Everything you think you know about sex is wrong. At least, that’s what sex therapists Mike Lousada and Louise Mazanti believe.
“From our culture, religion, and upbringing most of us have received more or less explicit messages about sex as something wrong, dirty and shameful,” explains Mazanti. She argues that – as she and Lousada lay out in their new book Real Sex – that too many of us suppress our desires.
This may account for why a study by relationships charity Relate found that fewer than half of people in the UK are satisfied with their sex lives, and over half haven’t had sex in the last month. Differing sex drives are cause of relationship strains for 19 per cent of people. Instead, sex should be seen as a “natural and beautiful celebration of life”, they argue.
That all sounds very nice on paper, but what does it mean, exactly? Lousada and Mazanti propose that the first step to improving our experiences between the sheets is shaking up our expectations.
Rather than goal-oriented sex – where achieving an orgasm is the measure of success it’s “absolutely vital” to see it as pleasure orientated.
“When we’re in performance and trying to achieve either an orgasm or the latest fancy sex kink we judge the experience and lose connection with each other. Sex becomes hollow and objectifying for both parties. It’s a sure recipe to feel a failure,” warns Lousada.
“Seeing it as pleasure-orientated broadens the possibility for sexual pleasure hugely,”adds Mazanti. “When we let go of the focus on reaching genital orgasm, we create space for more intimacy, deeper, longer arousal, and thus more actual, whole body pleasure. And eventually whole body orgasms.”
Porn, which the pairs says is all too often shows unhealthy relationships between those onscreen, is also an issue. For many, it is where they have gotten all their information about what sex should look like. “This creates a very reductive, performance oriented, objectifying and non-relational understanding of what sex is,” says Mazanti.
“Porn is positive when is stimulates us, makes us feel alive in our body, when it stirs our fantasy and expands our sexual repertoire. If you start needing to replicate pornographic scenarios and believe that this is how sex should look like, if you need to go into porn fantasy when being with a partner, if the use of porn feels like a compulsory behaviour that impacts your ability to prioritise other things, your relationship with it is likely be to unhealthy,” she adds.
Archaic views about sex can also make people feel like there is something abnormal about their fetishes and proclivities, when research shows that even seemingly unusual sex is common. Canadian researcher recently found that nearly half of their participants were interested in at least one type of sexual behaviour that is seen as anomalous including voyerism and masochism.
“We define ‘healthy sex’ when the sexual activity is between consenting adults and it’s a respectful subject to subject relationship, meaning no one is objectified, other than part of the game,” explains Lousada.
But what if a partner has a need fulfilled that the other objects to?
“You need to understand your need and what’s behind it so that you can communicate in a loving and authentic way and you can both negotiate if that need can be met in some way or another in the relationship, or if you can both agree to having that particular need met somewhere else.” That could range from having an open relationship, or agreeing on a compromise that you’re both comfortable with.
Before partners reach that stage, however, Lousada and Mazanti stress that the first step is understanding yourself, being present during sex, and communicating.