Why ‘Sexual Responsiveness’ Is Important for Couples & How to Practice It
Why ‘Sexual Responsiveness’ Is Important for Couples & How to Practice It
They say relationships are all about good and take — and apparently, there’s nowhere that’s more true than in the bedroom.
New research published in the journal Current Opinion in Psychology found that “sexual responsiveness” is a major indicator of relationship quality and satisfaction.
So, what is sexual responsiveness? And how can you practice this in your own relationship?
“Sexual responsiveness is an attitude of collaboration,” says Reece Stockhausen, relationship and intimacy coach at Practical Intimacy. “It’s genuinely wanting to prioritize your partner’s sexual desires because you recognize the benefits for both of you, and you respect your partner’s sexuality just as much as you do your own.”
Below, experts share why sexual responsiveness is so important — and what you and your partner can do to cultivate it.
What Is Sexual Responsiveness?
According to the aforementioned Current Opinion in Psychology study, sexual responsiveness refers to “understanding, accommodating, and being willing or motivated to meet a partner’s sexual desires.”
“This doesn’t mean you have to meet every desire at every moment in time, but simply that you see the value and put effort into meeting one another’s desires,” explains Dr. Jess O’Reilly, Ph.D., Resident Sexologist at ASTROGLIDE.
So let’s say your partner wants to have sex and you’re not in the mood. In that case, being sexually responsive might entail letting yourself be willing to try getting turned on — say, through physical touch.
“On the other hand, being sexually responsive might also entail letting them know that now isn’t a good time, but suggesting an alternative form of connection — like snuggling — or carving out time the next morning for sex.”
Keep in mind that sexual responsiveness is not about always meeting your partner’s needs and pushing yours away. (In the long run, that will only lead to resentment.) In fact, according to the aforementioned recent study, you won’t reap all the benefits of sexual responsiveness if meeting your partner’s needs entails self-neglect.
“Sexual responsiveness involves compromising and finding solutions that work for each partner and the relationship as a whole,” says Dr. Sarah Melancon, Ph.D., a certified sexologist, and lead researcher and medical review board member for Women’s Health Interactive. “This means each partner asserts their own boundaries and honors each other’s boundaries while also seeking to understand and respect each other’s sexual needs and desires.”
Think of it like a Venn diagram, says Melancon. Each partner comes into the relationship with their own sexual wants and needs — and sexual responsiveness entails finding that area of overlap.
Why Is Sexual Responsiveness Important?
Experts say sexual responsiveness plays a key role in any romantic relationship — but it becomes even more important the longer you’ve been together.
“As relationships progress, spontaneous, hormone-driven, exciting sex doesn’t ‘just happen’ as it does in the early months or years,” says Melancon. “Mutually satisfying sex in a long-term relationship requires communication, understanding, care, and even planning to meet both partners’ needs.”
According to the study in Current Opinion in Psychology, sexual responsiveness is associated with maintaining a higher level of sexual desire over time, as well as higher perceived relationship quality.
Katie Schubert, Ph.D., a sex and couples therapist and CEO of Cypress Wellness Center, notes that many couples she sees in her practice are dealing with “desire discrepancies.”
In other words, each partner wants sex at different times or in different quantities. Sexual responsiveness ensures that both people feel as if their partner recognizes and cares about their needs.
For example, if one partner only wants sex once a week, and the other wants to have sex daily, sexual responsiveness might mean making a sex date three days a week.
“No couple’s sexual desires are going to be perfectly matched at all times — but with sexual responsiveness, both partners are working together to prioritize sexual connection, even if they experience desire differently,” adds Stockhausen.
And as O’Reilly points out, the discussions that sexual responsiveness requires can lead to greater emotional intimacy.
“Sexual responsiveness requires communication, openness, vulnerability, flexibility, and effort — all of these components make for happier relationships,” adds O’Reilly. “So sexual responsiveness isn’t just about sex — it’s also about overall investment in the relationship and mutual fulfillment.”
How to Practice Sexual Responsiveness
Not sure how to incorporate sexual responsiveness into your own relationship? Here’s what experts recommend:
Talk About Sex
Having regular conversations about your sex life — and not just in the bedroom — is a great place to start, says Melancon.
“We are constantly evolving beings, and our sexual wants and needs can evolve, too,” she tells AskMen. “Update each other on your sexual feelings and needs as they grow and change.”
More specifically, Stockhausen suggests talking about what sex means to you both.
“When you understand what sexual connection means to your partner, and what they’re reaching out for when they initiate, you become more open to collaborating,” she explains.
Learn What You Both Need to Get in the Mood
Sometimes, one person in the relationship experiences “spontaneous desire” — meaning they can feel turned on seemingly out of nowhere — and the other experiences “responsive desire” meaning they need an external stimulus to feel aroused.
In this case, Stockhausen and O’Reilly advise finding what tends to arouse both you and your partner, or discussing ways to accommodate your differences in desire styles, or ways of initiating sex that work for both of you without making either partner either feel pressured into acceptance or anxious about rejection.
Identify Barriers to Sexual Satisfaction
If one or both of you isn’t feeling fulfilled sexually, it’s important to figure out what’s getting in the way. Are you having sex often, but not feeling emotionally connected to each other? Is one of you neglecting to express their fantasies and desires? Are you too stressed out from work to initiate or enjoy intimacy?
“Think about all areas of your life: relational, practical, spiritual, emotional, physical, health-wise, etcetera,” says O’Reilly. “Sex doesn’t occur in a vacuum, so if you want to create responsive desire, you’ll want to look at it more holistically.”
Don’t Yuck Your Partner’s Yum
Sharing a fantasy or desire can be vulnerable, so make it a point not to shame your partner or express judgment when they tell you something they’ve always wanted to try.
“Try to understand what they like about it,” says Melancon. “While you should always honor your boundaries, see if you can find something you personally find erotic about the scenario — it doesn’t have to be the exact same thing that turns your partner on, either.”
And if you need help figuring out what your kinks are, she suggests taking a quiz together to find out what you both enjoy.
You can’t have sexual responsiveness without mindfulness. So, when you and your partner are getting busy, Schubert says it’s crucial to make sure there are no distractions or interruptions.
“I often ask my couples to start episodes of sexual intimacy with a massage,” she says. “The massage often allows them to settle into their time together and relax. This will increase mindfulness — and therefore sexual responsiveness.”
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