Broadening Our Definition of Sex

How do you define ‘sex’?  Is it when one or both partners orgasm?  For heterosexual couples, PIV only?  How about oral sex, mutual masturbation, or sexting – does that ‘count’?  Over the years of working with couples, we have heard many partners express feeling unfulfilled with their sex life. If a partner brings this up in session, we dig deeper as to what is causing the dissatisfaction.  For many couples, one partner wants sex more frequently.  In other couples, one partner is dissatisfied with the level of intimacy and love expressed during sex – as if their partner is there just to get off.

But, one consistent finding is that HOW each partner defines sex can be an issue in and of itself – adding to the perception that it’s unfulfilling.

In helping each partner to understand this better, we ask “How do you define sex”?  Very often, for heterosexual couples the person says (using their own language) vaginal penetration with a penis.  They may have a partner who defines sex to include other forms of contact, even sexting when one partner is away. But what if sex is any contact (physical or not) that’s both pleasurable and connecting?  Here’s how broadening one’s definition of sex to any contact that’s both pleasurable and connecting can help a couple.

  • It relaxes pressure to perform.  Men can feel pressure to get and maintain an erection and ejaculate in an amount of time that’s satisfying for both persons. If sex is not only defined by vaginal penetration, men can feel more relaxed and comfortable knowing that they are providing the intimacy their partner is looking for, even without a long-lasting or firm enough erection.
  • It allows both persons to let go of orgasm being the ‘goal’ of the encounter.  Ironically, letting go of that ‘goal’ is sometimes what’s needed for orgasm to happen!  Instead, be relaxed and in the moment noticing physical sensations, sights, sounds, and the scent of one’s partner. If the goal is simply to feel pleasure and connection, so many activities can help you achieve this with your partner, with or without orgasm.
  • It creates more opportunities for connection if more things ‘count’.  If pleasurable contact (such as massage, hair brushing, showering together, sexy talk on the phone, sending a racy photo, masturbating in the presence of one’s partner) are part of this broader definition of sex, partners can come to see their sex life in a more positive light.  They can also come to feel that it is more vibrant and fun and intimate than they previously thought.
  • It highlights the moments in a relationship that do contain love, fondness, play and/or intimacy. While we tend to notice, remember, and even stay focused on the negative moments in our relationship, it is crucial to focus on the positives as well. With a broadened definition of sex, you will likely find you are having more positive interactions to focus on. When we are grateful for what we do have, that builds upon itself and inspires more pleasurable connections.


Broadening our definition of sex can have the effect of creating more intimate moments and increase satisfaction with the relationship as a whole. If you are struggling and feeling unfulfilled with your sex life, please contact us at 908-246-3074 , or email us at to schedule an appointment.  Can’t get your partner to come in with you?  Schedule an individual appointment for yourself.  Good things can happen in a relationship even when only one person is in therapy.  Remember:  we help couples AND individuals to improve their relationships.

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