Developing Healthy Sexual Relationships
A healthy sexual relationship is integral to healthy realtionship, so special consideration should be given to learning about what it takes to have a healthy sexual relationship with your partner before entering a new sexual relationship. Usually by the time of sexual activity people understand the basic concepts of sexual practice such as kissing, foreplay, fellatio, cunnilingus, coitus and anilingus. This knowledge about is sex is usually dependent on one’s parents providing appropriate information to their children and usually includes a mix of knowledge gained through your current partner, previous experiences, and any educational understandings about sex and sexual behaviors one has received. However, many fail to recognize that there is more to one’s sexuality than just their current and previous sexual activities. Because humans are complex sexual beings encompassing a full range of physical, intellectual, emotional, psychological and social components that affect our physiological arousal, response and sexual function it is important to understand these concepts and others when building a healthy relationship with a new partner.
Kaplan’s model of sexual responding asserted that sexual responding began with “desire to be sexual, progressed into the excitement phase, and reached its peak at orgasm” and that many things can interfere with sexual desire and/or sexual function along that spectrum (Roger, 2009). Biological factors include reproductive mechanics, sexual intercourse and sexual contact as well as motivational factors that influence our sexual behavior (Roger, 2009). Psychological aspects to consider might include sexual motivation, perceived gender role expectations, and sexual attitudes (Roger, 2009). Social factors that could impact might include social roles and expectations as well as stress from outside social influences such as family and work. Emotional factors include individual feelings pertaining to morals, values and beliefs they also extend into emotional dynamics of the relationship like intimacy, bonding and shared feelings during and after sex (Roger, 2009).
According to Masters and Johnson’s (1966) EPOR model of human sexual response, there are “four arbitrarily divided phases: excitement, plateau, orgasm, and resolution” (Rogers, 2009, p. 77). First there is sexual excitement phase, which is triggered by subjective psychological triggers that are partly constructed by person’s sexual history and cultural beliefs about sexuality (Rogers, 2009). At some point through the excitement phase excitement stops building and reaches what Masters and Johnson’s (1966) EPOR model calls the plateau stage where sexual excitement stops increasing (Rogers, 2009, p. 78). Next is the orgasmic stage, where sexual excitement and pleasure reach a climax and an orgasm occurs. Lastly, the resolution phase describes the phase where physiological arousal start to revert to normal and sexual structures return to their unaroused state (Rogers, 2009, p. 88). However, actually getting or finding your partner (especially female counterparts) aroused and “in the mood” is much more complex and involve consideration for other aspects such as biological, physiological, and psychological factors like emotions, intimacy and even culture.
Arousal describes the state of being during the physiological response to sexual excitement that occur in the body and mind in preparation for and during sex. For example: During sexual excitement vasocongestion is responsible obvious signs of early arousal such as erections and vaginal lubrication, but is also responsible for other changes throughout the body such as sex flush, erect nipples, heavy breathing, heart rate increases and muscle tighten as the state of sexual arousal increase throughout the body(Rogers, 2009). During the plateau stage, for both male and female, as orgasm nears erectile tissues function is are fully engorged with blood and gender specific changes happen to the their sexual organs (Rogers, 2009, p. 80). These changes and others seen in the man and woman body during the state of arousal make sexual activity and function possible, comfortable, and pleasurable for your partner and yourself. Understanding your own and your partners signs of their sexual response and states of arousal can help assist one knowing when the other partner is ready for sexual activity and even orgasam.
The level of intimacy, familiarity and/or personal connection that is felt within the relationship can also impact self disclosure, desire and function. Sex and intimacy are closely neurologically linked in both men and women (Berman, 2008). During the honeymoon phase of relationships the excitement, passion and bond is undeniable because biochemically the brain releases chemicals such as serotonin, adrenaline, and oxytocin which creates these feelings passion, excitement, and bonding, but over time the brain builds tolerance and needs more and more to feel this same excitement, passion and bond (Berman, 2008). However, men and woman have different intimacy needs e.g. men need sex to feel intimate whereas women need that intimacy to want sex (Berman, 2008). For example: Because of her gender “sex is internal for a woman” and “personal” so women tend to fall into a pattern of withholding sex to obtain intimacy, but during times of relationship distress this can be disastrous for the relationship because for men “sexual intercourse is an external” and they seek sex for intimacy (PsychCentral, 2014). Because of the underlying biochemical processes and differing arousal and intimacy patterns as well as psychological implications of the different genital anatomie in men and women all relationships need increasing levels of both sex and intimacy to be lasting and successful.
Because “desire” and “sexual excitement” or is triggered by subjective psychological states that are largely constructed by a “person’s sexual history and cultural beliefs about sexuality” it is important to understand and respect your partner’s previous experiences and cultural beliefs that affect his or her sexual practice and subjective comfortableness (Rogers, 2009, p. 80). For example: Muslims women have certain cultural sexual practices and values that will likely affect their sexual behaviors. For example: In Muslim cultures, after marriage mutual stimulation, foreplay and sex is encouraged. However, anal sex is most often considered taboo and the use of foreign objects on the woman’s body, self stimulation for both parties, and sexual intercourse during menstruation is prohibited. All nights except Tuesday and “whenever the wife’s wants sex” are recommend nights for sexual activity. However, there are times when sex is generally disliked by Muslims culturally such as during frightful natural occurrences, e.g., eclipse, hurricane, earthquake, or from sunset till maghrib (evening prayer), from dawn till sunrise, the last three nights of lunar months, eve of the 15th of every lunar month, eve of 10th Zil-hijjah, or after becoming junub (Al-Islam, 2014). Therefore, it i be important for one to consider educating themselves on their partners cultural practices concerning sexual activity and own personal sexual philosophy through the year. Other important cultural considerations an interfaith relationship will be contraception, bearing children and raising children. For example: In Muslim practice, contraception and “bearing children or not” is a personal decision of the woman and children is not a requirement of marriage (Al-Islam, 2014). Condoms as well as many acceptable forms of birth control for women when used correctly prevent against unwanted pregnancy. If condoms are not used other methods of contraception should be considered until children are desired. Looking into the future persons in interfaith unions consideration to what faith they would like to raise their children as this can be one of the more emotional challenges in an interfaith relationships (Tvrtkovic, 2001).
Because with any sexual activity there are risks such as sexually transmitted infections (STI’s) another important aspect to consider prior to marriage or any new sexual relationship is the safety and protection of one’s health. Sexually transmitted infections can only be avoided completely if one remains abstinent, but in most cases they can also be avoided with the proper use of condoms. Sexually transmitted infections can be present in a person with or with symptoms of infection (Rogers, 2009). Sexually transmitted infections can be transmitted though oral, anal or vaginal sex and/or other direct contact with infected body fluids or skin (Rogers, 2009). If either partner has been sexually active prior to this union any sexual activity comes the risk of sexually transmitted infection to the partner so they should discuss and pursue STI testing prior to sexual activity and/or use condoms as a preventive measure in the meantime.
As we can see, human sexual behavior is actually much more complex than just physical activity and includes the biological, physical and emotional factors of each individual leading up to the moment of activity, during activity and after. Having a healthy sexual relationship includes considering your partners current and future well being and emotional state as well as respect for their cultures values and beliefs pertaining to sexual activity. Healthy sexual partners avoid the risks associated with sexual activity by making informed choices together on prevention methods such as condoms or remaining abstinent. Therefore, having a healthy sexual relationship is much more than encompassing an understanding of your partner’s biological functions and is largely dependent on the couple’s ability to communicate about their physical sexual feelings or arousal patterns as well as their individual emotions and psychosocial aspects such bonding or values that also affects ones sexual behavior.
All relationships must include mutual respect for each other including understanding and respecting boundaries for them to be successful. When a relationship includes the joining of two faiths or cultures there are additional boundary aspects that go beyond their sexual practices that need to be considered to ensure each person’s faith and personal boundaries are not disrespected. This includes discussing situations that are “negotiables and non-negotiables boundaries” for each partner (Tvrtkovic, 2001). Because religion or cultural practices can include prayers and holidays this might include a discussion of what holidays you prefer to celebrate, foods are to be eaten, if prayers will be done together or apart, and even conversion (Tvrtkovic, 2001).
By exploring these negotiables and non-negotiable boundaries methods compromises can be found and sometimes explored before arguments give rise to relationship an/or marriage complications. Some couples find they can make compromises such as the “Assisi model” during prayer that enable them to pray together by repeating similar words in their own language (Tvrtkovic, 2001). By determining prior to cohabitation and/or marriage if these aspects are negotiables and non-negotiable boundaries for each party couples can avoid hurt feelings and arguments later.
Al-Islam. (2014). Components of the Ideal Islamic Marriage. Ahlul Bayt Digital Islamic Library Project http://www.al-islam.org/islamic-marriage-syed-athar-husain-sh-rizvi/components-ideal-islamic-marriage#proposal
Berman, L. (2008). Real Sex for Real Women. Book Excerpts taken from Oprah.com. Retrived from http://www.oprah.com/oprahshow/Excerpt-from-Real-Sex-for-Real-Women-by-Dr-Laura-Berman
PsychCentral. (2014). Sexuality and Marital Intimacy. PsychCentral. Retrieved from http://psychcentral.com/lib/sexuality-and-marital-intimacy/00012148
Roger R. H. (2009). Sexual Problems and Solutions. Human Sexuality, 2nd Edition. Retrieved from Pearson Learning Solutions. VitalBook file.
Tvrtkovic, R. G. (2001). When Muslims and Christians Marry. American Magazine. Retrieved from http://americamagazine.org/issue/322/article/when-muslims-and-christians-marry