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Another Perspective

Revitalizing and Maintaining Sexual Desire

For this blog, I am using a handout I received at a seminar I attended for continuing education credits. It was a workshop presented by Barry W. McCarthy, Ph.D., a professor at American University. I think you will find his research information to be not only informative, but also surprising in some cases. I have edited his handout for brevity. I suggest you share this with your partner, one reading to the other, stopping to discuss the points Dr. McCarthy is making. Then, have fun!

1. Essential keys to sexual desire are positive anticipation and feeling you deserve sexual pleasure. The essence of sexuality is giving and receiving pleasure-oriented touching. The prescription to maintain desire is integrating intimacy, pleasuring and eroticism.

2. The change process is a one-two combination of personal responsibility and being an intimate team. Each person is responsible for his or her desire with the couple functioning as an intimate team to nurture and enhance desire. Revitalizing sexual desire is essentially a couple task. Guilt, blame, and pressure subvert the change process. A key strategy is to develop “her,” “his,” and “our” bridges to sexual desire. This involves ways of thinking, talking, anticipating, and feeling, which invite sexual encounters.

3. Inhibited desire is the most common sexual dysfunction, affecting two in five couples. Sexual avoidance drains intimacy and vitality from the marital bond. Intimacy coercion is not acceptable. Sexuality is neither a reward nor a punishment. Healthy sexuality is voluntary, mutual, and pleasure-oriented.

4. One in five married couples has a no-sex relationship (being sexual less than ten times a year). One in three non-married couples who have been together longer than two years has a no-sex relationship.

5. The average frequency of sexual intercourse is between four times a week to once every two weeks. For couples in their twenties, the average sexual frequency is two to three times a week; for couples in their fifties, once a week.

6. The initial romantic love/passionate sex type of desire lasts less than two years and usually less than six months. Desire is facilitated by an emotionally intimate, interactive relationship.

7. Contrary to the myth that “horniness” occurs after not being sexual for weeks, desire is facilitated by a regular rhythm of sexual activity. When sex occurs less than twice a month, couples become self-conscious and fall into a cycle of anticipatory anxiety, tense and unsatisfying sex, and avoidance.

8. Touching occurs both inside and outside the bedroom, and is valued for itself. Both the man and woman are comfortable initiating. Touching should not always lead to intercourse. Both partners feel free to say “no” and to suggest an alternative way to connect and share pleasure.

9. Personal turn-ons facilitate sexual anticipation and desire. These include the use of fantasy and erotic scenarios, as well as sex associated with special celebrations or anniversaries, sex with the goal of conception, sex when feeling caring and close, or even sex to soothe a personal disappointment. Sexuality has a number of positive functions – a shared pleasure, a means to reinforce and deepen intimacy, and a tension reducer to deal with the stresses of life and marriage.

10. Realistic expectations are crucial for maintaining a healthy sexual relationship. It is self-defeating to demand equal desire, arousal, orgasm and satisfaction each time. A positive, realistic expectation is for forty to fifty percent of experiences are very good for both partners; twenty to twenty-five percent are very good for one partner (usually a man) and fine for the other; twenty to twenty-five percent are acceptable but not remarkable. Five to fifteen percent of sexual experiences are mediocre or failures. Couples who accept this without guilt or blaming and try again when they are receptive and responsive will have a vital, resilient sexual relationship.

11. If the couple has gone two weeks without any sexual contact, the partner with higher desire takes the initiative to set up a planned or spontaneous sexual desire. It that does not occur, the other partner initiates a sensual or play date during the following week.

12. Bad or non-existent sex plays a more powerful negative role in a relationship than the positive role of good sex. Healthy sexual desire plays a positive, integral role in a relationship with the main function to energize the bond and generate special feelings.
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