Movies are given an R rating if there is sexual content. This usually means two nearly naked actors attempt a genital connection with fervent stroking, groping and moaning. But we forget that sex is more than just genital contact and more than just a physiological response.
Sex is 95 percent psychological. Granted, there is a very valuable aspect to the physiological underpinnings of sex. Our sexological forefathers, Masters and Johnson, developed the initial human sexual response model. The stages are akin to walking up a set of stairs. Stair one, the body gets excited and blood flow moves to the genitals. Stair two, the body assumes a “sex flush” whereby it reaches a plateau of increased heart rate, breathing, blood pressure and muscular tension. Stair three, the body has an orgasm noted by a rapid release of genital contractions. Stair four, the body finds resolution and returns to its original homeostasis, pre-excitement.
Masters and Johnson made no mention of the mind … until our foremother, Helen Singer-Kaplan, introduced the concept of “desire.” Singer-Kaplan maintained that before our bodies can get physically aroused, our brains must be booted up.
Fortunately, our society jumped on this streetcar called desire, but unfortunately we also initiated an alleged hypoactive desire disorder. When one person thinks about sex less than the other, they are labeled “low desire.” Big Pharm tried to fix this problem with a little pink pill, hoping that if they activated certain neurotransmitters in the brain, we might think about sex more often. But even if I think about sex all the time (and I do, considering my profession), it doesn’t mean I want to have sex all the time. Even if I rarely think about sex, it doesn’t mean I don’t fully enjoy it when in the act. I don’t ruminate about rocky road ice cream all day, but when I eat this tantalizing treat, my taste buds feel alive and, dare I say, orgasmic.
While desire is certainly essential to our human sexual response, rather than approaching sex via a goal-oriented, stair-step model, we can approach sex as a circular process. David Reed’s model of the sexual response starts with seduction, followed by sensation, then surrender and, finally, reflection. Seduction is when the brain invites the body to have sex.
Sensation is the stimulation of the senses. Surrender is letting go into experiencing orgasmic potential. And reflection is an examination of the whole sexual encounter. If the encounter was positive, then the process begs to be repeated and we cycle back to the seduction phase.
But we often forget seduction, especially in long-term relationships. The monogamy starts to feel monotonous, and people go outside their relationship looking for the thrill of seduction.
The challenge becomes keeping seduction alive. I can help the process by seducing myself with a warm bubble bath by candlelight, a glass of blueberry pinot noir and Marvin Gaye crooning “Let’s Get it On” in the background. My partner can seduce me by arranging a spontaneous trip to Aspen to bike amidst the wildflowers and watch the sun set over the Maroon Bells. In either instance, my brain is relaxed and receptive to pleasure and the potential for sexual activity. Add some chocolate-covered strawberries to the seduction, and my mind is fully erect and lubricated!
Seduction is vital to any relationship.
Take my relationship with the Rocky Mountains. I am seduced by her raw, wild beauty. Therefore, I am more inclined to develop an intimate connection. I want to hike, bike and explore all her intricate paths. In turn, I want to take care of her by leaving no trace and picking up trash on the trails. Though we develop a reciprocal relationship, my intimacy with the mountains is dependent on her ability to seduce me into approaching in the first place.
Sexual relationships are no different.
However, we may need to get creative when seducing the person that lives under the same roof. Maybe you leave the kids with grandma and go for a moonlight hike up Sanitas. Maybe you surprise your honey at work with a lunchtime Pad Thai picnic in the park. Or maybe you text a series of salacious messages about your plans for a date night that evening.
Whatever your preferred approach, make sure it smells of seduction. So go ahead and seduce your sweetie pie. Once the brain is wet and erect, the rest more easily follows suit.
Jenni Skyler, PhD, is a sex therapist and board-certified sexologist. She runs The Intimacy Institute in Boulder, www.theintimacyinstitute.org.