The Power of Sexual Empathy in Bed

Empathy is “the ability to understand and share the feelings of another” (thanks, Google!), so sexual empathy would be understanding and sharing the sexual feelings of another, particularly your spouse. Yes, you can certainly do that to great effect outside the bedroom, but what about inside the bedroom? What if during a sexual encounter, you simply asked yourself this question: If I were my spouse, what would I want to see, hear, know, feel?

That question might alter your approach just enough to improve the experience for both of you!

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What Would S/he Want to See?

What you each want to see during lovemaking can differ according to gender, personality, current struggles or desires, or any number of factors. So, consider your own spouse: What sights would appeal to him or her?

Wives, you may want to wear lingerie he likes or his button-down shirt with no buttons fastened. You could position yourself in bed so that your shape or erotic zones are inviting to him. You could simply turn up the lights, so that your hubby can actually see you and what’s happening. You may even be worried about what you look like during orgasm, when it’s actually an exciting sight for him (see Forget What You Look Like While Making Love).

Husbands, you may have a wife who wants a romantic setting, so you could dim the lights or use candles. She may be visually inclined, but in a different way—enjoying the view of your muscular arms or soulful eyes. She may want to be face-to-face during at least some of the lovemaking, to remind her of the binding intimacy of this act.

What Would S/he Want to Hear?

What do you hear when you’re having sex? What would your spouse want to hear? One interesting study suggests that sexual satisfaction increases when couples engage in verbal and nonverbal communication during lovemaking (see 4 Research-Based Tips for Better Sex). But it’s good to know exactly what kind of verbal and/or nonverbal communication appeals to your beloved.

Husbands, many wives want to hear reassurance that they are beautiful, desired as a whole person, and that the sex itself is about intimacy. They may also want to hear words of arousal, excitement, and sensuality—though usually more flirty than dirty. And a fair number of wives enjoy having music on during lovemaking and/or using a white noise machine so the kids won’t hear exactly what’s happening.

Wives, guys want reassurance too, especially that you desire your husband, appreciate his body, and enjoy the sexual experience. Many husbands also say they want their wives to let go and make some noise. In fact, one study suggested that men climax more easily when their sexual partner moans, groans, shrieks, etc. You shouldn’t fake that, of course, but be willing to express yourself, knowing that’s something he likes to hear.

What Would S/he Want to Know?

“What would my spouse want to know?” may seem a little vague, but it’s an important aspect. Think about what struggles you or your spouse have had regarding sex and the underlying issue, and then speak to that. For instance, does your extensive premarital sex background make her wonder if you’re comparing? Let her know you only have eyes for her. Has your lack of interest in the past made him wonder if you really want to engage in lovemaking? Let him know you want to be there.

Husbands and wives, what your spouse wants to know is specific to your situation, your background, your personality, your spiritual walk, and much more. Perhaps the best place to start is to simply ask your beloved what would make them feel safe and loved during sex.

Or you could pull out two sheets of paper, two pens or pencils, and complete the assignment for each of you to finish this question with as many answers as you can come up with: If I knew that ______, I would want and/or enjoy sex more. Then discuss your answers—calmly and respectfully—with the goal of determining how you can help your spouse know, deeply know, what they need to engage in healthy, hot, and holy sex.

What Would S/he Want to Feel?

As designed by God, sex is a feel-good experience. Husband and wife get to touch, kiss, caress, arouse, and satisfy one another in ways that may be best described as ooh la la. But that only works if you actually enjoy the sensations you’re getting.

And even if you and your spouse do enjoy them, could you increase pleasure by asking what your mate wants to feel?

Husbands, given that women have thinner skin (literally, not figuratively!), women tend to like a lighter touch, especially at the beginning of lovemaking. They also typically prefer an outer-to-inner approach; that is, starting with head, neck, hands, legs and working your way in to the breasts and vulva. Even then, an outer-to-inner path from the exterior of her vulva and eventually to her clitoris and vagina is often appreciated.

And don’t forget kissing! Kissing is a biggie for a lot of wives, and it’s one of the top three vote-getters for helping women orgasm (see These 3 Actions Could Bring You to Orgasm).

Wives, not surprisingly, men with their thicker skin (literally, not figuratively!) tend to like a firmer touch. While they also enjoy kissing and tenderness, they are often ready for you to touch their penis and/or testicles much sooner than you’d want your husband in that same area on your body. If you’re willing, you might also want to kiss or lick the head, shaft, or frenulum of his penis (see What Does He Mean by “Oral Sex”? (It May Not Be What You Think)). And many husbands enjoy having their perineum (the area between the scrotum and anus) stroked (see Making the Most of His Manhood).

What Do You Want to Do?

After all of that, you may answer “What do you want to do?” with “Have sex with my spouse!” But what I mean by that question is that you, as a couple, need to figure out what you want to do to make the sexual experience wonderful for both of you.

Now, none of this means that one spouse is regularly catered to over the other. Rather, “Let each of you look not only to his own interests, but also to the interests of others” (Philippians 2:4). Showing sexual empathy—putting yourself in your spouse’s place and providing what they want to see, hear, know, and/or feel—can power up your lovemaking.

Talk about it, take action, and make such actions a habit.

18 thoughts on “The Power of Sexual Empathy in Bed”

  1. My husband’s preferences are definitely outside the realm of my comfort. He claims he is just enjoying his body as God designed it but the acts he wants me to perform are off putting to me and its made me sex-repulsed to the point where all I do is take care of him but I don’t want him touching me at all.

    1. I feel I’m in the same boat with my wife of 21 years. The older she gets, the less desire towards intimacy she has. (Even cuddling or kissing. We’re lucky if we have sex once a month.) So the 12 times a year we have sex is just plain-Jane boring, awful sex. I talk with her about it, introduce great literature by HH&H, but the idea to her of cunnilingus, hand job, rear entry, toys, lube, or anywhere outside the bedroom sex is completely off limits. Being sex-repulsed is exactly what I think she feels towards me. I’m a very fit great dad with amazing oral hygiene and love to cook.
      And a blow-job once a year would be ABSOLUTELY AMAZING
      Is that Sexual Misbehavior?

      1. It’s a little sad to hear you describe it as “plain-Jane boring, awful sex.” Plain sex can still be pretty good! It also sounds like she may not feel like she’s enough and thus shuts down at the idea of adding a bunch of other stuff or having sex more often. Rather than making a lot of suggestions (which are probably fantastic if I wrote them ~wink~), have you asked her what would make sex feel more intimate and appealing to her? Maybe she isn’t satisfied with the boring sex either, but has different ideas on how to make it more meaningful and satisfying.

    2. Given that your “realm of comfort” includes vaginal intercourse and given him oral to completion, you husband ought not be all that upset over your disinterest in other activities. (The two things I mentioned are pretty-much universal among men; never heard of one who didn’t like those two activities and expect it from a steady partner.) In my single days, I occasionally found myself in intimate moments in which a guy would want to do something that I simply wasn’t going to do (anal, for example), and once I plainly stated that it wasn’t going to happen, he dropped the subject and the guy never-again brought it up.
      My reading-between-the-lines observation is that his problem isn’t simply an issue of sexual satisfaction, but rather, it is a situation of mental illness or possible abuse he endured in his younger years. Of course, if you don’t like doing one or both of the two basic things that all guys pretty-much expect from their steady gal, you might want to seek help for yourself.

      1. I agree that there is a realm of “normal, expected activities” in the marriage bed. But I might take issue with oral sex specifically being one, because a number of wives have had this action used against them (i.e., sexual abuse) and/or have had a husband avoiding giving them pleasure to get their own blow job. I would need to know a lot more about the situation to say what requires help for each. But I agree that it’s probably a good idea to seek out a counselor and/or other resources, check one another’s understanding of sex, and set some better plans and boundaries.

        (Oh, and I also only once had a guy try to push me for something I didn’t want to do. Even then, it wasn’t that much pressure; just a “c’mon, try it,” and after another clear no, he let it go.)

  2. It may only be my experience, and coming from the attitude of not wanting to push or pressure my wife into anything she doesn’t want to do or wear (lingerie is amazing but long forgotten), but I believe the one who is less inclined to desire physical intimacy holds all the cards. It doesn’t really matter what the other person would like as it falls on deaf ears.

      1. I appreciate your response. The issue is not a lack of frequency, though more often would be wonderful. Once a week or so seems to meet her needs. I am not complaining, I just miss the days when she seemed to take more interest in what made me stop and go wow. I have a great marriage, but there are times when I feel I am taken for granted. I think it is likely a common issue as the years in a marriage get longer.

          1. I can gladly state that it has been more than three decades of marriage. With so much time together, there is bound to be ups and downs. I was serious when I wrote that I was not complaining. I do believe the best years are yet to come, but we have had some incredible years as well, both in regards to intimacy and life in general. The primary reason I wrote is to help those who may also feel taken for granted to know that they are not the only ones, whether the husband or the wife. I think about my relationship with Jesus and realize that there are far too many times that I have taken Him for granted, having come to a personal relationship with Jesus prior to my marriage. There have been times when I needed to focus on the amazing grace of God, realizing just how incredible it is.

  3. Sounds like the 69 position would be ideal for this since both parties have a good look at their other’s goods!

    1. It could be, but some spouses feel more intimate and empathetic when gazing into one another’s eyes. Of course, you could do both in a single sex session.

    2. While this sounds good in theory, in my experience it is not a great position. It makes it very difficult for my wife to concentrate on what she is feeling as she is far more focused on what she is doing for me. While not as difficult for me, it was still much more difficult than any other position. We decided it just wasn’t for us after just a few tries.

    3. I must say the view isn’t all that good when in 69 position. I very much perfer the “let me take care of you” (and you just sit/lay there and enjoy it) and the “you take care of me” and let me just lay here and enjoy it versions of oral sex . . . never get to the back arching level when trying to give while getting.

      1. Natalie unfortunately it’s been a very long time since I’ve been in the 69 position so maybe you’re right.

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