As a therapist, I am often asked to differentiate between positive and healthy sexual behavior and that behavior which can be considered “pathological,” or unhealthy. The difference is often a very fine line, seeming vague and unclear to most observers. When it comes down to it, two different people can be engaged in the exact same behavior, but for two radically different reasons– one that enhances the person’s life and the other that undermines it. When trying to determine what is healthy or not when it comes to sex, what it often boils down to is intent.
By intent, I mean the purpose underlying the person’s actions. Is the sexual act creating pleasure and fulfillment in the lives of everyone involved, or is it coercive and manipulative, pleasing one person but exploiting or harming others? As an example, I recently did an interview with a magazine writer who was inquiring about the swinger subculture. The journalist wanted to know if it was a healthy activity for couples, and my answer, as is often the case, was… it depends. Has the couple discussed clearly what they expect from their encounter? Have they discussed hard limits and boundaries? Are they clear on why they are looking to open up the relationship? In that case, if everyone is on board and clear about what they want, then the experience may be positive and add fuel to their sexual relationship. However, it is also not uncommon for someone to drag the other person into a party under covert threat of the dissolution of the relationship if the other person […]