THE BLOG

Sexy, Sensual or Intimate -- What Is Your Sexual Style?

02/03/2015 11:25 am ET | Updated Apr 05, 2015

When I ask my patients this question, most of them believe that their personal sexual style is a blend of all three, and they just change the percentages depending on their current partner. Yet, when we take the time to thoroughly examine their sexual history, they are often surprised to find that they've developed a very fixed sexual pattern that has held consistent throughout their relationships.

If a person's sexual signature has been successful in gaining and holding desirable partners, there is little reason to change it. But many people come into therapy wishing their sexual connections were more fulfilling and don't quite know why. They are concerned that they have consistently brought the wrong partners to them or their initially hopeful relationships have not had the sexual outcome they desired. They want to be more sexually successful.

The blend of sexy, sensual, and intimate is profoundly affected by each person's genetics, social influences, and prior experiences. Childhood sexual trauma, religious suppression, bad modeling, rejections, losses of love, and thwarted opportunities are some of the filters that can further limit the possibilities of great sexual connection. Fear of emotional or physical exploitation between partners can set up barriers that keep people apart who might otherwise connect. People who understand their own their sexual styles, what they need from their sexual experiences, and are open to learning new ways of being, have the best chance of becoming more sexually successful.

The first step to reach that goal is to understand how profoundly people are affected by society's definitions of what is sexy, sensual, or intimate. "Sexy" is a sexual style most often correlated with high-testosterone behaviors. Put two testosterone-driven individuals in a room together who are attracted to each other and pure lust can evolve rapidly. People with these hormonal drivers are into the joy of sex for its own sake. They rarely experience conflict, easily focus on their goals, and feel entitled to their successes. If thwarted, they can be controlling, pushy, or charmingly persistent. But they know what they want and go after it without hesitation or discomfort. And, yes, more men than women have high testosterone, but there are many women who love sex and don't follow the expected pattern of needing to be in an intimate relationship to enjoy it.

The person targeted by a high-testosterone individual may initially feel more like an object rather than a sought-after relationship partner, but are still likely to be intrigued by the intensity of the "hunter's" passion. If their ardent pursuers are imbued with good looks, high status, interesting personalities, financial resources, or great pheromones, they are likely to succeed in getting their potential partner to enjoy the show enough to participate. Sadly, most men and women with high sexual drives are not always able to find willing receivers. Despite their ardor, they can actually drive people away who are not interested in that kind of sexual style.

Sensuality as a sexual signature is the ability to fully experience one's senses. Smelling, tasting, seeing, hearing, touching, and feeling combine to awaken the body and can strongly contribute to a sexual connection. Sensuality is very affected by the level of stimulation. Each individual has his or her own particular comfort level of which senses are stimulated in which ways, and be aroused or overloaded depending on the level of intensity experienced.

As a result, sensuality is easily affected by another's sexual style. One person may only be able to feel excitement with a rough, demanding, and intense partner. Another may need a gentler approach that includes a more teasing, tactile touch. What is dramatically arousing to one person may be a total turn-off to another. Smells that are offensive to one partner may be exactly what turns on another. The taste of love juices can be an aphrodisiac or a barrier to deeper connection. Sensuality is very sensitive to the way two people blend. Of the three sexual styles, it is the most sensitive to success or failure.

Intimacy is the magic that turns two people into a single emotional and physical entity within their sexual experience. It is the essence of romance. Aching for sexual fulfillment while building desire can greatly enhance the physical connection when it finally happens. Sexual partners who intentionally practice postponing the physical act of sex until they are living in the hearts, minds, and souls of their lovers want to fall more deeply in love before they sexually unite.

Intimate connection allows for, and encourages, any sexual and sensual intertwining that simultaneously includes both people's desires. When sexual partners create intimacy, both feel emotionally treasured and sexually valued. Both my male and female patients consistently describe intimacy as a feeling of being deeply known, totally accepted, and securely held. Whether they are able to create a long-term relationship or not, they want intimacy to precede each sexual experience. They are simply not willing to make love without feeling cherished and close before they do. Men often are given a bum rap here as people who tolerate courtship rather than choose it. Romantic men are not sexual wimps; they just like a bigger build-up.

There are multiple combinations of the three sexual styles. Sexy and sensual together is most commonly described as erotic. That term is easily imagined: bawdy, steamy, earthy, spicy, titillating, seductive, hungry, delicious, and hot. The combination of sexy and intimate together produces lovers who somehow manage to stay intimately connected while enthusiastically serving their lust. Put sensual and intimate lovers together and you will find that they spend many delicious hours in sharing exquisite, timeless moments before allowing lust's demands to break the spell of deep discovery.

When I work with couples, we explore the origins of their sexual styles and what barriers exist that keep them from getting closer to what they both need and want. A primarily sexy person may innocently skip over the sensual needs of his or her partner. A person who needs to feel intimately connected may be unable to allow their own senses to respond no matter how skilled their lover may be. Sensual people may respond to overt or intense sexual desire as overload and instantly retract without even realizing they are responding that way. Erotic behaviors may be a total turn on to one person and a turn off to another.

In the years I have observed my patients exploring and transforming their sexual challenges, I have come to understand that there are certain human behaviors that seem universally sexually attractive. They would not automatically be defined within the descriptions of sexy, sensual, or intimate, yet they appear to be omnipresent in quality sexual relationships. In addition, they seem to defy the limiting filters of gender, culture, trauma, age, social expectations, and hormonal balances.

Below are the 10 relationship behaviors that I believe underscore quality relationships in general and sexuality in particular. If the partners in any relationship manifest them, they create a magical backdrop for any personal sexual style.

1) Timelessness
In order for lovemaking to be as good as it can be, both partners must be in the moment. The body and soul cannot be fully functional if either partner is living in the past or concerned about the future while they are concentrating on each other.

2) Lightness of Being
Passion expresses itself most beautifully when sexual partners can activate the children within them. Anxiety, insecurity, fear of being hurt, or pent up feelings of anger and suspicion, are feelings that bring people down. Joy, fun, and playfulness cannot thrive in their presence.

3) Resilience
At any time during courtship or sexual expression, words or actions can innocently happen that can turn someone off. It can be a simple misunderstanding or a new awareness that emerges during any intimate connection. It may be difficult for many people to bounce back when they are sexually open and vulnerable, but it is crucial to be able to explore what may have gone wrong and stay connected if it can be worked out.

4) The Courage to Blend
Many people avoid true sexual closeness for fear they will be trapped. They might have been taken advantage of in the past or felt they'd lost part of themselves by giving too much. No matter how much people drop their defenses and allow their vulnerability to show, they will emerge on the other end of an intimate encounter altered in a positive way, but still themselves. The courage to blend fully and experience the reality that we are still separate paves the way for intimacy without fear of loss.

5) Openness to New Experience
The reason many people hold on to what they've always known and done is intertwined with the illusion of security. If sexual partners continue to be what they've been in the past, they will only continue to create what has been. Past experiences create a similar future if people do not allow any new thoughts or feelings to emerge. Given those repeatedly chosen boundaries, they will end up with similar partners.

Taking risks in sexual encounters does not mean doing something that is uncomfortable or goes against important beliefs. Quality sexual interaction depends on continuous discovery and being exposed to challenges. The courage to ask, to share, and to fully enter the private world of another can greatly enhance the sense of newness and continued sexual expansion.

6) Tactile Enjoyment of Self and Other
Sexuality is at its best when the senses are alive and full. Touch can be soothing, exciting, or challenging. Taste allows people to sample each other's uniqueness. Hearing a lover's sounds of arousal or satisfaction can feel like music. Taking in the musk of a lover's special odors are an aphrodisiac in and of themselves. Seeing authentically into another's heart and soul can bring an intertwinement that can make two lovers feel as one.

7) Making it Safe
Consideration, hospitality, and empathy make up the foundation that welcomes another into an environment of comfort. Great lovers never forget that they are anthropological visitors in another's realm. They enter the experience of the other with respect and inquiry, never assuming their own way is best or trying to persuade others to be someone or something they are not.

8) Authenticity
Great sexual, sensual, or intimate connection will never be real if either partner is in to performing to be accepted or lauded. Trying to look good in the eyes of another by giving up what is true to the self is a one-way ticket to eventual embarrassment. You can only perform for so long. Your body will eventually give you away as it rebels inside and stops you from feeling much of anything. If you commit yourself to becoming a better and better version of yourself, you'll develop the confidence that comes from the battle scars of heroism. Confident people are, by nature, easier to be with. They are comfortable being exactly who they are without conflict or embarrassment. That presentation opens the door to more comfort in their partners.

9) Commitment to Loving life
People who see life as an opportunity to risk, to feel, to experience, and to love, are enticing creatures to be around. They enhance every opportunity with their intense desire to be fully present in everything they do. That includes sexual connection.

10) Separate Purpose
This is perhaps the least understood and most important quality of sexually successful people. Sexually desirable people are not automatically available, not by contrivance or game-playing, but because they are deeply committed to a purpose that is independent of relationships. When they are connected to the one they care for, they are loving, generous, compassionate, fun, present, honest, and fully authentic. But they cannot be bought or seduced away from that which keeps them sane and whole.

Knights and athletes kneel before their internal Gods before they go into action, knowing inside that they must be true to their purpose no matter what losses they may incur. Men of action and women of devotion are the most notable, but commitment to purpose knows no gender.

Most people are much more turned on to lovers who are just a little out of reach. Perhaps it is that they value more of what they must earn anew each time, or that people who come into a relationship already fulfilled have more to give and less to lose. Whatever the reason, people who put purpose above the need to be in a relationship maintain their desirability over time.

If you explore and enhance your own personal and unique way of approaching a sexual encounter, you are more likely to attract the kind of partner with whom you will be compatible. If, in addition, you strive for the underlying characteristics that are universally attractive, you will be the best you can be. That takes courage, commitment, and resilience. Not all people are open to challenge their own behaviors and to want more out of their sexual relationships. But the clearer you are about who you are, the more likely you will find your match.

Dr. Randi's free advice e-newsletter, Heroic Love, shows you how to avoid the common pitfalls that keep people from finding and keeping romantic love. Based on over 100,000 face-to-face hours counseling singles and couples over her 40-year career, you'll learn how to zero in on the right partner, avoid the dreaded "honeymoon is over" phenomenon, and make sure your relationship never gets boring. www.heroiclove.com

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