As a gay psychotherapist, I have been curious why the book “50 Shades of Grey” is so popular. Let me hazard a guess: it’s about great, exciting sex.
All of us want to have great sex, but the “ingredients” often seem elusive. Great sex requires elements of both aggression and tenderness. Some say that men have too much aggression and women too much tenderness, but that’s a stereotype; not true for many individuals.
Can you express your healthy aggression? Can you allow yourself to enjoy it?
These are questions that “50 Shades” repeatedly asks us.
Unhealthy aggression – on the other hand – usually shows up as passive-aggressive punishment or revenge, that’s not what we’re talking about here.
We all have a healthy need to “conquer,” “win” and “be the best.” The only question is how in touch with it we are. When there is too much aggression, you can easily feel that sex is one meaningless conquest after the other. There’s little emotional connection: basically, you’re just using someone else to get off.
Too much tenderness, on the other hand, leads to a kind of mushy, messy enmeshment where it’s hard for me to tell where you end and I begin. It’s great for intimate friendships and parental relationships that demand a lot of love and empathy, but it’s not so helpful for great sex.
How do you find the right balance of aggression and tenderness? Awareness and curiosity help a lot.
There is no one way to do this; each person/couple has to find his/her/their own way on this path. It’s not so hard, however, to tell if your balance is off.
If your sex life feels empty and emotionless, you need some tenderness. If your sex feels energyless and boring, you might benefit from some healthy aggression.
Healthy aggression is a way of expressing your sexual energy; at its best, it’s playful and passionate. There is a mutual consent component; both sex partners need to be OK with how aggression is expressed.
Both sex partners need to be able to say, “No, that’s too much” or “I really don’t like that” and the aggressive behavior can be modified or stopped, depending on what the partners agree upon.
Healthy sexual aggression isn’t necessarily like the sex scenes in “50 Shades of Grey,” or, it can be. Your way of expressing it may be different than your best friend’s.
You may like to take your sex partner’s clothes off roughly and push them over the sofa for passionate sex. One couple I worked with has a set of clothes that they “rip off each other”.
Another couple I worked with like to alternate the aggression. Some times partner A is the one who initiates sex and calls the shots; at other times, the roles are completely reversed.
On occasion, they may reverse the roles in the middle of having sex: for example, one guy was the “naughty schoolboy” being punished by his “teacher.” But the schoolboy got bored with this sex play, so he spontaneously reversed the situation, took control and became aggressive with his “teacher”.
A lesbian couple I worked with had a lot of fun with healthy aggression. One day one of the women took on the role of the “sexy plumber” and when one finished, she surprised her partner by letting her do the same to her.
In long-term relationships, a bit of healthy aggression can keep your sex life alive and throbbing (sorry, bad joke). Familiarity is great for feeling safe, secure and loved, but it’s not great for excitement and eroticism.
In my experience as a GLBT couple’s counselor, too much familiarity isn’t conducive to great sex. If you and your lover are “joined at the hip.” your sex life may be suffering.
Great sex requires some unpredictability; this is where “50 Shades of Grey” and healthy sexual aggression fits in. If your sex life has plenty of tenderness but not enough “juice,” talk with your partner about adding some healthy aggression.
If your sex life has plenty of action but isn’t very fulfilling, ”try a little tenderness”, as the song goes. Find the right balance and get ready for some great sex. Maybe it’s time for a little “50 Shades of Grey” done your way!