Week 11: Sex & Intimacy

You have made it to the sex and intimacy portion of your Relationship Journals!

When we say "sex" we are referring to whatever you consider as physical intimacy. We understand that could look different for different couples. Sex is often a sticking point in relationships, so we must have open and honest conversations about it.

As we mentioned previously, Rachel is a sexologist and sex therapist, so prepare for some great insights. She discusses with Cathryn the powerful connections and possible hang-ups that can come from sex. In the end, we hope that what you learn this week helps you grow true intimacy with your partner.

Here is the “meaningful acts of pleasure” PDF Rachel mentions in this week’s video.

If you're comfortable, share below how you can support your partner and meet them where they are in terms of sex.


Cathryn (00:02):

Okay. We're finally here. It is time to talk about sex and intimacy. Now, when we say sex, we are referring to what you would consider physical intimacy, and we understand that they could look different for different couples depending on what you're into. But there's a very big difference between sex and intimacy. And we're going to be jumping into that in this conversation. Sex is often a sticking point in relationships and so it's really important that we have open and honest conversations about it. And that's why we've actually waited until we're in week 11 to talk about this because we wanted to build on the trust on the intimacy and having important conversations up until this point. Now, as you learn in this exercise sex doesn't just start in the bedroom, it's like small gestures that let your partner know that they matter. All right, let's jump in.

New Speaker (00:50):

Okay, welcome to the sex and intimacy week of the Relationship Journal. This is the fun one but everything so far has been leading up to this because a lot of sex and intimacy which we're going to get into starts with conversation, with getting comfortable with feeling safe. And Rachel was super excited to chat with you today.

Rachel (01:14):

So excited, so excited! Also, I want to name that. I, my focus in practice especially recently has been sex therapy and sexology and the study of sex. And I think that this is such an important conversation because there's so much shame around sex in our culture and so I'm ready. Let's do it!

Cathryn (01:41):

So why do you think there is so much taboo and shame around sex in our culture? Because that's one of the reasons why people don't really talk about it.

Rachel (01:51):

Yeah. So there's a few different reasons and I want to sound as non judgmental as possible when I answer this question and just be very factual about it. A lot of the shame around sex comes from very puritanical religious roots. And that not really going away. You know, there was a time where women were owned and that's how things were, and that was the structure and sex was for procreation and a woman's pleasure was not even discussed. And then we kind of shifted into this phase where people thought women were hysterical and so they were being cured of hysteria with orgasms by their doctors. And now we're here where we're kind of a mush mosh of the past and the present so people are very confused. There's a lot of misinformation about sex. Most people don't have factual information about sex and I can say that very confidently as someone who goes out and teaches about it in the world. So when we feel shameful about something we're less likely to learn about it. And the irony there is that one of the best anecdotes to shame is to learn and to...to lean into that and to gain confidence in that...that topic.

Cathryn (03:33):

So what are the...what do you feel some of the common barriers to having a fulfilling sex life is with couples and how do you navigate these? Because of course you see it all the time, I'm sure.

Rachel (03:48):

Yeah. I think, you know, first and foremost when we're talking about heterosexual couples, there is a societal norm of the man wants more sex than the woman. And the man does not know the woman's body, right? Like there... there's all these like tropes and jokes that we hear again, back to like the Monica and Chandler reference that we made earlier, where he's like "There's seven erogenous zones?You know, that whole scene about that. Where the thing is though, when we really boil it down, when I work with a lot of women, they don't know their own bodies. Because we're not encouraged especially as young women to explore our bodies. So we end up as adults not really knowing a lot about sex and yet we're in relationship where sex is, or probably is for those of us who are allosexual, a big part of a romantic relationship.

Rachel (04:57):

And so it gets very confusing when you combine this topic combined with shame and then our lack of communication skills that we've already talked about. And it's like "Here you go." And that's what most people experience is this like awkward "I don't know how to start. I don't know where to do. I don't know ehhh, ihhh, uhhh." And like, nobody's really talking about it. So that's why it's hard it's because nobody's doing it. It's like one of the things that you're not supposed to talk about at dinner, except for, if we talked about it at dinner, maybe everyone would be having better sex.

Cathryn (05:34):

Yeah, maybe. Now, I think there's a common miscommunication or they use sex and intimacy interchangeably like the terms but they're actually very different. Can you expand on that?

Rachel (05:50):

Yeah. So sex is an act. My definition of sex that I use in my workshops, in my, with my clients, with everything is a meaningful experience of pleasure. That is what sex is. Notice it didn't say anything about penetration, or gender, or length of time or orgasm. It is simply a meaningful experience of pleasure. Intimacy is a feeling between two people. You don't feel sex between two people, you feel intimate, you don't feel sex, right? So intimacy can be cognitive, it could be spiritual, it could be physical, which is typically a meaningful experience of pleasure. But intimacy has many different brands and while sex obviously has many different flavors, sex is sex. It's a, it's a meaningful experience pleasure.

Cathryn (06:56):

And you don't need to be having sex with someone to be intimate with them. You can have an intimate conversation. Actually, the intimacy deck is the intimacy deck because it's supposed to deepen conversation with your partner. There is a category around sex but the whole thing is meant to bring you closer without it being like all about sex.

Rachel (07:18):

Right. I mean, I have intimate conversations with my friends. You know the word intimate, just like being naked has been sexualized. The word intimate has been sexualized. Like there's nothing inherently sexual about the word intimacy and yet we hear intimacy and we're like intimate? It's like underwear? Sex? Woo hoo, you know, like it's not...It doesn't have to be.

Cathryn (07:49):

So let's talk about earlier in these videos, in these conversations, we talked about people not being able to ask for what they want in just in general or say what they want or make requests. And I think when we add sex into it, it's a whole other, you know, you're adding shame. You're adding all of these other elements that it's already difficult enough to ask for something simple. So how do you navigate asking for what you want as it regards to sex?

Rachel (08:21):

So if you cannot ask for what you want for dinner, my advice would be to not start with asking for what you want in sex. And I say that with so much love, because we have to build up the muscle, unless you feel more comfortable with sex than you do with food, which maybe you do then maybe that's backwards. But for most folks asking for what they want for dinner feels easier than asking for what they want sexually. And it can still be hard to ask for what we want sexually and what we want for dinner. So I would first and foremost, take a step back and ask yourself two things: A: Where am I already asking for what I need and how is that going? The second thing is, look in your life to see if you are comfortable receiving compliments. So typically there is an association, a correlation, not a causation, folks who have difficulty receiving compliments often have trouble receiving pleasure and being able to orgasm.

Rachel (09:42):

So look in your life where you're blocking receiving, and try to the next time you receive a compliment, just say thank you. Instead of discounting it and letting it off. These things will help you start to build up muscles to ask for what you want sexually. It also takes time for you to figure out what you want. You know, so if you're watching this and you're like ask for what I want, I don't even know what I want. Create a container. We've been talking a lot about these containers, create a container for you to explore your sexuality. So then you could, you get to share that part of you with somebody else. This is your sexuality that you're sharing with someone else. This is not your relationship's sexuality. Like you're a person with your own wants and needs and desires and things you find sexy and things you find intimate. Figure out what those things are and then share them with whoever you want.

Cathryn (10:44):

Now you mentioned earlier just the stereotypical, like the man wants sex more than the woman, which of course is not true, but what are some ways that couples who do have a mismatched want for sex? Like how do they navigate that?

Rachel (10:59):

So it's really interesting. That's often the most common reason why couples come in for sex therapy is mismatched libidos. And often what's going on is not a mismatch of libido, but that different types of desire are not being met. So there is spontaneous desire and reactive desire and most cisgender men experience spontaneous desire and most cisgender women experience reactive desire. Meaning that they have to have a stimuli, something to like transition them from their current state into "Oh no, I could think about wanting sex." There are some ciswomen that have spontaneous desire, but these two types of desire often get confused for libido. Just because you need a stimuli to transition your brain does not mean that your libido is lower than someone that has spontaneous desire. So it's very common that when we start unpacking things that it's actually not a difference in sex drive. It's a difference in how they get to the place of wanting it tactically. So if there is a difference in actual want, like you've unpacked the desire and Person A would love to have sex every single day and person B is like, yeah, once a month is great, hopefully this would have been something that you talked about earlier on and there's ways to meet in the middle.

Rachel (12:41):

So one thing that I suggest is to make a list of sex acts, meaningful, acts of pleasure that you enjoy and make things have more variety. If you typically do one thing, each time you have sex, which is often how a lot of heterosexual couples present in my practice, switch it up. Do some new things. And you may be surprised at how things shift when you start to change those definitions and look at those types of desire.

Cathryn (13:28):

And what... If people are watching this, if your partner turns you down, how do you handle that without feeling rejected? Or if you're the partner that wants to say, "Okay, not tonight," how do you do that without your partner feeling rejected?

Rachel (13:44):

One of the best ways to do this is to have a conversation when it's not going on, to say "What is the best way that I can tell you no?" So like while neither of you are feeling for a ski, you know, you're like sitting over coffee outside and just really asking, you know, when you proposition me or when you start to initiate sexual stuff, "What is the best way for me to say I'm not there if I'm not there?" And ask them. Because for some hearing "No, thank you" is plenty. And for others, hearing more context may be helpful, or hearing a No and... You know, "No, I'm not in the mood for penetrative intercourse and I would really love to snuggle naked. How does that sound right?" Like, so depending on the person they may like or not like that. And so the best way to do that is to talk about it outside before it happens. And then that way, when you're in it, you know how to let your partner down and they know what to kind of expect from you because they actually gave that info to you.

Cathryn (15:02):

Yeah. Now you just said, okay, it's you're not doing...if you're doing the same thing all the time, it can kind of get boring. Do you have some ideas of how couples can make their sex life more fun in a comfortable, safe way.

Rachel (15:18):

So something you can do is look at the attached PDF. And there's a bunch of different meaningful acts of pleasure on there and go through with your partner and answer Yes, No, Maybe. You know, there's things like threesomes and butt plugs and different things that maybe you thought of and are part of your day to day life. Or maybe feel really far out there for you and regardless that's okay. The point is to have the conversation. So even if you know, everything is a no, and one thing is a yes or vice versa, it's all okay. What's important is that you're growing together in the sexual area of your relationship.

Cathryn (16:04):

So it's couples coming in here and they haven't talked a ton about sex and this is all new for them, what are some characteristics that they can sort of aim for to know that they have a healthy sex life?

Rachel (16:19):

You feel fulfilled. You know, you feel close to your partner in a way that is different from the other relationships in your life because that sexuality is there. I also think it's really important that if anybody watching this identifies on the asexuality spectrum, that a meaningful act of pleasure can still apply to you. Replace our society's idea of sex with that and see what falls under there for you. Because often when we talk about sex and intimacy, we're talking about the assumption that everyone is allosexual right? And everybody craves sex and that's not true. There's a percentage of folks who don't so I just want to name that.

Cathryn (17:12):

And if there's couples watching this, you know, they've been married for 20 years or they've been together a long time and their sex life has maybe gotten older or they're just not as excited anymore, do you have some ways that you can, that you haven't already mentioned that you can reinvigorate their sex life?

Rachel (17:32):

Absolutely. So the things that you can do, go on a date to a sex toy shop and go shopping, go see a burlesque show, do things that are what like my grandma would call titillating. You know find things that are not overtly sexual, but that are sexy and bring that young hihihihi vibe back into your relationship. If you feel that it's gone.

Cathryn (18:07):

Awesome. Well, we are going to link to everything that we mentioned in this conversation below this video. But jump into the notebook, try to be as honest as you can and start having these conversations so that you can build intimacy and have better sex with your partner. And we will see you next week.

New Speaker (18:27):

Now, as you start on this week's relationship exercise know that even if it's awkward, opening up about your sex life can lead to true intimacy and try to be as open and as honest as you can in this section. There's a lot of trust to be gained this week so be gentle with each other, be patient, be kind and meet your partner where they are.