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How to Enhance Intimate Sexual Experiences

Emotional intimacy can lead to better sexual experiences for many people, especially women.

Intimacy and sex are related but are not the same. It’s possible to have one without the other. Case in point: Today’s hookup culture separates physical relations from feelings of trust, acceptance, empathy and emotional connection, and mutual commitment.

Does a Closer Relationship Mean More Sexual Satisfaction? For many people, especially women, intimacy can lead to better sexual experiences. A study published in American Sociological Review (1) found that heterosexual college women have orgasms more often in relationships than in hookups. Another study, in the Journal of Social and Personal Relationships (2) in 2015, reported that “men are more likely than women to have dated and hooked up and less likely to have formed a long-term relationship, although they are more likely to wish there were more opportunities to form long-term relationships.”

The Downside of Casual Sex and No-Strings-Attached Sexual Encounters “In this hookup culture, a lot of people get hurt, let down, and feel rejected. It’s not good,” says Barbara D. Bartlik, MD, a psychiatrist and sex therapist at Weill Cornell Medical College in New York City.

3 Ways Emotional Intimacy Makes Sex Better 1. When you know you are accepted and valued, you are more comfortable talking about your fantasies and what gives you pleasure.

“I am all for talking about sex. People think it’s like in the movies, where two people run together without saying a word and just immediately proceed to have mind-blowing sex. Good sex in the real world is not like that. If you can’t talk about it, how is your partner going to know what you want?” says Dr. Bartlik, who is also the coauthor of the book Integrative Sexual Health.

2. When you trust the other person, you are willing to take risks and expose vulnerabilities that can lead to new, enjoyable experiences. When your partner trusts you, they will reveal their inner thoughts and desires, which will make you more connected as a couple.

3. When you feel emotionally connected, you both can be your authentic selves. A meta-analysis published in January 2014 in the International Journal of Clinical and Health Psychology (3) found that people with more open attitudes about sexual pleasure are able to explore their sexuality without guilt, which makes for more satisfying sex.

Sexual Wants and Needs: How to Achieve More Intimate Experiences Many people are uncomfortable or afraid of making themselves vulnerable — physically and emotionally — to another person. If you want more intimacy in your sex life, here are some helpful guidelines:

Be present. Focus on the experience rather than letting yourself get distracted by random thoughts. Think about and enjoy what you are experiencing and how you might give pleasure to your partner in return. In her research, Lori A. Brotto, PhD, the executive director of the Women's Health Research Institute and the Canada research chair in women's sexual health at the University of British Columbia in Vancouver has found significant improvement in responsiveness in women suffering from anxiety-related sexual dysfunction through use of mindfulness training. Mindfulness allows them “to non-judgmentally focus on sexual sensations in their bodies before and during sexual encounters, and indirectly, by improving mood and decreasing stress and anxiety.” (4) Know thyself. Know your sexual needs and be true to yourself, says Michael Krychman, MD, the executive director of the Southern California Center for Sexual Health in Newport Beach. Only then will you know what to ask for. Work together to get in sync. Men and women may have different priorities in relationships. If you can each be open to and respectful of each other’s priorities, there may be less frustration. “In general, women need intimacy to feel sexual, while men need sex to be intimate. When he has sex with you, then he will want to talk to you. Women are more likely to need that trust before they will allow sex to occur,” says Bartlik. This can make for misunderstandings and frustration, but open communication can go a long way to minimizing it. Rewrite the script in your head. When you try to be sexual, are there negative refrains going through your head that make you ashamed of your body or your technique and make you shut down? (“My stomach sags. Who could make love to that?” “She’s secretly laughing at my small penis.”) Dr. Krychman recommends this process: Recognize the thought, extinguish the thought, and replace the thought. When the judgy tapes in your head start up, recognize this is a negative thought, focus on the positive, and replace that thought with: “I am enjoying the sensations of being close, connected, and intimate with my partner. This should be my new focal point. Let me focus on my sexual feelings and experience in the moment.” Stay in touch even when you are apart. When you and your partner have been separated for a while, you can get disconnected. It may take a little while to reestablish the rhythm of intimacy. While we all decry the ways overuse of technology can be detrimental to real connection, “the internet and mobile applications can provide a great way to extend the intimacy in relationships and feel closer even when we are physically apart by keeping in touch during the day through text messages, Skype or Facetime or sharing photos,” says Anna M. Lomanowska, PhD, in the department of psychology at the University of Toronto at Mississauga, who has studied the phenomenon. (6) Recognize the problem. If you yearn for intimacy and yet run from commitment, you need to accept that you are getting in your own way. A good therapist or sex therapist can help you iron out any past traumas that are still affecting you. “It’s never about the what; it’s the why. Why do you feel this way? It usually involves something unresolved in your past. Introspection is very critical,” says Krychman, who is also the coauthor of The Sexual Spark. You can find licensed therapists in your area at the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors and Therapists or the American Academy of Psychotherapists.

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