The pressure to perform can remove the pleasure for some individuals
Although sex, for many people, is an enjoyable and satisfying experience, that is not always the case for everyone. For some people, sexual activity can feel pressured or even stressful. In such cases, sex loses its playfulness and tends to feel like an obligation or a job to be accomplished.
Instead of sharing an intimate experience with a partner, the focus shifts to achieving a satisfying erection or insuring that one’s partner reaches an orgasm. Function then becomes the goal of sex rather than pleasure.
It is quite common to have certain standards by which we “measure” our sexual experiences. This is called a performance model of sex. In order to change this pressure to pleasure, we need to make a mental shift. A traditional individual performance model needs to give way to a more realistic shared experience model of sex where the focus is on pleasure and connection.
An SCI is often accompanied by emotional distress and frustration in relation to sexual performance and enjoyment. This often becomes an issue in relationships and can damage sexual confidence. If a couple cannot communicate about the problem, it can quickly grow into an even bigger issue. Sex then becomes something that is avoided or a source of conflict and insecurity.
An SCI makes achieving the traditional performance measures (like erections and orgasms) for how “successful” a sexual encounter is more difficult. In my work as a psychologist, a large portion of the discussions that we have about sexuality after an SCI focus on relational aspects and our brain as a source of arousal and enjoyment instead of relying solely on physical experiences.
When people are willing to engage with this alternative way of viewing sexuality, the experiences of intimacy and enjoyment has been overwhelmingly positive. Ironically, when the pressure has been removed, physical enjoyment also seems to happen more naturally as a by-product.
This takes time, patience and acceptance of one another. It requires a realisation that, on our journey to more satisfying sexual encounters we will experience disappointment or frustration. What is important however is that we not view sex as a pass or fail experience.
Your SCI is an opportunity to discover alternatives that make sex personal and enriching. In the months after injury, the goal for the individual or couple is to explore and discover a unique satisfying experience that promotes sexual enjoyment in spite of age, disability, gender or other potential barriers to pleasure.
This journey could be a wonderful opportunity for self-discovery and deeper connection with your partner if you are willing to take up the challenge. You might even be surprised about something positive coming from an experience that’s mostly viewed as negative.