Part 2 of 3
References “Resurrecting Sex” by Dr. David Schnarch
By Benjamin Deu, MA, LMHC, Seattle Christian Counseling
It does not take much for some kind of sexual dysfunction to set in. Think of sexual arousal as filling a tank. But, instead of just one tank, Dr. David Schnarch defines three in his book “Resurrecting Sex.” In order to propel intercourse through to climax, you must have sufficient body responsiveness; physical stimulation; and emotions, thoughts, and feelings.
When these three categories are sufficiently aroused, your body responds. But all three have to hit a certain level for that to happen. Should something go awry in one of them, say your partner starts touching you in a way you can’t stand or the phone goes off, it is as if you sloshed some of the water out of the tank. You have to make up for what you spilled in order to finish filling it. (52)
Most people develop a sexual style just stimulating enough to fill these three tanks and reach orgasm. And that works for them because they figure it’s normal. “However, ‘good-enough’ sex creates a precarious situation. All you need is a minor change in touch situation, or meaning, to reduce your total stimulation below your threshold. Suddenly, you have a sexual dysfunction. Unfortunately, most of us are sexual accidents looking for a place to happen.” (43)
What Schnarch means by this is that most people take a “just comfortable enough” approach to sex. They are just comfortable enough with being intimate with their partner that, provided everything goes to plan, they can achieve orgasm. However, because their personal parameters for being comfortable during sex are so narrow, it does not take much to push them outside their comfort zone. Disturbances such a phone going off or an unwanted touch easily cause dysfunction.
1. Body Responsiveness
This “tank” refers to how much stimulation it takes to get your genitals to respond during sex and propel it through to orgasm. The amount is different for everyone. What brings one person to orgasm might not be enough for someone else. It also changes over time. As people get older, their threshold for body responsiveness rises. This means they need more sustained physical contact to be brought to orgasm. There is a reason the men captaining sailboats in Viagra commercials are debonair salt-and-pepper types, not models in their 20s. (37, 54)
Change in body responsiveness is one of the most obvious signs something is off kilter during sex. Women’s lubrication dries up or men lose their erections because something made them uncomfortable. It may be because of something as ordinary as having sex while staying at your in-laws’ or something more serious like an intimacy problem with your spouse. You may get so worried about your performance it will be difficult to function sexually. Kind of like sexual stage fright. (37-39)
2. Emotions, Thoughts, and Feelings
This “tank” has a lot to do with the previous one. How your brain feels about what is going on during sex is almost as important as how your body feels. That is what I am referring to when I say you get “sexual stage fright.” Like with anything, the more you worry about your performance, and the more you think about it, the worse you are going to do. For instance, if you occasionally struggle with erections (half of men ages 40 to 70 do), and all you can think about is whether your genitals are going to cooperate or not, you are not going to be able to concentrate on being intimate with your partner. If anything, your anxiety and unease will be overwhelming and make everything worse.
How you feel about the type of sexual behavior also matters. You may get turned on when you spouse pats your backside when you’re home. But you would probably feel awkward and uncomfortable if they did it while you were both at church. (41) If you feel selfish during purely receptive acts such as oral sex, your guilt will keep you from enjoying them as much as you would if you were willing to accept that your partner just wants to do something nice for you.
This tank is the most vulnerable of the three. Sexual problems are more likely to set in during the transition after initiating sex when couples are shifting gears from focusing on every day life to intercourse. It also becomes a problem when couples struggle to connect during sex. Are you with your partner during sex? Or are you thousands of miles away thinking about something else? People know when someone is not paying attention to them, and a distant spouse can obliterate the other’s ability to engage in bed.
Getting in bed with your spouse, only to check out emotionally is selfish and unloving. Scripture condemns these kinds of relationships, “Do nothing out of selfish ambition or vain conceit. Rather, in humility value others above yourselves, not looking to your own interests but each of you to the interests of the others.” (Phil. 2:3-4 NIV) God did not design intimacy as some kind of “get-in-get-out” arrangement. It’s meant to be yet another symbol of the communion believers will share with the Lord one day in Heaven.
3. Physical Stimulation
Your environment matters during sex. This is why people prefer to have their honeymoon in places like Hawaii rather than Motel 6. Bad smells or obnoxious noises can throw you off your game and interfere with you reaching your genital response and orgasm thresholds. Also bear in mind scents or sounds that may be enjoyable for one partner may set the other’s teeth on edge. Just because you like listening to a certain kind of music during intimacy doesn’t mean they do.
Think of the admonition Paul gives believers in Romans 14. He tells them to accept different practices among the church members (some eating food sacrificed to idols, others not) because everyone is just trying to obey their consciences. Every relationship involves accommodating different preferences. Just because you like something doesn’t mean your spouse will, and part of marriage is respecting that. “Therefore let us stop passing judgment on one another. Instead, make up your mind not to put any stumbling block or obstacle in the way of a brother or sister. Let us therefore make every effort to do what leads to peace and to mutual edification.” (Romans 14:13, 19 NIV)
The same goes for touching. Schnarch often discusses couples that struggle with dysfunction because of improper touching. For example, one spouse may get upset when their mate asks them not to touch them a certain way. The upset spouse interprets this as their partner rejecting them, when really it is not about them. Their spouse would just rather not be touched that way.
What matters is that you connect with your partner during sexual contact. Instead of closing your eyes and escaping into the sensations, look at your partner. And instead of rushing to climax, focus on connecting with your partner. Be intimate. (39-41)
Christian Counseling for Couples Struggling with Sex
If you and your spouse struggle with sexual dysfunction, the first step is to get a medical exam to rule out any physiological problems. For most couples, talking about sex is uncomfortable, which is why they don’t do it, causing their sexual problems to mutate into something much worse. A professional Christian counselor provides a safe, confidential environment for you and your mate to discuss the weaknesses of your sex life and receive mature, helpful instruction about what may cause them. Christian marriage counseling offers professional, Biblical help for your marriage.
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