Developmental Tasks toward a Healthy Sex Life

Healthy sexual relationships are built of physical, emotional and relational skills developed over a lifetime.

Growth Stage Developmental Tasks

Consider that skills are Introduced, Practiced, and Mastered over time.

NO ONE gets all these in the time frame suggested. EVERYONE has challenges in healthy sexuality.

Almost all skills can be learned later than indicated.

Birth to 1yr Discover some body parts- toes, tongue, ears, hands, and fingers

Grasp toes, hands, penis

Explore the world with tongue

Perceive the source of sensation, i.e., grasp foot-feels sensation in foot

Trust caregivers to respond to cries and cues for food, comfort, and physical closeness

Mirror movement, expression, emotion, i.e. smile in response, make eye contact, imitate sounds and expressions

1yr to 3yrs Explore entire body

Discover pleasurable sensations

Learn to self-stimulate, i.e. rock, hold hands w self, put food in mouth

Learn to manage elimination-pee and poop

Inhibit aggressive impulses (somewhat)

Deal with saying No and hearing No/ boundaries and limits

Learn names for body parts

Absorb family attitudes and rules about nudity and sex- shame or self-acceptance, showing body for humor or attention

Demonstrate some gender identity (in some children) choosing trucks or dolls

Express traits such as empathetic or self-absorbed, cooperative or competitive, task oriented or people oriented

3yrs to 6yrs Develop socially acceptable behavior-learn the rules

Compare body to others, realize genital differences

Formulate an idea of where babies come from

Introduced (hopefully) to rights and privileges as related to responsibilities

Feel sexually, and/or romantically possessive of someone, i.e. opposite-sex parent

Recognize and accept/question/reject gender identities and roles

Internalize family attitudes about gender and sexual orientation- accepting or shaming, flexible or rigid

Play mommy/daddy/baby pretend games, often switching roles easily

Develop conflict resolution skills- beat ‘em up, talk it out, cry, take turns, walk away, isolate, shout and dominate, give in

6yrs to 12yrs For some, sex goes underground here, for some, it is very much part of everyday life

Hormones may begin to stir causing sexual/physical and emotional upheaval

Begin to identify as boyfriend/girlfriend

Experience first cooperative sexual encounters for some

Experience first sexual violation for some


Seek out porn or research of various kinds

Instruct each other verbally, or physically- some correctly, most not

Learn to accept body as a rapidly changing vehicle-learn to love what is, or be fearful, ashamed, self-rejecting

12yrs to 15yrs Explore sexual self, self as a sexual being- power, pleasure, shame, attraction, desire, arousal, orgasm

Appreciate and care for body

Encounter explicit sex education classes so mechanical as to seem to not be relevant to actual sex and procreation

Learn to relate to others romantically, sexually

Accept self and other people as different and valuable

Negotiate for freedom from parents

Dating-asking, being asked and saying no, accepting no, where to go, who pays, who drives

Begin transfer of leadership from parents to friends with the attendant values clash/identity crisis

Have a first crush or first date

Begin or master use of social media with its free for all of uncensored sexual, aggressive, misinformed, and sometimes innocent and supportive chatter

Learn to give self an orgasm, usually not reliably

Explore sexual behavior with other people

Begin to develop a personal relationship with sex as strictly physical pleasure-seeking, or a casual friendship thing, or power play, or spiritual connection or some combination

Avoid judgment of others as poison to one’s own sense of safety and self-acceptance

15yrs to 18yrs Juggle shared pleasure vs sexual selfishness

Use sex to get love/love to get sex or a more respectful approach to friendship, romance sex

Figure out what you like: figuring out what your partner likes

Ask for what you like, accepting requests and denials

Say what you will do won’t do and defending that choice under pressure

Talk about sex with partner, parents, friends, health care providers etc

Love and care for the body as it is

Become aware and accept feelings, thoughts, needs, wants, behaviors

Gain skill at managing responsibilities, strong emotions, other people’s needs

Choose virginity/exclusivity/playing the field/abstinence and promiscuity

Become close with someone outside the family

Deal proactively pregnancy risk, birth control and condoms, disease transmission

Become pregnant and choose to keep, abort or offer for adoption

Gain some competency with personal sexual response-his erections and ejaculation, her arousal and orgasm

Respond to reputations and sex- ‘geeks and studs’, ‘sluts and prudes’

STOP with giving and accepting judgments about other people or from other people

Ladies take responsibility for your pleasure, not for his

Develop an interest in mutually satisfying sex/become aware of the possibility of sexual teamwork

Choose dating, hooking up or not…and what’s the goal?

18yrs to 24yrs Stick with or abandon earlier decisions about sexual activity

Begin to fledge/leave parents’ home

Hook up, date, abstain, marry, monogamy, on the side…back to what’s it for?

If settling into relationships, getting past the limerance/ crazy in love phase with a sex life we can enjoy

Learn 5 kinds of touch-affectionate, sensual, playful/sexual, erotic, and intercourse

Manage the physical and logistical challenges of pregnancy, childbirth, breastfeeding and babies under 5-who has the energy for sex?

Manage being/not being in a relationship, how do we feel about that, about ourselves, how do we resolve decisions and conflicts and how do we have sex?

Learn to delay ejaculation for most men or bring ejaculation for some men, and avoid shame for either

Women and some men learn to orgasm with a partner and realize that we needs their input in order to be a sexual team

Experience heartbreak and unhappy sex and the risk of loving and getting hurt

Learn how and when to share input and feedback on what gets me in the mood, how to signal interest and initiation, how to build the flame (see levels of touch), when to move to the next ‘gear’, what makes her come, what helps him delay orgasm, what kind of spice/fantasy/fetish each likes.

24yrs to 30yrs Babies in the bed, undone dishes, too much work, too little money, conflicts everywhere-sex as a refuge, shared work-load is a path to shared sexuality

Keeping sex safe from the pressures of life and creating a sacred time and space

Hot monogamy, not monogamy, and the asexual marriage- explicit and unspoken expectations and rules

Develop a couple sexual style and rhythm that works: who initiates, who benefits

Avoid the same-old, same-old scripted routine

Make rules that are cooperative, explicit and workable that create emotional and sexual safety

Accept aloneness: do we pursue sex in relationships or independent of relationship, or become abstinent or asexual

What is the purpose of sex, and are we finding sex that is desirable, satisfying, pleasurable?

Learn to be flexible with Good Enough Sex

Maintain physical health-cardiovascular, blood sugar and skeletal health- critical to your sexual future

Attend to various aspects of relationship-love, romance, intimacy, friendship, sex

30yrs to 40yrs Learn to work at health- cardiovascular health is critical to sexual function

Enjoy sex with kids in the house- 2 year olds and 15 year olds

Make time and space for sex

Accept the maturing body, loving what is, letting go of idealized body images

Attend to feeling good about yourself and carrying, caring for, dressing and moving in your body

Avoid the scripted sex life; create a pleasurable, flexible, satisfying couple sexual relationship

Flow through changes in health, lifestyle, body, conflict, disappointment, conscious desire with communication and adjustments to behavior

40yrs to 50yrs Keep healthy

Accept self as body mind heart and soul

Accept partner as same

Oh, Hello, Pain-In-The-Body! You will not run/ruin my life Or my sex life

Identify as a sexual and sexually desirable middle-aged adult

Embrace the increasing investment in time, lubricants

Accept his occasional lost erection and her slower arousal without anxiety and shame

Mind the choice to medicate and what medications and side effects- this stuff influences desire and other aspects

50yrs to 60yrs Commit to health

Know, accept and communicate changing wants and needs

Listen to the wants and needs of your partner

Slow the approach to intercourse and let go of erection and orgasm as ultimate goals of sex

Enjoy intimacy and pleasuring or being pleasured without expectation of particular outcomes

Adapt to menopause and a less vigorous male sexual response

Depend more on our partner to help us build to erotic flow- men needing time to build arousal

60yrs to 90yrs Continue commitment to health

Affirm self as a sexual person

Beware the magic pill, they can help but are better used a small player in a larger strategy

Enjoy the fact that female response may be more vigorous and reliable than male response-learn to piggy-back his arousal on hers

Focus on quality and pleasure rather than quantity and performance


ask for what you want

ASK For What You Want

ask for what you want

It’s OK to ASK

When my husband and I first met, he wasn’t interested. He thought I was cute, but crazy. I knew right away he was someone I wanted to get to know better. He was one of 7 men in a classroom of 50 people. I kept hearing some beautiful male voice say things that really impressed me. Soulful things, intelligent things, attractive things. But I couldn’t catch him talking at first. All the men sat in a clump on the far left rear of the classroom. I couldn’t tell who was speaking.

When I finally figured out which body went with that beautiful heart and mind, the semester was getting old. My chances to get his attention were few and getting fewer. I had to make a move or lose the opportunity to meet him. So I asserted myself while he was talking to an entire group of admiring women. He was talking about heading out to hike a long trail. I gave him my business card, and told him to drop me a postcard. He didn’t know me from Adam’s housecat. My card didn’t have an address on it. But he called me. He still wasn’t interested, but that is another story.

I asked for what I wanted. Women outnumbered men in that class 6:1, but it was me he called. Because I let him know I wanted to hear from him.

Our daughter is now 14. We have cleverly kept her penniless, and she is just now deciding that she needs money and that means finding work. She’s willing to work (for anyone but us), but she is not willing to ask for work. So it’s not likely she will get any work. If no one knows what she wants, she is unlikely to get it. And this is true for you, too.

It can be terrifying to ask for what you want. What if people react badly? What if they remain calm, but they think poorly of you later? What if your request or statement puts them on the spot? What if they say yes when they want to say no? What if they resent you?! What if they Hate you!?!

But wait!…What if they…don’t? What if they are glad you asked? What if they give you what you want? What if it’s not a big deal either way? What if they say no, and it’s not a problem? What if we all try to take responsibility for our own stuff? What if we didn’t have to guess at what our partner wanted because he asks for what he wants?

It’s ok to ask. It’s even ok to pitch it, presenting your argument for why giving you what you want is beneficial to them. It’s ok to be told no. You may be severely disappointed. You may even decide you have to leave your job or your relationship, but at least you’ll know. You will know that you are not getting your request fulfilled and now you are free to make your next decision. The alternative can be spending years thinking you will eventually be rewarded at work or within your family, only to find out the thing you desired and even expected is not going to happen.

Asking for what you want increases your chances of getting what you want. Asking does not guarantee your wish will be granted, but successful people agree that not asking seriously decreases your chances of getting what you want.

OK, you say, but how is this asking thing done if one is shy and unsure?

1. Know what you want. Easier said than done! Ask yourself frequently “What am I feeling? What do I need? What do I want?” Be still and listen to that inner voice. It’s there, waiting for you.

2. Know what you are willing to trade. Are you expecting that you have already earned this, or are you asking for a gift? Are you proposing a reciprocal arrangement? What are you willing to give in return? If you want no strings attached, know that, too.

3. Compose your attitude correctly. You deserve good things. (If you are sure this is not true you are reading the wrong article.) Say this 10,000 times until you believe it in your bones. Who has power in the relationship? Do you need to be firm and businesslike? Soft and humble? Charming? Persuasive? Evaluate whether yours is a common, simple request, or is it a big commitment on the part of the giver? Or are you asking for the world? It’s ok to be confident, bold even. It’s ok to ask for a lot, but try to put yourself in the shoes of the other. Show up wearing the right attitude.

4. Find some words. If it’s tricky, or an audacious request, or you are shy or not good with words, compose your request. Miss Manners, Dear Abby, Emily Post all have some phrases that are helpful. I have a friend who is especially good at helping me say all kinds of things in the kindest, clearest way possible. I have at times written notes on index cards when I am nervous about asking. I have even read from the same cards, held in trembling hands, to a person sitting in front of me.

5. Choose your moment. Try to find a time when everyone is rested, fed and not feeling pressured by deadlines or other concerns. Make an appointment if needed, even with a family member, even with your spouse.

6. Set the tone. Sometimes I say “I want to ask a favor, but whatever you decide is fine.” Or “I have thought about this a lot, and I feel I need this/deserve this. Feel free to take some time to think about it, because this is important.” This gives people an idea of the relative importance of your request.

7. Make the ask. Be succinct. Then stop talking to underline the fact that the next move is theirs. “Why don’t you send me a postcard?” “Can I please have a Coca-Cola?” “I would prefer an ocean view.” “Our room is not satisfactory, do you have another room you can put us in?” “Do you want to meet me sometime for a meal?” “I’d like to have a shot at that promotion.” “Is it possible that I could work from home?” “Do you have any work that I could do for you?” “Could you find some time to listen to me while I tell you about a problem I’m having?” “Thanks for the advice, but what I really need is for you to just listen.” “Will you marry me?”

8. Set a time frame. Some answers are immediate, some deserve time. Suggest a time frame. “Do you need time to think about it? Can you let me know by tomorrow/next week?”

9. Let it go. People are going to do what they are going to do. You will be happier if you let go of notions about what other people should do. They make their choices the best they know how, just like you do. There are many variables that you will never know about. So respect their decisions, and now, armed with your answer, yes or no, you can make your own choices.

10. Practice this over and over and over. It gets easier. The benefits are freedom, knowledge and self-respect, honesty, intimacy, and greater success and satisfaction in personal, work and financial relationships. Practice with smaller things often, push yourself to address all the big things (you know what they are because they make you feel nervous) until you get really good at asking for what you want.

Twelve-Point Inspection Checklist for Relationships

In the summertime, many of us take to the road and travel by car. We are bound for New Orleans, Wisconsin, New England, California or my home state, Florida. With car travel imminent, a lot of folks take their cars to the mechanic to get a check up- just to make sure their cars are road-worthy. A good twelve point car inspection can make all the difference between enjoying the ride, or spending precious vacation time waiting for repairs.

We maintain our cars, bodies, houses, gardens, tools, gear and even careers.

But if I say you must also inspect and maintain your marriage, what do you think? “I have to take her out for a meal” “I need to get some more attractive sleep clothes” “I could be nicer to my partner”. Many of us will holler “I already cook for her/let him go camping/clean the house/ bring home the paycheck!” This is comparable to saying “I already put gas in the car, what more do you expect me to do?!”

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Relationship Repair

In the 1970’s the band Three Dog Night sang “One is the loneliest number that you’ll ever do. Two can be as bad as one, it’s the loneliest number since the number one.” Whether you are pretty good friends but the romance has gone out of your relationship; or you’re not able to get through a week without a painful argument; or you’re so mad at each other it’s like living in a deep freeze; or you feel like two ships passing in the night… you’re wondering “Where is the Love” (Black Eye’d Peas)?”

We can help you with regaining the stability and warmth you long for, often even if the other partner is not interested in the counseling process. We can offer you many tools for improving your relationship, such as better communication skills, regaining that sexual spark, addressing compulsions that are destructive to your partnership, figuring out how to parent, co-parent, step-parent, etc. It can be amazing how what can seem like an impossible problem can begin to resolve with the smallest changes in Your behavior (even if you are sure it’s your partner’s fault).