I recently attended a colleague's seminar concerning professional coaching, in which she skilfully wove together values and goals. She explained that when our values are in conflict with our goals, we procrastinate. This was illustrated by one participant's story of how, though an academic with a Master's degree and several professional accolades, she seemed unable to finish her doctoral thesis. She had been working on it for years, but each time she approached the successful completion of the work, she stalled.
The coach/seminar leader questioned her about her core values, which were independence, generosity, and free will. When asked to name those values' opposites, she cited obligation, insincerity and duty. Further exploration uncovered that though she excelled at academics, she believed a PhD would commit her to a demanding position in which more people relied on her (probably true).
The coach asked her to consider how she could use her value of generosity to dislodge her resistance. She came to understand that, even though others may impose their expectations, she derived great pleasure from her profession and was indeed personally hampered by her lack of credentials. She realized that the issue was not with others' expectations but with her reluctance to honour her worth. She sighed with pleasure as she realized she need not sacrifice the joy she experienced in her work to avoid meeting the needs of others.
After the seminar, I pondered this reframing. I thought of all the couples who complain that sex has become duty, and thus has lost its joy. Women particularly chafe at duty sex, and men wither with performance anxiety. Both thus miss their own potential enjoyment. What is required to reverse this self-defeating behaviour?
The answer is simple: if we can view the potential for our own pleasure as rewarding regardless of the expectations of others, we free ourselves to give generously and freely. This does not apply if someone callously and selfishly demands sex, but if the problem rests with artless initiation skills and/or poor communication patterns (as is often the case), this fresh perspective opens marvellous doors. Why do we withhold gifts when the recipient is eager? Are we demanding appreciation rather than revelling in the delight of simple giving? How often have we half-heartedly attended some requisite function only to experience a fine time? Might our fear of being taken advantage of cloud our ability to appreciate the moment? Might we be able to enjoy ourselves regardless of the other person's motivations?
I think we sometimes run away with ourselves, ascribing malevolent motives to innocent gestures and protecting ourselves from imaginary enemies. Just as the seminar participant came to embrace her professional satisfaction even when others demanded her excellence, so too might we not luxuriate in the intimacy of sex even when our partner's desire is more fervent than our own?
I often hear clients report that, although they weren't feeling particularly horny, once they began making love their own sparks were ignited. Let's stop demanding that everything be perfect before we venture forth sexually. Independence, generosity, and free will are worthy values regardless of the context. Whenever possible, let's employ them to promote intimacy rather than protection.