When we consider how to act toward other human beings, following the golden rule is most often an excellent course of action. “Of course,” we think, “I should do unto others as I would want to be done to.”
But in my work as a sex therapist with long-term couples commonly presenting with communication problems in the bedroom, I have to give a surprising piece of news: In the bedroom, the golden rule is a script for disaster.
I can’t begin to tell you how startling this is to all but the most sophisticated couples. Most genuinely want to please each other. But truly pleasing each other in bed means being honest and asking for exactly what you want. That’s a tall order for most of us.
One of the things that most confuses couples is the idea that the recipe for great sex changes as their relationship changes. In the courting stage, excitement is implicit. We want to get to know another person physically and emotionally, and join sexually with that person. The days and hours and even minutes leading up to a date are sparked with anticipation, and fueled by hormones that throw gas on the fire of desire.
But what we know from research is that sexual satisfaction in ongoing relationships depends a lot on an adequate time spent in foreplay, which is kissing and touching that is not actual intercourse. Touch is basic to human communication and bonding.
But is all sexual and sensual touch equal? It turns out that the answer is no. In fact, trying to do to your partner what you want done to you is not necessarily the right recipe.
What I am saying here is not new. Shere Hite’s 1976 book, “The Hite Report: A National Study of Female Sexuality,” offered 600 hundred pages describing what women want sexually. And Hite made clear that intercourse per se was unlikely to be sexually satisfying for women.
Alex Comfort, whose 1972 book “The Joy of Sex” described varied, experimental sexual behavior for couples, included a section that addressed the fact that men and women often prefer different kinds of touches, different pacing, and often different ordering. (Bear in mind that we are speaking in generalities here. Recipes for sexual pleasure vary immeasurably. )
Dr. Comfort explained that women often like softer touches than men. Women also like a long period of whole-body caressing before being touched in their explicitly erogenous zones, such as the breasts and genitals. And women like to be teased and stroked before experiencing direct vaginal and clitoral touch.
Although many men enjoy firm touch on their genitals, many women don’t like initial genital touch to be rough or quick.
These differences between men’s and women’s sexual recipes show up very clearly in the Body Maps I have been collecting for several decades. If you want to begin a great discussion about what your partner actually wants, I suggest you make your own Body Maps
and then discuss them.
Once you understand your partner’s specific desires, better sex is in your future. Enjoy it.
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