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Love Lessons: Intimacy

Body+Soul, 2007

Lynne's a self-described "once-a-weeker." It's not that she doesn't enjoy sex with Mark, her partner. But like so many other fulfilling things in life, the fact that she loves it doesn't mean she wants it daily. For Mark, every day would be just about perfect. He loves Lynne and derives vital energy from connecting with her in this way. What he doesn't love, though, is the feeling that she's not having quite as much fun as he is. And there's another thing: While they do strike a balance between his needs and hers, he can't help but see their sex life as one big compromise.

The issue of incompatible appetites comes up all the time for couples. In some cases, it leads to unspoken arrangements such as Mark and Lynne's. For others, the more desirous half will hint, wheedle, insist, or give up out of discouragement, while the other holds back and has a million excuses. In either scenario, both come away not entirely satisfied.

When lovers have a mismatch, the source lies in the bigger forces at work. In any couple, the sheer sexual drive and attraction -- the yang element -- is the engine that propels things forward. (Note that we tend to think of the man as bringing this to the relationship, but that's not always the case.) But since lust alone doesn't convey any real meaning or depth, you also need the emotional, soulful component. This yin element turns "having sex" into "making love.

The way you handle your differing appetites affects what happens (or not) between the sheets. Identify your underlying dynamic, and you'll achieve a truly satisfying connection.

All About Me

What I call Stage 1 is really about "I've got this need, and since I'm with you, you're supposed to fulfill it." The woman might "service" her man (or vice versa, if he's the one with less drive) in order to get his love and attention. She might also use sex as a reward or as a commodity to get what she wants. It doesn't bring her any real intimacy, though, as she detaches from her physical body in the process. Sex is just something to check off a list.

This idea of servicing can also apply in the emotional realm. One person might hint at flowers, for example, making the other feel obligated to provide them. Again, the dynamic is one of "strings attached" and sets both sides up for resentment.

Fair Is Fair

Stage 2 reflects more empathic thinking: "I've got a need; you have your need. So we'll try to accommodate one another." Mark and Lynne fall into this camp. They're respectful of their differences and preferences, and they acknowledge that no one person can always get his or her way.

This 50/50 approach hinges on the idea of "you give, I take; next time we'll switch." Unfortunately, while balance is something couples think they should strive for, this approach always requires someone giving in. Your preferences never merge to form something bigger than either one of you; rather, they remain separate. For sex to feel truly exciting and compelling, a couple needs to transcend the give-take model.

Foreplay All Day

In Stage 3, we find the ultimately satisfying state of erotic, ecstatic passion. You offer your sexuality as a gift to your partner. Stage 3 intimacy is perpetually romantic -- not just in the five minutes before intercourse. It's desire without attachment. It's love e-mails for no reason, kisses and compliments out of nowhere, all for the purpose of energizing your partner's passion and building sexual confidence. And it's completely free of any hidden agenda. He won't surprise you with concert tickets in the hopes of getting "repaid" when you get home. No one's keeping score; you both feel utterly treasured by the other, and open to where that might lead.

When you move past the idea of needs that require satisfying, intimacy becomes joyful again. Each partner feels wanted, not just accommodated. You begin to build a sexual charge outside the bedroom, with exquisite radiance in the female, powerful presence in the male. And guess what? Suddenly, the libido gap becomes much easier to bridge.

About the Author

Lana Holstein, M.D., is managing director of the Sexuality & Vitality Department at Miraval Resort and Spa, and coauthor, with husband David Taylor, M.D., of "Your Long Erotic Weekend," among other books.