We’ve written a little about classical conditioning before (When My Wife Puts Her Hair Up, Husband’s Hands When Wife Is On Top) and readers have asked for a bit more detail, so here it goes. First, what is classical conditioning?
Classical conditioning (also known as Pavlovian or respondent conditioning) refers to a learning procedure in which a biologically potent stimulus (e.g. food) is paired with a previously neutral stimulus (e.g. a bell). It also refers to the learning process that results from this pairing, through which the neutral stimulus comes to elicit a response (e.g. salivation) that is usually similar to the one elicited by the potent stimulus.
For our purposes, we’re going to talk about how to train yourself and your spouse by pairing a sexual biologically potent stimulus with a neutral stimulus so that we can elicit sexual arousal by activating the neutral stimulus. A concrete example, from the link above:
Sexy Corte has Pavlov’ed me to get turned on whenever I see her put her hair up. When we’re getting into sexy time, especially Old Faithful, pulling her hair up is usually the final bit of preparation. No matter if we’re alone or in public it really gets me going, especially when she catches my eye in the process. It isn’t just seeing her hair up that does it, it’s seeing her in the act of putting her hair up that turns me on.
When her hair goes up, she goes down — the two events are linked in my brain so that I get turned on merely by watching her put up her hair. I know we’re not the only couple with this conditioning, because there’s an internet meme about it.
So what exactly is classical conditioning? Here’s some terminology to get started:
- Unconditioned stimulus: Pavlov called the biological stimulus — the one that doesn’t need to be trained — the unconditioned stimulus. This is the stimulus that naturally, biologically, leads to the response you’re trying to elicit. For example, kissing, genital stimulation, and dirty talk naturally lead to arousal (the unconditioned response) because of human biology. These stimuli don’t need to be conditioned to get the right response, they just work.
- Unconditioned response: The unconditioned response is an unlearned, biological, reflexive response to the unconditioned stimulus. This is the natural response to the unconditioned stimulus that you’re going to train yourself to pair with a neutral stimulus. For example, when your spouse kisses you (unconditioned stimulus) you get aroused (unconditioned response).
- Conditioned stimulus: This is what you’re working to create! The conditioned stimulus isn’t naturally (biologically) paired with your desired response. This is a neutral stimulus that you want to link to the desired response by using classical conditioning. For our purposes, just about anything non-sexual can be a conditioned stimulus: non-sexual touch, non-sexual speech, non-sexual clothing, a sound, a look, etc.
- Conditioned response: The conditioned response is a replica of the unconditioned response, but excited by the conditioned stimulus.
The goal of classical conditioning is to pair the conditioned stimulus with the unconditioned response, so that when the subject experiences the conditioned stimulus he or she will reflexively exhibit a conditioned response that replicates the unconditioned response. For example:
- Unconditioned stimulus: Sexy Corte (puts her hair in a ponytail and) performs oral sex on me. (The italic part is the conditioned stimulus embedded in the unconditioned stimulus for training purposes.)
- Unconditioned response: I get an erection.
- Conditioned stimulus: Sexy Corte puts her hair in a ponytail.
- Conditioned response: I get an erection.
Classical conditioning is amazing for several reasons:
- Classical conditioning works even if you know it’s being done to you. Classical conditioning doesn’t need to be done secretly or through trickery. You and your spouse can talk about conditioning each other and then make it happen. There’s some evidence that it works better if you know you’re being conditioned.
- Classical conditioning works on everyone. Whether you have a high or low sex drive, varying love languages, or difficulty talking about sex, you can train yourselves with classical conditioning. You don’t have to believe in it for it to work. It’s biological, and it works on everyone.
- You can condition yourself. By triggering unconditioned responses in yourself you can modify your own behavior — for example, to cultivate a taste for coffee, vegetables, or that sex act your spouse is always asking for.
(Note: operant conditioning is a bit different — it’s about training a subject by rewarding or punishing voluntary behavior, whereas classical conditioning is about linking biological involuntary responses to neutral stimuli.)
Let’s get to it: how can you condition yourself and your spouse to enhance your sexual experience?
- Pick an unconditioned response you want to trigger and the unconditioned stimulus that naturally elicits it. For discussion purposes here, we’re going to assume that you want to trigger sexual arousal. The unconditioned stimulus is anything that naturally leads to the desired unconditioned response — so anything sexual that naturally creates sexual arousal.
- Pick a conditioned stimulus you want to link to that unconditioned response. For Sexy Corte, I use a light touch on the upper-middle of her back as the conditioned stimulus. This stimulus isn’t sexual on its own, but I want it to arouse her (unconditioned response).
- Condition acquisition: Execute the conditioning by performing the unconditioned stimulus at the same time as the conditioned stimulus. It doesn’t matter too much which you do first, but you want to do them as close to the same time as possible. For Sexy Corte, I rub her upper back in a circular motion when she has an orgasm. All the sexual stimulation is the unconditioned stimulus, and the orgasm is the unconditioned response; by performing the conditioned stimulus (back rub) at the same time, I create a linkage between the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned response (arousal and orgasm). The more frequently you execute the acquisition behavior, the stronger the conditioning will be.
- Conditioned stimulation: After the subject has acquired the conditioning, you can trigger the conditioned response by performing the conditioned stimulus. For Sexy Corte, she gets aroused and starts to purr when I rub her upper back, often without her even noticing. In addition, when she is close to orgasm I can often push her over the edge by rubbing a small circle on her upper back.
- Condition extinction: When the conditioned stimulus is used to excite the (un)conditioned response in the absence of the unconditioned stimulus the conditioning will eventually degrade and become extinct — the link between the conditioned stimulus and the unconditioned response breaks down. For Sexy Corte, if I rubbed her back all the time without direct sexual stimulation, eventually the conditioning would break and it wouldn’t turn her on anymore. This extinction process means that it’s important to repeat the acquisition behavior of the conditioning frequently, to keep the conditioned stimulus tightly linked to the unconditioned response. However, even when conditioning becomes extinct it is generally easy to reacquire or renew it simply by repeating the acquisition behavior again.
Here are some examples of unconditioned stimuli you could easily link to sex. Simply use one of these consistently before or during your sexual encounter, and your spouse will get aroused when you exhibit it again. They key is that while training you should only the selected stimulus when you’re going to quickly initiate sex — once the conditioning takes hold you can space things out a little more, but keep an eye out for signs of extinction. If you use the stimulus and then don’t follow through you will frustrate and upset your spouse, so don’t do that, it’s mean.
- Sight: Wearing certain piece of jewelry; wearing no panties; putting your hair up in a ponytail; a special wink; bending over a certain way
- Sound: A bell (that’s what Pavlov used!); a few special code words; a certain song or playlist; a growl or purr; a command (“go get in bed and take off your clothes”); a request (“please sir”)
- Smell: A certain perfume or soap; incense you burn during sex
- Taste: Have your spouse lick your neck or finger; a certain candy
- Touch: A certain touch and movement on a certain part of the body; picking her up; grabbing her hips; wiggling on his lap
So what are some things you can do with your conditioned spouse?
- Conditioned arousal. As described in the examples above, you can condition yourself or your spouse to become sexually aroused by non-sexual stimuli — a ponytail, a touch on the back, etc. However, conditioned arousal can be especially useful if you or your spouse struggle with being attracted to each other in general! We get lots of email from people who want to be more attracted to their spouse than they are, and we often suggest that they condition themselves to be aroused by their spouse. How? Link sexual stimulation and arousal to the presence and touch of your spouse. If you don’t allow yourself any sexual stimulation without your spouse’s participation your body and mind will quickly learn just how attractive your spouse is!
- Conditioned enjoyment. Condition yourself to enjoy something your spouse likes, but maybe isn’t your favorite activity. For example, provide sexual stimulation to the spouse who is performing oral sex in order to link giving oral sex with pleasure for yourself.
- Turn each other on in public. Neutral stimuli can be used in public to turn your spouse on without anyone else knowing.
- Pre-foreplay. Use your conditioned stimulus to begin turning on your spouse long before sexy time begins.
- Conditioned orgasm. You can link a stimulus specifically to orgasm and train your spouse to climax with it — e.g., a touch, a few words (“come for me”), or a spank on the butt.
Whew, that was a long post! I hope it makes sense. Please leave a comment if you need some clarification, or to share your own experiences with classical conditioning!