When sex is going well in a couple’s relationship, it provides a positive influence that enhances each partner’s feelings of connection and vitality. Conversely, when sex is avoided, dysfunctional or causes conflict, the couple may experience lack of desire and relationship instability. Understanding your Couple Sexual Style can help you to enjoy the benefits of shared pleasure, greater intimacy and the ability to withstand the pressures that threaten the marital bond.

Barry McCarthy, PhD., along with his wife, Emily, have written extensively on the subject of marital sex and have identified the four most common Couple Sexual Styles: Traditional, Best Friend, Emotionally Expressive and Complementary. No one style is right for all couples, and each has its benefits and challenges. Discovering your Couple Sexual Style can help you build desire and avoid the struggle over how you should be having sex. Let’s look at the four styles to determine which best describes you:

Traditional: These couples follow a traditional pattern of male/female gender roles when it comes to the bedroom. The husband is the sexual initiator and focuses on intercourse frequency, while his wife is more concerned with feelings of affection and intimacy. These folks often value marital sex from a religious viewpoint and emphasize the importance of family and children. They know their sexual roles and rarely experience conflict regarding them.

Traditional couples may struggle when the wife’s need for intimacy and closeness feels ignored by the husband’s focus on intercourse. Additionally, as they grow older, the husband’s inability to produce spontaneous erections as he always had, may cause him to avoid sex altogether. This further reduces the intimate aspect of their connection, thereby leaving the wife to be further dissatisfied. In order to combat this problem, twice-yearly partners are responsible to plan a specific sexual encounter, designed to ignite their Traditional Style. The wife plans an erotic or sexually playful date where she can choose whether it will continue to orgasm or intercourse. For the husband’s date, he will engage in intimacy that does not proceed to intercourse or orgasm.

Best Friend: Those couples with the Best Friend style are soul mates who feel quite loving towards one another, sharing good communication and intimacy. They report a sense of acceptance by their spouse and are often very affectionate. A crucial aspect of their relationship is mutuality, where they seek to have experiences together. Their secure emotional attachment is the strength of this couple and they feel well bonded.

Due to the closeness of this couple, they are prone to miss out on eroticism and the excitement that sex can add to their relationship. As best friends, they neglect the sexual aspect of couplehood, choosing to be emotionally close instead. When Best Friends do have sex, they seek to ensure both are in the mood and equally satisfied, which leads to lesser sexual encounters overall. They don’t take risks sexually, resulting in monotony and predictability. In order to overcome these issues, every six months each partner is responsible for suggesting a sexual date that is erotic for just one person. This encourages them to be sexy or playful without waiting for agreement from both parties, thus expanding their sexual repertoire and frequency.

Emotionally Expressive: These couples have the wild, frequent, highly charged sex life that other couples envy. They reject the constraints of traditional rules around sex and are open to exploring new erotic activities to spice things up. Role-playing and pornography may be valued as a means to creative sexual expression. Sex soothes the pain of affairs or turbulent outbursts for these individuals.

The downside to this extremely emotive couple style is that eventually these folks can grow weary of all the drama. While they can use sex to kiss and make up, there may come a time when too many infidelities can finally take a toll on their relationship. When they have a negative sexual experience, Emotionally Expressive couples are apt to make hurtful comments that cause permanent damage out of frustration or anger. For this sexual style, it is critical to learn not to express oneself with a painful comment while lying in bed after an unsatisfying sexual encounter.

Complementary: Favored by sex therapists, this couple sexual style is ideal because each partner knows their sexual voice and feels empowered to both make requests and decide not to engage, all the while seeing themselves as part of a sexual team. They value both eroticism and intimacy in their sexual encounters and feel being sexual to be a shared pleasure. These couples enjoy variable sexual options and are comfortable with an outcome that may only satisfy one partner, so long as it is not at the expense of the other.

The problem for Complementary couples is that they can neglect their sex life and fall into routines that become uninteresting, and sexuality falls to the wayside. Sex may work fine, but there is lack of desire due to monotony. The solution to their sexual rut is to encourage these couples to take turns initiating something new and fun to enliven their sex life.

After identifying the Couple Sexual Style that best describes the way you and your partner interact sexually, accentuate the strengths that enhance your relationship and be aware of the pitfalls that can diminish your sexual bond. To learn more, the McCarthy’s book, Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style, can increase your knowledge and provide useful tools to ensure that sex adds that positive boost to your partnership. You might also want to consult a sex therapist, specializing in sexuality issues, to rev up your sex life or resolve problems that hinder your connection. Remember that sex cannot be treated with benign neglect, but rather needs attention and intention to promote couple satisfaction in your relationship.

Kim Yost has a private sex therapy practice near Columbia, Md. She is currently pursuing a PhD in human sexuality through Widener University’s Center for Human Sexuality. She has a bachelor’s degree in psychology, a law degree and a master’s degree in clinical psychology.

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