Eight Days to Great Sex 4- How Heightened Empathy can Benefit Your Sex Life

A researcher named Peggy Kleinplatz and her team conducted a qualitative study on what makes for “great sex”.  In her article, “The Components of Optimal Sexuality: A Portrait of “great sex”” she outlines her findings.  The qualitative interviews were coded into categories with general themes.  What she found was that the two components of “great sex” that we are told through popular media, movies, and people everywhere were actually lowest on the list compared to 8 other components.  

Those two “minor” components are: 1) Intense physical sensation, orgasm and, 2) lust, desire, chemistry, attraction.  Her research argues that we are missing a huge part of human sexuality by only focusing on these two minor areas.  This might be why, despite behavioral and medical/prescription interventions, you still are not having great sex!

Previously, I’ve addressed the third major component of great sex, deep sexual intimacy.  In this blog post we will look at Kleinplatz’ fourth major component: heightened empathy.

Kleinplatz et al. states:

Rather than stressing the importance of using “I” language, paraphrasing their partners’ statements, giving and receiving constructive feedback, etc., participants emphasized complete and total sharing of themselves, both verbally and non-verbally, with their partner.

Empathy in the domain of verbal communication is sometimes what we mean by “putting yourself in the other’s shoes”. Brené Brown has a great video about emotional empathy that outlines how powerful it is, and how it is different from sympathy.

Empathy in the domain of verbal language looks like a reflective conversations called mirroring where the listener verbalizes an empathic reframe to their partners statements. (See below for an example.)

Empathy in the non-verbal domain means listening to your body and your partner’s body through touch and attention. Kleinplatz clarifies non-verbal empathy as,

[T]hat one kind of touch that elicits a certain response in your partner that another does not.

When you touch your partner’s hand, do they flinch and walk away? Or do they ease into the hold and soften their gaze? Listening to your partner’s cues requires non-verbal empathic awareness.

Sometimes it’s easier for a person to communicate how they are feeling through non-verbal cues. Are you listening?

Your body and your feelings are influenced by a myriad of factors. One major factor is how you yourself feel in your own body and how you communicate that safely to a responsive partner.

Below you will find how to begin your journey with your partner towards increased empathic verbal communication. This, in turn, will begin to set the stage for deeper empathic non-verbal communication.

Tune in and mirror what your partner says.

Empathic listening looks a little like this….

  1. Tell your partner that you are ready to hear them.
  2. Listen to your partner tell you a somewhat short part of what they want you to hear. (We will talk more about this.)
  3. Repeat back to your partner what they just said.
  4. Ask if you heard them correctly.
  5. Listen further.
  6. Repeat back to your partner what they just said.
  7. Ask if you heard them correctly.
  8. Listen further if needed.
  9. Add an empathic reframe.

Here is what it looks like:

  1. “I am ready to listen to you without distractions. You have my full attention.”
  2. Listen as your partner speaks. The shorter the message your partner is giving, the better you will be able to recall it. This is normal. Let’s say your partner tells you, “I am irritable but am not sure why”.
  3. Repeat, “I hear that you are irritable but you’re not sure why”.
  4. Check-in, “Is that correct?”.
  5. Let’s say your partner continues, “Yes that’s correct, but that’s not all. I am irritable and I don’t know why and I feel annoyed and trapped and angry”.
  6. Repeat, “I hear you say that not only are you irritable and don’t know why but you are also feeling annoyed and trapped and angry”.
  7. Check-in, “Did I get that?”.
  8. Listen further if needed. Until your partner says a clear “Yes, you got me!”.
  9. Add an empathic reframe. Example, “It makes a lot of sense to me that you are upset. I know you to be a fun person that likes things to work out and be in order. Right now, that is not the case. I can see how feeling irritable without knowing why would be difficult for you.”

Mirroring and Empathy requires effort. But you can do it! The benefits to your love life and sex life are profound. You will deepen your ability to directly communicate without fighting and taking things personally. You will help regulate your partner and assist in their thought organizing. And you get to know your lover at a deeper level!

Next: We’ll look at ‘Transparency and Authenticity’, your next step in 8 days to great sex.

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A sex therapist has training and knowledge to assist people in conceptualizing, understanding and putting words to the most intimate and often misunderstood parts of their whole self.  Sex therapy isn’t about how to improve your technique (although that is great too!).  Sex therapy is about your whole relationship integrated with your whole self and deeper intimacy with all you are.

For more information or to work with Angela, give a call at (408) 442-1551 or email: angelaj@anewtherapy.org.