We desire touch, especially in our primary relationship. We determine which type and the frequency and duration of touch is acceptable to us based upon our value of the relationship. Barry McCarthy, PhD conceptualized each touch type as a dimension or “gear” assigned a number, 1-5, in a training, "Sex Made Simple: Clinical Strategies for Sexual Issues in Therapy." Interestingly, he states that desire is necessary to progress through each gear. I'd call desire "emotional touch."
But first, let's look at the idea of "gears." The "gears" seem reminiscent of that adolescent baseball term "base," as in, “Which base did you get to.” Unfortunately, the baseball analogy limits intimacy and eroticism to a singular focus, a ball over-the-fence fireworks extravaganza.
Adopting McCarthy's perspective permits us to shift the focus away from the primary goal of scoring a home run by emphasizing the need to progress through the five "gears," see the bullet summary below. The term "gears," for better or worse, allows us to understand the advancement of touch like driving a car.
Think about getting on the freeway. To get the car up to speed we must give it gas and, at least in a standard, shift gears from First to Second to Third and so on as the engine revs up. The same is true for desire and touch.
When we feel desire for a partner we get hotter, our insides move faster--heartbeat and breathing quicken. And just as a driver watches the RPM gauge and listens to engine sound, we watch our partner's responses and listen to our partner's sounds. When the moment seems right, we shift gears. The process continues, shifting through the gears, moving toward the fast lane until pegging the engine at top speed.
While the concept of five "gears" is handy, it misses the lubricant: desire. The 6th dimension, then, is emotional touch, the connection between two (or more) brains. As with connection, without enough lubricant, the experience doesn't feel good or right when we want a sexual experience that generates positive regard for our partner. While maintenance sex is quick and doesn't require much lubricant and provides physical relief, it may not necessarily increase emotional touch.
We feel emotional touch when our partner listens, observes, values, and empathizes. We want to know that when something in or outside of the relationship affects us that our partner will be attend to us by only asking questions that explore how we feel and see the world. We want our partner to be patient before attempting to satisfy that burning desire to help or explain how our perception is incorrect or ought be. We do not want to be told our perspective is valid. As stated in 7 Habits of Highly Effective People, "seek first to understand, then to be understood."
I don't know about you, but the more I feel or believe I am understood, the more positive regard I have for a partner. The more positive regard I have for my partner, the more likely I am to see my partner's actions as supportive. Positive interactions increase "love deposits" in the relationship bank, or increase the "lubricant" level of the "gear box." When the lubricant level is right, sexual encounters can be fun, quick, exciting, and long-lasting.
That said, if you have been married a couple years or have had a child, then things have likely slowed down. You may have established a routine to maintenance life, including sex, unless that has evaporated. If sex has become routine, spice it up. For couples who can, talking explicitly about future sexual activities can stimulate the mind and senses--be creative. Yes, talk dirty. Dress...
Dress sexy. See our partner as sexy. Look for or picture that special part, outfit, or costume. Be like you were when you first met, or even before, go on dates and hook up with each other. Let the baggage go and indulge. If you feel safe, your connection is less likely to be harmed. But remember, if the engine sputters, slow down, talk about it, change activities or stop, and reestablish your emotional touch.
If sex is missing or less than ten times per year, then couple counseling or individual counseling may help move you out of your sexual rut, or their may be a physiological component or emotional component that needs addressing. When seeking help about sexual issues and a physical component is present or considered, seek the assistance of a medical professional. There may be a physical issue that talk or sex therapy cannot address. However, seek a medical provider who specializes in issues that impede sexual satisfaction. If you are working with erectile dysfunction, then you may want couple counseling to discuss how to adjust to relearn how to plan and turn down sex in a way that honors you both.
If you face an emotional issue caused by marital discord, then learning couple communication techniques may be all you need to shift your relationship and increase your emotional touch. However, if there is an issue of past abuse or trauma, then individual therapy may be best, and couple counseling may be best if you are working through addiction recovery or a phase of life issue.
If you feel coerced into sex or are physically forced into sex against your will, then please seek the guidance of a domestic violence program (or see information posted on the Resource page of this site. Couple counseling or couple's therapy is not recommended if domestic violence is present, individual therapy is suggested until the cycle stops and a positive interaction cycle stabilized.
If you would like to learn more techniques and means to explore issues of sex in your relationship, please contact me at your earliest convenience.
Summary of Barry McCarthy's, "The Five Dimensions of Touch"
1. Affectionate Touch
2. Sensual Touch
3. Playful Touch
4. Erotic Touch
5. Intercourse Touch