The Starting Point: We Are All Alike. . . and Yet We Are All Unique
One of the first things to observe about marital intimacy and marital sexuality is that our personal experience, as individuals, HAS to be both similar to others and also different.
There are fundamental features of marital sexuality that we have in common with others, beginning with the most obvious physical similarities, but extending to other aspects of our being too: for example, our emotional and psychological life.
At the same time, because it involves our own unique personal perception and our “interpretation” of our own experience (how we understand it, how we think about it) — which is shaped by all our previous experiences and by the lenses through which we look at reality — our marital lovemaking has to be unique as well.
We have to do justice to both aspects, not treating sex as if it were purely personal and idiosyncratic or as if everyone’s experience were basically the same.
Puzzling Aspects of Marital Sexuality
Sex seems so obvious, in one way. We know what it is, we learn various ways to do it, it usually feels really great (with the normal ups and downs of life). So what’s to wonder about?
If we reflect on our experience of married lovemaking, it should become clear that things are not quite so simple. How much of sex is physical and how much is it in our mind? Is sexual desire simply a desire for physical sensations, or is that too narrow a view? (For example, if it’s just physical sensations, why would it matter whether it were a real person or a sex robot? But it does matter!)
What is “pleasure“? Again, is it just physical sensations in the body, or is it also — more importantly — in our minds?
What does it mean to talk of “sexual union“? Is real union possible, or is it just two bodies close to each other and doing things to each other?
What exactly is it that we are aiming for? Our own physical pleasure? But why, then, does it matter so much to a husband whether his wife is experiencing pleasure? We certainly want pleasure, but I think we obviously want more. Or, to say it another way perhaps, the “pleasure” we want is a lot more complicated than we might think.