Choose your sexual story carefully—because you’re going to live it.
Humans find meaning and patterns in everything we do. So everyone develops stories about themselves—why they’re always (or never) late; how they’re terrible (or great) with numbers; how a stove is something they’ve never (or always) felt comfortable around.
Then there are our sexual stories: how birth control has always (or rarely) interfered with sex: how most guys seem turned off (or turned on) by cunnilingus; how absolute, total privacy and quiet is (or isn’t) necessary to enjoy sex.
Most of us, of course, don’t see our narratives as manufactured, but rather as accurate documentaries of our lives. But most events are ambiguous, with many possible meanings. Was some recent disappointment an inspiration or the straw that broke the camel’s back? We only really know in retrospect—when we decide on the story.
Our stories become who we are, and our sexual stories become who we are sexually—so be slow to pick stories that show you’re not OK, or that all men or all women eventually break your heart. Here are some common stories I hear every day that my patients really need to stop telling:
* “I’m impotent” or “I have ED”
A lot of men’s first sexual experiences feature alcohol, anxiety, time pressure, and a casual acquaintance or sex worker. Penises that shrink from such situations aren’t impotent—they’re smart, and working as they should. If you couldn’t get erect a few times 5 or 10 years ago, and have been nervous about erections ever since, change the story: “My first few times were a recipe for disappointment. But that was before I understood that my erections require relaxation, emotional connection, and limiting myself to one or two drinks.”
* “I take too long to climax”
Too long for what? And who cares? When sex (or anything else) is enjoyable, most people like it to last awhile. But if sex (or anything else) is boring or painful, or your partner isn’t emotionally present, time can drag on. So change the story: “When I’m not getting what I want, climaxing may not happen; if it does, of course it takes a while.”
* “Because I was raped or molested, I can’t expect to enjoy sex.” Being sexually exploited is awful. But the human spirit is incredibly resilient. Some people are afraid that if they get excited about sex they’re somehow trivializing their own pain, or the pain of others who have been victimized. No, claiming your sexuality if you’ve been sexually violated is an act of great power. So change the story: “I was sexually exploited, even damaged. But my sexuality still belongs to me, and I plan to heal it, express it, savor it—and most importantly, to own it.”
* “Now that I’m a grandparent, I guess I have to forget about sex.”
Nobody has to have sex, and our desire may decline as we get older (and develop other interests competing for our free time). But no one become ineligible for sex just because they age, or develop wrinkles, or their breasts relax (not sag, relax). So change the story: “I don’t get crazy horny like I used to, but warm, loving sex is still a treat.” Or “Sex was never a central part of my life, and it’s even less important now—but I still like the closeness sometimes, and occasionally George makes me feel quite attractive.”
* “I can’t figure out how to please women (or men)”
It’s easy to see the other gender as, well, Other: foreign, exotic, totally different from us. But they aren’t. The thing on Earth most like women is men, and the thing on Earth most like men is women. If you can talk and touch, you can learn to please and enjoy your partner. Don’t worry about all men or all women—become better acquainted with the person (or people) you’re being sexual with. So change your story: “Sometimes it takes me a while to understand my partner’s body, but if I ask and then practice a bit, I can get pretty OK at sex.”
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Many of the facts of our lives can’t be changed—your penis is what it is, and if you’re divorced, you’re divorced. But it’s never too late to change your sexual story. Take charge of it, using the facts to create something you like—instead of a story that leaves you incompetent or incomplete. After all, it’s your story.