man and woman, and all each contains, brought to the other. But sex can also be man and woman, each struggling alone and apart to get from the other what each feels has been missed.
Sex can be the highest and smoothest place of going, the utmost of being together, the least of loneliness any human can find. But sex can also be agony and wanting. Hurting and being hurt. And the endless waiting for what never is reached.
Sex can be warm and generous. But, in contrast, it can be drab and ugly, stingy little offering, faintly stretched forth, weakly proffered, fearingly begrudged.
Sex can be togetherness in love -- or of hate that holds people attached.(29)
There are times, in most marriages, when sex does not go well. It has its ups and downs. Knowing what to do to improve this important aspect of marriage helps a couple to shorten these periods of sexual conflict or distancing.
Psychiatrist Martin Goldberg has suggested that there are six areas in which sexual problems occur:(30)
1. Problems related to ignorance and naivete: Lack of knowledge of sexual anatomy and techniques of intercourse can contribute to lessening the mutual enjoyment of sex. Where this is a problem, reading a well-written sex manual such as John E. Eichenlaub, The Marriage
Art(31) is the place to begin. Discussing unanswered questions with a physician, clergyman, or marriage counselor is the other logical solution to this problem. Lack of information may be a symptom of emotional problems in the area of sex which prevents one from learning from readily available sources.
2. Problems derived from sexual inhibitions and guilts: Left over attitudes and feelings from childhood are more frequent sex-spoilers than lack of information. Guilt and fear can cause lack of sexual warmth, enjoyment, and interest in both males and females. Ghosts from the past including parentifying one's spouse (Chapter 3) are sources of pleasure-blocking anxieties and guilt-feelings. A psychotherapist described a woman who could not accept sexuality: "Her body said 'no' to almost everything."(32) Where guilts and inhibitions are not so severe, they may gradually be diminished by the corrective emotional experience of a marriage with an understanding mate who
is more able to enjoy sex, and help his (or her) spouse to do so. In more severe cases, counseling or psychotherapy may be essential to help the person unlearn his archaic responses and learn how to say Yes to sexual enjoyment. If sexual prohibitions have been clothed in religious guises, a counseling clergyman who sees sex as God-given may be the one who can help release the person to affirm his sexuality.
3. Problems resulting from specific fears: Couples facing marriage may be afraid that their sexual organs, penis and vagina, respectively, are not large enough to enjoy sex fully. The findings of the Masters and Johnson research show that such fears are ungrounded. Almost any vagina can stretch to accommodate any penis and the size of the penis or clitoris has no correlation with degree of sexual pleasure attained. Sound counseling by a physician can allay many such fears; the fear of unwanted pregnancies can be reduced by using the most reliable contraceptives. The enlightened physician is best equipped to assist a couple in separating realistic from unrealistic fears.
The fear of failure to maintain an erection or have an orgasm is a specific cause of some
sexual failure. One of the encouraging discoveries of the Masters and Johnson therapy is that many men who suffer from impotence or premature ejaculation, and many women who are sexually unresponsive, can be helped decisively by relatively short-term measures. This suggests that some such problems are not the result of deep personality problems requiring long-term therapy, as previously thought, but, rather, stem from faulty learning experiences. A husband attempts to have intercourse when he is very tired. He fails and he feels deeply chagrined, perhaps even unmanly. His fears of failing again increase the possibility that he will, in fact, have trouble the next time. Thus, a self-reinforcing cycle may be established. It is reassuring to know that an occasional inability to maintain an erection, particularly when one is fatigued, preoccupied, or has
had too much to drink, is not a sign of abnormality. Reducing the "demand quality" of sex, as indicated earlier, can help in this area. The more a couple can accept the fact that their sex life will have its variations, and the less they have to prove their masculinity or femininity by performing successfully, the more they will be able to relax and enjoy love-making. The understanding of
each partner for the other at such times is crucial. The wife who feels her femininity severely threatened or feels herself a failure because of her husband's temporary impotence, thus increases the tension and aggravates what might otherwise be a quickly passing phenomenon.
4. Problems related to external factors: A husband or wife who is working long hours or under heavy stress will usually have diminished sexual interest. Lack of privacy because of a too-small house or too-thin walls may interfere with a couple's ability to let go with glad abandon in their sexual play. An overworked mother of a covey of children under six may have little time or energy to take care of herself or get in the mood for love. The logical approach to such problems is to do something to change the external factors -- cut down on one's work schedule (is it really
necessary to work fourteen hours a day?) or get some help with the housework, perhaps from relatives or friends if money for hired help isn't available. Ingenuity can usually find some ways of freeing more time and energy for relating, if the relationship is seen as important by the mates. Overwork and over-scheduling are often symptoms of a fear of intimacy (sexual and emotional);
in such cases, the fear should be dealt with in counseling.
5. Problems resulting from interpersonal difficulties; As has been implied previously, it is
erroneous to assume that sexual problems are the fundamental cause of marital conflict. Kinsey's studies showed that sexual problems were involved in three out of four divorces. It does not follow from this statistic that sexual problems caused all these divorces. In most cases, such problems begin and remain the effects of general unhappiness in the marriage relationship. True, the sexual frustrations contribute to the vicious cycle of the disintegration of the marriage, but they usually begin as symptoms, not as causes.
Sex as a form of communication conveys many messages in addition to love, tenderness, and self-giving. In fact, the language of sex can be used to express any feeling and any facet of the relationship, including anger, the need to dominate, coerce, and hurt, or the need to suffer and be rejected. If a couple suspects that some negative, disguised feeling is expressing itself in and to the detriment of their sex life, it behooves them to obtain skilled counseling. This can help them to translate the message from the language of being acted out in hurting ways in their sexual behavior, to being expressed and worked through in verbal forms.
Unexpressed hostility is one contributor to poor sex. If this can be recognized and resolved (through expression on an inanimate object such as pounding a pillow, or talked out in counseling), it will no longer be a barrier to mutual sexual fulfillment. A husband, when asked
by reporters on his fiftieth wedding anniversary if he had ever considered divorce, replied: "Never divorce. Murder many times, but never divorce." Many couples would not need to divorce, or to live in a de facto divorce of a dead relationship, if they could face and resolve their angers rather than let them accumulate.
Changes in the male/female roles may cause interpersonal conflict leading to sexual problems.(33) The emancipation of women in terms of outside employment, and the decline in the dual standard in the sexual area, threatens men whose self-esteem depended on perceiving women as submissive or second-class human beings. However, these changes and the peer-companionship model of
marriage of which they are a part, also releases women to be both more satisfied and more satisfying to their sex partners. In discussing the way in which women have joined men on the last frontier -- sex -- David Riesman comments:
The very ability of women to respond in a way that only courtesans were supposed to in an earlier age means, moreover, that qualitative differences of sex experience -- the impenetrable mystery --can be sought for night after night, and not only in periodic visits to a mistress or brothel.(34)
In other words, the same forces which create relationship-sexual problems in contemporary marriage also create exciting new possibilities.
6. Problems caused by intra-psychic difficulties: Some sexual problems are derived from deep, unconscious conflicts, the only effective treatment of which is intensive psychotherapy. It is a mistake to assume that this is the case without exhausting the possibilities that such problems fall into one or more of the previous categories. Often the guidance of a counselor or psychotherapist is needed in order to help an individual or a couple decide how deep the difficulty probably is and, therefore, what constitutes the appropriate therapy.
The problem of infidelity may or may not be the result of pronounced intra-psychic difficulties. The Don Juan or femme fatale who has repeated affairs is acting out deep problems such as anxiety about sexual adequacy or identity, hatred toward the opposite sex, or the unconscious search for the missing parent of the opposite sex. In contrast, the single episode may be a passing infatuation resulting from marital problems. Infidelity is always a sign that something has been missing from the marriage. When interpersonal intimacy is missing or in short supply, the partners are highly vulnerable to extra-marital affairs.
The best way to prevent infidelity is to achieve creative closeness in the marriage. Fidelity is essential to a growing relationship, to the realization of full sexual satisfaction, and to the security of children. Choosing the path of infidelity means choosing to miss these values in marriage. Approaching fidelity, not as a burdensome life sentence, but as a pathway -- the only pathway -- to a highly desirable set of goals, makes it a positive style of relating. Erik Erikson describes these goals in discussing "genitality" -- the capacity to function sexually in a full, adult fashion:
In order to be of lasting social significance, the Utopia of genitality should include: 1. mutuality of orgasm 2. with a loved partner, 3. of the opposite sex, 4. with whom one is able and willing to share a mutual trust, 5. and with whom one is able and willing to regulate the cycles of, a. work, b. procreation, c. recreation, 6. so as to secure to the offspring, too, a satisfactory development.(35)
To the degree that a couple achieves this integration of the sexual and the interpersonal, fidelity will be fulfilling. This is not to say that all temptation to stray will be eliminated; but, rather, that the positive values of fidelity will become so rich and obvious in the marriage that the partners will choose it as the more desirable way of life.
These suggested ways of approaching the various sexual difficulties may make it sound easy to overcome them. It is clear that even near-the-surface problems often take serious and determined struggle to find a solution that is effective. But the thrust of what we have been saying is that some sexual difficulties are not as deep as they may seem, and there is realistic hope for the vast majority of couples who approach their problems with the will to grow together and to get professional help in the process if that proves to be necessary.
The emphasis of this chapter has been that sexual intimacy can be both the spice which keeps the marriage joyful and the cement which can hold together the other facets of intimacy. As satisfying sex enhances other aspects of the relationship it is itself enhanced. Sex in marriage is not a matter of achievement or performance, but an expression of and a foundation for intimacy in marriage.
When we cut through all the rigmarole about roles and performance, the .sheer fact of intimacy remains amazingly important in making a sexual encounter memorable -- the meeting, the growing closeness, the excitement of not knowing where it will lead, the assertion of self, and the giving of self. Is it not this intimacy that makes us return to the event in memory again and again when we need to be warmed by whatever hearths life makes available?(36)
These words of Rollo May describe the element of mystery and wonder in sexual intimacy which in a good marriage pervades all facets of the relationship. By joining parts of their bodies, a husband and wife continue their family heritage, affirm their own individual and marital identity, and perpetuate the stream of life. In this deep sharing, they may experience a kind of intimacy which is closer than sex -- a touching of souls.
Discuss the things that each of you enjoys most when you make love, and the things that would make it better for each of you. What things are difficult to talk about? Share thoughts about these. Try changing the pattern of your sex life -- vary the setting, the hour, the position. Try to find a place where you can make love outdoors. Take a weekend in a motel, in a cottage at the beach, or in a secluded spot. Make an effort to do and say the things that you know affirm your partner's sexuality, but which you each tend to neglect.
Obtain a copy of Sense Relaxation by Bernard Gunter (New York: Collier Books, 1968), and try some of the "intimate games" of touching and tapping, and feeling. Let go and have fun being more alive.
If either of you lacks knowledge of your own or your spouse's sexual potential, read a book like The Marriage Art by John H. Eichenlaub (New York: Dell Publishing Co., 1961) to increase your understanding and therefore your enjoyment of sexuality.
1. Jourard, The Transparent Self (Princeton, N.J.: D. Van Nostrand Co., 1961, Insight Edition), p. 31.
2. Lecture by Joseph B. Trainer, Philadelphia, October 19, 1966.
3. Rollo May, Love and Will in Psychology Today, Vol. 3, No. 3, August 1969, p. 24.
4. Woman's Day, February 1968, p. R6.
5. Rod McKuen, Stanyan Street and Other Sorrows (New York: Random House, 1954), p. 41.
158 ) The Intimate Marriage
6. Reuel Howe, "The Pastor Speaks of Sex and Marriage," Reader's Digest (October, 1958), p. 78. The fact that the human female does not have limited periods of sexual desire and availability (although she does have times of heightened and diminished desire), is probably a major reason for the development of two-parent family life in the dim prehistory of human beings. Unlike most other animals, men and women enjoy sex regularly and frequently. This probably accounts for the early attachment of the male to the family.
7. Edrita Fried, The Ego in Love and Sexuatity (New York: Grune and Stratton, 1960), p. 1.
8. William J. Lederer and Donald D. Jackson, The Mirages of Marriage (New York: W. W. Norton, 1968), pp. 116-117.
9. Emily H. Mudd, et al.. Success in Family Living (New York: Associa- tion Press, 1965), p.110.
10. Lederer and Jackson, op. cit., pp. 117-118.
11. W. Clark Ellzey, How to Keep Romance in Your Marriage (New York: Association Press, 1951), p. 171. The weakness of the Kinsey reports is that they tend to ignore the uniquely human
dimension of human sexuality, reducing it to "outlets" on an animal level. This ignores the fact that sex takes place between persons -- each with a network of values, feelings, and conditionings which influence everything he does, including sex. The naive physiological view and oversimplified hedonism of this approach prevent these studies from effectively influencing negative attitudes toward sex in religious circles. (See Reinhold Niebuhr, "Kinsey and the Moral
Problems of Man's Sexual Life," in D. P. Geddes (ed.). An Analysis of the Kinsey Reports (New York: New American Library, 1954), pp. 62ff.
12. Sylvia R. Sacks, "Widening the Perspective on Adolescent Sex Problems," Adolescence, Vol. I, No. I (Spring, 1966), p. 89.
13. As Clara Thompson once stated: "Most sexual relationships have meaning in interpersonal terms, in addition to satisfying physical drives. The relationship as a whole has significance. The value of the relationship in turn affects the satisfaction obtained from the sexual activity" (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968).
14. Ross Snyder, Inscape (Nashville: Abingdon Press, 1968), p. 16.
15. Lederer and Jackson, op. cit., p. 118.
17. William H. Masters and Virginia E. Johnson, Human Sexual Response (Boston: Little, Brown and Co., 1966), p. 66.
18. Masters and Johnson state: "The primary focus for sexual response in the human female's pelvis is the clitoral body. The clitoris responds with equal facility to both somatogenic & psychogenic forms of stimulation, and is truly unique in the human organ system in that its only
known function is that of serving as an erotic focus for both afferent and efferent forms of sexual stimulation" (op. cit., pp. 60-61). Increasing Sexual Intimacy ( 159
19. Here are some conclusions of the Masters and Johnson studies: "Are clitoral and vaginal orgasms truly separate anatomic entities? From a biologic point of view, the answer to this question is an unequivocal No. . . . From an anatomic point of view, there is absolutely no
difference in the responses of the pelvic viscera to effective sexual stimulation, regardless of whether the stimulation occurs as a result of clitoral-body or mons area manipulation, . . . or, for that matter, specific stimulation of any other erogenous area of the female body. "There may be great variation in duration and intensity of orgasmic experience, varying from individual to individual and within the same woman from time to time. However, when any woman experiences orgasmic response to effective sexual stimulation, the vagina and clitoris react in consistent physiologic patterns. Thus, clitoral and vaginal orgasms are not separate biologic entities" (op. cit., pp. 66- 67).
20. Wyse, Love Poems for the Very Married (Cleveland: World Publishing Co., 1967), p. 45.
21. Lederer and Jackson, op. cit., p. 124.
22. George G. Leonard, "The Man and Woman Thing," Look, December 24, 1968, p. 62.
23. This discussion of the myth and the early adjustment is adapted from a lecture by Martin
Goldberg, "Counseling in Sexual Incompatibilities," Philadelphia, October 19,1966.
24. Gibson Winter, Love and Conflict (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday and Co., 1958), p. 101.
25. Mudd, et at., op. cit., p. 123.
26. S. A. Lewin and John Gilmore, Sex After Forty (New York: Medical Research Press, 1952).
27. Isadore Rubin (New York: Basic Books, 1965).
28. Masters and Johnson, op. cit., p. 263.
29. New Ways in Sex Education (New York: McGraw-Hill, 1959, pp. 9-10.
30. Lecture by Martin Goldberg, supra.
31. John Eichenlaub, The Marriage Art (New York: Dell Pub. Co., 1961).
32. Fried, op. cit., p. 52.
33. See Vance Packard, The Sexual Wilderness, the Contemporary Upheaval in Male-Female Relationships (New York: McKurg, 1968).
34. David Riesman with Nathan Glazer and Reuel Denney, The Lonely Crowd (Garden City, N.Y.: Doubleday Anchor Books, 1954), pp. 174-175.
35. Childhood and Society (New York: W. W. Norton, 1950), pp. 230- 231.
36. Rollo May, Love and Will in Psychology Today, Vol. 3, No. 3, August, 1969, p. 25.