‘Desire is Like the Moon, It has Intermittent Eclipses’ - Esther Perel
The question of normality arose recently in a discussion with a woman concerned that her sexual fantasies and kinkiness were “weird”. She said she felt ashamed and worried that something was “wrong” with her. While talking about them made her uncomfortable, once she’d explained them, I was able to assure her they were neither “weird”, nor “wrong”.
It’s common, as a Psychosexual Therapist, to have these conversations; part of our responsibility is to educate and reassure people that imagining sexual behaviours or encounters that stimulate and excite us are no different to how our imagination can run wild in other part of our lives. We’re all different; all unique. Our sex life – including the imagined part – should be also!
The problem originates with the word itself. It’s problematic across all human behaviour. We know that of the more than 7 billion people on the planet no two are the same so quite how the term ‘normal’ can apply is beyond me.
What does it even mean to be “normal”?
Who gets to decide? Sensitivity around the question gets amplified when it relates to sex. There’s always been an assumption around what it means to be “normal”. Each society sets its definition so citizens behave according to a ‘norm’. It may be undefined but it’s understood. The sexual part of human behaviour is, by definition, private, sometimes bordering secretive. Talking about it, thinking about it, seeking assistance with it, is, thankfully, increasingly common but it remains something most people are slow to discuss.
How then can we establish what’s ‘normal’ when it comes to people’s sexual activity and how each person thinks about sex?
In my work as a clinician, the two main issues that arise are about the frequency with which people have sex and the nature of the fantasies or fetishes people experience. Almost without exception what people want to establish is where they ‘sit’ against some presumed ‘norm’. That in itself is revealing.
Is my sex drive “normal”?
Couples or individuals regularly wonder about libido (sex drive), particularly with long-term relationships. They might ask, "how often do people have sex?" or "how many times a week does a couple have sex?". Sometimes the word ‘normal’ is used but, even if it’s not, it’s implied.
I explain about libido; that desire is woven of a sophisticated fabric of social, psychological, and biological threads. I break down possible components like stress, anxiety, grief; that medical conditions (hypothyroidism, diabetes or depression) and medications (antidepressants / blood pressure treatments) and how unresolved conflict or trust issues impact. These all can have an effect on libido. It’s complex!
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Then I reference the assumption that there’s something wrong if we’re primed for sex anytime, any place or, alternatively, if sex is rarely on our mind. Yet libido varies in individuals, it’s common for couples to have mismatched libidos and periodically for it to alter between them.
So, with sexual desire and activity there’s no ‘normal’. It’s personal. Your libido is unique. So too your relationship.
Where people should seek assistance is if they’re experiencing change or feeling low or lacking confidence. The first step is to see a GP to rule out physiological causes. Then there are professionals, including Psychosexual and Relationship Therapists like me, who can help. So, forget the idea of ‘normal’ – what matters is your own satisfaction and that of your partner.