Today I’m talking about the repetitive sexual conveyer belt that we can find ourselves on if we pay too much attention to cultural influences and not enough to our own needs.
I’m calling it the Sex Escalator because you can sit on it and it will take you somewhere that feels vaguely elevated over and over again – and you need not think about it, ever.
Remember the ‘Relationship Escalator’?
You may well have heard of the ‘relationship escalator’, an idea that originated in non-monogamy research circles and promoted in excellent article about polyamory that I have linked to before. It’s about how relationships are culturally encouraged to follow a tried and tested formula – essentially meeting, dating, becoming a (preferably heterosexual) couple, becoming exclusive and monogamous, moving in together, getting married, buying property and having children.
This model suits many people for many reasons – but it also has a purpose, namely to uphold social cohesion and provide a foundation for a very specific way of having a family. It does not deserve to be rejected outright, but it does deserve examination because many people fall into it before realising it is not what they want or need at all. And this is when relationships can become damaging.
As with relationships, so with sex
Discussing this with friends and colleagues (and working in communities where we talk about these issues a lot), even highly creative sexual adventurers will admit to having sat on the escalator at some point in life. The process goes something like this:
- Manual stimulation
- Oral sex
- Penetration (preferably PIV)
- Peak genital orgasm
- The End (someone falls asleep)
People base entire marriages around this paradigm. Any deviations from this become treats, exceptions or outliers, or simply never thought of.
And of course, parts of this sequence may be missing altogether because they were never there in the first place.
This is not to judge anyone or criticise this as a way of having a good time together. Over time you may have discovered the most efficient way to orgasm with one person – and after all it’s pleasure and connection you’re after. You may be frequently tired and you may be busy and you may have family to take care of.
The problems start when you’re increasingly unhappy – but you’re not doing anything about it.
Communication as taboo
The problems start when communication ends. For many people, unaccustomed to stating even the simplest needs, useful communication will stop as soon as mutual liking is discovered. For many people this may even come as a relief. In the UK we have a popular trope of two people getting drunk together on a date, waking up in a relationship, and then being delighted that it need never be mentioned again, perhaps for several years.
As with emotions, so with sex.
A package deal of conditioned behaviours and expectations
On the Sex Escalator:
- Anything else doesn’t really count as sex, or is weird.
- It’s vital to have a goal, and that goal is ‘full sex’ because the rest is just ‘foreplay’.
- If you miss out the genital penetration, the sex is incomplete and has failed.
- If the escalator doesn’t arouse you that much, you should keep quiet about it so as not to create disruption.
- If the escalator doesn’t arouse you that much, you may need to seek outside help, because the problem is your fault.
- If the escalator doesn’t arouse your partner that much, you should tell them to seek help, because the problem is their fault.
- Obviously the penis owner will have an orgasm, because they definitely enjoy penetration. (Go here for a longer discussion on why a number of people actually aren’t into penis-in-vagina sex. Go here for a rather more brutal takedown of this sexual trope from a feminist perspective.)
- The vagina owner really ought to have an orgasm because otherwise they must be dysfunctional and the penis owner won’t like them any more due to their imperfect functioning.
- You dare not discuss any of this with your partner in case they are offended or think you are about to criticise them.
- Deviating from this pattern in any way is terribly adventurous and needs masses of preparation and expense.
I would like to think that the generations that have grown up with the internet will have found a better way, but looking at what young people seem to be learning, I am not so sure. And although this feels like a strictly heterosexual/cis model, any pairing of genders and sexualities could technically enact this.
I also have a suspicion that this conveniently boxed scenario keeps people more heterosexually confined than they would ideally wish to be.
If the Sex Escalator isn’t working for you
If you keep on ending up having sex like this, and you’re not enjoying it, or you feel that there’s something missing – ask yourself some questions. If you have a partner, ask each other some questions.
- Am I or my partner truly consenting to any of this?
- Have we actually ever discussed it?
- Do either of us really want it?
And if you’ve said to yourself and/or each other: ‘Well, this is okay enough, and if we don’t do these things it doesn’t feel like we’ve actually had sex – ‘
If you want something different, here are some things to remind yourself about:
Sex does not need either a goal or a destination.
Genital sensation does not need to have primacy.
Specific activities do not have to have primacy over others.
There are no rules about which parts of the body should be included or left out.
Orgasms are nice but they are not obligatory.
Communicating your needs is vital.
- Focusing on breathing can add a whole layer of experience.
There is a whole world of sensation waiting for you in many areas of your body that you may not have considered.
Have you talked about your fantasies? Have you even thought about them?
What if you went right back to the start and asked yourself – or asked each other – what do I/we really want?
Am I overstating this? Judging by the responses I encounter when someone (or two people in a relationship) realises there is another world of sexual connection out there I am, if anything, understating it.
In a future post I’ll go into more detail about ways to expand your sexual experience.
If you’re concerned about anything I’ve raised in this post and would like to explore this aspect of your life in more detail, you can contact me here.