A couple’s sexual relationship often has struggles that drive you to grow and learn new things, about yourself, your anxieties, and your emotions. There are surprisingly simple couples sex therapy exercises you can do that will propel your growth in managing your relational anxieties and make you confident with your emotions in your sexual relationship.All three couples sex therapy exercises and quotes below are copyrighted and from Dr. David Schnarch’s book, Intimacy and Desire. All of them are intended to increase one’s sense of autonomy while in physical contact. This would be quite the opposite of the self-consciousness, and consequent anxiety, that we otherwise bring into sex. For many couples, the anxieties of physical contact make sex an emotional flurry, a virtual drive-by shooting.
Being constantly worried about getting the right feedback from your partner to ensure that “I’m okay” makes sexual contact highly anxiety-producing. Schnarch would call it ‘a reflected sense of self,’ as opposed to a ‘solid sense of self.’ Whatever you call it, it is codependent and produces unsureness in your partner as well.
3 Couples Sex Therapy Techniques
Exercise 1: Hugging Until Relaxed
Hugging until relaxed is pretty simple. Partners remain fully clothed and give a full-body hug. They are not leaning on each other. If you do, then if one falls, you both fall. If you are standing on your own two feet, then if your partner falls, you are still holding them up. So the idea is to be standing on your own two feet not just physically, but emotionally – that is, to hang onto your sense of self, to calm your anxieties, and get to relaxation while in full physical contact with your partner.In this exercise, there is no genital contact – in fact, there is nothing erotic here at all. It’s about relaxing during physical contact. It needs to be understood that sex is not an option at this point – it is off the table. As such, neither partner will read this as a prelude to sex, nothing more than what it is.
There are no other rules. You begin to see your relational and physical anxieties surface as you wonder, “She just moved, is she uncomfortable?” “I’m uncomfortable, what will he think if I adjust?” “When do we stop? How do we communicate that?” and a whole host of other questions and anxieties come up. However, you will find that they are much easier to deal with than during sex, partly because of the low level of physicality, but especially because it is the goal of the activity.
It takes real purposefulness to do this exercise – someone has to initiate it, and hopefully 2-3 times per week. When becoming really relaxed in full contact becomes an easy state to reach, it’s time to move on to the next exercise.
Exercise 2: Heads on Pillows
This also is not erotic, and it must be an agreement beforehand that it does not lead to intercourse. That is essential to removing any innuendos and to allow each of you to freely soothe your anxieties and gain control of yourself.
Here’s how it works: You both lie down, each with your head on your own pillow and facing each other. Quiet your mind and heart, and look into your spouse’s eyes. Touching is okay, but try to stay with hands, face, or other non-erotic places.It can be a real challenge to be both relaxed and intimate. The awkwardness, the connection or lack of connection, shows up. Schnarch says, “With your mind and eyes, try to touch your partner’s heart.” All the while you are soothing your own anxieties with self-talk, what your purpose is, and maintaining self-control.
Exercise 3: Feeling While Touching
If you’ve done Exercise 2 enough to get really comfortable – actually to the point of relaxing and enjoying – then it’s time to move on.
The contract must still be clear: this exercise cannot lead to sex.
Again, you are lying down. The emphasis is on feeling your spouse while you are touching them. “One partner touches the other, while both of you mentally follow your point of physical connection as it moves. Instead of focusing on your sexual technique (or on your physical sensations), focus on feeling each other.”
Start with non-genital areas, like hands, arms, face, etc. It will take discipline and an established alliance between you to do this.
Talking is okay, as are candles or music – or not. The emphasis is on genuinely feeling your partner while he or she follows your touch – it becomes a shared experience, a communing of touch that you feel together.
Sexual Therapy Coaching
As good as these exercises are, it can be helpful to have a trained counselor to discuss your particular challenges and hindrances.
Intimacy & Desire: Awaken the Passion in Your Relationship, by David Schnarch
“Anchor,” courtesy of Takmeomeo, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License; “Still in Your Arms,” courtesy of Toa Heftiba, unsplash.com, Public Domain; “Under the Covers,” courtesy of Prinz Peter, pixabay.com, CC0 Public Domain License