I often talk with my clients about “solo sex” and “partnered sex.” If you Google “solo sex”, you’ll see that in the majority of the articles where the phrase is used, it’s referring to masturbating by yourself and that seems to be how most of my clients understand the term. OK sure, that’s fine — another phrase for masturbating — but don’t we have enough of those already? Ask any 14 year old adolescent male or Adult Swim viewer how many terms for masturbating he/she/they can think of in 10 seconds and you’ll see what I mean. Instead, I want you to expand your conceptualization of the term “solo sexuality” to include SO MUCH MORE. I think that if you do, your sex life will improve.
So what do *I* mean when I say “solo sex”? Yes, I can be referring to masturbating by yourself. That’s just one aspect of solo sex. But I’m also talking about your internal experience of your sexuality and chosen external expression of that internal experience. This can include your romantic, sensual, erotic, and sexual fantasies; your turn ons, turn offs, and how you relate to them (if you don’t understand what I mean by this just think of the ashamed fetishist); how you experience your sexuality in your body sensually, erotically, and sexually; your relationship to pleasure; how you utilize your mind and body to express this sexuality (so here’s where masturbating comes in but I also mean things like how you dress or dance or when and where you choose to feel sexual feelings and with whom); and heck even things like that pleasurable and fun zing! you get when you see an attractive person on the street or the decision-making involved when you decide to flirt with that cute barista who makes your latte every Friday just the way you like it.
Do you see what I mean now? Solo sexuality needs to encompass all this and more!
Your solo sexuality is your first and primary sexual relationship and it is a relationship you have for your entire life regardless of your external relationship situation. It can and does frequently change over the course of your life as you grow and have new experiences both challenging and successful. Unfortunately for many, their solo sexuality can also cause immense confusion, fear, and shame.
Based on the clients I have seen over the years and speaking in generalizations (something I should probably get a slap on the hand for), it seems that a lot of men regardless of sexual orientation seem to understand my broad concept of solo sexuality. They have already had hundreds (if not thousands or more) of private experiences with themselves and their solo sexuality. One subset of people that seem to need some help with this idea is women. Many of my female clients don’t have a solid understanding of, acceptance of, or pleasure in their solo sexuality. There’s lots of possible causal factors for this: our culture’s fear of a truly sexually empowered and embodied woman; the taboo nature of female pleasure; and how historically female sexuality has been minimized or denied or thought to be there for the purpose of men. Some women feel uneasy about masturbating (see my previous blog entry) or some women feel that they *should* (there’s that word) only experience their sexuality in a partnered setting. In fact, it’s not just some women who have this latter belief. Another subset of people who seem to need help with my idea of solo sexuality are a few religions and 12 step programs that say partnered sex is the only acceptable sex one can have. Ay yi yi.
Besides all the things I’ve mentioned above, another thing I tell my clients who have little understanding, acceptance, or pleasure with their solo sexuality is that their pleasure during partnered sex is dependent upon their understanding of their solo sexuality. How can you tell your partner where or how you like to be touched if you haven’t explored that on your own? In the absence of that knowledge, these clients stressfully default to focusing on their partner’s experience “I’ll just make it about you tonight”. So long as their partner isn’t pathological, at first this can be experienced as my client is giving them a gift and/or being sexually generous. But it’s been my experience that if this behavior happens repeatedly over time it’s inevitable that their partner will want them to become invested in a mutually pleasurable sexual experience. Their partner is asking for a sexual equal. What’s more feminist than that? This means knowing what you like and want sexually in a partnered experience. So once again we’re right back where we started: developing and understanding your solo sexuality. It’s a worthy endeavor to embark upon. And I hope that by reading this, you’ll become more attuned to your solo sexuality and its fascinating nuances and edges. In a future blog post, I’ll discuss more about the differences and similarities between solo sex and partnered sex.
I am a licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and AASECT Certified Sex Therapist located in Sonoma county, California.