Relationship counsellor, clinical sexologist, and author of “Seasons of Sex“, Leandie Buys outlines three major factors which influence an individual’s perception of sex, and how it can impact their relationships. She offers advice on how to work through conflict in a relationship, and how to rebuild the intimacy between you and your partner.
Everyone’s ideas about sex, and what qualifies as a satisfying sex life, are different. Why? Because we all come from different backgrounds and cultures which affect our perceptions of sex.
In my practice, I’ve often heard people say that “English people are more liberal than Afrikaans people when it comes to sex…” And that “young people are far more adventurous and open-minded than the older generations.”
As a relationship counsellor and clinical sexologist, I’ve spent over 13 years helping couples identify roadblocks in their relationships, and have given them the tools to overcome major issues. Conflicting ideas about sex is one of the things that causes a lot of conflict in relationships. Understanding your partner’s perspective and how they developed their perception of sex is key to repairing the intimacy between you.
There are three main factors that affect how you perceive sex, and these will have an impact on the quality (and quantity) of your sex life.
1. Your individual perceptions of sex:
Where did you first learn about sex? Did you first learn about sex from your parents or guardians, from a book, from friends, or from watching TV? How you discovered this intimate activity will certainly influence your perceptions.
I find that parents often skirt around discussing sex with their children. It is something that “isn’t talked about,” and there is such an expectation and misperception about what sex is really like, that many people are actually disappointed when they find out that sex is not as glamorous as it is in the movies.
Men get upset if the woman doesn’t achieve multiple orgasms during their first time together, and wonder if they’re doing something wrong!
I have also encountered a number of people who struggle with sex, because they have a pre-conceived idea that it is “dirty” or “forbidden”. They feel as if they are committing a sin when they have sex.
Your perception of sex is affected by the messages that you received growing up from your parents, society, culture, and religion.
2. Your perceptions of sex as a couple:
When you and your partner first got together, did you find that you had different ideas about how your sex life was going to be? And what you expected from each other?
This is so important, because talking about the expectations of sex in the relationship is something that is not often done in new relationships.
Discussions should include: How often you would like to have sex? What you are comfortable doing in the bedroom? What’s your religious and cultural background when it comes to sex?
In counselling, I have a questionnaire that helps couples identify their “sexual repertoire” – so that they can tell their partner what they are comfortable doing in the bedroom, and what is off limits.
Sex is about your value system – what is right and wrong for you. It is important couples know what turns their partner on, what they like and what they don’t like.
3. Male and female perceptions of sex:
When it comes to our differences, sex is a big issue. Men and women differ in the way they perceive sex, the way they define its purpose, and how often they want to have it!
(NOTE: These are just generalisations used for illustrative purposes. There are obviously exceptions to this, and there is no ‘right’ or ‘wrong’ perception.)
For men, lovemaking is seen as peace-making, and they are often taken by surprise when they realise that their partner is still angry with them!
For men, no sex means no love. But a lot of women can go without sex for a long time before they begin to feel “unloved.” They find their ‘value’ in other areas of the relationship.
What most couples don’t realise at the beginning of relationships, is how different their libidos are.
It is a common misperception that men always have higher libidos than women, and men will always pursue sex more than women. This is not always the case. In my practice, I try to change the perception that men are always the ones who pursue sex. It is really something that individuals pursue at different levels whether they are male or female.
I have seen many women with higher libidos than their partners, and how it affects their self esteem when they are “rejected.” Women take the disinterest of their partners personally, and think that there is something very wrong with them and the relationship.
It is often more difficult for women to accept that their partner has a lower sex drive. Differences in sex drives can cause a rift in the relationship, but thankfully, there are many different treatment strategies to deal with these differences which can lead to a healthy, happy sex life for most couples.
Here is a typical example of how our different perceptions about sex can cause problems in our relationships:
This is the story of Johan and Anna who had been married for a year and a half when they decided to seek help about their sex life (names have been changed to protect their privacy).
For the most part, their marriage was a strong one, and they were happy, but there was one problem that they couldn’t see eye-to-eye on… sex. The problem was not sex itself, but each partner’s idea of what the sexual experience was supposed to be.
We had very different ideas about sex. How I saw sex within a marriage was very different to how Anna saw it. For me, sex is one of the strongest bonds in a relationship, even stronger than the emotional bond.
In my opinion, couples can abstain once or twice a week, but not every day! It became such an issue for me that I tried to initiate sex every evening, every day of the week.
Little did I know that my persistence was actually making the situation worse. I became less and less successful at “seducing” her. There was a time that we scarcely had sex, not even on the weekends.
Because this physical bond was so important to me, not having sex with Anna began to affect my self-confidence and self-esteem. I thought that I wasn’t attractive and sexy enough for my own wife, and it began to affect how I thought the world looked at me.
Through relationship and sex counselling, I’ve learned to understand my wife’s point of view
I’ve learned that she is just as exhausted as I am after a long day at work, and I’ve learned that women don’t have an “on” switch. Counselling taught us how to love one another, and understand how we perceive love, and this has helped to grow the intimacy between us.
My opinion of sex was the opposite of my husband’s. I looked for emotional support through deeds and encouraging words, and all my husband was interested in was sex! It made me feel so used, and I began to feel that I wasn’t good for anything in the relationship except sex.
I put so much energy into other things that he didn’t even seem to notice
I cleaned the house, cooked his favourite food and tried to show my love and commitment to the relationship in every way possible, but all he wanted was sex.
He thought that my job as a house wife was much less stressful than his. He didn’t believe me when I said I was tired and didn’t have the energy for sex. It became such a stumbling block for us that I began to think that there was something drastically wrong with me.
That’s when we sought counselling and we learned that the most important things are communication and love. If we don’t communicate, we can’t understand each other’s point of view.
Communicating about sex
When Johan and Anna came to see me, they had only been married for a year and a half. They should have still been in the “honeymoon” phase of their relationship, but misunderstanding and lack of communication had driven them apart.
Anna felt that all her efforts to be a good housewife were unappreciated and Johan felt rejected as a man. As a result, they withdrew emotionally and physically from each other and the intimacy in their relationship began to suffer.
This couple did not “fall out of love” with each other, they were displaying their love and affection in a way that the other didn’t understand.
The most important thing to do is to talk about it
I often find that the way we communicate about sex with each other causes misunderstandings in relationships. When I ask a couple about their communication, most couples will tell me that their communication is good. However, when I ask the couple if they can talk about sex, they often can’t answer me.
When sex goes wrong in a relationship, it begins to eat away at all the other aspects of the relationship. It causes anxiety, stress and resentment between the couple and they start doubting their love, commitment, trust, honesty and loyalty to each other.
Sex is an extremely important aspect of a relationship. People choose to be sexual for a variety of reasons, not just for the physical act of intercourse alone.
Sex helps couples:
- with bonding and intimacy
- to feel good about themselves
- to relieve stress and anxiety
- to communicate
- to show love for their partners
- to reinforce their self esteem
- to maintain harmony in the relationship
- to procreate
- to add fun and spice to their relationship
Couples who are experiencing issues in their sex life should seek relationship and sex counselling. Because sex is such an intimate part of the relationship, it is one of the first signs that intimacy is decreasing. This means a lack of communication and connection between the couple.
These issues can be easily worked through with a few counselling sessions, but it is important to act sooner rather than later because small issues tend to grow and grow when they are not dealt with.
Leandie Buys is offering online relationship counselling or tele-therapy. Find out more HERE.