Besides doing an assessment based on the presenting problem in my initial appointments with new clients, I’ve begun to assess for how does this person or couple relax. So I ask “What do you do to relax?” And I hear common answers like “Exercise” or “Watch movies or shows” or “Play video games.” I hate to break this to you, but none of those things actually help you RELAX.
Exercise gives you a temporary rush of endorphins (i.e. make you feel good and that probably has a secondary sexual benefit when it comes to your self-esteem and body image) but it can also make you feel fatigued - or as a client recently described it, “spent.” And watching movies and shows or playing video games distracts us, takes our mind off other things, and is a bit like numbing ourselves. When I describe that relaxed is a state of feeling calm (vs. tense), alert (vs. distracted or numb), and awake and energized (vs. tired), many of my clients sheepishly admit “Yeah, I don’t really have that feeling regularly.” Some clients are even courageous enough to confess “I don’t really know what that feeling is.” Boy am I glad my clients are this honest; it tells me precisely where we need to focus our efforts.
I can’t tell you how many people minimize the need for regular and consistent relaxation in their lives. I think part of this is the economic realities of living in expensive northern California; part is the demands of our two-income, two children families and lifestyles; part is how omnipresent technology is in most people’s lives; part is a very American mindset regarding hard work and sacrifice; part is the individual’s psychological and trauma history; part is the existential anxiety we all start to feel at a certain age; and part is the individual’s relationship to and understanding of their own body.
Is it any surprise that those people who struggle to relax also have sexual issues? Absolutely not. The connection between these things is no coincidence. As I like to say, who we are outside the bedroom is exactly who we are inside the bedroom. My clients frequently tell me that when they begin a sexual experience with their partner their minds are elsewhere: on their stressful job, the never-ending household chores (this is where I’m reminded of choreplay as a way to “solve” one partner’s anxious feelings but if you've ever done it you know it doesn't really solve anything), the kids, what other productive thing they could be doing with this time instead, how much precious sleep they expect to lose if they have sex at this late hour, etc. What they hope happens, and I do too, is that at some point during the experience the sex becomes interesting enough or arousing enough or pleasurable enough that they are able to change their focus from those other thoughts to instead what is happening in their here and now and go with it. If they don’t or can't, sexual problems generally occur.
But I want to reverse that. What if you started a sexual encounter already relaxed and with a calm mind and body? What if you got relaxed first and then had sex? This is what people say a glass of wine or music or cannabis or candles helps them do. Problem is, all of those are passive ways of transitioning into sex and experiencing your sexuality. What if you actively took steps to not just set aside the worries of the day but to also get into your body, feel your sexuality, and prepare for partnered sex? What would that take?
Think about it.
I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist located in Sonoma county, California.