Sex- Beyond Intercourse!!!

As sex therapists, we are continuously talking about sexual health with our clients. But what is sexual health? World Health Organization defines sexual health as “…a state of physical, emotional, mental and social well-being in relation to sexuality; it is not merely the absence of disease, dysfunction or infirmity. Sexual health requires a positive and respectful approach to sexuality and sexual relationships, as well as the possibility of having pleasurable and safe sexual experiences, free of coercion, discrimination and violence. For sexual health to be attained and maintained, the sexual rights of all persons must be respected, protected and fulfilled.” (WHO, 2019). According to Robinson et al., sexual health involves “an ability to be intimate with a partner, to communicate explicitly about sexual needs and desires, to be sexually functional, to act intentionally and responsibly, and to set appropriate sexual boundaries (2002). Sexual health is more than having a “functional physiological system” (Buehler, 2017) and is not limited to intercourse. Sex is any activity that may lead to arousal and climax and can include any and all body parts – hands, fingers, toes, tongues, genitals, and anal and any and all senses – touch, smell, hear, sight, and taste.

One of the common misunderstandings that individuals and couples fall trap to is that sex equates to intercourse, and this misunderstanding stems from a lack of knowledge and open dialogue around sex and can lead to dissatisfied sexual relationships. For example, men with erectile dysfunction and women with sexual pain disorders can engage in sex when they broaden their definition of sex from just intercourse to any activity partnered or individualized that is arousing and leads to climax. You don’t need an erect penis to satisfy your partner. Female orgasm can be achieved through manual, oral, or rubbing stimulation and men can have an orgasm and ejaculate without an erect penis. A great sexual experience requires both partners being present and ready to give and receive pleasure. It requires them to be authentic in expressing their sexual wants and desires and have an emotional connection with each other along with sexual and erotic intimacy, which allows them to explore each other’s sexual desires and pleasures and helps them move their sexual experience from the mundane to the sensual. It also requires them to feel safe and free to openly communicate their sexual desires and preferences to each other.

So what are some of the sexual activities you can engage in that will increase arousal within your sexual experience? Sex can include any number of activities based on your likes and dislikes. It can be anything – giving or receiving a massage, taking showers together, using erotic toys, role playing, and bondage, to name a few.

Within each sexual encounter, regardless of the activity in which you choose to engage, it is important to recognize that there are different kinds of touch that are as integral to an enjoyable sexual encounter as intercourse, even more enjoyable for many. McCarthy and McCarthy (2009) have outlined five“gears” of touch that can increase one’s subjective arousal (subjective arousal is defined as feeling turned on by sexual stimulation) ranging from 1(no sexual arousal) to 10 (so turned you are having an orgasm) thus providing a more pleasurable sexual experience. Using this subjective scale has also been shown to reduce incidents of lost erection and vaginal pain during sex as couples transition to intercourse when their subjective arousal is between 7-10 rather than moving to intercourse when their subjective arousal is less than 6.

Five Gears of touching are as follows:

  • Affectionate touching – includes clothes on touching such as holding hands, kissing and/or hugging. Subjective arousal – 1
  • Sensual touch – includes non-genital pleasure such as head, back or foot rub, cuddling, and cradling each other. This can be done clothed on, semi clothed, or nude. Subjective arousal 1-3.
  • Playful touch – includes mix of genital and non-genital pleasuring such as touching in the shower, full body massage, seductive or erotic dancing, games such as strip poker. Goal of playful touching is to enhance sense of pleasure and playfulness. Subjective arousal 4-5.
  • Erotic touch – includes manual, oral, rubbing or vibrator stimulation. It can also include playing out erotic scenarios and techniques. Subjective arousal 6-10.
  • Intercourse – Subjective arousal 7-10.

So, in conclusion, allow yourself to experience sex in all its forms and layers by broadening your definition of sex. Don’t let intercourse be-all and end-all when it comes to your sex life as now you know there is so much more to sex.

Date night tip – Make any of the touches a date night theme and enjoy being sensual, playful, and erotic with each other. And know it does not have to end with intercourse as sex is and can be about just enjoying each other’s touch.

–Jasmin Ahluwalia, MSW, LCSW


References:
Buehler, S. (2017). What every mental health professional needs to know about sex.  New York: Springer Publishing Company.
McCarthy, B. W., & McCarthy, E. (2009).  Discovering your couple sexual style: Sharing desire, pleasure, and satisfaction. New York, NY: Taylor & Francis Group.
Robinson, B., Bockting. W., Rosser, B., Miner, M., & Coleman, E. (2002). The Sexual Health Model: Application of a sexological approach to HIV prevention. Health Education Research, 17, 43-57.
Sexual Health. (2019). Retrieved June 5, 2019, from https://www.who.int/topics/sexual_health/en/

Jasmin Ahluwalia, MSW, LCSW is a Licensed Clinical Social Worker in North Carolina and sees clients in our Cary and Durham offices. To schedule an appointment with Jasmin or any of the therapists at Carolina Sexual Wellness Center, call 919-297-8322.

Jasmin Ahluwalia
MSW, LCSW

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