Sex therapy – will it help?
Sex therapy and the mechanism (and madness) of desire
One of the most common questions clients ask in sex therapy is—drumroll—“Am I normal?” But compared to what? And to whom? Our preferences, our desires, are varied. Everybody is different!
A more useful question might be “what do I want from my sex life and how can my partner and I help meet each other’s needs?” If you would like to be having more sex and your para-sympathetic nervous system is not cooperating, then exploring the reasons why will be beneficial. If your para-sympathetic nervous system is fine, but your partners sympathetic nervous system is driving you crazy, then exploring how you can help one another will be beneficial. We are born into this world as sexual creatures. Understanding our sexual desire and helping our partner understand theirs is a wonderful way to nurture and grow your bond as a couple.
One of the most common reasons for couples and individuals seek sex therapy the issue of desire—they want sex more than their partner, less than their partner, and sometimes, never with their partner. They want to know if the amount of sex they desire is too much or too little, and they want to know if they’re normal.
Desire is one of the most complex sexual issues for one very simple reason—the very thing that can be a turn on one day, might be a turn off the next! That can be so confusing. Tonight when your partner whispers something dirty in your ear, you may respond yes, Yes, YES! And then tomorrow, just 24 hours later, your partner might say the exact same thing in the exact same way and you may respond with a loud and clear NO and NO WAY!
So, why does this happen? Well, we can blame (or congratulate) our brain — more specifically, our central nervous system. Our sympathetic nervous system operates like a green light and our para-sympathetic nervous system (the fight or flight mechanism) operates like a red light. Remember when we were kids and we played red light-green light? Well, this is very similar. Our brain sees or senses something in our environment and if it is sexually stimulating, GREEN LIGHT! Go-go-go! If our brain receives a message that is not sexually stimulating, our para-sympathetic nervous system is activated and a giant NO is sent out. There are good reasons our brain responds this way. We want the brain to say no when we sense something dangerous or inappropriate. Activating our para-sympathetic nervous system during those times helps keep us safe.
But what if your brain is sending you a no when you would prefer a yes? Or what if your brain is sending you a yes, when a no would be a much better (and safer) response? That’s where things can get really interesting. When we cannot understand (or agree) with our brains responses, exploring the context becomes very important.
When exploring context, we look at everything from environment (Where were you? Was it hot? Cold? Safe? Loud?), health (Were you tired? Hungry? Sick? Have a headache?), history (Did this remind you of something you liked? Hated? Feared?), emotions (Where you sad? Joyful? Afraid? Lonely?) etc. This is where working with a good therapist who is trained in treating sexual health and dysfunction can be very helpful. Exploring your desire, which is as unique as you are, and understanding the contexts that give your desire a green light (GO!) or red light (NO!), can be very helpful for both you and your partner.