Over the course of a long-term relationship there will be points where penetrative sex is not an option, or when couples want to expand their sexual repertoire even if penetrative sex is still an option. Common reasons why couples must sometimes take penetrative sex off the table include when the female partner is struggle with a sexual or pelvic pain condition, when a partner is receiving treatment for a significant health issue such as cancer or having an autoimmune disease flare-up, when a partner is dealing with traumatic experiences, when the female partner is post-partum, when a female partner is undergoing infertility treatment, etc. Couples who have an expansive sexual menu find that they are many pleasurable and intimate ways to sexually connect other than penetrative sex. They are more able to adjust their sexual connection and maintain this connection even during difficult times. If you and your partner find yourself wanting or needing to expand your sexual menu try this exercise. Consider sexual activities that you enjoy or are at least open to trying based on the following categories:
Items Always on the Menu: This means physical activities that are almost always available for you and your partner to enjoy together (excluding times during a major crisis). For this category on the sexual menu think of activities you almost always enjoy sharing with your partner. These should be activities that you would enjoy with your partner even if you’re not feeling overly sexual. Common activities include holding hands, cuddling in bed, exchanging massage, taking a bath or shower together, kissing on the neck or cheek, etc. These will be activities you engage in even with one or both of you do not want to doing something very sexual, but still want to physically connect.
Seasonal Items: Just like the name implies, these are sexual menu items that are “seasonally” available (so perhaps just a few times a year). It could be activities that you do not prefer but your partner really enjoys, so you decide to occasionally engage in the sexual activity for your partners enjoyment. For example, some partners really enjoy receiving oral sex but are with a partner who does not particularly enjoy giving oral sex. The partner who does not love giving oral sex may occasionally decide to make the effort for their partner’s enjoyment, but it is not an activity the couple regularly partakes in. As with the oral sex example, items that often fall into this category are activities that one partner very much enjoys, and that the other partner is at least open to engaging in sometimes.
Weekly Specials: These sexual menu items become available due to a change in situation or environment. Think about the specific conditions you need to engage in various sexual activities. For instance, for many of my clients managing a sexual or pelvic pain condition, penetrative sex in certain positions or even certain outercourse activities may only be available when they are not in a flare-up of symptoms. Some women with endometriosis notice less pain at certain points in their menstrual cycle which then makes penetrative sex may an option. Similarly, other clients managing chronic health issues including autoimmune diseases or those undergoing treatment for cancer usually need to contend with issues related to energy levels. The days or weeks they’re feeling better, they may be open to more physically demanding sexual activities versus the weeks where they’re feeling more drained.
Amuse Bouche: This term refers to a pre-appetizer and means “a little taste.” At higher end restaurants, visitors are often served an “amuse bouche” before their appetizers. The serving size could be as small as one spoonful. Drawing parallels from this term, these are sexual activities that someone may engage in for just a small amount of time, or sexual activities they may need to modify to make less intense. In the above example where one partner does not like to give oral sex, perhaps they can sometimes offer an “amuse bouche” version—just briefly incorporating oral sex into the sexual experience. Certain positions may be too difficult or exhausting for those dealing with a sexual pain or chronic health issue. However, think about how the position could be modified, or simply shorten the amount of time you would engage in the activity. In terms of modification, many clients find certain outercourse sexual activities easily able to partake in with the right kind of physical support (sitting in a chair, using pillows or a bolster, etc.).
Other tips for this exercise:
- By yourself, try to come up with at least 10 items for each category before sharing and comparing with your partner.
- Be very specific: There are many different ways to kiss, let alone be touched or touch your partner. Imagine a 30 second film clip of the activity you are imagining and describe that.
- Consider time: Our energy levels change over the course of day. Certain activities may only be available in the mornings. Logistical issues (like when children are home) can also influence what time you may prefer for a certain sexual activity.
- Location: One sexual activity you really enjoy could be done in different locations, adding to the experience.
- Don’t be afraid to incorporate toys.
- Be open to fantasy and role play.
- Expand on your list over time as you experiment with your partner!
Keep developing your sexual menu over time and use if for a reference when you want to add some variation. Also reference when you need help thinking of what is physically possible when you’re struggling with managing a condition that is interfering with your sex life.