Michael Kimmel | Beyond Therapy
Everyone wants to have great sex, but the ingredients seem elusive. I would like to suggest great sex requires elements of both aggression and tenderness. Some say that men have too much aggression and women too much tenderness, but that is a stereotype and not true for many individuals.
Can you express your healthy aggression, called your libido? Can you allow yourself to enjoy it? Unhealthy aggression, on the other hand, usually shows up as passive-aggressive punishment or revenge. That is not what we are talking about here.
We all have a healthy need to conquer, win and be the best. The only question is how in touch with these we are. When there is too much aggression, you can easily feel that sex is one meaningless conquest after the other. There is little emotional connection and basically you are just using someone else to get off.
Too much tenderness, on the other hand, leads to a mushy, messy enmeshment where it is hard to tell where you end and your other begins. It is great for intimate friendships and parental relationships that demand a lot of love and empathy, but it is not as helpful for great sex.
How do you find the right balance of aggression and tenderness? Awareness and curiosity help a lot, but there is no single way to do this. Each person or couple has to find their own way on this path.
It is not so hard, however, to tell if your balance is off. If your sex life feels empty and emotionless, you need some tenderness. If your sex feels energy-less and boring, you might benefit from some healthy aggression.
What might that look like? Tenderness is warmth, compassion and caring about the other person. It manifests in sexual behaviors like maintaining eye contact, breathing together, gentle touching and sweet kisses. Checking in with how your sex partner is feeling is another way of expressing tenderness: “Do you like that” and “Does this feel good” are questions you can ask your sex partner to let them know it is not all about you.
Healthy aggression may be a new idea for you. Aggression has gotten a bad reputation, but healthy aggression is conscious aggression. It is not about acting out like a spoiled child or a self-obsessed narcissist.
Healthy aggression is a way of expressing your sexual energy. At its best, it is playful and passionate. There is a mutual consent component; both sex partners need to be OK with how aggression is expressed. Both sex partners need to be able to say, “No, that’s too much” or “I really don’t like that” and aggressive behavior can be modified or stopped, depending upon what partners agree.
Healthy aggression is not like a pornography video, but it can be. Your way of expressing healthy aggression may be different than your best friend’s. You may like to take your sex partner’s clothes off roughly and push them over the sofa for passionate sex. One couple I worked with has a specific set of clothes they rip off each other. They are very clear on how they like to use healthy aggression in their sex.
Another couple I worked with liked to alternate aggression. Sometimes one partner would initiate sex and calls the shots; at other times, the roles were completely reversed. On occasion, they might have reversed the roles in the middle of having sex: one was the naughty schoolboy being punished by his teacher, but the schoolboy got bored with this, so he reversed the situation, took control and became aggressive with his teacher.
A lesbian couple I worked with had a lot of fun with healthy aggression. One day, one took on the role of a sexy plumber and when she finished unclogging the drain, she happily ravaged her willing – but surprised – partner.
In relationships, a bit of healthy aggression can keep your sex life alive. Familiarity is great for feeling safe, secure and loved, but it is not so hot for excitement and eroticism. In my experience as an LGBT couples counselor, too much familiarity is not conducive to great sex. If you and your lover are joined at the hip, your sex life may be suffering.
Great sex requires some unpredictability. This is where healthy aggression can come in.
If your sex life has plenty of tenderness but not enough juice, talk with your partner about adding some healthy aggression. If your sex life has plenty of action but is not very fulfilling, try a little tenderness, as the song suggests. Find the right balance and get ready for some great sex.
—Michael Kimmel is a licensed psychotherapist who specializes in helping LGBT clients achieve their goals and deal with anxiety, depression, grief, sexually addictive behavior, coming out, relationship challenges and homophobia. Contact him at 619-955-3311 or visit lifebeyondtherapy.com.