How often do you do it? When we want to know how things are going in bed, we often base it on how often a couple sleeps together. The frequency of sexual intercourse says nothing about the intensity of sexuality, says sex and couples therapist Julia Henchen. She supports couples whose passion is no longer going well. A conversation about a fulfilling sex life, the sense and nonsense of solo sex and the way back to your own pleasure.

Ms. Henchen, I’ll ask you bluntly: What makes a fulfilling sex life? Julia Henchen: Most of us still define our sex lives by frequency. People only ask how often we sleep together – but far too rarely how much we actually enjoy it. I think a fulfilling sex life is one in which I feel seen as a human being and can communicate my needs. So it’s not about quantity, but about quality. There are couples who have sex three times a week, but are secretly bored. Other couples sleep together two to three times a month – but find it very intense and fulfilling. They then often manage to create closeness in everyday life that is not based on sex.

The line between innocent touching and sexual acts is often blurred. How do you define sexuality? For me, sexuality is primarily a question of identity. Only if I know who I am and what is good for me and what I like, how I want to be desired and perceived as a person, can I live out my own sexuality the way I want. However, many people talk about sexuality in counseling as if it were something that happens outside, without asking themselves what they actually want.

In your book “Head off, Lust on” you write that in order to have a fulfilling sex life you also have to have the courage to really be seen. What do you mean? It’s all about emotional security. Many women come to me and say that they actually feel safe in their relationship. But when we start to dig deeper, small to large insecurities actually come to light. Then, for example, the partner evaluated the sex negatively or made a joking comment about the woman’s body. Something like that sticks. And if it happens more often, then some people no longer dare to really show themselves in front of their loved ones, to be seen as their true self. This is where problems often arise.

It’s already hard enough to show ourselves vulnerable to another person… Of course, for many people shame unfortunately plays a big role in their sexuality. Each of us has certainly had an embarrassing experience in a sexualized context. But as soon as shame appears here, we become more tense and the hurdle to really showing ourselves becomes greater. Instead, we prefer to hide our true needs in order to please – or don’t even deal with what sexuality actually is for us. We can only have fulfilling sex when we find out what we like.

And how do we find out? Maybe through masturbation? I’m not a fan of saying that you have to love yourself before you can love someone else. I basically see it that way when it comes to our sexuality. Solo sex is not the best approach to sexuality for everyone. But if I want to see myself as a lustful person and get to know myself as a sexual being outside of my relationship, then masturbation can be a great way to do this. Basically, it’s more about the question of what fantasies I have, where I like to be touched and how I want to feel during sex. And you can find out together. Insofar as you get involved with each other.

How important is regular sex for a healthy and happy relationship? There is no general answer to that question. For some, it’s really important to roll in the sheets several times every week. For others, doing it once a month is enough. Of course, sexuality brings another level of intimacy into the relationship. But as I said, there are also couples who can create this closeness without necessarily having to sleep together. They are then connected to each other on a level that other couples cannot achieve, even if they sleep together every day.

What is important then? A large part of being connected is based on the security within the partnership. Only when I feel like I can really get completely naked in front of my partner – literally and figuratively – do I really let myself go. This is the most stable basis for the partnership. That doesn’t mean that people who are sometimes insecure can’t do it. But security makes it easier.

At some point in most relationships, the desire for each other wanes. Why? Passion usually decreases when the first phase of infatuation subsides. This lasts an average of 18 months, but can sometimes only last half a year. When infatuation turns into love and the excitement decreases, things become calmer in bed. The same thing can also happen when a couple moves in together or has children. So whenever something changes in the dynamics within the relationship, it also affects sexuality.

It is often said that everyday life can also be a pleasure killer. How can I restore the sexual tension between washing dishes and vacuuming? It is possible that partners still turn each other on in everyday life. You just shouldn’t view the whole thing as a sure-fire success. You should try to always remain curious about your loved one. No matter how long you’ve known each other, you can always discover something new in each other. And these are often the moments in which the fire of passion can be rekindled.

What might such a moment look like? Let’s say a couple is sitting together with friends in the evening and discussing women’s rights. And suddenly the man says something very feminist that his feminist-positioned wife would not have expected. This can be very sexy – and end the evening in bed.

If that doesn’t help, how do I tell my partner that I would like to have more sex? That’s always a little difficult. It’s often the case that one person wants more sex than the other. When one person makes demands, the other sometimes withdraws more because he feels under pressure. This ends up causing frustration on both sides. It is better to encourage the other person. It’s important to find out what sex should be like so that both partners enjoy it equally.

And I communicate that like ā€“ in ā€œIā€ messages? No, just not. Nonviolent communication certainly has its place, but to be honest it always seems very one-sided. It’s always about what I feel, what I want, what I need. A partnership always includes two people. It’s more about one party making an invitation to the other. For example, it can sound like this: “I hope that we both find a solution to how we can do it because you are important to me.”

We are primarily talking about women here. What about men? Everything we’re discussing here obviously works for men too. It’s just that when there’s a lull in sex in the relationship, women tend to take care of it. Unfortunately, men still have the role model of the wild stallion and therefore assume that things have to work themselves out in bed – or they are a failure. This is of course complete nonsense. But as a result, many men unfortunately completely lack access to sensuality.

You write in your book that you can learn desire. How? That’s exciting. I work with women who cognitively know a lot about sexuality. Unfortunately, they remain in the head and do not dare to feel. But as long as we don’t change our behavior, nothing will change in the general conditions.

And how do I actually get into action? The first thing is to adapt our mindset. We are lustful creatures and it is completely normal not to feel like it. Accepting that gives us a lot of lightness back. We are also welcome to free ourselves from social categories. There are two main extremes: the slut and the prude. The world of pleasure is so diverse. I can also be a lustful woman if I like to eat chips on the couch in sweatpants. That’s one thing. The other is mindfulness exercises to get to know our bodies better. It is enough to start by breathing consciously for just two minutes a day.

So what about solo sex? It can also help to explore your vulva a bit while showering. This doesn’t have to turn into fingering, but it helps to get to know your own intimate area better and find out where you like to be touched.

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