Sexual adaptability is formed on the principle that no aspect of life stays the same forever. Just as our exercise routines might change as we age, so too might our sexuality. It is also based on the principle that no matter what fantasies a person or couple might share, their lived sexuality takes place in reality. If we hold our sexuality with a rigid set of expectations about exactly how it must take place in order to be fulfilling, we might also find that our expectations have locked out our satisfaction. Before identifying and addressing some elements of adaptability, I want to emphasize that the value of adaptability goes beyond just allowing adaptation to the circumstances I’m going to describe. Adaptability is useful anytime one of the unpredictable life changes impinges on our sexuality. The power of adaptability comes when we are willing to face the reality that is and begin to figure out how we will respond to it. Below is a brief list of some situations when adaptability comes in handy.
Sexuality changes as we age
Sex changes throughout the lifespan. Many people experience a decrease in sex drive with age. People in long-term relationships often find that their sexual activities and interests change over time. You might see or read about something that you want to try so the change is positive. Other times, the realities of a medical condition have an impact of your sexual expression that is less desirable. But there is something fundamental behind the response cycle to any of these changes. Are you open to them? Are you willing to face the challenge of trying something new? Are you willing to face the grief of letting something familiar go? The challenge of discovery, the new intimacy that emerges by exploring new sensual territory can be eroticizing. The principle of adaptability invites a careful look at what exists now and invites people to not simply reject the new. Adaptability requires facing the current reality just as it is and deciding from there what will or won’t work for you in a relationship. This requires tremendous courage.
Sexuality changes with life circumstances
If you have a new baby, your sex life just changed. Do you have intense stress at work? Likely it is affecting your sex drive (for some people it will increase, for others it will decrease). Remodeling your home? That takes a toll too. Out-of-work? Going back to school? Every major change in your life may also likely to affect your sex life. Those changes may affect your sexuality in one way and affect a partner’s sexuality in another way. Noticing the changes, discerning whether they are acceptable to you, deciding whether you want to do something to preserve your sexuality as it was or to allow the change you notice to your sexuality, are all ways that people can enact this value of adaptability.
Sexuality takes place in reality
Romance novel sales have increased significantly due to the existence of ereaders. The 46th most popular website on the web as of this writing is a pornography site (ahead of craigslist.com and netflix.com). Fantasy relationships and fantasy sexuality are all around us from ads on buses and magazines in the waiting rooms to romance novels and porn. We can easily become enamored of these fantasy realms. It is so easy to compare what happens in our bedrooms with what happens in these fantasy depictions of sexuality. Even if you aren’t someone who partakes of such fantasies, it also easy to compare the insides of our relationships with what we see of our friends’ relationships. Even if we incorporate our fantasies into the actual play of our sexuality, there is always a bit of difference between the mind’s eye and reality. A flake of makeup out of place, a scripted line misspoken, a seam that pops on an outfit. Life does not include multiple takes to get it just right and you can’t edit out of life the chapter where your partner forgets to bring the lube despite an otherwise supportive relationship. Being willing to acknowledge and accept the difference between fantasy and reality by looking at it directly seems to me to be an important aspect of adaptability. We recognize the impossible perfection of our fantasy and adapt to the imperfect but hopefully loving reality that is actually a part of our lives.
Sexuality looks different with different partners
Different sexual partners bring different energies and different ways to our sexual experiences with them. It could be easy to compare one lover to another saying, “You are more this” or “He was more that.” But most of the time what we are talking about is the difference between who we are with one partner and who we are with another. Maybe you are more sexually liberated with your old girlfriend than with your wife. But why was that? Was it because that relationship was doomed from the beginning so there wasn’t a risk in expressing your eroticism? Maybe because you imagine your marriage as lasting your whole life so your erotic expression is more of a risk? Maybe you were more free with Matt than Mark but is that Mark’s fault or is it about the different kinds of permission that you give yourself when you are with Matt? What would happen if you gave yourself that permission with Mark?
Adaptability is about acknowledging and accepting that the partner or partners that I have will necessarily evoke different things in us than another partner or partners. Once acknowledged, we can adapt to the reality of our partners by letting ourselves discover what this partner can bring out of us, by taking personal responsibility for staying connected to the aspects of our sexuality that are important to us regardless of our partner, or by deciding that we need different partners.
This entry has identified 4 reasons that sexual adaptability is important, sexuality changes as we age, sexuality changes with life circumstances, sexuality is different in reality than fantasy, and sexuality is different with different partners. However, this is not an exhaustive list of the reasons for the value of adaptability.
Other posts in this series:
- Sexual Values: One Therapist’s Provisional Set
- Values that didn’t make the cut
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