Of all topics, many people relate sex and sexuality with competition the easiest. Perhaps it is due to sexual categories of?? Sado-Masochism, or S&M, as well as traditional roles of domination between men and women in heterosexual contexts. However, I believe that competition in sexuality extends far deeper than during the physical act of intercourse, and has a far great impact on the emotional intimacy present or absent during sexual behavior.
Sex has gotten a reputation and a role within society that acts as a lightning rod for concepts of ‘winning’ and ‘losing’. Men are taught that promiscuity is not only desirable but that having many female sexual partners can be viewed as “conquests”. Popularity can be ensured in adolescence by having more conquests than other boys, and thereby a competitive sequence begins. For women too, there is a competitive nature, only seemingly in reverse. Promiscuity is still frowned upon, and girls who engage in multiple sexual partnerships are viewed as ‘tramps’ or ‘sluts’. These types of terms rarely extend to their male counterparts, and as a result, girls are trapped between dual messages – they should?? be sexually pure and innocent, but, when sexually active, they should be experienced and act with wild abandon. Many of the sexual issues with both genders that take place during relationships take place during this time period of courting and sexual discovery, and continues to be a problem for all of us as we take these messages into our relationships.
The courting process may be the only one that is rich in research on how competition functions in mate selection. From scholarly journal articles to books published in self-help aisles in bookstores across the country, it is relatively accessible to find out ways of beating the competition to attract the mate of your choice and “succeed in the dating game”. Unfortunately for those of us who wish to carry relationships beyond the point where courtship leads to dating and beyond a status of “friends with benefits”, there exists almost no information on how these types of competitive behaviors extend into long-term relationships. In my belief, the sex that occurs early in any relationship has to be categorically different than the type of sex which occurs as a relationship lengthens, grows and matures. Early sexual interactions still place in the hyper-competitive arena, where sexual prowess can be a marker on whether or not the relationship will even proceed. As one of my clients once phrased it so eloquently, “If you’re a lousy lay, you’re not getting a second or third date.” (Male, 23) However, what makes a lousy lay versus a great lay lies incredibly in our conceptions of competition and being better or worse than our competitors.
Little can be owed to self-improvement in the dating arena, whereas in long-term relationships hold that growth in sexual expertise is thought to be highly correlated with enduring satisfying relationships. This occurs when one or both members of a relationship learn that competing with other potential sexual partners is no longer an imminent threat, and they work to turn competitive instincts inward. Can you be better sexually than you were the last time? What exactly does it mean to improve within the sexual realm? For men: does improving sexually mean increasing time aroused before orgasm, or being able to achieve an erection by shear will? For women: does sexual improvement require unfathomable heights in flexibility and contortionism? Is multiple orgasms even possible? Is it a requirement? So many of these questions lie buried in the competitive jargon associated with sexuality, and contribute to the anxiety, depression, and low-self esteem where many issues of sexual dysfunction are based on.
It is when we take a healthier view of competition and sex that some of these answers can become clearer. Improved sexuality can occur in many ways. For both genders, most people answer in research articles that great sex occurs when they feel connected with their partners on an emotional or even spiritual level. Attention to both the partner’s sensations and concentration on your own physical sensations is a hallmark to building arousal, and are taught in such therapeutic techniques as Sensate Focused, which teaches how one partner’s role is to physically stimulate in non-genital areas the other partner, and the other partner’s role is solely to enjoy and experience the physical contact. There is no competitive aspect of this by shear description, but for those who have competitive aspects of their personality, they can use this venue as an opportunity for growth. Can you experience sensations in different and better ways than last time? How can you involve yourself more fully in the present experience with your partner? What challenges can you set for yourself and meet and succeed at these aims? These questions can not only mark progress in the relationship, but keep the fun and excitement present in long-term relationships which are so fundamental to having healthy sexual relations.