Episode 78: Barry McCarthy: Sexual Styles

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Barry W. McCarthy, PhD, is a professor of psychology at American University, a certified marital and sex therapist, and a recipient of the 2009 Smart Marriages Impact Award. With his wife Emily McCarthy, a writer and former speech therapist, he has coauthored 11 books on relationships and sexuality, including: "Rekindling Desire", "Getting It Right the First Time", and "Getting it Right This Time". His new book is "Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style" – a book designed to help couples develop a strong, resilient couple sexual style, find the path back from sexual dissatisfaction and dysfunction, and let go of unrealistic ideas and patterns about sexuality. Join Barry and me as we talk about the guidelines for sexual satisfaction, the 5 gears of touch, and lots of ways to maintain a healthy and satisfying sex life. And don't miss Barry's sweet, intimate exercise for to try at home.

Transcript

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Chip August : Welcome to Sex, Love and Intimacy. I’m your host Chip August and today on the show we are going to be talking with Barry McCarthy, a PHD professor of psychology at American university. Barry’s a certified marital and sex therapist and a recipient of the 2009 Smart Marriages Impact award. With his wife Emily McCarthy, a writer and former speech therapist they’ve co-authored 11 books on relationships and sexuality, including Rekindling Desire, Getting it Right the First Time and Getting it Right this Time. His new book is titled Discovering your Couple Sexual Style and it’s a book designed to help couples develop a strong resilient couple sexual style. And for those that need it, to find the path back from sexual dissatisfaction and dysfunction and also to help people let go of unrealistic ideas and patterns about sexuality. And so on today’s show we’re going to be talking with Barry about your couple sexual style. So welcome to the show, Barry McCarthy.

Barry McCarthy: Glad to be here. Enthusiastic about being here

Chip: Yeah and just those listeners who have been listening for a while, you may remember Barry, about a year ago we talked about his last book and Barry’s just a wealth of scientific ideas and real data and real information. So first, who did you write this book for?

Barry: We wrote it for women, men and couples who are in serious relationships, where they’re married or unmarried, whether they’re straight or gay. And it’s major audience is kind of an educational preventative audience about how to make the transition from the romantic love, passionate sex idealisation of the first six months, two years of the relationship into where sex is playing that healthy nurturing, energising role in your ongoing relationship. And then secondly for people who unfortunately did not make that transition whether it’s a problem of two years duration or a problem of 20 years duration. How to take these new ideas and implement it in your couple sexuality so again its playing that healthy 15 to 20 percent role in terms of sexual satisfaction and energy in a relationship.

Chip: Now in the book you really clear that... I’m going to make it a sweeping generalisation, you didn’t quite say it this way but it seemed like you were saying, no couple, no ongoing long term successful couple has extraordinary sex every time they have sex.

Barry: That’s 100 percent right. That in terms of ongoing healthy couples, they really value their relationship and sex in their relationship but they also accept the reality that sex is not like a Hollywood movie, that its perfect every time.

Chip: Yeah, I say this to my partner all the time. If only I could get a director, lighting, you know all the music and we didn’t actually talk and all those things that maybe we could recreate a Hollywood scene. But then I’m not even sure I would like that so, now you quote a lot of statistics in the book. The book is not dry by any means actually I found it quite interesting, it had exercises and case studies but there is a lot of statistics in there. Where did they come from?

Barry: Well we wanted this book to be clinically in person relevant for real people and real couples but I think it also helps to have good information, good science. The science comes from the old 1994 Sex in America study. It also comes from work that has been done clinically by marriage therapists and sex therapists and published in professional journals in the states. And the third source is the work that has been done in Canada and Western Europe which has much better sexual science than United States does. So those three sources.

Chip: Yeah, yeah, hopefully we will get back to science in...

Barry: Hopefully with the Obama administration we’re going to put money both into healthy sexuality and approaching sexual problems.

Chip: Yeah, yeah, I’m...

Barry: We haven’t done that in the last eight years.

Chip: I’m with you there, yeah. So okay, the title of the book. Your discovering your couple sexual style. Couple sexual style means something very specific to you. So could you say what is a couple sexual style and could you describe kind of the four styles that you focus on.

Barry: Okay, let’s do the two major issues and then the four styles.

Chip: Sure

Barry: The idea is that there isn’t one right way to be sexual.

Chip: Yay

Barry: And that one of the questions that couples have to decide is how you balance your own sexual voice, your own autonomy with being an intimate team. Its question number one.  And in question number two is how you integrate intimacy and eroticism into the same relationship because they are very different phenomenon. Intimacy is all about security, predictability, the sense that you are well bonded, securely boded couple. And eroticism is all about taking emotional and sexual risk. It’s all about creativity, it’s all about mystery, it’s all about unpredictability. And that’s the challenge for all couples is how do you integrate successfully. Now, the most common couple sexual style usually will complementary couples and what that means is that each person has their, his or her own clear sexual voice. Especially what allows them to feel sexual desire. And then how you then combine that with being a comfortable, functional, intimate interactive, sexual team.

Chip: So both are leading and both are following and its kind of democratic, both have a voice and...

Barry: There’s somewhat equality, an equity between the two of them. Each of them can initiate, each of them can say no, each of them can have their favourite scenarios and each of them have the scenarios that they kind of go along with.

Okay, the second kind of style is what is called the traditional style. And that often breaks down into traditional gender roles. That the man is typically the initiator of intercourse. He emphasises frequency, he emphasises sexual function.  And typically the woman initiates intimacy, sensuality. She emphasises the connection between the two of them. Again it’s not a gender war, it’s the idea that each of them has their own spin, or their own emphasis but they want to maintain a healthy connection with each other.

And then the third couple style is what we’ve called soul mate or best friend couples. And it’s the most intimate style. And that’s been the traditional ideal style. And that you share intimacy and eroticism with the same person. The idea that you are well connected, you have each other’s back, you love each other for all the strengths and all the vulnerabilities.

And then the fourth style is what we call emotionally expressive and that’s the kind of style you see in movies. And that is the couple who is fun; they are erotic they’re really having a good time sexually. And they are the most resilient sexual couple which is their big major strength and they’re more likely to play at sex like have role enactment arousals.

The key thing is for couples to choose what fits them and to play to the strength of each sexual style but also be aware of the traps or vulnerabilities so they don’t stay in, fall into that. And each couple have their own strengths and their own vulnerabilities.

Chip: Yeah, so you’re not saying that one is better than another. You’re saying it’s good to, in fact in your book you have a wonderful little sort of a test. A little fill out this form and figure out what your style is and I notice you’re pretty clear. Each style has its plusses, each style has its pitfalls and its more, its descriptive, it’s not prescriptive.

Barry: Right and that the best and probably the most relevant chapter for couples is that second chapter where actually take the test individually and then talk about it and say what fits for us. And that’s right, there isn’t one size fits all. But one of the most important things, in that when they discuss it is how do we individualise it and make it unique so it really does play to our strengths. And what do we need to be aware of so we don’t fall into the traps that poison sexuality or subvert sexuality in our relationship.

Chip:  Now I, just quickly here before we go to break, I notice that you’re, I appreciate this about you, you’re not using the word sexuality as a code word for penis and vagina intercourse. You really are talking about the whole realm of sexuality aren’t you?

Barry: Right. We’re always pro-intercourse and pro-orgasm but sex is much more than intercourse and orgasm. And we want to help couples get away from their traditional power struggle of intercourse or nothing. So we talk about affectionate touch, we talk about sensual touch, we talk about playful touch, we talk about erotic non-intercourse touch as well as intercourse touch.

Chip: And I want to come back and talk about those ‘cause you kind of have a nice analogy about all that, that you’ve used before and i really like it but first i want to take a pause here. So we’re going to take a short break to support our sponsors, listeners please, listen to these adds. The adds are created by my sponsors for my show, they help me bring my work to you. If you can support my sponsors I really appreciate it. It supports me, it supports the show so, also most of my sponsors offer some pretty special deals. You can get percentages off at audible.com and there’s a big sale going on at Adam and Eve so please, listen to the adds and also you might want to look on the episode pages sex love and intimacy at personallifemedia.com because there’s some good deals there also. As I said we’re going to take a short break and your listening to sex love and intimacy, we’re talking to Barry McCarthy, we’re talking about couples and sexuality and we’ll be right back.

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Chip: Welcome back to Sex, Love and Intimacy, I’m your host Chip August. I’m talking to Barry McCarthy, he’s a PHD professor of psychology in American university and he’ s written , he and his wife, Emily McCarthy have written an incredible book here called Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style and we’ve just been talking about what that means. As we went to break we were talking a little bit about the part of sexuality that’s touch, that’s not necessarily, that might include intercourse or might include genitals or might not. And Barry you kind of listed off a bunch of different types of touch. You have an analogy that they’re sort of like gears in a car, can you talk about that a little bit.

Barry: Okay, think about it like a five stick car, six shift car. In that gear number one is affectionate touch. Usually clothes on touch, things like hand holding, hugging, kissing. It’s a way of staying connected if you can draw this as a ten point scale of arousal, affectionate touch is at one.

The second kind of touch is sensual touch. And what you mean by sensual touch is non-genital touching. Things like body massage but not with the genitals, involving the genitals. Things like cuddling on the couch, things like when you’re going to bed, kissing holding caressing, or when you wake up in the morning. It’s a way of feeling open receptive to each other and in terms of our ten point scale, think of that like going from two to three or four.

The third dimension of touch, or third gear is what we call playful touch. Intermixing genital and non-genital touch, this would be like whole body massages, taking showers, or baths together. It would include things like dancing in romantic ways, erotic ways, being playful like playing strip poker, playing twister. And the idea of playful touch is allowing to transition from three to four, to five to six. And each gear has value in and of itself, not just as a gear that says this is foreplay for intercourse.

The fourth gear is probably the most controversial, the most challenging for folks. And that’s the erotic non-intercourse gear. And that can involve manual stimulation, oral stimulation, rubbing stimulation, vibrator stimulation. It can take you from five to six, to nine to ten if you want. In terms of orgasm.  But again the name of the gear is to be open and receptive to feeling higher levels of erotic flow with each other. And so many couples think about that as well that’s what you do when you’re having erotic non-intercourse sex, but not intercourse.

Chip: Right

Barry: And the way I want to think about it is that it’s a gear that has value in itself and probably the most valuable concept is transition to intercourse when you should rather than when you can. Transition intercourse at higher levels of arousal rather than moderate or low levels of arousal.

Chip: Of course when we we’re kids it’s often we could go, we could jump from one to four, missing two and three or maybe even one to five. You haven’t gotten to five yet but you’re kinda saying slow down here and pay attention.

Barry: Right, pay attention and enjoy each gear.

Chip: Right

Barry: Get away from this power struggle so many couples fall into in that its intercourse or nothing.

Chip: Right

Barry: People say, i don’t want to get started unless we’re having intercourse

Chip: Right, and how you must have said that [??]

Barry: And then the fifth is a different way of thinking about intercourse. Thinking of intercourse not as a pass fail test of sex, but as a natural progression from comfort to pleasure, to arousal, to erotic flow intercourse. And again it honours intercourse but it doesn’t make intercourse a test. And if you look at the typical couple in their 50’s 60’s 70’s and 80’s and again that’s one of the most exciting things, is that people can be sexual in their 70’s and 80’s when they adapt this more variable, flexile way of approach to sex. And that’s the idea that about 85 percent of encounters flow to intercourse. And when they don’t flow to intercourse, rather than panicking or apologising you feel good about transitioning into an erotic non-intercourse scenario or sensual scenario.

Chip: Now...

Barry: That’s what allows people to really enjoy sex in their 50’s 60’s 70’s and 80’s.

Chip: Now I noticed that much like cars no longer, five gears aren’t enough now, everybody’s got six gears, at least those with sports cars. You’ve introduced a concept here that I really like called after play.

Barry: Right

Chip: What is that?

Barry: I think after play is probably the most underutilized part of sexuality that’s especially true with emotionally expressive couples and especially true with traditional couples. The idea of after play is to enjoy the time together, whether it’s after a sexual encounter, whether it’s the best encounter or it’s been a mediocre encounter. And whether it’s just sitting around and holding and just coming down together, or its doing something like having a cup of tea together, or a glass of wine together and chatting. Let me go back to the point about the strengths and the vulnerabilities of each style.

Chip: Sure

Barry: The biggest strength of complimentary style is that both man and the woman have their own autonomous sexual voice, their own bridges to desire. And they also can have their own ways of doing after play and enjoying afterwards. The biggest trap of that style is they take sex for granted. And they don’t put the time and thought and energy into it. It’s especially true after they become parents. That I’m a big fan of kids, I really love kids but the reality is, for 70 percent of couples, sexual satisfaction goes down with the birth of a first child and it doesn’t go up until the last child leaves home. And what I tell my complimentary couples is honour and value your couple relationship. Both before you have kids and when you’re having kids and after you’ve had kids. Don’t just go on automatic gear and take it for granted.
When you look at traditional couples, let me give you the best strength of those couples, and that is they really validate each other and they validate their complimentary sexual roles.

Chip: Yeah.

Barry: The biggest vulnerability of those couples especially as they age, is that they can’t have sex in their 50’s and 60’s as they did in their 20’s and 30’s and when couples stop being sexual its almost always the man’s decision which is very different to what you think they’re going to go through. Because the man says I’m not the confident autonomous responder I was in my 20’s and 30’s.

Chip: Right

Barry: So the big thing with complementary couples is I tell the male once a month, initiate a sensual or playful day. And I say to the woman, once a month be the both intimate and erotic friend and initiate a sexual date. That way you can maintain a vitality.
Let me say about soul mate couples. Again that was the old traditional belief they were the best couples. And when they work well, that’s a very, very good sexual style. The problem with those couples is that those are the couples where the woman gets very discouraged with the man and very discouraged with the relationship. They feel it’s been a bait and switch and a disappointment. They also tend to de-erotify each other. There’s so much closeness, there’s not enough space to be playful and erotic. And those are the couples who most benefit from that gear four, putting a prohibition on intercourse and saying let’s be intimate and erotic friends. Lets emphasise the playfulness and eroticism rather than the over emphasis on the intimacy.
And the name of the game with the emotionally expressive couples is that they often, because they so emphasise fun and eroticism, they kind of wear each other out, this is actually the least stable sexual style. It’s kind of too much Hollywood, too much drama. And one of the things I say to those couples is, even if you’re hurt, even if you’re disappointed in the sex, the worst time to talk about negative sexual experiences is when you’re nude in bed after a negative experience. People say and do things that can be the most dramatic and the most harmful.

Chip: Alright

Barry: If you have a negative experience, get dressed, get out of bed, talk on a walk, talk over a cup of coffee. Don’t talk nude in bed after a negative experience. So again the theme is play to you’re strengths, be aware of the vulnerabilities. So you’re really enjoying healthy resilient couple sexuality.

Chip: Now you used a term there. Bridge to desire or bridges to desire, building bridges to desire. What did you mean?

Barry: Well desire is probably the most important part in sex. Back 30 years ago we used to focus on arousal and orgasm. We love arousal and orgasm. But the new mantra sexually  is desire, pleasure, satisfaction. And again different couples, different strengths, different vulnerabilities. The complimentary style, the reason that that’s the most popular is that each person has their own preferred way to initiate. Whether it’s verbal or non-verbal. Whether it’s in the bedroom or out of the bedroom. Whether its mutual touch or taking turns. Whether it’s the idea that we’re going to just play with each other or we’re going to use outside accoutrements, whether that is a video, whether that’s music, whether that’s a sexual toy. And the idea that it’s a good thing that each of us can initiate. That’s the big thing. It’s about anticipating sex, that you deserve for sex to work and it’s about valuing each other’s style.
The name of the game for example with emotionally expressive couples is that their big trap is that they want to both be on the same page. They want to have equal desire, equal arousal, equal orgasm and again when that happens it’s wonderful, but if you’re waiting for it to happen each time, especially spontaneously, it’s like waiting for [??].  So the name of the game with emotionally expressive couples in terms of initiation and desire is playfulness. That says it’s okay that one of us is more sexually interested or more sexually playful than the other. And we can take turns. But this idea that we’ve got to be at the exact same place at the same time, that actually inhibits rather than facilitates sexual desire, especially for emotionally expressive couples. 

Chip: Alright, loving this. I want to come back, we’re going to take a short break, but I want to come back and talk about the ways to maintain a healthy and satisfying sex life. Also we’ll end the show with an exercise or an idea perhaps from your book that people can do at home to maybe enhance their own sex love and intimacy. But right now we’re going to take a break. So listeners, if you like what you’re hearing and would like to hear more, a great thing to do is to send me an email, let me know your comments, your suggestions, your ideas for shows. You can reach me at [email protected] also we transcribe most of the shows of Sex Love and Intimacy so if you notice that there is a thing that Barry just said that’s like wow I’ve gotta cut that out and send it to my husband why by all means, go check the episode page and send it. And please do feel free to send a link for this show to anybody you think might enjoy it. The show is growing month after month and we’d like it to continue to grow and we’d like your help for all that. So, we’re going to take a short break and we’ll be right back.

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Chip: Welcome back to sex love and intimacy. I’m your host, Chip August. We’re talking to Barry McCarthy, PHD professor of psychology at American university and co-author of Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style. And we’ve been talking about what those sexual styles are and some of the ways to build desire and a kind of a better understanding of touch and sort of the dimensions of touch. Somewhere in that book I remembered you said something about there are sort of ten ways to maintain a healthy and satisfying sex life. Could you summarise what you think are sort of the ten ways to maintain a healthy and satisfying sex life.

Barry: Sure. And by the way, in terms of the book it’s on page 127 to 130. The most important idea is not to take sexuality for granted. And my favourite example of all has to do with people that have children. And that is whether it happens once a year for a week or it happens once a year just an overnight is to get away as a couple without the kids. The idea that the best investment you make in your family is maintaining a healthy bond as a couple. And our favourite example, because we’re older now, what we did, we did this when we were much younger and had younger kids is we watch our grandchildren, our young grandchildren while their parents get a chance to go off as a couple. Everybody wins. I think the couple get a chance to be by themselves without the kids and I think we like grand parenting much better when the parents are gone. And it’s a special experience for the grand kids. It’s a win win win.
I also think that the idea of setting aside time as a couple at their home when everybody’s asleep, that kind of thing, and saying let’s have a sensual date. Whether its only just once every six months or once a quarter or saying hey, let’s do an erotic [xx] to kind of mix it up to say we value this. I also encourage couples to a check in, whether it’s every six months or once a year and they say hey look, what’s going well, what’s going badly and not just about intercourse sex, but the whole range of intimacy and touching. And set a goal for the next six months or year, to try a different intercourse position, to try a different pleasuring scenario, to try a different sensual lotion. Something that adds a new dimension to your couple sensuality. Especially for traditional couples who are the ones who are most likely to fall into the non sexual relationship trap.

The name of the game for them is to add something that is non traditional gender behaviour. I love the idea for example of the man initiating a romantic date. Of the woman initiating a sexually playful date that kind of crosses a bridge for her. I love the idea for emotionally expressive couples, in terms of maintaining healthy sexuality, that they over a glass of wine say look, even if we’re really hurt and really angry at each other, here’s the three things that are hitting below the belt and I make a commitment to you I’m not going to fall into those three things.  I think that is of great value for them, so they don’t wear each other out and cross boundaries. And I also think it’s really helpful to talk about positive realistic expectations. That one of the things that people never talk to their partner about is that five to 15 percent of their sexual encounters are often dissatisfying or dysfunctional or just kind of bombs. And that that’s okay, that they can accept that variability rather than being embarrassed about it or arguing about it or feeling shameful or stigmatised about it. Sex is like everything else.  It’s not always perfect.

Chip: I noticed when I read that statistic to my wife, we both noticed that we preferred thinking off it as 85 to 90 percent of the time, it’s great.

[Laughs]

Barry: I think that’s great [??] that’s absolutely fine. I’m all in favour of that.  I’m all in favour of that. Because you want to say let’s not get freaked out and lets in fact play it again to the strengths.  That actually we really really like.

Chip: Well I love, one of the things you said was that you’ve got to be aware that good enough sex is not, it varies in quality and there’s lots of different, its not a bad thing, it’s not, i mean it would probably be bad if it was all you ever have, but its, there’s a whole lot of variance in it and it’s a valuable thing.

Barry: Absolutely, absolutely true. You know, let me make one other suggestion, is this the time to make the specific suggestion?

Chip: You know i was just about to ask, is there a exercise or a thing that people who are listening right now could do at home with their partner that would improve the sex, love or intimacy in their life. So yeah, this would be a perfect time to make a suggestion.

Barry: Here’s what i would like to suggest, it’s actually on page 58 of the book, it talks about the three styles of arousal. Most couples don’t think about erotic scenarios and techniques and you don’t want to talk about this when you’re in bed, nude, about to have an experience. You want it to be, if you’re technologically competent and like it, you want to send an email about this or a ...

Chip: Or a text.

Barry: ... a text, or something. Or talk about it on a walk or talk about it sitting on your back porch with a glass of wine.  But that is the, there’s three basic arousal styles. One of them that’s the one that’s most used in the world and the one you see in movies all the time, is called partner interaction arousal. In other words your arousal plays off your partners arousal and it’s like a good tennis match it just gets better as you go along.
The second kind of arousal is what is called self in transfer arousal and that is it is a relaxation based arousal that you take turns pleasuring the other one.
And then the third kind of arousal is called role enactment arousal. Which is probably the most controversial one and that is you use either fantasy role play things or you use sexual toys or most common is using either erotic or romantic literature that you read aloud to each other.
And most couples get into a pattern where they only do one of those three. I think a really interesting exercise would be to say let’s try the one we never use. Or the one we almost never use. And see if it works for us. See if taking turns, self in transfer arousal or role enactment arousal adds to our life or does it. And don’t use it as a pass fail task. Use it to see, does it add spice.

Chip: I love it, I think it’s a great idea. I want to say to those who are a little concerned about not... of failure of imagination, ‘cause I think a lot of us are just a little afraid that role enactment, well what if I can’t think of a role, what if I can’t think.. that there are, that one of the nice uses of my sponsors is that there are a great many toys and a great many erotic and exciting books and books on tape and books on DVD and CD that you can get that will all take, sort of, the pressure off you.
So Barry, if people wanted to get your book, or wanted to learn more about you, or find out more about your thoughts on all this. Where can they reach you, where can they find out about this?

Barry: Well they can get on Amazon and get Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style on Amazon. Or the publisher it Retlige[sp] and just get on the Retlige[sp] website to do that. If you want to get hold of me personally, the best way is probably email. Its [email protected]

Chip: And listeners, we’ll put a little link on the show if you go to the episode page, Sex Love and Intimacy on the personallifemedia.com site, you’ll find a little link that’ll say email Barry. And if you just click that link, why you’ll be able to email him.
We’re coming to the end of the show. You’ve been a terrific guest. Is there any last thought you want to leave people with or any goodbye you want to say?

Barry: Well the biggest thought I would like you to leave them with is that the role of sex in sexuality in ongoing relationships, its meant to energise your bond and allow you to feel desire and desirability. It isn’t about being the perfect sexual person, the perfect sexual body, the perfect sexual performance. It’s really about desire, pleasure and satisfaction.

Chip: Amen. And that is exactly so. Listeners this is bringing us to the end of another show. I have a favour to ask, if you’d take five minutes to fill out our anonymous listener survey for my show, it would help me understand you better and it would help create some sponsor confidence and allow us to sell some more advertising and can make sure this work goes on. You can get the survey by going to survey.personallifemedia.com or if you just go to the episode pages, you’ll see there’s a button that you can just link to the survey. Its fast, it’s easy, its anonymous and it really helps me out. So I would really appreciate it. This brings us to the end of another episode of Sex, Love and Intimacy. I want to appreciate you for listening and I hope you’ll join us again next time.

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