Pleasures Of Loving

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Sex and you, your life and relationships

Sex throughout life - styles of living and loving

Single living as a single woman or man has become a more normal life-style today than at any other time in American and European history. Indeed the trend toward single living seems still to be rising.

Estimates put the single population at close to 50 million in the USA, and although some of those are adults who are delaying forming partnerships of some kind with another person, there does seem to be a trend toward the single life as a choice and not as the result of bad luck in committed sexual relationships.

Despite the fact that the choice to live as a single is a perfectly proper choice, society as a whole is suspicious of singles and often tries to put them down. "Old maid," "confirmed bachelor" and "spinster" are all terms with a negative connotation.

All too frequently singles are suspected of being homosexual (or of being "repressed") - as if it mattered. Society encourages and rewards marriage and children, even to the point that people marry and divorce several times rather than never marry at all.

Not all singles want to be single; on the other hand, getting into a relationship just to win society's approval is not an adequate solution. No relationship, many people believe, is better than a wrong relationship. The great difficulty for many single people is meeting enough other people.

As men and women move through their 20s toward their 30s, more more of their contemporaries get married and the number of people available to choose from decreases. The social structures that provided numerous contacts early on - neighborhood, school, maybe college - are less effective as a person gets older.

One solution to this problem is the singles scene - singles bars and groups - but many people find this a forced environment in which they are subject to undue pressures. Another solution is to use websites and matchmaking services. Some people panic and acquire a partner somehow before the 30th birthday, compromising personal standards to relieve the anxiety of being "left on the shelf".

A very common complaint from singles is that they are expected to have sexual intercourse with any new person with whom they start to form a relationship. Some find this demeaning and a limitation of choice - they are not properly free to decide when it would be appropriate for them to have sex with someone. Acting on their personal values has put some singles up to ridicule for "saving it for their one and only".

Q. "I'm single and I want to stay that way. I have a few close friends and a few relationships where I can get sexual gratification (with swingers) when I need it. When I discuss this with some people they look at me like I'm strange. Is my situation so unusual?"

A: "I don't think you are strange at all. You are someone who sounds clear about your needs and preferences. People may see your life-style as different, but different does not necessarily mean inferior. As long as your life-style meets your needs that is OK. It would be a big mistake to get together with someone just to meet with the approval of others."

Q. "I'm single and I don't mind having sex with someone if they want, but as for lifelong commitment? No, that's not what having sex means to me. I would like to have some fun."

A: "Tell your partners what your views are about sex. Be clear so they understand that for you sex is fun and enjoyable, but it is not the signal of the beginning of a deep long term emotional relationship. And tell them before you have sex, because it is a lot more complicated to do afterward and it's not fair to let them build false hopes."

Q. "I'm single and would like to meet someone, but I just can't stand the singles bars. Am I being too fussy, and what could I do instead?"

A: "No, you are not being fussy, but you are cutting down your options. Many single women and men find going to singles bars degrading. The superficiality of the interactions combines with the desperation that is apparent in many of these settings to produce strong feelings of repugnance.

The problem is that finding acceptable alternatives is difficult; but things are changing. Cultural, intellectual, recreational and religious activities are being organized with an emphasis on singles participation. Singles travel clubs and adult education programs are also being developed.

If you can take the initiative in one of these contexts you will certainly be increasing your chances of forming a relationship. And of course, there are plenty of online services."

Q. "I've heard a great deal about singles increasing in number?"

A: "Yes. There are increasing numbers of women and men who choose the role of single parent. Also, single men and women are adopting babies.

Most unmarried teens who have a baby choose to keep the child. Some single women beyond their teenage years are deliberately getting pregnant and have no intention of ever getting married. This is further evidence of changing perceptions of family systems, child-rearing concepts, and the reexamination of the nature of relationships between men and women.

Clearly, some women no longer see the necessity of marriage to establish their identity as a person or their financial security. In keeping with that evolving sentiment, they feel that separating parenthood from marriage is for them both honest and proper.

Living Together

Living together ("cohabiting") and not getting married was unheard of in the 1950s...nowadays, of course, it's commonplace. Some people object to marriage as an institution, finding it inherently sexist or arbitrarily limiting. Others get into living together because they are very close indeed to Cohabiting for some people may take the form of a "trial marriage" or it may be regarded as the most intimate and satisfying way of having a relationship.

Living together as a life-style has become particularly popular among young people. Between 20 and 30 percent of U.S. college students now cohabit for years. Such relationships are deep emotional attachments and routinely include sex. They are normally described as being sexually exclusive.

In society at large, significant numbers of people who start a relationship find that living together makes better sense than maintaining separate apartments; it is more convenient and less expensive. Most such couples present themselves as a couple, and many of them claim their relationship is at least as strong as marriage since it depends on the constantly renewed choices of two individuals rather than on a marriage contract. They can split if they need to with a minimum of family and financial disruption.

One special context in which cohabiting appears to be occurring more frequently is after a divorce. Divorced people may be disenchanted with marriage but still believe in long-term relationships. They may be particularly likely to set up home with a lover if there is a child to care for, on the grounds that it will be better for the child to live with two adults than with one, but this is a situation that requires careful handling.

It is important for the child (or children) to know the extent and meaning of the parent's new relationship. Issues of sexual behavior must be clarified lest the child become confused about the meaning of adult sexual relationships and how they relate to parenthood. Issues of roles and authority which are important in any relationship become doubly so when the child spends time with the other parent as well. Having two mothers or two fathers is not easy for a child.

Q. "We've been living together happily for the past year but our parents, who live in another city, aren't aware of our situation. Should we just leave well enough alone?"

A: "As you must already know, keeping your situation secret has disadvantages.

Hiding your secret can be wearisome, and because neither of you can invite your families for a visit your contacts with them are cut down significantly. It is true that many parents do not approve of living together without marriage, but sometimes parents surprise their children with their understanding and acceptance. In the end you must make the decision together, but it seems to me that openness is to be preferred.

Perhaps after an initial trauma your resolve to be together and the quality of your relationship will be recognized by your parents. This may lead them to be at least neutral, maybe accepting, and perhaps happy for both of you; their reaction does not have to be hostile.

There is something else that you ought to think about: if your parents did disapprove strongly when you told them you loved each other, is your relationship really strong enough to meet that disapproval head on, or are you disguising a weakness in your relationship behind your anxieties over how your parents would react if they knew about it?"

Q. "Is it true that a couple who live together before marriage have a better marriage than those who do not live together before
marriage?"

A: "There is no evidence that this is so."

Marriage and Other Long-Term Relationships

The majority of adults in our society become involved in long-term relationships. Many, of course, marry. In some states the relationships of men and women who live together without marrying for a certain number of years are granted legal status called common law marriage. And gay sexual relationships can be sanctified by ceremonies of commitment in many countries and states.

Despite high rates of divorce (nearly one marriage in two in the U.S. ends in divorce), people remarry or enter other long-term relationships at a very high rate. Long-term relationships are still the dominant pattern of our society, whatever names they may go under.

Not only do such relationships provide for most people the most comprehensive way available of showing their love for another person but there is also a strong cultural pressure to be part of an accepted social unit - the couple.

The Redbook Report indicated that people who reported their sex lives as good also reported their marriages as good. Although there is other evidence that doesn't connect sexual satisfaction and marital happiness so closely, it seems fair to assume there is some connection between satisfying sex and a satisfying relationship.

Sexual satisfaction in a long-term relationship does not occur solely because of the commitment the couples have to each other. Prior experience, the meaning of sex to each person, their expectations from their sexual acts, the roles each fills in a relationship and expects the other to fill, their cultural and religious beliefs about sex - all these are important elements in determining the degree of sexual pleasure and satisfaction the couple achieves.

There are many couples in long-term, committed and caring relationships who do not nearly reach the level of sexual fulfillment of which they are capable because of ignorance, irrational fears, misinformation and unrealistic expectations about themselves and their partners. The "doing what comes naturally" in bed school underestimates the number of barriers that can and frequently do interfere with achieving fulfilling and mutually satisfying sexual experiences.

Q- "Is it true that some married people have written contracts which bind them in their marital relationship?"

A: "Yes. A prenuptial agreement is a legal document that is binding on the couple in as many aspects of the relationship as the couple wants specified. Money, property, child care responsibilities, who gets what if a divorce occurs and other issues can be covered people who live together without being married.

Some see this as a mature way of dealing with a potentially difficult situation, especially in the light of recent court cases in the U.S. in which couples who lived together but were not married had to split property, with the women in some cases receiving 'palimony."'

But these are not a substitute for good quality counseling. If you live in London, try www.north-london-counselling.com, otherwise there are a number of excellent directories run by the professional counseling organizations, from which you can choose a competent therapist or counselor.

Q. "Is it true that people who have premarital sexual experience have better marriages than those who don't?"

A: "There is no research that is conclusive. My impression is that success and fulfillment in relationships in general, and in sexual interactions in particular, can never be reduced to having or not having experience. Life with another person is complicated, and it is more likely that happiness in any sphere of a relationship is a function of the couple's values, feelings and expectations."

Q. "We are in a long-term relationship, are very happy and although our sex life together is satisfying it's just not a big deal for us. Are we unusual or missing out on something?"

A: "No, you are not so unusual, and if you and your partner are satisfied and fulfilled in your sex life you aren't missing out on anything. Sex has a variety of meanings within a relationship and each couple needs to work out the proper place of sexual expression within theirs.

Many couples try to match their sex life to some arbitrary set of pleasure standards, but this leads to an artificiality of expression which is not in anyone's interest.

You sound like you are happy and satisfied just the way you are and it's in your interest to remain that way."

Q. "What are these Marriage Encounter programs all about?"

A: "Marriage Encounter is a program devoted to the revival and enrichment of the marital relationship. It started as an outgrowth of the Catholic Family Movement in Spain in 1965 and was introduced to the U.S. in 1967. Today it is supported by Protestants and Jewish couples as well.

Briefly, Marriage Encounter enables a couple to work with direction but privately on their personal relationship. Communication is one of the central issues - honest discussion and reflection release feelings of frustration and expectations that might otherwise go unspoken and lead to distress in the relationship.

The weekend Marriage Encounter experience has helped many couples to enrich their marriages, with subsequent beneficial effects on the atmosphere and quality of their general family life.

Marriage Encounter and marriage enrichment programs in general are growing in popularity because many people feel their relationships need rejuvenation, increased communication, and organized opportunities to reach their potentials and avoid difficulties before they emerge."

Swinging

Swinging was originally called "wife swapping" but the sexist male property rights connotation lead to the more acceptable term "swinging" or sometimes "mate swapping." Swingers are usually married couples who openly exchange partners for sex. Swingers make contact through advertisements in newspapers or magazines or websites, or they may meet at swingers' bars or clubs.

The party may be simply two couples or it may be a larger group where coupled and/or group heterosexual or homosexual sex may take place.

Gilbert Bartell did much of the research on swinging. He estimated that fewer than one percent of the married population was involved in swinging.

Bartell's findings and those of several other researchers indicated that emotional involvement between swinging partners is held to a minimum so that the sexual activity will not harm their marriages.

However, most mental health professionals find it difficult to believe that swinging is as emotionally benign as some swinging couples have claimed.

Jealousy, guilt and feeling the marriage will ultimately be threatened are some common problems experienced by swingers. Some literature suggests that swingers have had more unhappy childhood experiences and more family difficulties in their youth than non-swingers.

Q "One night some people we know told us they were into swinging. They described it calmly and gave us every detail. We were so turned off by the thought of it."

A: "Apparently what you do know is that swinging is not for you and your partner. Your friends, however, seem to be enjoying swinging and they may be emotionally satisfied in their situation at this time. It is possible that their relationship is sound and their swinging is not a sign of a problem. Incidentally, swingers usually do not try to recruit couples who are not interested, so you need not worry about being pressured into participating."

Q "My wife and I are monogamous and exclusive sexually. All the sexual material on the internet and talk about swingers and switching makes us feel like we are in the minority. Is that so?"

A: "No. Most married couples and those in non-marital long-term relationships consider monogamy and sexual exclusiveness to be more appropriate for them.

Young adults not yet married also favor monogamy and sexual exclusivity. It is important to appreciate that although various types of alternative marital relationships are widely discussed and may have become more popular, there is no evidence whatever that they have become generally approved or that they are becoming the norm. The evidence suggests that couples like you and your partner are still the norm.

In 1972 a book by Nena and George O'Neill called Open Marriage created quite a stir as it described marital relationships where the couple lived together, loved and cared for each other but were flexible with regard to having a variety of best sexual positions and relationships with other people.

In an open marriage (and there are several variations on the theme) each partner with the consent of e other has the freedom to establish other emotional relationships, which may or may not include sex. These relationships are not intended to interfere with the marital relationship.

Partners in an open marriage want the opportunity to explore friendships, interests and experiences which might not be possible within the context of traditional monogamy.

There are no solid statistics on the numbers of couples in open marriages, nor on how they eventually work out. It is certain, however, that open marriages are best handled by mature, resolved and autonomous people in a sexual relationship that is solidly established."

Q. "Is an open marriage like a group marriage?"

A: "No. A group marriage is when at least three people (but more usually several couples) live together and maintain a relationship with more than one person in the group.

Several reasons are given for entering a group marriage: the desire to relate to more than one person sexually, emotionally, intellectually and socially is one; the opportunity for children to have several parental role models is another; increased feelings of personal security, a strong sense of family bonding and equalization of roles within relationships are yet more.

There is not much current material on the extent of group marriage, but most informed opinion about marital relationships sees it as a rare occurrence with no real future for influencing the current monogamous marital and family structure. Constantine and Constantine, who wrote a book called Group Marriage, provide the most scientific information.

They point out that group marriages generally do not last more than a few years; many dissolve after several months. Sexual jealousy, an inability to divide responsibilities equally, financial inequities and sex role stereotyping are some of the causes of failure."

Q. "I know a lovely couple, married for over 20 years, and they are into an open marriage. They seem happy together, honest with each other and very relaxed about it all. Can this be as it looks or are they putting on an act?"

A: "I know several couples with the same characteristics. They are confident, trusting and extremely mature, and appear to handle easily the complexity of the several relationships that each has.

One couple interviews as a couple any new person who may wish to start a relationship with one of them to see if he or she is the type of person who can handle such a relationship and make it clear that their marriage is the primary relationship.

They discuss emotions and commitment and so define the nature of their relationships. I also know a couple who tried an open marriage but were unable to do so because their young children became confused and anxious over the various 'friends' their parents had. Privacy away from home was difficult for the couple to arrange, so they decided to wait until their children got older before pursuing their plan."

Clearly with the advent of AIDS and other infections, such as sexually transmitted infections like gonorrhea and syphilis, not to mention yeast infections, the wisdom of open relationships is to be questioned.

And while I for one do not like to be the one who portrays infections as an inevitable side effect of sex, the truth is that these days one runs the risk of infection from almost any sexual partner - including your regular partner. However, the infections you pick up from your regular partner will most likely be ones that are minor (unless he or she has been unfaithful, of course) - for example, yeast infections.

Although these are not generally thought of as sexually transmitted infections, they can be passed from person to person during unprotected sex.

Extramarital Affairs

There is no evidence to support the widespread belief that almost everyone is having extramarital sex. Indeed, the majority of women and men questioned about their attitude to extramarital sex disapprove of it.

In his book Sexual Behavior in the 1970s, Hunt concluded that there had been no significant change in the numbers of people having extramarital sex since Kinsey did his research. Hunt suggests that the seeming sexual liberation of adults today has made a greater impact on premarital and marital sexual acts rather than encouraging widespread extramarital sexual activity.

In the Redbook Report, of 100,000 married women surveyed, fewer than one out of three had had an extramarital sexual affair. Of the exclusively monogamous women in the survey, 62 percent indicated they never had a desire for an extramarital affair. Many of those who were interested in having an affair stated that they had serious problems in their marriages.

Q: "What do the experts say about the effects of extramarital affairs on relationships?"

A: "There is disagreement, but the majority tend to view extra marital sex as threatening a marriage and they suspect it of being evidence of individual personality difficulty. Many experts believe that regular, prolonged or frequent extramarital affairs are unhealthy and that they are an immature, neurotic adaptation to marriage. Some experts in the marriage field prefer not to label extramarital sex as neurotic.

They suggest that each case must be evaluated individually before a judgment can be made, while others indicate that extramarital sex can have a positive, enriching effect on the primary relationship.

It is all too easy for clinicians to use their case material of troubled people in troubled relationships and then make their judgments about the subject on that basis.

Nonclinical samples might not show individual problems in a relationship as causal to extramarital sex, nor might they show out-of-the-ordinary emotional problems among people who have affairs.

I do not agree with the experts who believe extramarital sex is the way to adapt to our difficult and complicated present day culture. Nor do I believe that an affair is always indicative of a problem marriage and/or a problem personality. But if the person who has the affair says it has helped the relationship then who are we to judge? Loving relationships may sometimes need affairs to make them better and help them to stay together."

Q. "After about ten years of marriage, I had a brief affair. I guess I wanted to see if I could still attract someone. Anyway, I ended it quickly and I was relieved that it was over. It felt good getting completely back to my relationship."

A: "It is a familiar phenomenon that toward the end of the first decade of a monogamous marriage one of the partners wants to have an affair - the 'seven year itch.' Checking out his or her ability to attract a sex partner, wanting to try a new experience and wanting to see if they are missing anything are the reasons usually given.

If entered into, these affairs are usually brief, generally do not cause a major crisis in the primary relationship and some people describe them as experiences that make the marriage closer and stronger. This is not to encourage such behavior because the guilt, anger and humiliation that extramarital affairs commonly produce can easily have a negative effect on a relationship."

Divorce

In the US, Europe and in many other parts of the world, divorce has been on the increase in recent years. The rising number of divorces is not an indication that the institution of marriage is being rejected, as the majority of divorced people remarry (four out of five of first-time divorced people within five years).

This has led some authorities to use the term "Serial monogamy" to describe a marriage-divorce-remarriage-divorce-remarriage pattern.

The frequency of divorce today has led some people to observe that the moral fiber of society is deteriorating. They believe that commitments are no longer honored and worked at; accordingly, at the very first sign of conflict a couple will seek a divorce with all its attendant distress to children and to the parents.

It is doubtful that this is an accurate view of the situation. There have always been people who were dissatisfied in their marriages, but the legal barriers, financial burdens and their anxieties bout the effects of divorce on the children frequently prevented divorce from taking place. Today, however, legal restrictions have been reduced.

And there is a real question about the advisability of a couple's remaining together for the sake of the children if they are truly unhappy together. The stigma once attached to divorce has also diminished greatly.

One of the major adjustments divorced women and men must make s in the regularity of their sexual expression with partners. However, divorced men and women resume active sex lives during their divorced period. Men often return to their usual level of activity and in some cases they have sex slightly more frequently than married men of the same age.

Women, too, return to an active sex life during their divorced period and in one study were found to have orgasm more frequently than when they were married.

Q. "It's been a while now since my divorce and I am still not comfortable about having sex. The memories of my last relationship still hang heavy on me. Am I being foolish about this?"

A: "No. It is very common for a person in your situation to be apprehensive about entering an intimate relationship with another person. This is especially so if your previous relationship caused you suffering and conflict. Some divorced men and women want their feelings to settle before they start up a new relationship.

Usually there is a time in a new relationship when you feel it is right to include the sexual dimension, but you should act on these feelings only when you feel ready, and not rush yourself or be forced to act in a way that is not comfortable."

Q: "Right after I got divorced I had sex with just about everyone I went out with. After a while it was just a bore and I began wondering if there was something wrong with me. I'm feeling better now, but was that an unusual situation?"

A: "Some divorced women and men deal with the crisis and self-doubt that a divorce frequently produces by having sex compulsively to prove they are still attractive and sometimes for other complex psychological reasons. This quickly loses its attraction for some people - as for you. Screwing everyone can be like screwing no-one.

Many formerly married people then look for a stable relationship in which sex is a natural part of an overall interaction, not the primary feature of the relationship."

Q. "Is it true that sexual problems are the reason for most divorces?"

A "No. I don't believe sexual problems are the principal reason for divorce. Problems in a marriage frequently surface in the couple's sex life since this is a couple's most intimate way of relating; general anger, hostility and immaturity can easily emerge here, making it appear that the problem is solely sexual.

However, divorces are more frequently caused by subtle combinations of factors that lead to a general incompatibility. Sex may be a problem in itself, but there is a very good chance that sexual difficulties are actually symptoms of problems in one or other personality or in the relationship."

Q: "What does co-parenting mean?"

A: "Co-parenting is another term for joint custody of the children of separating or divorcing parents. Simply put, it means that after the parents are separated or divorced they will share custody equally. Such an arrangement requires agreement by the children (if able) and a plan that is acceptable to the legal authorities.

While some people are doubtful about the value of co-parenting, more and more parents who are able are choosing this option rather than the sole-custody-plus-visitation-rights agreements of the past."