Sex File: I don't like being spontaneous

My girlfriend and I live in a shared house, and she's excited by the idea of having sex during the day, while there are other people in the next room.
Sex File: I don't like being spontaneous

My girlfriend and I live in a shared house, and she's excited by the idea of having sex during the day, while there are other people in the next room.

I feel too self-conscious, and she says I am not spontaneous.

She is probably right, but what's so wrong with planned, private sex? Am I unusual?

You may well be a little shy, but in the present circumstances a degree of self-consciousness about sexual shenanigans only makes you a more considerate housemate.

Your girlfriend is clearly less inhibited, but that is probably a good thing too.

Opposites attract, and if you think back to what initially drew you to each other, you may find your differences are actually complementary: her impulsivity is countered by your capacity for planning ahead; your shyness is balanced by her extroversion.

She may not realise it, but her spontaneous quickies are probably less about satisfying an urgent sexual need, and more about introducing excitement into a world that has become so risk-averse.

For most people, the prospect of being seen, heard or caught having sex is mortifying, but for others it makes the whole experience more exciting.

The psychological term is "misattribution of arousal".

In a sexual context, the physiological symptoms of fear - rapid heart rate, shortness of breath - are misinterpreted as arousal, leading to lower levels of inhibition and heightened feelings of sexual intensity.

The phenomenon was famously studied in the 1970s by the American psychologists Arthur Aron and Donald Dutton, in their Capilano Suspension Bridge experiment.

This involved male participants being asked to cross either a perilously wobbly, 137m-long wooden bridge spanning the Capilano River in Vancouver or a much sturdier one built of stone.

On the other side they were met by a very attractive researcher, who asked them to take part in a brief study and offered them her phone number in case they had any further questions.

Half the men who crossed the wobbly bridge called her, whereas only two of the men who crossed the stone bridge did so. Why?

Because the former attributed their increased heart rates and sweaty palms to sexual attraction, rather than the fact that they had just crossed an unstable bridge 70m above a river.

Aron's work has continued to explore the relationship between anxiety and arousal, and he believes that novelty and excitement are antidotes to boredom in long-term relationships.

The popular psychotherapist Esther Perel also argues that unpredictability and risk are necessary for healthy eroticism for long-term partners.

There is, however, a thin line between anxiety-induced sexual arousal and fear-induced erectile dysfunction.

Your girlfriend gets a kick out of spontaneous daytime sex, but when it comes to privacy, pushing you beyond your comfort zone could backfire.

Although it is not something that has been widely tested, research does find a relationship between an absence of privacy and male sexual dysfunction.

In 2014 a team in the Department of Experimental and Clinical Biomedical Sciences at the University of Florence conducted a survey of 3,736 men attending a clinic for sexual dysfunction.

One of the questions asked whether they felt that they had enough privacy during sexual activity.

It became apparent that those who had reported a lack of privacy were more anxious, with higher rates of sexual dysfunction.

It is normal to want to have sex in private.

Talk to your girlfriend about feeling uneasy having sex when you think that your housemates may hear, but rather than avoid sex, try spending more time in your bedroom.

If your housemates become accustomed to you and your girlfriend spending time there together to read, chat or watch films, they are far less likely to notice when you lock the door to have sex.

Send your queries to suzigodson@mac.com

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