Sex Files: It’s how you play the game

Sex Files: It’s how you play the game

Look & feel your sexiest at 20, 30, 40. The hair, the skin, the body, the secrets!

Your top 10 sex questions answered at last.

Looking better than ever.

Skin tight dresses at 50.

These are some recent supermarket magazine headlines. And check out the teen mags:

Hot or not? The pressure to be sexy.

698 ways to look pretty.

Are you sure you’re still a virgin?

10 most asked sex Q’s—answered.

Popular media focuses on appearance and sex from the get-go. And the pressure to be sexy is on. No wonder then that countless women (and men) have come to see me with one goal in mind: to perform better in bed.

Women feel pressure to be able to reach orgasm, to be more interested in sex, to be better lovers. Men worry about their erections and about coming too soon or too late. I can feel the tension in the room; the enormous pressure these people feel is reflected in their body postures and on their faces. I tell them all one thing: “Relax! Forget about performance and pressure. What do you want out of sex? Have you ever thought about exploring new pathways to pleasure?”

Adults rarely play—unless on the golf course or on the tennis court. And even then it usually involves pressure to win or at least to do well. But having sex with your partner is a chance to be playful, to take a vacation from all the daily stress. Even if it only takes a few minutes, it’s a great way to give your body and mind a break from it all.

I once saw a young married couple for whom having sex had turned into a nightmare. He had developed performance anxiety and was often unable to either get or stay hard. This was before Viagra was on the market, so there was no easy quick fix.

What did I tell them? To stop everything they were doing, most importantly to stop trying to have intercourse for a while. Instead I gave them the assignment to create a relaxing atmosphere at home and to free up some time for each other. They were to touch each other’s bodies from top to toe, but to avoid touching their genitals or other arousing body parts such as nipples. I explained that the purpose of the touching was not to be a prelude to intercourse, but an enjoyment in itself. I specifically told them not to have intercourse, but to explore different pleasant strokes and to find areas of their bodies that were pleasurable to have touched and caressed.

I had only five sessions with this couple, and in the final session he talked about the relief he had felt when he had realized that he did not need his erect penis to pleasure his wife. He felt that he had been able to develop his own “tool box” to keep his wife happy in bed. That tool box included whipped cream to be licked off each other’s bodies, oral sex and much more. They had been able to start having fun again, without the need for him to have a hard-on.

Now that the pressure was off his penis, so to speak, his erections came back just fine. But he was no longer panicked by the thought that once in a while and for whatever reason he might not be able to get it up. Both partners had learned how to find pleasure in bed, helping them to overcome the pressure to perform. 

Annette Owens, MD, Ph.D. is certified by the American Association of Sexuality Educators, Counselors, and Therapists. She sees clients in her Charlottesville office ( and answers questions online at and She has co-edited the new four-volume book, Sexual Health (Praeger).