To get a better sense of the meaning sex has in your relationship, you have to expand your lens of curiosity wider than the sex act itself.

When you and your partner have sex, what are you communicating to each other?

Imagine, for instance, that you could see a video of a couple named Mike and Jane. Jane pushes Mike back to get some space between kisses. You might wonder what this means. Maybe she’s still trying to get to know him better or feel more connected. Maybe there’s been a history of mistrust in Jane’s previous relationships, and taking space gives her more of a sense of safety and control. Or it could be that she’s so excited that she feels out of breath and simply wants to feel more oxygen in her lungs before the next kiss.

To find out what’s really happening, we have to be willing to talk about it. To get a better sense of the meaning sex has in your relationship, you have to expand your lens of curiosity wider than the sex act itself and include the whole intimacy dance that happens between you.

Here are a few possible questions:

  • If you could translate the sex you’re having into words, what would it say?
  • Is one person in a particular role quite a bit, or are the roles more flexible?
  • What is the core issue that gets expressed through your sexuality or intimacy?
  • What’s the core feeling?

What gets communicated? What you discover could give you a lot of information about how you express your feelings and needs.

Our filters impact our perceptions

There is no one meaning for any particular behavior. Going back to our couple, Mike may interpret Jane’s behavior through his own filters if he is experiencing different feelings or needs in that moment. He might be feeling good and enjoy the space between kisses because it gives him a chance to reconnect with her beautiful eyes, or he might interpret it as a rejection or another case of not getting his own needs met.

If Mike and Jane do not create enough spaciousness and curiosity in these moments, Mike’s interpretation of Jane’s push might lead him to feel irritated, impatient, and demanding, or he may try to pull her closer.

Now, imagine that you notice in the video that he is meeting her gaze. What does this mean? They could be playing a game of “follow the leader.” Or maybe Mike doesn’t know what to do next. Maybe he is opening his heart to her and appreciating her—or it could be that he is looking into her eyes to figure out what she’s doing.

Describing our experience takes practice

It’s often difficult to find the right words to talk about things in the love, sex, and intimacy department. But in order to find out what our actions might mean to our partner, we need to find a way.

Because words are just symbols and a bit far from our direct experience, it is essential to be mindful of the words you choose and make sure that they convey what you mean to say. Do they represent your true intention? Does your verbal match your nonverbal? We may be seeing things through our old filters and expectations. It’s essential to stay in the present by recognizing our feelings, needs, and intentions, and honoring our vulnerabilities.

What might it look like if Mike and Jane could have a conversation about what was happening between them?

Mike might say to Jane, “I notice that you pull away from me and then make eye contact. I wonder what’s happening for you when you do that?” Jane might respond by saying, “Sometimes doing this helps me feel more connected. There were times in past relationships when I felt like I knew somebody but I was just seeing what I wanted to see and ended up feeling hurt and disappointed. Looking at you helps me get to know you and see your unique qualities.”

Jane might then ask Mike, “I noticed that you were looking back at me and then asked me what was happening. I was also wondering what was happening for you right then.” Mike could respond by saying, “Well, at first I felt a little confused. I was enjoying the closeness with you and noticed you were pushing me back. I wondered if I was doing something wrong. Now as I hear more, I feel empathy for you and also really enjoy eye gazing with you, too. It also helps me feel more connected.”

Being able to talk about what’s happening between them—in a curious, nonjudgmental fashion—will likely lead this couple to deeper intimacy. The same can be true for you and your partner, so why not try it and see for yourselves?

Ivan Skolnikoff, MFT

Relating in a warm, direct and engaged manner, Ivan is an experienced therapist who is deeply committed to helping couples ignite and revitalize the joy and passion in their relationship. Many couples get stuck basically having the same disagreement over and over. They often feel like they are just going around in tiring, vicious circles. Ivan’s approach can help you and your partner get clear, resolve old wounds, and move beyond that kind of repetitive, unproductive dynamic.