In our overly sexually stimulated society, it may be difficult to believe many married couples struggle with being sexually intimate on a consistent basis. Specializing in working with sex addicts and the intimacy anorexic population, it is common to see couples who have not had sex for weeks, months, years or even decades. Generally, both partners have been so hurt by the other that giving them the assignment to “just go have sex after our session today” never works. These couples generally need intensive outpatient therapy in order to get the boulder that has settled in the ground moving again. It takes a great deal of work initially, but it is well worth it.
Intimacy is not about sex. Sex is not love. However, sex is a critical part of intimacy for married couples. When sexual intimacy is not happening, the relationship suffers. The hard work is dealing with everything else outside the bedroom first, dealing with unforgiveness, offendedness, bitterness, resentments, addictions, trauma, unmet expectations, poor communication, silence, distrust, the withholding of love, etc. Once these issues have been dealt with over time, the couple can begin to move toward sexual intimacy and assertive sex.
Before we discuss what assertive sex is, I need to clarify what assertive sex is not.
- It is not about your “right” to have sex.
- It is not demanding your spouse to have sex with you.
- It is not rape.
- It is NEVER about bringing pornography into the bedroom for yourself or with your spouse.
- It is not infidelity.
What exactly do I mean by assertive sex?
- For many couples, assertive sex is a journey that begins first by learning how to be friends again. Friends are able to be honest with each other even when it hurts. They enjoy each other’s company and do things together in work and play. They can share ideas and dreams without being judged or criticized. They are one another’s best cheerleader and support. They are not codependent. They can easily survive outside of one another. Sex is not a part of friendship.
- After a period of weeks or months, the couple can begin dating again. Dating is about kindling the romantic interest in each other again. The relationship begins to move toward feelings about each other and communicating those feelings of love, appreciation and tenderness. They begin to meet each other’s love language.
- They can now move toward a touch agreement in which they may need to relearn how to hold hands, hug, cuddle with clothes on, cuddle with clothes off, enjoy sexual touch and intercourse. The goal of the touch agreement is to move toward sex; however, sex can be too overwhelming with such an expectation too soon that can set the couple up for failure. Each couple is different and moves at a different pace. Some couples use sensate focus techniques that can also be helpful.
- Now, we get to the key piece of assertive sex. The key to assertive sex may seem insignificant; however, I have found it to be the most important thing, which is to get a couple to move from asking questions to making statements. For example; many couples speak passively to each other. “Do you want to go on a date tonight? Where do you want to eat? Do you want to go to a movie? Where should we go on vacation this year?” The goal is to say statements, not questions. I have found this to be no different when it comes to sex. We need to help couples move away from questions, such as “Do you want to be sexual with me? Do you want to be intimate with me? Do you want to make love?” When a couple does this, usually intimacy anorexia is present. The intimacy anorexic participates in this type of communication in order to not have to take responsibility for sex or really anything in the marriage. I spend time practicing with couples who are face to face in my office, as they make assertive statements about sex to one another, such as the following, “I want to be sexual with you. I want to be intimate with you. I want to make love to you.” These can be used and practiced with the husband and wife; however, it may be an awkward exercise at first. I always tell the couple, “I make my living off awkward.” Many couples struggle with this. Some couples cannot even use the word sex, or they will use words and phrases such as “Lets go play, I want to cuddle with you, a massage would be nice tonight.” I train couples to say want you mean, and mean what you say. Part of becoming a healthy sexual adult is using the word sex.
- Finally, once the couple is at this level, we can begin to talk about scheduling sex, making a sexual agreement and sexual garden for their marriage. It is important that all previous work has been completed before moving to this stage. If regular intimacy exercises outside the bedroom are not happening, this can be used as a weapon and become very damaging to the couple. At this stage, the couple is now ready to talk about how often they want to have sex, on what days, and who will be the one initiating sex on those days. They will also be able to discuss by themselves what types of sex acts, touch, lighting, music, etc., they want to include in their sacred sexual garden. (For couples who struggle just talking about sex, I recommend some specific books that are non-pornographic but educational that they can read to learn about sex and their bodies together.) The couple also learns the importance of why talking during sex, having their eyes open and providing some low lighting moves the couple from good sex to amazing sex.
This is what assertive sex looks like, and it’s fun and exciting for couples who are willing to do the work. At this point, the couple has the boulder moving with momentum again, and it’s much easier to keep moving forward if maintained. There is much more to this process; however, this blog gives you a great start. For more information, contact our office for a free assessment.
Cory Schortzman is an author, speaker, teacher and licensed mental health professional. Since 2008, he has served as the Executive Director of Transformed Hearts Counseling Center in Colorado Springs, CO. He is the founder of SARA, the Sexual Addiction Recovery Association. Cory is passionate about helping couples and individuals overcome sex addiction. He is also passionate about bringing awareness to the public and supporting the elimination of sex and human trafficking. Cory has been married since 1998 to his beautiful wife, Kerry, and lives in Colorado with their four daughters. He and Kerry have been seen on the CBS Early Show, Inside Edition, and ABC Good Morning America, Fox 21 News, and TLC/Discovery discussing the harm of sex addiction and the joys of recovery. He has also been heard on numerous radio programs.
Cory’s books include: Out of the Darkness, Into the Light the Workbook, Into the Light the Steps, Ashes to Beauty the Steps, 301 Dating Ideas, 301 Conversational Ideas, 301 Ways to Say I Love You, 301 Ways to Love Your Children & 301 Recovery Tools & Tips.