As a psychotherapist who specializes in sexuality, I have spent much time contemplating what is happening– emotionally, physically, spiritually, relationally– when our sex lives are thriving. Through my research, I have also talked to both men and women who have embraced their sexuality as an essential aspect of who they are. From my work and this research, I have come to identify five key ingredients that make up a happy, healthy sexual relationship:
- Safety: The foundation of any healthy sexual relationship is consent, trust and mutuality. In short, we have to feel safe in order to experience our sexuality with openness, pleasure and connection. In our relationships, it is essential to have space to express our vulnerabilities, desires and needs. It also needs to feel safe to say “no” to sex without fear of punishment or guilt. Attunement to our partners, and checking-in during intimacy opens doors to deeper safety and connection.
- Agency: When we are in safe sexual relationships, we are empowered to choose for ourselves, in dialogue with our partners, how we want to explore and engage with our sexuality. The people in my studies have talked about the immense freedom they had in their bodies and in their relationships to experience their sexuality with fullness.
- Pleasure: For most of us, erotic activities like kissing, embracing, caressing and sex are wonderfully pleasurable. Pleasuring one another with generosity, affection, play and mutuality is a beautiful and meaningful aspect of our sexuality. Pleasurable and fulfilling sex lives can be a powerful and positive force that deepens intimacy and connection.
- Connection: Through our sexuality, we can be deeply seen and known. We can connect with our partners in bonding, and even transcendent ways. By being present and mindfully attuned to ourselves and our partners in the moment, a deep sense of connection, on all levels, is fostered and flourishes.
- Wholeness: Our sexuality is not just about relating to our partners; it is also about connecting to ourselves, through and within our bodies. The men and women in my studies all spoke about how, through their sexuality they began to experience themselves in new ways. By embracing and integrating all aspects of ourselves, we can give and receive with fullness.