When people come into the office that have conflict around sex, my first question is often whether they are trying to have the same conversation or two separate ones.
It can be tremendously challenging to validate your partner(s)’ experience or meet a need if you aren’t sure what that experience is, but are making an assumption around what you think they are saying they need.
When trying to communicate about sex, assumptions about your partner(s)’ experience can get you into trouble. Assuming sexual preferences, what is consensual, what’s erotic, what fantasies look like, what preferable touch feels like, what is a turn on, and what helps keep your them feeling safe can lead to hurt and disappointment, as well as a lack of understanding and invalidation.
To help avoid these assumptions when trying to understand clients(s) sexual experiences in the office, I often ask everyone to consider delineating their sexual needs (which we define here as pleasure) and intimacy needs (which we define here as emotional closeness). These experiences are often interrelated, but don’t have to be. They can also be confused or lumped together in an unclear way leading to assumptions being made. Teasing them apart can help clarify sexual needs and lessen sexual conflicts.
Understanding you and your partner(s) sexual identity through the lenses of both physical pleasure and emotional closeness can help clarify experiences and lead you to knowing your partner(s) better. Thinking about sex and intimacy at two interrelated components of sexual experiences can provide a useful jumping off point to understand what helps your partner(s) feel safe, valued, and a priority, as well as what helps them feel good in their body.
Again, it can be difficult to prioritize an experience or need for someone we value if we don’t clearly understand the need in the first place. Conversations around sexuality can (at times) be challenging. Discussing sex and intimacy as different parts of our sexual experience can be a useful tool for clarifying needs between partners, and understanding one another better.
Do you feel that you know your partner(s)’ sexual interests as well as how they experience intimacy?