When talking with my clients about their sex lives, it’s fascinating to look at the interplay of the emotions they feel and the sexual activities that evoke these emotions. Can anyone really separate them out? It seems like they are powerfully linked together.

But are they?

Do you like to separate your emotional life from your sexual life? Or do you like to mix them together? Can you enjoy sex only with someone you know well, or is sex more like a “sport” for you, with few emotions attached? In this column, let’s look at the interplay of sex and emotions…

There are the many, many physical activities that we call “sex”: touching, kissing, masturbation (alone or with someone else), oral and anal. There are BDSM/kink related activities like bondage, hot wax play, flogging and the like. These are activities, e.g., things you do. They are not emotions, which are how you feel when you enjoy (or not) a particular activity.

I encourage you to continually be curious about your sexual and emotional life. For most of us, it changes over time…and it can be ever better the older we are (ask me how I know: I’ll be seventy next year). I encourage my clients to take a regular sexual inventory: How do you feel emotionally during specific activities? Do you enjoy oral sex but not anal? Do you like bondage but not flogging? Do you like touching someone but not kissing them?

Just notice. There’s no right and wrong. There’s only what’s true for you. And, it will change over time. With more experience, you may learn to enjoy things you didn’t used to. Keep your sexual repertoire fluid: many people who initially found unfamiliar sexual activities “weird” have learned – with patient and supportive teachers – to enjoy all kinds of things they didn’t think they could.

Do you find most sex boring? Scary? Confusing? Sometimes, because of a history of trauma, we don’t have good emotional experiences during sex. For example: are you someone who just can’t get enough sex? One of my clients used to feel this way. Once we began working together, it became clear to him that it wasn’t really about sex, he felt empty inside and was hoping that lots of sex would fill that emotional “void”.

It didn’t. And it can’t.

If you use sex like you use alcohol, drugs or food (to make yourself feel better) you may feel happier for a while, but don’t be surprised when you need sex again and again and again. Painful emotions – like loneliness, depression and feeling unattractive – don’t go away by numbing or distracting yourself. Using sex to deal with them is like changing a bandage on a deep, old infected wound. You gotta clean out the wound.

So, if your sex life is really unfulfilling, stop and notice. Ask yourself:

  • What am I having sex for?
  • What emotions do I want to feel during sex?
  • Am I enjoying certain sexual activities but not others?
  • Am I enjoying sex with certain people but not others?

This kind of stuff is good to know. Don’t judge yourself (or anyone else), just use the information to begin to make changes – small changes. Big changes are usually too hard to sustain. Set yourself up to succeed: move slowly and deliberately when you’re working on your sex life and the emotions that go with it.

Do you find sex great, fulfilling and exciting? If so, bravo! You’re doing something very, very right! But, why not fine-tune it even more? Ask yourself:

  • What do I like best about sex?
  • How can I get more of this?
  • What was my best sexual experience ever?
  • What about it made it so?

No matter how good (or lousy) your sex life is, it can always change for the better. Start paying attention to who (and what) brings you pleasure and – whether you’re eighteen or eighty – you can enjoy your sexual life more than ever.