Talking About Sex - Part 2

I last blogged about the beginning of my training, along with 19 other therapists, with Martha Kauppi, sex therapist and educator. The course is now over, and I learned a lot! Here are a few of the gems that Martha bestowed upon us.

The Linear Model of Sex/The Circular Model of Sex

The Linear Model

For many of us, sexual interactions with our long-time partner may take a very familiar path…it might look something like this:



The Linear Model of Sex can appear to be successful when used to attain a satisfactory and predictable outcome. When all systems are go, the Linear Model can be quick and easy, progressing through all of the steps in a predictable way, in one direction – “up”. However, problems may arise when things do not go as planned – for instance, if one partner loses their erection, or if one partner wants to return to an earlier activity to spark their interest or enthusiasm. Those hiccups can be interpreted as a step backwards, and may be seen to be negative or undesirable. Sex may end abruptly with each partner deriving their own meaning from the interruption (for example: she doesn’t think I’m man enough, or, he’s not attracted to my body).

The Circular Model

The Circular Model of Sex invites partners to be innovative and flexible – moving easily from one activity to another. Think of some of the things you like to do with your partner and put them in place of the question marks.

The Circular Model is more encouraging of dialogue and spontaneity, and seems to offer more opportunity for the expression of desire, interests, tastes, and enthusiasm. For instance, one partner may say something like, “I’d really like to return to “x”! I was enjoying that a lot.” When problems arise (for instance with desire or lubrication) while experiencing sex with the Circular Model, it might be easier to switch activities in a way that doesn’t feel like a step backward. It gives people the opportunity to express what they like, and to find out what their partners enjoy.


The Dual Control Model

One of our course modules included information on the Dual Control Model of Arousal. We used to think of desire as something that was either present or not present. The Dual Control Model of Arousal posits that arousal is made up of two parts – that which turns us on (the accelerator), and that which turns us off (the brake).  It can be helpful for people to talk about the things, ideas, and practices that turn them on, as well as off, and for their partner to explore these ideas with a sense of curiosity. Remember the adage – Be Curious, Not Furious?  Being curious reduces defensiveness, overthinking, and mind-reading, allowing us to connect with our partners in a non-judgmental way.

One of the therapists taking Martha Kauppi’s course came up with a creative visual to help her clients explore emotional and sexual turn ons/offs. If this interests you, we could try it in your next couples’ session.

It’s also useful to remember that we all have a different level of arousal. Some of us may be turned on easily, and turned off easily. Some of us may need conditions to be just right for us to be turned on, but we’re undeterred once we get there. Think about where you may fall on this spectrum and have a conversation with your partner about it. Any combination is normal, and a discussion about where you fall on each continuum could be helpful in getting your partner to understand your arousal makeup, and for you to understand theirs.

These are just a two of the models I learned during the last eight weeks. Martha Kauppi is performing a valuable service in providing information to therapists and clients about sexuality. Check out her website or facebook page if you would like to know more: and check out my Sex Resources page.

Sexuality is just part of a couples’ relationship, and it’s important that it be brought up during therapy – even if it’s just for you to say, “Everything’s great in that department right now, but maybe we’ll want to talk about it later.”