Negotiating sex (and kink): map your erotic values

Brown world map in background with camera, glasses, string, photographs magnifying glass and book with pencil on top.

I love to find different ways of exploring my sexuality because each new approach seems to bring up new desires, new perspectives or new ways of talking about what I want with people I enjoy sex with. I delight in that exploration, especially when it increases my connection with the people I love. This approach comes from Cyndi Darnell and brings values into the erotic realm. If you’ve read my work on conflict you will know that I think working with values is absolutely essential to finding more effective ways of resolving interpersonal conflicts. I also think that values play a central role in creating a life worth living, so I do loads of work with values in relationships and in life more broadly. Cyndi Darnell brings together values and sexuality when she encourages us to create our values map and to share or overlay it with our partners’ values map.

So, what are values? Well, they are what motivate and fulfil us. For example, curiosity is a value that I hold. It drives a lot of what I do. It isn’t because I think intellectual curiosity is a ‘good’ thing (but I guess I do), but because I have this desire to know and understand. It is why I did a PhD. I just wanted to know how contingent workers got and used voice and power at work. Honestly, it wasn’t really a great reason to do a PhD because while curiosity is important to the ‘finding out’ part it isn’t so integral to the writing up / sharing the knowledge bit, but I did get to answer the question and now I know! Having curiosity as a value is also part of why being a coach and therapist is a great fit for me. I’m endlessly curious about people. I don’t have to expend effort to be curious, ‘finding things out’ is something I find intrinsically rewarding. It is wonderful when folks are able to find the things that motivate and fulfil them and to turn those into central aspects of their lives.

Values are very personal and hugely important in how we live our lives and our relationships. This exercise is all about making them central to how we live our sex lives. When we notice and discuss our sexual values we acknowledge and validate the things that light up our sexuality, and we learn what isn’t so important. So, a good question to ask yourself is: 

What do I find rewarding about sex?

This might be the relational intimacy that you get from it. The sense of your relationship drawing closer, or of minor irritations being washed away by the physiological release. It could be renewed intimacy or connection. It may be the expression of part of you that is usually hidden, through a D/s dynamic or role play. It could be physical pleasure or orgasm. Barbara Carellas has a wonderfully long list of reasons that you might have sex in her book Ecstacy is Necessary, so if you’re looking for more ideas for what you find rewarding about sex you might enjoy the first chapters of that book. It is often helpful to remember that you’re only trying to work out what you find most rewarding about sex at this moment because it will be different at some other time. The next question you might want to ask yourself is:

What makes sex GREAT for me? 

Working out what contributes to your peak sexual experiences can be a great way to narrow down to your biggest turn on’s. The book ‘The Erotic Mind’ has some wonderful exercises all about finding the common themes in your peak sexual experiences. If you’d like to find out more about this I’d highly recommend reading the book! Briefly, though, working out what the themes are that underlie your top 5-10 erotic experiences can help you to figure out your most important erotic values. This might mean that you have to write a short story about each of the experiences or write down what turned you on most in that situation or what was hot about it for you. Or you could talk it through with a friend or lover to get to the bottom of what turned you on. Of course, some people will have no trouble knowing exactly what the turn-on was, but don’t be worried if you aren’t so clear. 

So, getting back to the mapping. Cyndi Darnell has put together some really helpful resources to map your erotic values. If you have trouble with the exercise she has some great online classes to help you to work it through. The aim is to prioritise your values so that you can figure out where they overlap (and don’t) with your partner/s. She provides a list of possible values, but it is always a great idea to add your own! 

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