Transforming Ordinary into Extraordinary Marriages
Summer 2009

Couple Styles II:Sexual Styles

Couple Styles II:Sexual Styles

It was the way sex was meant to be. They both wanted each other. Wordlessly they kissed and their clothes melted away. Someone had taken the time to light a thousand candles yet the sex seemed unplanned and totally spontaneous. Every touch was just right - the right place, the right amount of pressure. Both partners had multiple orgasms and after a brief night of sleeping started up again. Everything was perfect.

That was a scene from the movie you rented last weekend. It pictured two strangers not married to each other. Then there was the sex you attempted later that night. One of you was more in the mood than the other who really wanted to watch a rerun of Saturday Night Live. The clothes didn’t melt away; in fact, his zipper got stuck on, well, let’s just say, that never happens in the movies. First, he groped her too roughly; then she tickled him at an inopportune time. When one of the candles melted, wax ran over the dresser and onto the floor. Nobody had much fun, neither partner slept very well, and both woke up with bad breath.

Does that sexual experience mean that you have a sexually dysfunctional relationship, or are you merely normal? Sex expert Dr. Barry McCarthy says it is the later. Good news from Barry and his wife who keep writing books faster than we can read them: With a little bit of effort, couples get a huge payoff in improving their sex lives. And since the McCarthys claim that sex accounts for 15-20% of total marital happiness you add to your overall marital quality by learning how to make sex a positive influence.

Sexual Styles

In our last issue of Love Notes, we offered tips on couple styles from Gary Chapman’s Five Love Languages. This time we are going to talk about couple sexual styles as written by the McCarthys in their latest book, Discovering Your Couple Sexual Style. The authors delineate four styles emphasizing that no one style is the “right” way for a couple to approach their sexual relationship and that each style has advantages and some avoidable traps.

  1. Complementary Style

    In both the relationship and sexual realms, these couples are equal partners. Each person has a voice about activities which leads them to take responsibility for their preferences and pleasure. The trap of this style, the most common style, is that the partners sometimes take each other and their easy, mutual sexual expression for granted.

  2. Traditional Style

    Couples with this style often have bifurcated gender roles around sex expecting that the husband will specialize in initiating sex while the wife will be in charge of the relational aspects of sex such as affection and conversation. Using agreed upon roles leads to a stable non-conflicted approach to sex. The trap is that the roles can get rigid and the sex can become dull and routine. Then it all falls apart when adversities such as infertility, affairs, and normal aging come along – situations that require flexibility and openness to change.

  3. Soulmate Style

    Couples with this style are deeply in love and have much in common. They like to spend a lot of time together, often feeling that their initial attraction was “meant to be.” Their sexual expression is based on their intimate relational connection. This style used to be advocated as an ideal by counselors until it was discovered that the trap for these couples is that of having so much in common that it suffocates their erotic energy and leads to an asexual best friend relationship.

  4. Emotionally Expressive

    These couples probably appear closest to the movie sex described at the start of this newsletter. They are often emotionally more volatile that the other three styles and use passionate sex as a makeup ritual. They are the most erotically charged of the couples liking a lot of variety in their lovemaking including role plays, toys, and erotic media. The trap for these couples is that they can burn themselves out from sexual drama especially when their high energy sets up a pattern of sexual criticism that hits below the belt and undermines emotional intimacy.

Successfully Implementing Your Sexual Style

Since no one style is better than any other, your style will be determined by the combination of your personalities, values and personal preferences. The McCarthys have a short assessment quiz in their book that will help you figure out your style. They have granted us permission to make the quiz available on our website (www.extraordinary

Once you have determined your couple sexual style the McCarthys recommend that you work from strength to maximize the advantages of your style while minimizing the traps or disadvantages.

As the McCarthys say, the task of each style is to find a positive way to integrate the intimacy and eroticism of sex. Intimacy is experienced in conversation, snuggling, shared activities, and affection while eroticism is experienced in desire, arousal and orgasm.

  1. Complementary Style

    Because the Complementary Style emphasizes partners equally expressing their voices in their sexual interactions, it has the potential for very high satisfaction as the partners build on each other’s arousal patterns and individual preferences for activities. If this is your style, you will need to watch for the trap of taking that joy as an automatic given. These couples can be particularly challenged when their easy erotic flow is disrupted by changes of pregnancy, child raising, and aging. Taking turns to suggest new activities will keep flexibility and interest alive.

  2. Traditional Style

    Couples with the Traditional Style value harmony and traditional sex roles in the bedroom. While the advantage of this style provides them with a predictable low conflict approach to sex, the disadvantage of this style can be a decline of sexual frequency to a low or no sex relationship. To combat that tendency, these couples need to take a non-rigid approach to their roles, at times having the woman plan and initiate an erotic sexual scenario that would please her and at other times having the man plan a romantic date including getting tickets to an event and arranging a babysitter.

  3. Soulmates

    Couples’ counselors used to teach their clients to do what Soulmates do naturally, create a deep friendship believing that that the sex would take care of itself. It didn’t. Soulmates can be prone to the trap of expecting sex to flow automatically from their great spiritual connection and the problem is that their erotic energy gets smothered by their emotional closeness. In order to stay sexually vital, these couples need to learn to set realistic, practical goals about sexual activities such as scheduling sexual dates instead of waiting for things to happen magically.

  4. Emotionally Expressive Style

    With all their high eroticism and intense emotions couples with the Emotionally Expressive Style can allow the emotional blow-ups and disrespect to take away from the positive energy in the relationship. To prevent that trap, they need to continue to appreciate their fun and excitement while setting guidelines on mutual respect and fair fighting so that they can contain the negative energy of unbridled passion.


Make the most of your sexual style. Set a new sexual goal for yourselves.


McCarthy, Barry & Emily. Discovering Your Sexual Style.

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