“On a scale from 1 to 9, how turned on are you right now?” Isn’t it always so sweet and considerate when a significant other takes the time to ask you that? Oh, wait… that has never happened to me. And judging by the vast amount of people (specifically women) who just aren’t in the mood, I can’t possibly be alone.
Learning to state our needs, and inquire about those of our partner(s), is a skill many of us don’t possess just yet. That’s why the folks over at The Gottman Institute, a research-based group of relationship experts, are strong proponents of rating your desire for sex on a scale of 1 to 9 before things get hot, heavy, and, um, confusing.
“Many couples are uncomfortable discussing how to initiate sex and also don’t know how to say, ‘Sorry, I’m not in the mood,’ in a way that doesn’t feel hurtful or rejecting.” —The Gottman Institute
“Many couples are uncomfortable discussing how to initiate sex and also don’t know how to say, ‘Sorry, I’m not in the mood,’ in a way that doesn’t feel hurtful or rejecting,” the Gottman Institute posted to Instagram. “It’s also difficult to cope with being turned down.” That’s why sex therapist Lonnie Barbach, PhD, strongly advocates for plowing through the awkwardness of rating your arousal based on a numbers system. On the other side both you and your partner will emerge with a stronger, clearer means of communication.
Dr. Barbach’s scale for initiating and refusing sex is adapted from the book The Seven Principles for Making Marriage Work by John Gottman.
Not sure whether your desire for sex is at 1, 5, or 9? Here’s how to tell.
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Many couples are uncomfortable discussing how to initiate sex and also don’t know how to say, “Sorry, I’m not in the mood,” in a way that doesn’t feel hurtful or rejecting. It’s also difficult to cope with being turned down. Next time, consider using the following framework (adapted from The Seven Principles for Making Work) when initiating and refusing sex.
Dr. Barbach says that communicating your need for sex (or desire keep all your clothes on) should start with giving your partner a number.
If you’re at a 9, that means: “Let’s do this! Get naked!”
If you’re at a 5, that means: “Hmmm, I’m listening. Kiss me and we’ll see how I feel.”
If you’re at a 1, that means: “That’s a no from me. Let’s turn on Netflix.”
Yes, assigning a numeral to your feelings will feel clunky and unnatural at first blush. Pretty soon though, the dialogue will flow more naturally between you and your partner. Maybe you’ll even create your own Scale of Horniness (like Jess and Nick do with the sex mug in New Girl).
“Getting a ‘no’ in any situation can feel disappointing, but it’s also not okay for that person to make the other feel bad, or react like there is something wrong with them because they don’t feel like engaging in sexual activity at that time,” says Dee Stacey, certified sexual health educator at Blume. Thus, how your partner responds back to a well-articulated “no” can tell you a lot about them and the strength of your relationship.
“Getting a ‘no’ in any situation can feel disappointing, but it’s also not okay for that person to make the other feel bad.” —Dee Stacey, certified sexual health educator at Blume
Above all, Dr. Barbach’s system will help you keep up a dialogue with yourself. If your S.O. is giving you “wanna do it?” eyes, you can check in to your internal thermometer and be like, “Sure, I’m at an 8!” or “You know what, I’m coasting at a 2 right now and I’d rather not.”
“There may be a couple factors that go into this internal assessment, both physically and mentally,” says Stacey. “A person’s scale might include assessment on how close, safe, or comfortable they feel with this potential partner, where they’re at in the relationship, or any value systems, religious belief systems or cultural teachings that may guide their decision as well.”
In other words, the 1 to 9 system is tailored by you, for you. And once you stamp a label on the feelings bubbling up inside of you, it will be that much easier to make sure your partner’s feelings—and your own—are dealt with in a compassionate manner.
Here’s to open, consent-conscious sexual communication in hook-ups, relationships, and every “it’s complicated” situation in between.
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