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Myth: Sex is a natural urge

Myth: Sex is a natural urge

Photographer:Fotograaf: Joey Roberts/ Illustratie Simone Golob

Myth busters

“Many people think that sex has to be spontaneous, that it is artificial if you agree on a time in your schedule. Nonsense,” says Marieke Dewitte, psychologist and sexologist at Maastricht University. In her own practice, she sees couples who have been having problems for years and who have doubts about their relationship and sex life. “A lot is written about sexuality, and on the one hand that should be applauded. It is no longer a taboo. But on the other hand, expectations are also raised, about how it should be: twice a week, several orgasms, preferably simultaneously. Then you get ‘oh no, we don’t manage that,’ which is when panic sets in. But that sex is a primary urge, is a serious misconception. Moreover, people often think that they are the only ones, but not being in the mood for sex happens a lot. Especially with couples between 30 and 45.”

In Dewitte’s field of science, the sexual act is usually described according to the so-called ‘Sexual Response Cycle’, developed and tested by the American sexologists Masters and Johnson “The model is based on four phases: desire, arousal, orgasm, and recovery.” But this desire doesn’t just happen upon you, Dewitte emphasises. There has to be incentive motivation, a rewarding stimulus that makes you want to have sex: a fantasy, film, image (for example, your wife wearing lingerie) or a touch. In addition, you have to take the time to notice the stimulus, to give it sexual meaning. Subsequently your body will react and you will want to do something in response. So, you have to create the mood, and you get in the mood simply by doing it. I know: easier said than done for couples who have not had much of a sex life for two years, who are too busy with children and careers and just drop onto the sofa exhausted in the evening.”

To make things more complicated: different things arouse men and women. Some years ago, Dewitte carried out a film experiment. She showed men and women three different fragments: pornography, a scene from Titanic in which the main characters Jack and Rose kiss for the first time, and a piece from a (neutral) nature documentary. Men were aroused most by the porn, women by Titanic. Remarkably, the feelings of lust dropped to an extreme low when the men watched the romance on the ship. “Contrary to women, men more often like explicit visual stimuli.” This has an evolutionary explanation, because they want to procreate as much as possible.
“Besides, partners sometimes want different things at different times, whether you are a man or a woman. While the one just wants to have sex and come, the other might want to cuddle, kiss and carry out other intimate actions. The one might want to make love several times a week, while for the other once a week or even less is enough. This difference in expectations can lead to tension and avoidance. Ultimately it is a matter of compromise.”

To couples who want to give their sex lives a new boost, Dewitte advises, “show willingness. You have to create opportunities, even if you have to plan them. Don't think: ‘Am I in the mood now?’ because that is often not the case as a result of being busy. No, think: ‘am I motivated to open myself up to sex? Am I prepared to get in the mood? I use the ten-minute rule. You caress a bit and cuddle, and just see what happens. Or not, and that is not a problem either. It is biologically determined that men become aroused more quickly, so if the man has an erection after a couple of minutes, don't start to doubt yourself: ‘Oh dear, here we go again, now I have to.’ This phase just takes longer with women.”
And what if it doesn't happen? “In order to break through that pressure, I only allow them to caress the first couple of weeks. They have to go back to the beginning, learning how to feel.”

‘Things just used to happen in the past, there was real passion.’ Dewitte hears it often enough. “But aside from the biochemical process in that phase of young love – our bodies produce feel-good substances such as dopamine – there was also more connection: a sweet note, text messages, a lot of time for each other. The stimulus hit home quicker and better. And let's be honest, how spontaneous was the sex really when you think that you simply planned your dates, which often also meant sex, with your new lover.”

Mythbusters is a series in which academics shoot down popular myths on complex topics



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