A HOW-TO-GUIDE TO PRACTICING YOUR SEXUAL LOVE LANGUAGES

By: MIGHTY PURSUIT TEAM

Maybe you’ve come across the concept of love languages, which were first popularized in a book by Gary Chapman in 1992. Categorized as five general ways that people give and receive love from their partner, they are as follows: words of affirmation, quality time, acts of service, gifts and physical touch.  In a similar way, each of us has sexual love languages, which are critical not only for understanding ourselves and our spouse, but to build a thriving foundation of sexual intimacy in our relationship. Culturally we often allude to, but do not explicitly name these sexual love languages. For instance, when people talk about developing “chemistry” in bed, what they are really referring to is an understanding and an exploration of the sexual love languages. Key towards this chemistry, people claim, is finding a mate who is “good in bed”. But when asked what that means, they have trouble clearly articulating their thoughts. Take Bustle for example. When the media company asked fifteen women what “good in bed” meant, they got fifteen different answers. The problem is when there is a lack of communication between partners, but also with how much is unknown even within ourselves.  Do we even know what we like? How do we best respond sexually?  When each of us learn more about the specifics behind the sexual love languages, things start making a lot more sense. It provides a framework for understanding yourself and common language for getting on the same page with your spouse.  It helps you discover how to please them, what they like and don’t like, what turns them on and how they want to be treated in bed. And ultimately, it will lead to the most erotic experiences, the most pleasure and the best orgasms. The ideas we’ll explore today originate from science, but are wrapped in the foundational principle of the way of Jesus – self-sacrificial love.  None of us are blank slates sexually, but the beautiful part is that you can start this journey from wherever you are. 

PLEASURE STACKING

If we want the best (and most erotic) sex life, then it starts with a simple idea that Dr. Tim Keller talks about in The Meaning of Marriage: “Each partner in marriage is to be most concerned not with getting sexual pleasure but with giving it. In short, the greatest sexual pleasure should be the pleasure of seeing your spouse getting pleasure. When you get to the place where giving arousal is the most arousing thing, you are practicing this principle.” In the way of Jesus, this foundational principle needs to be understood before moving into any other aspect of the conversation on sex. This is the overarching paradigm through which to view our sex lives. Self-sacrificial love. This is particularly relevant to men, when everything in our culture is oriented towards the male orgasm. Men often operate with a sense of entitlement when it comes to sex, orgasms and blowjobs, while treating the woman’s needs as an after-thought. The way of Jesus subverts that, calling men to lead in this department. Look no further than the message to husbands in Ephesians 5. One of the more modern translations reads “Husbands, go all out in your love for your wives, exactly as Christ did for the church—a love marked by giving, not getting.” (Ephesians 5:25) Another way of interpreting this is through the namesake of sex therapist Ian Kerner’s 2005 NY Times bestseller: She Comes First. When the husband leads sexually and the wife follows suit, it establishes a pattern of servanthood. When both partners come together and are constantly trying to one up each other in the pleasure department, the results are nothing short of glorious. What do you like? How can I make you feel good? What should we explore together? And if you don't quite know, the sexual love languages will help you work out all the kinks.

SEXUAL PERSONALITIES

The first component of the sexual love languages is what sex educator Dr. Emily Nagoski calls your “sexual personality” in her book Come As You Are. That is, the baseline of arousability you feel on a daily basis. How horny do you get? Are you constantly wanting to have sex with your spouse? Do you feel in this sense like you have a “high” or “low” sex drive? As Nagoski lays out in her book, the underlying science behind this is explained through the dual control model of sexual response. Just like a car, when it comes to sex we have accelerators (getting turned on) and brakes (getting turned off). “The Sexual Excitation System (SES) is the accelerator of your sexual response. It receives information about sexually relevant stimuli in the environment – things you see, hear, smell, touch, taste or imagine – and sends signals from the brain to the genitals to tell them, “turn on!,” explains Nagoski. The accelerator is always at work, often operating way below the level of consciousness. It is scanning your environment, looking for reasons to turn on. For you or your spouse, this might mean you’re in the mood all the time. If you have an extremely sensitive accelerator, the slightest thing could turn you on. On the flipside, the Sexual Inhibition System (SIS) represents your sexual brake. Nagoski explains that, “it notices all the potential threats in the environment – everything you see, hear, smell, touch, taste or imagine – and sends signals saying, “Turn off!” It’s like the foot brake in a car, responding to stimuli in the moment.” Similarly, the brake is responding to all the reasons not to be aroused in the moment. That could be anything from knowing your neighbor is sitting on the other side of a thin apartment room wall to even a lack of confidence that stunts your arousal.

Nagoski likens these to traits (i.e. introversion / extroversion) which is why they are like a personality. But just like someone could be extremely extroverted or introverted, we all exist across a spectrum of how sexually sensitive we are.

Most people exist in the middle, but there is a percentage of the population that find themselves at extremes. On a population level, men tend to have more sensitive accelerators and women have more sensitive brakes. But there is no “wrong or right” here, and in your marriage, it could easily be the reverse. Understanding your sexual personality is extremely important towards developing a healthy foundation of sex in your relationship. It helps you understand both you and your spouse’s baseline needs, and how you can take the initiative of our first principle (service) to meet them. Ultimately, you will have to find a middle ground that works for both of you, especially through the different seasons of life and through the aging process. Initially, it could feel overwhelming if your spouse is extremely sexually sensitive all the time, and you are not.  If you are the sexually sensitive one and your spouse naturally finds all the reasons to not be horny at any given moment, this also could feel extremely frustrating. You could both feel like you are on two completely separate pages. This is why the rest of the sexual love languages are important in developing a deeper foundation of sexual intimacy in your relationship. Knowing what your sexual personality is critical, but knowing what to do with it is the next step.

SEXUAL CONTEXTS

One of the biggest things we overlook in our relationships is the context in which each of us gets turned on, and how this contributes to the health of our sex life. The standard narrative of men is that they could just see their wife naked and BAM! They’re in the mood. They’re ready to go. Or perhaps sexual desire just overtakes them, without any obvious reason for that sexual desire brimming to the surface. This is known as “spontaneous desire”, which is how it often works for 75 percent of men and 15 percent of women. But as Nagoski explains, there is another side of the equation.  “Some people find that they begin to want sex only after sexy things that are happening. They don’t have “low” desire, they don’t suffer from any ailment.. their bodies just need some more compelling reason than, “that’s an attractive person right there,” to want sex.” This is known as “responsive” desire, which is how 5 percent of men are wired, in addition to 30 percent of women. This is extremely important to understand in your relationship. When couples don’t understand this, it often becomes a tension point. You may always get in the mood spontaneously, but the other person seems so slow to come around. They’re never down for a quickie. Or vice-versa. Maybe it could feel irritating when your spouse is spontaneously in the mood all the time, without rhyme or reason. To you, it makes complete sense if you’re unwinding at night, or have a special weekend, or something is prompting the sex. Even so, just knowing you’re going to have sex at night or a special weekend doesn’t do it for some people with responsive desire. Particularly for women, much of what influences their responsive desire is the emotional connection. It might be the intimacy or closeness that precedes the sex.

It might be the physical touch and/or foreplay that turns on you (or your spouse’s) sexual accelerator. It might involve the erogenous zones, which we’ll talk about below. Understanding this tension is critical to a thriving sex life. 

It’s always going to be a negotiation in the relationship, a middle ground to find between two people. But it becomes a lot easier when we root ourselves in our foundational principle - putting the needs of your spouse before your own.  To constantly “one-up” each other when it comes to pleasure, and to be accommodating to the sexual context they best respond to. Maybe that means you have quickies sometimes and other times, you have a long buildup that caters to someone’s responsive desire. Too often we fight against the waves, trying to change the other person to make them like us, when that is just simply who they are. It’s how they’re wired. Instead of fighting it, we should use all that energy to collaborate with our spouse on different scenarios that will work for the both of us.

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SEXUAL FANTASIES

Next up on the list of sexual love languages is to indulge each other’s sexual fantasies. Too often in our relationships, we go completely silent on this point. We have movies that might play in our head about what we’d like to do with our spouse, but we never communicate that with them. This could be due to shame or embarrassment, or maybe even voicing something in the past without it being received well. But ultimately, indulging fantasies can be a really erotic way for you to connect. We get to take part in bringing our spouse the greatest pleasure and to let that movie play out in real life. We shouldn’t be afraid to advocate for ourselves in the bedroom and what we fantasize about. The marital relationship is designed to be the most intimate human relationship on the planet. We are meant to share everything with our spouse, and to become one, which includes sharing what goes on in our minds. Maybe your fantasy has something to do with going beyond the familiar positions that you usually do. Maybe you want to do it doggy style or experiment in the golden arch. Maybe it has to do with having sex in certain places or locations within your apartment or home. Maybe it has to do with the type of sex – maybe you really want it rough. Maybe you want them to whisper something to you while you’re having sex. Maybe you want to masturbate simultaneously and look into each other’s eyes.  Whatever it is, sexual fantasies are an invitation. First to a conversation with your spouse, and then secondly, perhaps doing the deed. But it’s important to set expectations on this front. You or your spouse may have a fantasy, but then you do it, and it wasn’t what you expected it to be. Maybe it was your own fantasy and it didn’t bring you the pleasure that you thought it would.  We can’t stress the importance of overcommunication. Your spouse can’t read your mind. At first, this process might feel awkward, but as you get into a rhythm of being very vocal with each other, it becomes second nature.  But even if you did communicate well and it didn’t lead to the satisfaction you thought it would, that’s completely normal. Some fantasies lived out in the real world simply aren’t the same as when they’re in our minds. Maybe it’s something we thought we’d enjoy, but we didn’t. Continue experimenting. This all comes with a caveat however – not all fantasies are healthy. We discussed this pretty extensively in our blog on sex drive, but if you trace the origin of some fantasies back to their root, they don't come from a good place. For instance, in his book Unwanted, therapist Jay Stringer surveyed nearly 4,000 people on their sexual behavior, including fantasies. He lists five findings, as core influencers of how our sexual fantasies develop. They include:
    1. Dysfunctional Family Systems: Rigid or disengaged family structures cause people to recreate those power dynamics within their sexual fantasies, particularly with things like BDSM. 
    2. Abandonment: Of course, disengaged family structures can lead to a child feeling abandoned. Not only does this produce avoidant attachment, but it shapes our sexual behavior and fantasies.
    3. Triangulation: As Stringer writes, “triangulation, or emotional enmeshment, occurs when there is a breakdown in a marriage relationship and a child is brought in to fill the emotional emptiness.”
    4. Trauma: Unfortunately, trauma plays a large role in our fetishes. As Stringer reveals, there is often a direct link between the trauma that exists in our past and the type of pornography we seek out.
    5. Sexual Abuse: Another one of the drivers is sexual abuse, which also has an impact on the power dynamics within sexual fantasies.
 In Come As You Are, Dr. Nagoski unpacks the process behind learning what is sexually relevant – or in other words, what turns us on. “The process of learning what is sexually relevant and what is a threat works sort of like learning a language. We’re all born with the innate capacity to learn any human language, but we don’t learn a random language, right?” She equates this to learning English, “If you grow up surrounded by people who speak only English, there is no way you’ll get to kindergarten speaking French. You learn the language you are surrounded by.” In other words, our environment shapes our fantasies. For example, there might be a reason that is located in your past as to why you fantasize about your wife dressing up like a schoolgirl. Or why you want your husband to tie you up. For many people, porn has had a large influence over what they fantasize about.  Sex therapist Justin Lehmiller also surveyed 4,000 people about their sexual fantasies for his book Tell Me What You Want and found that: “Our porn-viewing habits influence who and what we fantasize about.. For instance, the more porn that heterosexual men watch, the bigger women’s breasts are in their fantasies. Likewise, the more porn that heterosexual women watch, the bigger men’s penises are in their fantasies.” It might come as a surprise – or perhaps not – that Lehmiller found the top sexual fantasies to include polyamory, BDSM, threesomes, gangbangs, partner sharing, taboo sex and forbidden sex.  VICE featured an article in early 2023 on women who fantasize about having sex against their will. Whether you have any of these fantasies or not, their very presence can create an internal crisis, especially if you’re married.  When these fantasies fester in the dark, it usually leads people to feel an overbearing amount of shame and think that something is wrong with them. If it’s not that, others think that because they fantasize about these things, they’re not wired to be monogamous. Both things couldn’t be farther from the truth. Number one, most people in our society have some history with Stringer’s five findings or at the very least, porn. While the fantasies may be unhealthy, that doesn’t mean they aren’t normal. And it doesn’t mean that our fantasies can’t change. And secondly, as we articulated in a separate blog, we are wired to be monogamous. Every data point possible indicates so – from brain chemistry, attachment theory and anthropology to the way of Jesus.  The presence of non-monogamous fantasies, even if they are persistent, or really turn you on, does not mean you weren’t meant to be monogamous. It simply means that something in your past caused you to develop these fantasies. When it comes to your spouse, it is completely understandable if there is a major hesitation to sharing any fantasies with them, especially the ones you know are unhealthy. But this is an opportunity to develop greater intimacy with them. It’s an opportunity to explore your past together and grow closer because of it. As Lehmiller writes in his book: “Through mutual self-disclosure, you come to know someone in a way that most other people don’t, which makes the bond you have all the more special. Given these increases in trust and intimacy, it shouldn’t be any surprise to hear the research finds that the more couples self-disclose, the happier they are and the more love they feel for one another. Not only that, but high self-disclosers even have longer-lasting relationships.” Of course, there are risks. Based on where your marriage is currently at, your partner could feel threatened or insecure by your fantasies. And vice-versa. If they don’t respond well, you could feel rejected. But this is a concession to this conversation, not the goal. We should all work towards providing a safe space for our spouse, and not take the sexual fantasies of the other personally. As we’ve learned, sexual fantasies are shaped by our environment. It’s not personal. In many ways, this all happens in our subconscious. And even if there were bad decisions that you and/or your spouse made in the past that contributed to these fantasies, you cannot go back in time.  If there are things that are currently happening that are causing unhealthy fantasies and are destructive in your relationship – like porn – then that’s something that should be addressed in the immediate term.

Nonetheless, if we allow ourselves to be open enough, we can develop a stronger sexual bond where some fantasies can be indulged, while others are discarded as unhealthy and can be worked through together (and/or with a therapist).

Non-monogamous fantasies should be disclosed, worked through, healed from and then discarded as something not to engage in. But when it comes to monogamous fantasies, these will need to be dealt with on a case-by-case basis.  While the way of Jesus provides us with the foundation of self-sacrificial love and the goal of service to one another, always one-upping each other in the pleasure department, it leaves freedom for the specifics of what happens in the bedroom. Wanting your wife to dress up like a schoolgirl could be a fantasy linked to something extremely unhealthy in the past, or maybe it’s completely unrelated. Maybe it just turns you on to see her wear that outfit. This is why (shame-free) conversation and exploration are important. But ultimately some questions we need to consider – is this fantasy in any way harmful? Does it go against the best interest of the other person? Could it hurt them in any way? Does it make them feel extremely uncomfortable?  If you both deem it healthy, fair-game and are willing (or excited) to participate in the fantasy – then you should feel free to go for it.

SEXUAL HOT SPOTS

Last on the list of sexual love languages are erogenous zones – or what we would call sexual hot spots. These are areas in the body that stimulate sexual arousal when they are touched. Remarkably, Healthline lists 31 different erogenous zones across the body.  This could be anything from the nipples, ears and/or neck to the inner wrists, scalp and/or mouth. You likely have an awareness of what these zones are for yourself – or maybe not – but regardless, this is an absolute must to explore. Learning your spouse’s body and having them learn yours is a really easy way to ramp up the sexual intimacy in your relationship. It gives you knowledge on how to turn each other on, and when paired with the other things on this list, can be incredibly powerful. Take the example of someone who has more of a responsive desire. They know they’re going to have sex later, and are ready for it. Experiencing emotional connection before sex gets their juices flowing, but then being touched in their erogenous zones really ramps up their sexual accelerator. However it’s not just understanding where the zone is, but how to touch them. Let your spouse guide you and teach you how to do it, to maximize pleasure. If you touch them in a hot spot, but do so in a manner that is too soft or too harsh, then it will defeat the point of engaging the zone to begin with. Of course, this all takes time and practice. This is why the more you have sex, if you’re being intentional with all of the sexual love languages, it will continue to get better and better over time.

MOVING FORWARD

As you begin to explore the sexual love languages, it’s important to remember to start where you are, not where you think you should be. This might all be new information for you. Or maybe it’s not. Based on your past or even your marriage now, perhaps you’ve learned some of these concepts before. But the key towards living this out starts with our foundational principle: self-sacrificial love. Naturally, humans tend to be self-serving. We want to get, before we give. We want pleasure, before we give pleasure.  As we mentioned before, this is particularly relevant for men, who have felt entitled to orgasms, sex and blowjobs for as long as we can remember. Which goes to say, the most essential ingredient to the sexual love languages is Jesus himself. Meaning, we need him at the center of our marriage to learn how to embody self-sacrificial love in any sort of sustainable way. We both need to have the desire to become like him, and then actively keep taking the steps to do so. Putting the needs of your spouse before yours is the key to a thriving sex life, but it’s not going to happen in a vacuum.  It takes intentionality, practice and communication.  Lastly, while the sexual love languages are critical components to our sex life, they are not the only things that are relevant to this conversation.  There are outside influences that can seriously pump your sexual brakes, and make you feel turned off most of the time. There are other things that might just make you feel distant from your spouse in general.  So as we close, here are nine quick things to be aware of, which inevitably become influences to the sexual love languages.

Health of the relationship

Remember that emotional intimacy is attached to sexual intimacy. Don’t be tone-deaf to the current moment you’re living in.  In The Meaning of Marriage, Dr. Keller says that “unless your marital relationship is in good condition, sex doesn’t work.” Which means that if your marriage is not in a good condition, you’re going to have to work to repair your connection first before you’re able to build a thriving sex life. The emotional, spiritual and physical parts of a relationship all work together to contribute to the overall health of a relationship. When one is neglected, the other parts are inevitably affected as well.

Sexual histories

Another thing that can complicate your sex life is what happened before your relationship even began. How many people you slept with before your spouse and what you’ve been exposed to will inevitably affect your marriage in some way.   Subconsciously, it might affect your behavior in the bedroom. Maybe you have developed triggers to certain things, that would have been a blank slate otherwise. At times, you may not be able to help the near-automatic tendency to compare sexual experiences and your sex life with your spouse to your past lovers.  There are also the consequences of how those past relationships affected your attachment style, and potentially if it made you more avoidant or anxious. And as we mentioned, there are the sexual fantasies that arise from what we’ve been exposed to. All of these things might complicate your relationship, in the spoken and unspoken, and will need to be worked through over time.

Sexual trauma or rape

Most traumatically, some of our sexual histories include sexual assault or rape. In many cases, this leads to great complications in navigating what sex looks like in our marriages. Especially if there are painful triggers and/or repressed memories.  Additionally, as we mentioned above, sexual abuse also has a profound effect on our sexual fantasies and the things we find ourselves desiring in bed as adults. If there is sexual assault or rape in your history (or your spouse’s), it would be extremely wise to seek professional help to work through that trauma.

Mental health issues

If one (or both) of you have some sort of mental health disorder, which at least 25% of the population does, this will inevitably impact your relationship and/or your sex life. In the case of obsessive compulsive disorder (OCD), someone could have repetitive, intrusive thoughts about their relationship and sex in general. When bipolar disorder affects you or your spouse, you have the extra dynamic of rapid mood swings impacting your relationship in some way. And then of course, if you’ve experienced depression, this could make your sexual brakes feel like they are permanently on, at least for a season. In all of these scenarios, it would be helpful to seek the aid of therapy and outside help. We’d also invite you to check out our resources on mental health.

Full schedules

Another aspect that could affect sexual intimacy is simply our schedules. How often are we connecting? How full is our plate? How many responsibilities do we have? This could mean work, kids, travel and everything else in-between. When life is busy, it could be easy to drift away from your spouse, which makes prioritizing each other even the more important. Dr. John Gottman, who is perhaps the top relationship expert in the world, speaks of the importance of “little bids” for connection towards long-term marriage success. And then of course, scripture talks about “not depriving each other” of sex. It’s not healthy to go long stretches without having sex or to start settling into rhythms where we don’t have sex.  Sex drives don’t just go away, and when we drift, this is what unfortunately makes people prone to look elsewhere for their sexual needs to be met.

Infidelity

Of course, if there has been infidelity in the past (or even the problem of porn), this makes things infinitely more complicated. It’s no longer just about the sexual love languages, but all the ways trust has been violated. If you first drifted, the infidelity took place, it can throw your marriage into a state of chaos and a world of hurt. And if you decide to stay together and fight to make it work, this is where outside help can be incredibly beneficial. 

Major life events

We also shouldn’t be ignorant of the impact that major life events can have on our sex life. If someone died in your family – perhaps an older parent or even more traumatically a close friend or sibling – your desire for sex in that season might plummet. Or it might not – everyone is different. Going back to our foundational principle of self-sacrificial love, our core focus in that season should be supporting our spouse if it’s their loved one. If we are deeply affected by the death, then it is necessary to make space to grieve. Then of course, there is the birth of a child. In the weeks following the birth, the mother’s body needs to heal. Everything will not feel the same as it did before. There’s also the added dynamic of exhaustion when it comes to taking care of a newborn. You should temper expectations of what sex looks like in this season. But no life event should create an excuse to permanently press pause on your sex life, which becomes the case for some couples. You have multiple kids and all of a sudden you settle into a palace of being sexually unavailable.  This highlights the importance of Gottman’s “bids for connection”. Throughout any season or life event, the goal is always to turn towards our spouse, not away. To grieve with them, not alone. To raise a child with them, not alone.  If we develop rhythms of turning towards each other in tough seasons, it will be far easier to bounce back sexually.

Insecurities

Lastly, the sexual love languages could simply be influenced by insecurities. These could be anything from insecurities about performance and orgasming too quickly to the way your body looks. Perhaps your body does not look the same as it once did, and this creates the added pressure of what your spouse thinks of you. Maybe that’s due to a traumatic event or maybe it’s just simply weight gain. Again, this highlights the importance of communication and turning toward your spouse about these insecurities, not away. It provides the opportunity to develop greater intimacy, greater security and if there is a solution to be worked out (i.e. losing weight), you navigate that together.

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