Many relationships counselors will talk about 'relationship values'. Relationship values are what motivates us to find fulfillment in a relationship. For example, security is often a strong value people hold about intimate relationships. Without this, the relationship feels unfulfilling because it's a value that matters to us. Others say connection, companionship or family are strong values for them in relationship. But knowing our values takes time and effort. Most of us don't start out knowing what we value, we  learn it as we go along through life. The bumps and scratches we collect along the way help us to work out what makes us content.

While most relationship counselors will discuss relationship values at length and in great detail, few will discuss erotic values. Their role plays a huge part in our ability to determine our sexual satisfaction. Just like relationship values scaffold our happiness in relationships, erotic values bring us sexual satisfaction.

When I ask people what motivates them to have sex, they look a little confused. They have never considered this before. Our culture tells us that sex is 'natural' right? So what's to consider?

In short, there's a lot to consider. Sex  is no more 'natural' than knowing how to cook. Just because we may have the reflex to chew and swallow, doesn't make us a Masterchef. We have to learn and cultivate that skill. While the instinct for sex may be as 'natural' as chewing and swallowing food, the competence to prepare the erotic terrain needs to be learned, and this takes practice.

When partners experience sex problems, sometimes it's due to a clash or misunderstanding in sexual values, not a shortcoming in the relationship.  The old couples therapy trope about 'working on intimacy and then good sex follows' is a lie. Our culture doesn't teach us to revere pleasure or discuss sex gracefully so most of us have no idea how to manage this without help.

What are your erotic values?

Looking at our erotic values helps us get a richer understanding of what matters to us sexually. Valuing sex for physical pleasure means that we are motivated to engage in sexual activity for the sensory and physiological feelings associated with sex. For such people, ideas like

  • release
  • physical satisfaction
  • pleasure and
  • physical gratification

are important. For those us with such motivation, we seek out sex simply because it feels good.

Valuing sex for relational intimacy or love means that our motivation comes from enjoyment of being emotionally close. Ideas such as:

  • connection
  • intimacy
  • well-being and
  • romance

are more likely to be at the forefront of our minds. Satisfaction in sex may also be drawn from the quality time we spend together creating a sense of cohesion on an emotional level.

For many of us, validation is a powerful driver in our reasons for having sex. The validation we are wanted, that we are enough, that we are desirable and that we are normal and OK.

Some of us value excitement, taboo or creativity in sex, so variety, tools and toys or location may be important to us.

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It’s helpful to recognise that many of us may value sex for all of these reasons and many more. (Download a free worksheet here to help you map your erotic values and discuss them with partners.) Such concepts are not mutually exclusive nor do they exist in isolation. And our sexual values can change throughout life depending upon our experiences, health, relationships, living arrangements, habits, travel and so on. What was once important loses its gloss or is replaced by a new discovery. What we liked at 16 will be different from what we like at 45, because we know more about ourselves, sex and what we want.

When you know what motivates you to have sex, you're likely to be in a better position to get satisfaction from it. After all, one size fits all sex advice simply doesn't work because each of us experience sex and pleasure in various ways. Practice getting to know your erotic values and seeing how they affect your satisfaction. When you create permission to experience more pleasure, a new world of possibilities opens up to you.

Struggling with talking to yourself or partners about sex and relationships? Join me in-person in New York or from anywhere via video online with Zoom. More info here.