Tips for Lesbian Sex: 11 Erogenous Zones for Women that Every Lesbian Couple Must Explore
If you are a lesbian couple interested in tips for lesbian sex, or simply sexually active with a woman, this information about erogenous zones is a must read for you. Let’s start by explaining, what is an Erogenouszone? This is simply an highly sensitive area of the body that, when touched or stimulated, will excite sexual feelings for the person being touched.
These areas, also called erotogenic zones, tend to have a high concentration of nerve endings which link to key pleasure regions in the brain and the genitals. While there are areas of the body that are typically universally more sensitive for everyone, not all people experience “sensitivity” as pleasurable, thus you will need to explore and experiment and pay attention to both verbal and non-verbal feedback you receive during this sensual expedition. Don’t be shy about asking what she likes, too!
When it comes to tips for lesbian sex, understanding the highly concentrated pleasure-sensitive nerve endings, the clitoris is the winner, hands down. In fact, the clitoris is so fascinating, I plan to write an entire post about this little chickpea next, so we will not discuss this obvious pleasure center today. While there are definitely more than eleven key erogenouszones for women, these are the ones I suggest you start with.
The power of these non-genital pleasure centers, is that when activated, these large clusters of nerve endings will often communicate their happiness to both the brain and the genital region while stimulating pelvic contractions. Pelvic contractions heighten sexual tension, and are necessary for arousal and orgasm, and when you are able to build strong contractions during foreplay, you are ultimately able to help your partner experience a more powerful orgasm.
Starting from the top (as in the scalp), the following tips for lesbian sex will cover the eleven areas are worth paying special attention to as you venture into the land of foreplay.
The scalp has a lot of sensation and when you lightly scratch, rub or massage the scalp, you can activate pleasurable sensations. Scalp massages release the stress hormone oxytocin, often called the “love hormone.” The scalp has plenty of nerve endings and a good massage can get your blood flowing and enhance relaxation – a great antidote for tension and anxiety which greatly impede satisfying sexual experiences.
Ears are full of nerve endings, and areas worth paying particular attention to are a soft touch or kisses to the outer edge of the ear, as well as behind the ears.
The skin surrounding the edge of the mouth, where you would outline your lips with a lip pencil (should you fancy yourself a lipstick lesbian) is very sensitive. We have the buccal nerve to thank for this. Use the tip of your tongue to trace the edge of her upper lip, lightly, and see if she enjoys this sensation.
The entire neck is sensitive, and likely feels good with a soft touch. However, the area between your jawline and shoulders is an strong erogenouszone.
The area between your shoulders, particularly the small dip where the neck connects with the collarbone, is very sensitive. In the dip, there is little fatty tissue covering the nerves, thus it is more pleasure-sensitive.
A light touch with your finger tips from one shoulder to the other, pausing in the small dips of your collarbone, to circle this extra sensitive area, may feel very arousing to her.
Nipple and Breast stimulation
Breasts are very sensitive for many women, and spending time slowly exploring (with your fingers, cheek, mouth, tongue and lips) the entire breast, circling the nipple, and building a desire to have her nipple touched, can be a sensory treat for your partner.
Nipple stimulation activates a part of the brain called the genital sensory cortex, which is the same area activated by vaginal, clitoral and cervical stimulation. This creates a direct connection between the nipples and the genitals, which assists some women in having an orgasm through nipple stimulation alone.
Rib Cage to Hips
Move your finger tips, or lips, with enough pressure to avoid tickling, from the bottom of the rib cage to the hips and you will reflexively causes the pelvic-floor muscles to contract which increases arousal. The pelvic floor is key to a strong orgasm, so when you can get the attention of her pelvic floor, you are on the right track.
The belly button for some women is very sensitive and has a direct link to the clitoris. Neurologically, the belly button and the clitoris grew from the same tissue at birth, so they are neurologically connected.
If touching or licking the belly button is too intense, or not pleasurable, try moving a couple inches south (three finger-widths), and caress or even press on this area, known as the “sea of energy.” Doing so is said to increase blood flow and release tension, both of which contribute to a stronger orgasm.
Small of back
The vertebrae in the small of the back contain sacral nerves, which conveniently connect directly with the genitals.
A gentle message, kisses, soft stimulation, or in some women a karate chop to the small of her back (hey, whatever works), can assist in stimulating pelvic contractions.
Running through our legs is the ilioinguinal nerve which, when stimulated, also has a desirable effect on pelvic contractions.
Try massaging the length of her legs, from her upper thighs down to her ankles, with special focus on the inside of her thighs (this is one of the must-explore erogenouszones for women) with the soft touch of your finger tips, or a gentle pressure with the flat of your hand – depending on her response, starting at her knees and moving downward and back up again – repeating this for a while.
It has been discovered that the clitoris is located next to the toes in the female sensory cortex. It is believed that when the toes are stimulated, there is erotic benefit in the female sensory cortex because of the arousal signals are received in a location in the cortex right next to the location the signals coming in from the clitoris are received.
If you are reading this article because you are a lesbian couple who is concerned about your sex life, you are smart to be doing something – anything, toward gaining tips for lesbian sex. Here is another article you might enjoy on tips for lesbian foreplay.
There are a lot of differences between male-female and female-female sex lives that go beyond the obvious. If you are serious about turning your sex life around, consider attending one of my workshops, or do some online lesbian couples coaching or counseling with me. Click here to schedule on my online calendar.
I’ve certainly heard my share of people ask, “How do lesbians have sex?” And, I know there is plenty of interest in lesbian sex advice, and tips for lesbian sex, but I can’t recall one question, ever, about lesbian forplay, or advice for better foreplay, etc.
Typically, people tend to think of foreplay as the activities leading up to “intercourse,” which, of course is defined as the whole penis-in-the-vagina thing. It makes sense that that this langdefinition is not functional for lesbian foreplay.
Defining Lesbian Foreplay
I wonder if this stems from the confusion about what lesbian sex is. Do you think that lesbian sex and foreplay are often considered the same thing??? I hope not. And, to be sure, I’m going to write about it today. Here’s my definition of foreplay: the intentional pursuit of sexual and romantic excitement and pleasure without the immediate goal of an orgasm. Play is the focal point; the best part of the word foreplay. Play is simply any activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than a serious or practical purpose. Foreplay is essentially, for-play, something done simply for enjoyment.
Double Your Pleasure
When you take time to play, before you engage the pursuit of an orgasm, you can double your pleasure. Not only are you multiplying the amount of enjoyable sensations you experience through intimate touch during foreplay, you are likely to also experience a much stronger and more satisfying orgasm when that time arrives. And, who doesn’t want that? Lesbian foreplay is a process of discovery, and there is no “right” way to go about this, there is only the way that works best for her. The fun part is in the discovery.
Do you know where the most sensitive and pleasing (non-genital) area is on your lover’s body? There is no universal answer. What is arousing to one lover may be annoying to another. If not, I think you’ll find this article worth reading.
Interestingly, foreplay often involves a higher level of vulnerability than the task oriented business of genital stimulation. Foreplay is like bringing together different instruments and making up music as you go. There is no particular goal or destination, it is a process. With foreplay, we are exploring, experimenting, testing, tempting, toying, enticing, inviting, pausing, allowing, withholding, and slowly, playfully, enjoyably, building the sexual tension to heights that can no longer be tolerated. Sometimes we try things that don’t go well. Sometimes we create awkward situations and maybe even make a mess if you involve food or oils, etc. It doesn’t matter. It is all a part of the perfect imperfection of learning to love and be loved a little bit better each time you venture into this wonderful land of lesbian foreplay.
If you are enjoying the experience, you are on the right track. It is a real turn-on to have a partner who sees your body as a source of great pleasure for her. Get out of your mind, and into your body – feel your way through this experience and stay present to how her body is responding to your touch, and how your body feels with her touches. If it feels good to you as you are touching her, it is likely to also feel good to her. Foreplay is about synchronizing yourself with your partner, finding a rhythm and flow that works for both of you.
Though making love can occur in many different ways, most of which are not even sexual in nature, like expressing kindness, curiosity, understanding, compassion, and everyday care for our partner. Foreplay is the touching, talking, and interacting that precedes direct genital stimulation or other activities typically involved in the pursuit of an orgasm. Making love actually starts long before you enter the bedroom (or other love-making destination).
A clever spin on the word foreplay is choreplay, which highlights the importance of pleasing your partner in non-sexual ways (like doing chores) to create the mood. One of the challenges for lesbians is in the initiation of intimacy, and the sooner you get started – say, when you wake up, the better!
Flattering. Lesbian foreplay can start with words. The more flattering, the better. You look sexy in those jeans. I love the way that shirt hugs your breasts. I love how your face looks without makeup – you’re so naturally beautiful. Say the kind things that naturally cross your mind. Flatter her.
Flirtation. Wink. Smile. Ask her to dance while you’re cooking with her in the kitchen. Make up songs about her and sing them to her. Tickle, play, wrestle, or rough house with her (unless that makes her mad… it can have an undesired effect on some women).
Have fun. Make her laugh. Be silly, spontaneous, joyful, and playful. Role play, pretend you are strangers just meeting.
Nurture her. Comb her hair. Give her a massage. Bathe each other.
Consider the 5 Senses
When you think about stimulating your partner, consider the senses that she enjoys most. Is she moved by music, excited by new tastes, moaning for more touch when you give her affection, delighting in your scent or the smell of a new candle, or is she drawn to the aesthetics of things, noticing color, shape and design? Notice what lights up her senses and explore new ways to introduce her to a new sensation.
Sight: blindfolding will enhance all other senses, leave an erotic letter for your partner to find and read during her day, extended eye contact – gazing, not staring, send sensual pics of yourself to her, dress in ways that highlight the parts of your body that turn her on
Sounds: read to each other, heavy breathing, moans, sighs, mood-setting music, whisper in her ear
Smell: fresh shower/bath smell, candles, lotions, perfumes, natural scent, fresh breath, know what your partner likes, Ylang Ylang, Jasmine and Sandalwood are all well known for setting the mood and stimulating our sex drive,
Touch: kitchen dancing, textiles, satins, cottons, silks, latex, (temperature – hot breath against skin, ice cube melting in mouth while kissing a sensitive body part), sensual bath, wash each other.
Stay tuned for the part-2 post tomorrow on “The 11 Erogenous Zones from Her Head to Her Toes (literally).”
If your lesbian sex life has fallen off the grid, which sometimes happens, one of the first things to try is just doing it. Literally just restart. If you are struggling with feeling like she’s more like a sister than a lover, or you feel like your resentments grown too high, or perhaps you’ve experienced trust issues that leave you feeling too hurt to be that vulnerable, you may want to consider attending my Lesbian Couples Workshop for a jump-start on your relationship.
How many times does the average lesbian couple have sex per week?
This is a question I asked 496 lesbians whom I surveyed in 2011 while working on my dissertation for my PhD in Clinical Sexology. The topic of my dissertation was lesbian sex and relationship satisfaction.
Lesbians were asked to report how frequently they had had sex within the six months prior to taking the survey. If they were single, they were asked to reflect on the last six months of the last relationship they were in. Clearly, self-report is subject to memory and as a therapist who works with lesbian couples on a daily basis, I can attest that self-report varies among lesbian couples when asked, “How often would you say you have sex per week?” Not surprisingly, the satisfied partner often recalls a higher number of sexual encounters with her partner than the unsatisfied parter.
However, here’s what was reported by the 496 lesbians surveyed.
When you add up the top three options, no sex, once per month or less you have 49% of lesbians having sex 0 – 1 times per month. On the other end, you have roughly 32% having sex 1-4 times per week. In the middle, there is 20% having sex 2-3 times per month. So, it would seem that lesbians tend to fall into two different camps – sexually active at a fairly regular rate or minimally sexually active.
Summary of how often lesbian sex occurs with lesbian couples:
For a wonderfully easy to understand overview of issues related to a low sex drive, including the symptoms of low libido, issues associated with a low sex drive, and ways to increase your libido, here is a great infographic.
Credited to x’s and o’s, in partnership with Ghergich and co.
Weeks, Gerald R and Nancy Gambescia (2000). Erectile Dysfunction: Integrating Couple Therapy, Sex Therapy, and Medical Treatment. New York, NY: W.W. Norton Company, Inc.
Thirty-nine percent of 40 year old men and sixty-seven percent of men who are 70 experience erectile dysfunction (ED). While there are many books available today on the topic of erectile dysfunction, Weeks and Gambescia have separated themselves from the pack by presenting “an integrated approach that examines both the organic and psychological factors contributing to erectile dysfunction (ix).” In a book directed specifically to clinicians and physicians, rather than the actual man who is experiencing ED, this book reveals itself as a clearly charted, no-nonsense, guide for professionals who wish to offer hope and relief for the man experiencing ED. What appeals to me most about this program is that the target of this treatment is not just him; this program addresses his relationship at large which inadvertently slowly takes the focus off of him, and eventually narrows in on the relationship itself.
By introducing the DSM-IV early in the book, the authors establish the difference between psychological ED and organic or medically-based ED. Because the client is actually the couple, not just the man, the authors note that they “frequently find that the couple is struggling with at least two distinct but interrelated problems.” When research suggests that 48% of women have difficulty getting sexually excited, 33% have difficulty maintaining excitement, and 46% were unable to have an orgasm, it stands to reason that the partners of men with ED might also be a part of the problem and the solution.
Getting a man into treatment is the first step. According to the authors there are plenty of reasons he may be hesitant, not the least of which is actually finding a provider that offers such help. As seems to be the case in all books related to sex, there is a good deal of myth-busting that must occur just to level the playing field to the facts. The authors have come up with 18 common misconceptions that serve as a great resource for educating the client. Among my favorite of these is the myth that “Every time a man has an erection, he must have sex” (11). The authors reassure their clients that, “a man can sustain an erection and choose not to have an orgasm without risking physical or psychological damage” (11).
After explaining the physiology of an erection, and the role of the central nervous system, the vascular system and the hormonal system, the reader is primed to learn about the medical influences on erectile dysfunction. Starting with age-related issues, the authors note that “the most important factor in the age-related decrease in sexual desire is the reduction in the production of testosterone…beginning about the age 40” (19). With age also comes a longer refractory period. Later in the book we learn that some men misdiagnose these natural changes in their sexual behavior as a problem, thus activating a psychological anxiety around performance that exacerbates an otherwise natural decline in desire and performance.
The author’s take great care to educate the reader about the various medical assessments involved in the diagnosis of a ED. Included is a review of the physical examination, the lab tests and electrocardiogram, the rectal exam, sleep monitoring to determine nocturnal penile tumescence (NPT), penile blood pressure, urology tests, neurological testing of the penis, as well as others. A generous amount of information is also provided about the various medical treatments available for men with ED, ranging from the penile implants which were introduced in 1966 to the ever common Viagra that introduced in 1998.
Not surprisingly one of the largest chapters in the book is on the psychological aspects of ED. Performance anxiety, or the excessive concern over attaining and sustaining erections (42), is the leading symptom of erectile dysfunction. Also of concern are good ole life stressors which may include: divorce, relationship difficulties, addictions, depression, affairs, inability to problem solve or deal with conflicts, unresolved childhood abuse, or even negative cultural messages. Another concern is the presence of other sexual dysfunctions. For example, according to Masters and Johnson (1970) 50% of the men who experienced erectile problems were premature ejaculators (45).
Chapters four and five offer the provider a concrete place to start treatment: the initial phone call. The authors literally walk the provider through the necessary steps involved in assessing the psychological risk factors, including the questions to ask and the importance of taking control of the conversation by asking questions in a direct manner. In a similar fashion, the book outlines the steps involved in the initial session, offering strategies to establish therapeutic rapport. Therapy is, by nature, an experience in vulnerability if one chooses to self-disclose, and it strikes me that the authors make a very good point when they highlight the importance of the first call as a starting place for treatment. There is no way to ease into the issues when you are seeking help for an erectile dysfunction. The request itself immediately renders the client vulnerable before he has a chance to assess the safety of the provider and his feeling of confidence in the process.
Thus it also makes sense that much of the initial process is about tending to the client’s need to feel safe, to feel reassured, and to be given a sense of hope that this can, and will, get better. One of the strategies the authors favor is that of reframing. The reframe is how the therapist is able to control the structure of the session, and literally crafts the stage on which this problem will be defined, and the solution will be found. The reframe is the process of teaching the clients to think about the problem differently (70).
Once clients begin to discuss the actual sexual problems it is important to determine if the man is describing an erectile dysfunction or if instead there is a desire problem. Similar to Cervanka’s message in her book, “In the Mood.” You can’t fix what isn’t broken, so you must first determine where the breakdown is. Key questions to help determine this are offered, and the authors suggest that “answers to two important questions about nocturnal erections and masturbation can give you reliable indicators” (72). These questions relate to whether or not he awakens from sleep with an erection and the tumescence of that erection if so, and whether or not he has erectile problems when masturbating (72). The answers to these questions serve as a sort of litmus test. When functional erections occur in sleep or while masturbating it is no longer deemed a medical concern.
With whole chapter dedicated to the basic techniques used with couples, my greatest criticism is the absence of information about imago therapy, a personal favorite when it comes to working with couples. The use of education (bibliotherapy), and a well-considered list of book suggestions, combined with some cognitive and behavioral strategies, are all solid approaches to any couple. The best part, though, is the attention given to the sensate focus exercises initially developed by Masters and Johnsons.
Once the assessments are made, the rapport is built, and the couple is stable enough to do the work, Weeks and Gambescia suggest that it is time to use get to the heart of this treatment. The authors introduce sensate focus in a very user-friendly format, including the purposes behind this strategy. Particularly helpful is the emphasis on how to follow-up with the clients once their homework is given, and the importance of doing so. The authors indicate that, “tracking this aspect of treatment requires great consistency on the part of the therapist” (133).
In some cases, the authors literally provide scripts for how to communicate the homework to the clients, which is a useful tool for the novice therapist who may not yet be confident in doing so. The clients are encouraged to identify where they would be most comfortable beginning a sensual experience. While I understand the value in having couples participate in this, it seems to contradict the otherwise directive nature of the therapeutic process so far. It seems that a key part of this program is in the hand-holding, in reassurance that “this is the path to recovery,” and fostering the confidence of clients that they are going to experience success, and that we know how to lead them there.
An alternative to how they approach this could be to create a check list for each partner to complete, without the other seeing, that indicates where he or she is most comfortable touching. Then the therapist takes these and decides from this where to direct the clients to start (using the lowest common denominator as the deciding factor).
The next step, sensate focus-II, is also clever in that the goal is to help the man now achieve an erection, but this goal is to never be stated – which makes sense, so that performance anxiety does not return. The final step is the most interesting and offers me the greatest insight to the treatment, and that is the strategy of teaching him to actually lose his erection. While counter-intuitive at first, this makes perfect sense in that the authors are encouraging psychological strength here, rather than physical achievement.
Also of note is the importance of working with couples who do have medically induced erectile dysfunction. Because the medically-based dysfunction can initiate a psychological dysfunction it is wise to intervene at any point – to be sure he stays on the right course from the start, or to get the couple back on course if they find themselves exacerbating their dysfunction with the addition of psychological stressors.
After reading this book by Weeks and Gambescia, it seems reasonable that a skilled clinician with a solid understanding of the sexual response cycle, the physiology of an erection, and experience working with couples, could successfully implement their treatment protocol. It is noted that finding a local urologist to enlist in the care of patients with ED is also important, so perhaps this legwork is important to do first. However, the nuts and bolts of treatment are described with great care, and offer very detailed roadmaps to anyone interested in providing this type of service.
The book is very well written and organized. The authors set out to provide a guide for other clinicians and medical professionals interested in the care of men experiencing erectile dysfunction and they seemed to have hit the nail on the head with this book. Except for possible updates to assessment technologies and medical treatments, this book offers a timeless approach to the treatment of erectile dysfunction. Any clinician who provides care for men with ED can benefit from this book, even if their role is not to provide psychological interventions. Understanding the bigger picture, the relational picture, of erectile dysfunction is invaluable and seems to be a key ingredient to their successful interventions.
While the jury is still out whether or not I will be actively promoting myself as a clinician for men with ED, I am happy to add this book to my bookshelf. Because the statistics of men who experience ED are so high, I am certain that I find myself face to face with couples who are dealing with this issue, and thanks to this book I will have a much better sense of how to proceed.
Cervenka, Kathleen A. (2003). In The Mood Again: A Couple’s Guide to Reawakening Sexual Desire. Oakland, CA: New Harbinger Publications.
In 1964 the Righteous Brothers wrote a song titled, You’ve Lost that Lovin’ Feeling. Ultimately it climbed to the number one hit single in the United States, ranking 34 of the 500 Greatest Songs of all Time by Rolling Stone magazine. This, I am sure, is no surprise to Dr. Cervenka who has built her career, and this book, around helping couples find that lovin’ feeling again.
According to Cervenka, the contents of this book represent “the exact process” that she takes clients through in couples therapy (5). The basic assumption is that almost all couples at some point in their relationship are affected by a diminished libido in one or both partners. In order to establish a foundation on which to build her treatment protocol, Cervenka starts with a review of the Tri-Phasic Model developed to describe the human sexual response cycle created by Helen Singer Kaplan in 1974. Briefly, the three stages are desire, arousal (excitement), and orgasm.
In order to accurately assess issues of desire, it is important to identify the phase in which the dysfunction occurs. Cervenka is clear to state that her treatment process is designed only for issues of desire and that in order for successful treatment to occur, the problem must first be accurately identified. Educating her clients on the function of desire is central to her initial treatment protocol. Relying on Kaplan’s research, she reviews with clients the notion that our desire starts in a small area of our brain called the hypothalamus which contains tiny sexual drive centers. She then explores with couples the common motivators for sexual desire. Cervenka reviews our five senses and how to interpret sensations as erotic, going into detail about various erotic pleasures associated with touch, smell, sight, sound, and taste. After encouraging increased awareness of what variety of sensations will activate your own sex centers, Cervanka asserts very clearly that there is only one person in control of your sex center, and it isn’t your partner! It is you.
Anyone who has ever fallen in love knows the feeling of what Cervenka calls euphoric lust. Readers may benefit from a more thorough explanation of this phase of attraction which can be found in the book, Why We Love: Nature and Chemistry of Romantic Love, by Helen Fischer. Cervenka does not expand on the biological explanation for the often obsessive, usually passionate, intensely pleasurable and naturally intoxicating stage of attraction. However, she does acknowledge the limited time in which most couples are able to enjoy this phase, which helps couples normalize the natural decline in this intense state of desire.
She also explains that when the inevitable happens and euphoric lust fades, we are faced with a decision to commit to enduring love, or seek a new partner with whom we can activate a new round of euphoric lust. For couples choosing enduring love, she empowers each partner to take ownership of his own power to turn on and off his sex centers.
After an adequate education is provided on the topic of desire and personal power and control over desire, Cervenka turns her attention to the couple’s relationship, and more specifically to what she terms the couple boundary. She explains that “A couple boundary is an invisible circle that surrounds the two of you” (39). This boundary is an essential safeguard for couples who may otherwise be negatively penetrated by well-meaning parental intrusions which often involve advice giving, demands on the couple’s time, and the insistence on maintaining and participating in the family tradition.
Cervenka encourages couples to set clear and firm boundaries with their families of origin, which will naturally lead to a tighter connection and enhanced functioning as a team. In therapy, I suspect Dr. Cervenka has the ability to offer additional support and skills in learning exactly how to communicate these changes and deal with the emotional ramifications that accompany the metaphorical cord cutting ceremonies by these couples. It is less clear, however, how the reader who is not in counseling secures these skills or deals with the emotional fallout that will likely occur when the cord cutting begins.
Another observation about this chapter is that boundaries are a very broad topic that extends well beyond the demands of family and friends. Work, hobbies, drugs, volunteering, cleaning, exercising, gambling, video games, shopping, and more are other examples of drains on the couple relationship. This chapter could offer readers a broader understanding of how to protect their relationship and create a more accurate inventory of where their energy – sexual and otherwise – is going. The emphasis on family is certainly relevant, but it does not seem comprehensive.
Rounding out the chapter on boundaries is a brief summary of three different types of couples with various boundary issues, and the related impact on sexuality. The disengaged couples are leading parallel lives without much desire, and consequently a lacking sex life. The enmeshed couple occurs when both partners are more concerned about who they think the other wants them to be than they are concerned about who they actually are and how they actually feel. This is another killjoy for sex and leads to a sibling-like relationship. Luckily, there is also the healthy couple. This partnership involves two independent people who are able to maintain their own identity while maintaining concern and care for the other.
Now it is time for the fire extinguisher. Cervenka explains that “A fire extinguisher is an interrelationship obstacle that has the potential of turning off your sex centers.” Also of importance to note is her insistence that “a lack of sexual desire is not simply an individual problem, it’s a relational one.” This chapter involves an exploration of various fire extinguishers, including flirtatious behavior, computer sex, infidelity, having a libido discrepancy, inability to engage in sexual fantasy, good old stress, a poor body image, boring sexual techniques, and lastly, but certainly not least important is unpleasant sexual techniques.
Many of these seem to be fairly obvious contributors to the slamming of doors in the sex centers, however, I find myself in slight disagreement about the vehemence with which Cervenka speaks about flirting. She states that “Individuals who flirt might as well wear a neon sign around their neck that reads, ‘I am insecure; please pay attention to me.” While I agree that flirting can be taken to extremes and ultimately lead to dangerous outcomes for couples, it seems to me that flirtation can also be an innocent expression of non-sexual affection and playfulness. Cervenka, however, describes flirting as having “only one motive: to solicit and receive sexual attention” (53). This inclines me to think we simply disagree on the definition of flirting, as I would agree that any behavior that is designed to solicit and receive sexual attention is not user-friendly behavior for monogamously committed couples unless of course, they are flirting with one another.
In addition to relational behaviors such as those discussed above, Cervenka also points out the possibility that desire can be affected by psychological, pharmacological, hormonal or medical issues as well. A brief review of some of these includes alcohol and substance abuse, depression, abnormal hormonal levels, poor physical health, and simply aging and all that accompanies getting older.
Chapter seven is my favorite chapter. Here Cervanka introduces the concept of power in relationships, and how power works as an aphrodisiac. Cervenka did a great job teasing the reader with this golden nugget earlier in the book, and I have to agree that this concept offers the most important message of the book. In this chapter, we learn about the concept of genuine power, and that essentially this power stems from “possessing a quality that most people find influential, impressive, convincing, and sexy” (78). She cautions that power can be toxic too, and this occurs when “those with toxic power use their voice, opinions, influence, persuasion, sexuality, and authority to manipulate, dominate, and control others” (79). This, she explains is one-sided and unequal, moreover, it is not reciprocal. When our sense of personal power is strong, our need for toxic power disappears. Thus it would seem that like attracts like, toxic low self-esteem attracts toxic misuse of power. Healthy high-self-esteem attracts a healthy expression of personal power.
In relationships, it is necessary to tend to the intersection of each partner’s personal power. Cervenka introduces the phrase, “power reciprocity,” and describes this as “using your own individual power to empower your partner, while your partner will use his or her own individual power to empower you” (81). Power reciprocity requires that you understand your own feelings, listen carefully to what your partner says, and connect to your partner on an emotional level. Without a sense of personal power, and a sense that your partner has reciprocal power, you can not turn on your brain’s sex centers. Cervenka is confident about the role of power, stating boldly that “Power is the best mental aphrodisiac known to mankind” (87).
Like Cervenka, I too find this concept very helpful in understanding the core of sexual shutdowns in otherwise functional relationships. If we perceive (a keyword that Cervenka emphasizes here) that we are powerless, voiceless, unimportant, devalued, or otherwise insignificant to our partner, why would we want to have sex with him or her, or vice-versa? This just makes sense.
In a list of characteristics needed to develop individual power, Cervanka lists the following: integrity, humor, empathy, assertiveness, emotional awareness, autonomy, decisiveness, financial balance, and self-observation. She also offers an exercise which allows couples to take an inventory of where they stand with each character trait, and how they see themselves and one another.
Expanding on the concept of reciprocity, Cervanka states that in a nutshell, “reciprocity is that you give to get” (124). She also details the importance of several behaviors that each partner can engage in to improve the power exchange which all seem to all hinge on a more conscious awareness of oneself in relationship to partner. She states that “you must be conscious of how your partner is seeing and hearing you when you are engaged in connected conversations” (127). Among her list of strategies are basic concepts such as know your partner, intend to connect meaningfully, maintain powerful body language, check your facial expressions to avoid unwanted responses, use a powerful (not whiney) voice, and become persuasive. She also suggests that the reader be sensitive to one another’s style of processing, noting that some people process quickly and others slowly, as well as to recognize that there are differences in how men and women express themselves. Lastly, she encourages that partners’ acknowledge one another’s strengths.
Also, a chapter is dedicated to that trusty old four letter word that ends in “k.” Talk. Cervenka calls this “verbal intercourse” and compares the benefits of verbal intercourse with sexual intercourse. She states, “In order to totally restore your sexual desire to the highest level possible, you must possess individual power and exchange that power within a connected conversation” (148). Here she offers another list of characteristics that expands on what connected communication includes: self-disclosure, courage, trust, understanding, validation, interest, being present, affection, empathy, and authenticity. Three pitfalls to avoid are criticism (voice complaints about behaviors, not attacks about character), withdrawal or a total shutdown, and mind reading.
Bringing the book to a close, and her therapy process to an end, Cervanka suggests a final exercise that involves both couples learning more information (which is provided by Cervenka in the book) about the specifics of each of the three phases of the sexual response cycle. After information is provided for each phase, she then offers a series of questions that both partners are to answer. With questions such as “What are your favorite sexual fantasies?” and “Do you masturbate?” couples are encouraged to open to one another through intimate conversation, and learn more about what one another desires. This is repeated with additional information and questions for the next two phases, arousal, and orgasm, as well.
This exercise is my favorite of the many offered in the book. Because of the guided nature of this exercise, couples are given permission, and in fact, encouraged to talk about topics from which they may otherwise shy away. In some ways, this may be more effective than doing so in counseling, depending on the level of comfort one or both partners have with talking about their personal fantasies in front of a third party. This also stands to strengthen trust and intimacy simply by talking about their fantasies, likes, and dislikes.
In summary, Cervenka has a created an easy-to-follow, no-nonsense road map guiding couples back to a place of desire. The assumption, of course, is that couples were once in a place of desire. It is unlikely that this book will be effective for the couple who never had a strong desire in the beginning. An exercise to determine the strongest level of desire achieved (a baseline of sorts) may be helpful at the start of the book in order to create a realistic picture of what is possible. For example, if I went through this program with a random person to whom I never had a strong attraction; it is quite unlikely I would find myself passionately glued to them by the end of this book. Some couples who are married or partnered grew their relationships from friendship and never experienced strong desire from the start. Think, thirty-five-year-old woman meets a willing man to marry and she wants a baby but doesn’t feel intensely drawn to him. Or imagine the gay man who marries a heterosexual woman to avoid dealing with his sexuality. Perhaps some desire issues predate the commitment, and unearthing this seems equally important.
This is a helpful resource for the struggling couple who is working on issues at home, and it is also a great resource for the therapist seeking guidance on how to help couples who present with issues of desire. The information is helpful, specific, and rooted in the basics of the human sexual response cycle. Couples who are not struggling with desire may also find this book a helpful resource to keep that lovin’ feeling alive!