Pnw Sex Therapy Explores Sex And Connection

Women's Dating

Great Sex Starts With Vulnerable Conversations

Chloë Hylkema

Written by: Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema

Chloë Hylkema uses her writing skills to create useful and up-to-date content for Chloë is an Emory University grad who is familiar with what it means to date in the modern age, and she works to write material that is engaging, truthful, and as helpful as possible. Being on the front lines of the dating scene, Chloë is committed to staying engaged with the ever-changing world of dating to provide the most useful content to readers.

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Edited by: Lillian Castro

Lillian Castro

Discuss This! Discuss This!

The Short Version: Sexual disconnect can be confusing and disorientating for couples. Austin Cresap, a sex and relationship therapist at PNW Sex Therapy Collective and starting her own practice, I Came Here to Talk, talked to us about why couples may experience sexual discrepancies and how authentic and secure communication can help them through it.

Communication is one of the biggest challenges couples face. Healthy communication is the foundation of a secure relationship, and when this foundation wavers, a connection can suffer. 

Couples struggle with communication in different areas and for various reasons, but every struggle with communication is an opportunity for growth and closer connection. True emotional, spiritual, and sexual intimacy is cultivated by open and safe communication.

But conversations about sex aren’t always easy, even between two people who are having sex within a relationship. Sex, relationship, and intimacy therapist Austin Cresap talked to us about communication, intimacy, and sex, and how these three things constantly inform and influence each other.

Austin practices at PNW Sex Therapy Collective in Seattle, Washington and will soon be starting her own practice, I Came Here to Talk. She specializes in working with individuals and couples struggling with desire discrepancy.

Communication is at the heart of many desire discrepancy struggles. Austin explored why these struggles happen, the different kinds of desire, and how sex therapy can help couples struggling with different levels of desire.

“A large part of sexual disconnect can stem from fear of communicating around sex and intimacy,” Austin said. “And more overarching, it comes from a difficulty with being vulnerable. It’s a hard thing for many people.”

Helping Couples Get Comfortable With Challenging Topics

Austin said individuals can experience hesitancy or anxiety around talking about sex for a variety of reasons. Many people are not taught anything about sex or sexual intimacy and then are expected to know how to perform. It’s an unreasonable expectation.

“We’re not taught how to communicate about sex and pleasure,” Austin said. “There are all these messages that if you don’t know or if someone has to communicate about it, that means you’re bad or there is something wrong.”

Many clients come into Austin’s office saying they want to improve their sex lives. Communication is the first step toward closer sexual intimacy.

“We have to start on communication– let’s work on not arguing about the dishwasher first,” Austin said. “We start by easing into getting comfortable with hard topics that are non-sexual.”

As couples practice improving their communication skills around topics that don’t relate to sex, they’re building the foundation for talking about their sex lives with honesty and transparency.

healthy communication
Austin said when couples struggle sexually, they are also struggling with communication.

“We talk about what they like, what they don’t like, and their communication differences with these non-sexual topics, and then we move into self-pleasure,” Austin said. When Austin says self-pleasure, she’s not necessarily talking about masturbation.

“We’re asking questions about what you enjoy, what feels good in your body, and how you know it feels good,” Austin explained. “Questions like: ‘What temperature do you like in the shower,’ or ‘What scent is your body wash?’”

These sensory-based and non-sexual questions allow couples to pay attention to the small aspects of pleasure and intimacy. Ultimately, these conversations and questions allow couples to gain a better understanding of how their intimacy functions outside of sex. 

This knowledge can illuminate the path to improving sexual connection. “Education and access to resources is also so important, and I start with that with couples, too,” Austin said. “Books like ‘Come As You Are’ offer a great foundation.” 

Managing Desire Discrepancy

Desire discrepancy is a common issue many couples face. When one partner has a higher or lower level of sexual desire than their partner, various emotional and relational challenges can manifest. 

It’s completely normal for partners to have different levels of desire and it can be caused by a multitude of factors. Stress, health, hormonal changes, and lifestyle factors can influence sexual desire. Relational challenges can also lead to desire discrepancy. 

When desire discrepancy issues are left unaddressed, they can cause serious harm to the relationship. Partners often experience feelings of inadequacy, rejection, and frustration, and they can get caught in a harmful cycle of poor communication and continuing disconnect.

Austin’s first step in helping couples experiencing a desire discrepancy is education. “So many people don’t know about the different types of desire. There is spontaneous desire and responsive desire, and often when there’s a desire discrepancy in play, we have different desire types,” she said.

types of desires
Communicate with your partner about what you like– sexually and non-sexually.

Spontaneous desire is the kind of sexual desire that arises from, as Austin said, “nothing or anything.” People who experience spontaneous desire will desire and approach initiating sex differently than someone who experiences responsive desire.

“A person with responsive desire really needs a certain set of stimuli for their body to be ready to step into that space,” Austin said. “It could be anything from the laundry has been folded, to the to-do list is done, to being sure nobody is going to walk into the room.”

Austin said couples where one person experiences spontaneous desire and the other experiences responsive desire, the person with responsive desire is often marked as the person with less drive.

When couples come to Austin struggling with desire discrepancy, she starts by exploring what the responsive desire partner needs to feel turned on.

“We ask how long it takes them to get into that space and what gets them there,” Austin said. “Once we understand those levels, we can start to decide what they want when they want sex, and what they don’t want.”

Austin helps her clients discover what feels good for each of them and how they can use this understanding to improve their connection. 

“Sex isn’t just physical for couples,” Austin said. “There’s connection, there’s intimacy. So finding out what feels good to each partner gets us close to that middle ground.”

Small Intimate Moments to Ignite Your Sex Life

Maintaining sexual intimacy begins with maintaining relational emotional intimacy. When couples share small connective moments, such as uninterrupted time together, quick inside jokes, or a simple cuddle, they’re fortifying the foundation of their relational intimacy.

When life gets busy, these small moments can be the first to go. Couples balancing work, kids, and home duties can feel overwhelmed while trying to find dedicated time with their partner. Austin said it’s crucial they do.

“My suggestions for finding and maintaining intimacy aren’t always realistic,” Austin said. “Couples with children may roll their eyes. If you can find time each week, where you’re not talking about kids, chores, work, and instead just focus on being intentional doing something relaxing for the two of you.”

stay connected
Sharing jokes, cuddling, and planning a date night are a few ways that couples can stay connected.

Learning to manage conflict is at the heart of overcoming sexual disconnect. Bringing empathy and patience to calm conversation is one thing, but bringing them to contentious or emotional discussions is different.

Austin recommended communication guides and safe words to couples looking to improve the way they navigate conflicts. 

“There are a lot of communication rubrics out there that can be super helpful,” she said. “I also have couples create a safe word for when they’re getting too elevated and need to take a step back before things get too heated.”

No matter what obstacle or challenge a couple is facing, adopting an attitude of open-mindedness is an important first step in addressing it.

“Curiosity is your biggest tool,” Austin said. “Just get curious about what feels good, what people mean when they’re talking– just explore. Our bodies and our wants change, and our desires change. Get curious with the ebb and flow.”