by B. Imei Hsu, BSN-RN, MAC-LMHC, Artist
Can you really learn how to get the sex you want (assuming you have some room for improvement), rather than rely on luck, time, or a miracle? And if you can learn, what can the therapists at Seattle Direct Counseling help you with in your learning process? What is the key to getting the sex you want? I think the key is negotiation, and with that key comes as much danger as there is opportunity. To explore negotiation, I’ve taken on a popular topic that unless you’ve been on a desert island for the past year, you’ve heard something about.
A Little Caveat
If you are in a committed relationship of any kind, getting the sex you want sounds reasonable compared to someone who is not in a committed relationship. It makes sense that at least some part of a committed relationship assumes that there is a sexual connection between the partners. But like everything that seems to have a rosy side, a committed relationship is no guarantee of the best mind-blowing sex you’ve ever had. Even if you had access to an agreeable partner(s) who willingly and frequently offered you sex, it may not be the sex you truly want. And for those who are not in a committed relationship, perhaps you can quietly admit that just because you find someone to be with does not translate into getting what you want out of a sexual encounter. It’s just not that simple unless you like relying on dumb luck.
Lessons Learned From Crappy Books
One of my dear friends used to tease me incessantly about my reading disorder. I am always reading a book; that is my disorder. I read because I’m one of those people who can learn from anything, including learning what not to do. Just because a concept is in print does not move me to blindly subscribe to its proported truths. While I cannot be manipulated against my will, I can apply all the discernment and critical thinking an education and life experiences instilled in me, allowing me to tease out the kernels of truth that lie below the husk.
The previous paragraph was the necessary little piece of B.S. disclaimer I felt I owe my readers before I land this next statement: there’s a thing or two you can learn from the book, “Fifty Shades of Grey” by E.L James to help you get the kind of sex you want, just not necessarily the kind of sex that is painstakingly described in 2012’s most popular book series according to Amazon.com sales.
You do not need to pant after kinky sex and BDSM to understand the primary principle that could help you get better sex with your main squeeze. Nor am I advocating that you buy the book series in order to pick up some how-to pointers. If you use it like a sex manual, you may be sorely (no pun intended) disappointed. It just wasn’t meant for that purpose.
While you might also learn from erotic books such as “The Sexual Life of Catherine M.” by Catherine Millet, as well as the Dom/Sub book, “The Story of O” by Pauline Reage, there’s nothing like a poorly written book to elucidate the finer point of what makes sex great versus the “same ol'” act of copulation, stimulation, and orgasm that many people allow (or relegate) sex to be. The worse the writing, the quicker the “good parts” float to the surface. If you beg to differ, consider S. Morgenstern’s “The Princess Bride“, a fairy tale classic based on a fabled “abridged” version of a fictitious country of Florin, also known as “the good parts version.” [I loved that book. Can’t help it.]
While I could wax on like a reviewer of the Fifty Shades series, I’d rather you read the reviews of other sex bloggers and educators, and let stand First Lady Michelle Obama’s comment: the value of the Fifty Shades series is really not about the work itself, but the emphasis of erotic content in the discourse of the mainstream. Yep, that’s right: finally, people aren’t hiding in corner, reading a book in secret and tittering naughtily in their hands. Couples are talking about “kinky f@ckery” in broad daylight, over dinners of roast beef and potatoes, on plane trips and vacations, and in classrooms as well as bedrooms.
I will say this, for the sake of credibility:
1. I read all three of the Fifty Shades book. [Honor bright, snake bite. I read them. They are still sitting on my iPad.]
2. I did not throw up after I read them, even though I’m not alone in admitting how the books were so poorly written [yes, I managed to tell you this three times!], I lost my appetite for reading it several times along the way (and I am one of those people who reads whilst using the toilet, as I usually enjoy reading anything – even the labeling on a product! – immensely. Especially Dr. Brommer’s products)]. I had to skim the last book to stop from barfing in my mouth, as I am not fond of “happy ending” books of this nature, and some of the pathetically described whining, yearning, and overly-detailed drivel of the lifestyles of the rich, famous, and privileged.
3. I re-read parts of the original Fifty Shades of Grey to see if there was a pattern in the male character’s (Christian Grey) choice of music on his iPod (right up there with reading, my world is highly powered by cute kittehs and music). That’s me. I paid attention, took notes, and gave the books a whirl. There wasn’t enough substance there for me to return. I ditched my notes.
True to my nature, I was able to select a few useful lessons on getting the sex you want from a rather crappy series about one type of sexual expression. The strange thing about the lessons were that they were apparent before any sexual acts unfolded on the page. Everyone can understand this. The fact that knowledge was being put on the shelf at “cookie jar” level made the reading accessible. Now we understand why it was as popular as the Twilight books and movies. You just didn’t have to think too hard.
Tips To Getting the Sex You Want
According to the Fifty Shades of Grey series, the way of getting the sex you want is actually a straight-forward path:
1. Don’t use Fifty Shades as a sex manual. It isn’t meant to function as one; therefore, do not make it be what it clearly isn’t. It is one author’s blogging adventure, with just enough truth mixed with a generous dose of fantasy to be interesting.
2. Carefully select a person you are attracted to, and establish open and honest communication with that person about what you want. Don’t lie, don’t hide, don’t be bashful. Don’t beat around the bush, and don’t downplay your wishes in hopes that it will work itself out if you say nothing. It rarely ever does. If you ambush a partner later with your “real” desires, you will likely set yourself up for accusations of “bait and switch” or betrayal.
3. Consider sexual expression a two-way street of evolving negotiation. Much akin to determining what you want for dinner, your wants and needs may change from hour to hour. Unlike agreeing with someone about dinner plans, negotiating about each sexual act and expression of physical desire can often take more time and emotional energy, and sometimes even requires written contracts, descriptions of soft and hard limits, and a willingness to return to previous agreements in order to prevent violations of trust.
Negotiation must be a part of all great sexual experiences. People are not vending machines; you do not plunk down some change and purchase an object. You invest emotional and physical energy (and some would say spiritual energy as well) towards yourself and your partner with no guarantee that you will come out the other end with what you believe you could. In addition, each person comes with a history of sexual expression, even if that person has not had sexual intercourse or experience beyond self-stimulation. To fail to negotiate leaves too much room for the possibility of either lack of consent (and thus a form of harm), or missing any intended target close to what it is each of you want (since neither of you can read the other’s mind).
As a yoga teacher, I learned that there are certain poses that trigger some people to feel very vulnerable, aside from the fact that you’re a group of people breathing and pulling and stretching yourself into unfamiliar postures while wearing some of the tightest clothing you will ever wear in a public space. One of those postures is called, “Happy Baby”, where a person rocks back and forth on his or her spine while holding each foot in the same sided hand. With a title adjective “happy”, you’d think it would help people remember what it feels like to be a baby gleefully rocking on the floor. For some people, especially those who have been sexually assaulted and abused, Happy Baby Pose is anything but happy. As the instructor, I would remind people attending my class to be mindful of any messages coming through the body that makes them feel emotionally uncomfortable, and all attendees should honor their bodies by listening and refraining from this posture if they felt too vulnerable. This is an example of negotiating; I allowed the attendees of my class to negotiate and communicate what was acceptable and not acceptable for their own practice, not as an overall judgement for all people, but as internal control of their inner world through their ability to understand what was in their best interests on a case-by-case basis.
So it is with every sexual encounter, even with a spouse or partner you have known for many years. Each experience is a negotiation — “I’d like to try this”, “Let’s do what we did last time,” and “Would you like to trade roles or positions?” If sexual expression had no points of negotiation, it becomes routine. If one cannot say “no” in fear of being threatened, rejected, or having love or provision withheld, then the sexual experience is a power struggle that can breed resentment. If one always says “yes” in the belief that this is pleasing to the other partner, then the transaction becomes prescriptive.
In Fifty Shades, Grey presents a contract with a detailed description of the rules of sexual engagement between himself as the Dominant, and Anna, his prospective Submissive. Eventually, Anna learns that she can accept, reject, and re-write these rules to suit her hard and soft limits of sexual play. She also grasps Grey’s well-understood motto: it’s the Submissive who wields the power.
The Danger of Negotiated Sex
Perhaps here is where I may add something you haven’t heard much about in regards to psychological discourse related to the Fifty Shades series. I personally believe that the minute you empower all individuals – whether in a heterosexual relationship, a gay relationship, or a poly relationship – to negotiate wants and needs equally in a sexual relationship, all traditional power brokering based on culture and gender is broken.
In the book, Grey is a multimillionaire who has the ability to buy companies as easily as he buys objects of play. The danger to Grey of negotiated sex is that his money becomes worthless when it comes to purchasing a Submissive’s permission if the Sub has a strong enough ego to make her desires as well as her limits known. What he could otherwise purchase with any other person outside of a negotiated sexual relationship, he cannot do with someone with whom his word becomes his bond, and the rule by which the relationship either stands or falls. Similarly, anything of value to a person of privilege, wealth, power, or status must bow to the Negotiation if it is to create an equal playing field.
The general dangers of negotiation abound when:
1. a partner refuses to be honest about those wants and limits
2. a partner refuses to enforce limits
3. a partner is not willing to give up previous entitlement awarded through cultural and gender roles (and that includes socio-economic roles as well)
What does all that mean? If you are a person who comes from privilege or entitlement because of your culture and/or gender, you must be willing to surrender that at the feet of someone you are asking to enter a union as an empowered sexual being. In other words, if you want hot sex and thrilling connection with another person, you may give up what has come to you easily in the past (i.e. sex that is OK) to work towards nurturing a relationship with a partner who can articulate what kind of sex and connection s/he wants, and with better flexibility on its expression (i.e. sex that is what you and the partner want together, which is typically hotter because you both want it).
A common example that comes up in therapy sessions is between a man and woman, with the man reporting he’d like to watch pornography with his partner, and the woman glaring at her partner for wanting this. The minute the goal of pornography is revealed, i.e. “I want to watch it because I feel more sexy and I am more likely to want to have sex with you”, the conversation can be directed towards what is really on the table: “How do we improve our sex lives so that we are both satisfied and feel closer?” Once the more vulnerable partner is encouraged to negotiate what she wants and the means by which it will be achieved, she is no longer a passive recipient, but an active participant of her own happiness. Again, this would apply to any relationship, gay or straight, by observing gender roles and removing hindrances to collaborative negotiation.
This is where the rubber hits the road. If you are the person who usually enjoys the advantage of calling the shots in your sexual relationship, unless you see no room for improvement in your sexual connection with your partner, you have little or no motivation to empower that partner(s) to ask for what s/he wants. Only if something hurts, if something is missing, if something feels empty and unfulfilled, will you be more likely to try something as risky as empowering another person to meet you toe-to-toe in the bedroom or the playroom. Trading in vending-machine sex for a more dynamic interplay of story, mystery, and surprise can be as frightening as it is exciting, and it can initially feel like a lot of work. Any endeavor towards change in the sexual relationship requires time and thought.
Negotiation costs energy upfront. It may involve check lists, reading books, writing down finer points, asking questions, and processing out loud. It might feel stiff or even slightly embarrassing at first! Nothing worthy of gaining comes without a cost. But if the goal is to have a closer connection with someone important to you, isn’t it worth it?
[I hope you are waving your hands wildly in the air with an enthusiastic YES].
At SDC, we think it is! With Valentine’s Day coming up, we believe many people think not only of telling their main squeeze how special they are with some bling or chocolate, but they desire to improve their relationship, including their sexual connection. From Jan. 14 to Feb. 14, 2013, we invite you to book three appointments with any one of our therapists for a “Relationship Refresh”, including at least one session solely focused on improving your sexual connection. If you purchase all three sessions, you may receive a discount in honor of Valentine’s Day. There is no obligation to continue your sessions beyond this introduction; however, you have the option to book future sessions. Just look up any of us on our “About” pages, check the information under the fee schedule, and you’ll see information on the Relationship Refresh offer.
In this small way, we’re hoping we can help you experience the key to getting the sex you want. While it may not be your partner’s idea of a good replacement for chocolates and bling, it sure beats the heck out of commercialized demonstrations of love! At least your partner will know you care. Oh, and if you haven’t done so already, “like” us on Facebook, and give us some love back!
Update: Soooo… some of you have asked, “Well, if 50 Shades of Grey isn’t a how-to manual, are there any good ones out there?” Turns out, Tristan Taormino has published 50 Shades of Kink , fresh off the press. Under $10, so it’s not too spendy. I haven’t reviewed it, but if it’s as thorough as her book, Opening Up, I would expect that most readers interested in this type of sexual expression will enjoy this book [thanks for the HT from my colleague].