Episode 150 – The Maltz Hierarchy of Sexual Interaction

Maltz Hierarchy

According to the Maltz Hierarchy of Sexual Interaction there are 3 positive. . .and 3 negative levels of sex in a partnership. Today I will go into each level with some detail.  These levels are just to help you get an idea of where you are now and where you might want to go as your relationship evolves.  You can enhance your relationship as you move up the hierarchy. I hope to help those who are in the negative range do what they need to do to move out of the degrading, shaming or even abusive levels and climb up to a safe and healthy place.

Maltz Hierarchy
Maltz Hierarchy
Maltz Hierarchy
Maltz Hierarchy

Show Notes:

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References for this episode:The Maltz Hierarchy of Sexual Interaction

Show Summary:

Hello everyone, you may have noticed that we have a new name!  I’ve really been thinking on it for a while and wanted to come up with something that reflected more of what this podcast is all about and who it is for.  And I figured that the 150th episode was the perfect time to do it!  

We are at 150 episodes of this podcast.  That is a huge milestone.  I have to tell you, that I am really, really proud of myself and of this podcast.  It is a lot of work, every single week, to come up with new and interesting content that is relatable to you.  

When I started my coaching practice, I committed to myself that I would do this podcast every single week, no matter what.  And keeping that commitment to myself has been amazing and so helpful in building that trust in myself and confidence.

But I want to especially thank each and every one of you for being here and listening each week.  I appreciate the downloads.  I appreciate the reviews you submit.  I appreciate you sharing it with your friends and family.  I appreciate the emails and messages I receive letting me know how much this podcast is changing your life, your Sex Life, and your marriage and it just makes it all so worth it.  So thank you

Today’s lesson – 

If you’ve been listening to the podcast for a while, you’ve heard me talk a little bit about the sexual spectrum.  As members of the church we often swing to one end of the spectrum, leaning more to repression of our sexuality so that we don’t swing all the way to the other side into indulgence.

“Sexual energy is a powerful force.  Like water, it can be channeled for constructive, noble purposes, or left untamed to wreak potential damage and destruction.” – Wendy Maltz

Sex, by itself is neutral.  It is not inherently good or inherently bad.  It is what we do with it that makes it that way.  But I do believe that we were created as sexual beings as a way to experience pleasure and joy in our bodies.  We are so blessed to have a body and I believe Heavenly Father wants us to use it for good and righteous purposes.  To build closer relationships between husband and wife.  Unfortunately, just like so many things, Satan and the world have taken something that can be used for so much good and twisted it to cause us problems.  So it’s up to us to use it in the way that God intended.

So much of sex is about context.  Culturally, “we have been taught that healthy human sexuality is, at best, a taboo subject, and, at worst, a source of guilt and shame.  The body was seen as the receptacle of sin, and sexual feelings were seen as intrinsically bad and dangerous.”

With patriarchy dominating our culture (in the world and in the Church), sexual repression became a way men insured dominance over women.  “It was commonly assumed that women had few sexual desires or needs of their own. Another social mindset limited men’s sexual behavior. Men were supposed to be in control, in charge of sexual relating. Non-aggressive, “intimate” sexual expressions were condemned as effeminate. And only certain sexual practices–typically, those leading to procreation–were defined as acceptable. Hence, the once-common teachings that masturbation could lead to insanity, or that anal sex or homosexual sex were “perverse” or “unnatural.”

“Although the notion of romantic love dates back for centuries, due to religious doctrines and cultural attitudes, it was not until the sexual revolution of the 1960s that we begin to throw off those trappings of guilt, and embrace our sexuality as something to discuss, to enjoy, to celebrate.”

“Perhaps, now, [more than five] decades after the sexual revolution, we have reached a time when we understand enough about sexuality, we understand enough about the possible repercussions of sexuality, and we understand enough about human growth that we can benefit from a new model for sexual relating — a model that offers guidance, without leading us back to moralistic myopia or sexual repression”


The Maltz Hierarchy of Sexual Interaction model is predicated on the notion that certain conditions shape the nature of sexual interaction — whether it is experienced as healthy or hurtful. It’s all about context.

Within the model, specific sexual behaviors aren’t judged.  Instead you have to look at the context into which the behavior takes place.  “For example, spanking might be seen as lighthearted and playful, a way to enhance arousal. In another context, the same behavior could be humiliating, painful or degrading. Similarly, marital intercourse in one context could be experienced as intensely passionate, while in another, as spousal rape.”  It’s all about context.  Or rather, how you are thinking about it.

So I want you to think about sexual energy in that it can go two ways – either it tears you apart or it can bring you together.  Now again, by itself, sex is neutral.  But the context and behaviors can either bring you together or tear you apart, depending on how far you take it.

So I want you to picture a building with an elevator.  Sexual energy is the ground floor.  And you can take the elevator down, to different levels of the basement or up towards the different floors.

Let’s talk about the different ways sexual energy can be used to disintegrate or disconnect you as a couple. This is heading down into the basement of the building.  And remember, this is each person’s own experience, depending on the context or how they are thinking.

Level -1: Impersonal Interaction

This is where a couple can have sex but it’s really impersonal.  There is a lack of responsiveness to one’s own or partner’s personal experience.  This is where partners act out of ignorance, denial, callousness, and self-centeredness.  The sex can be consensual, but is just endured.  It can be upsetting or painful.  Regret and sexual shame are usually generated.  One partner may depersonalize or sexually objectify the other.  Basically it ends up being at someone’s expense and there is a disregard for the possible effects and consequences for the other.


Doesn’t sound too fun right?  And I see this in a LOT of couples.  A lot of women I talk to.  They feel like they are just an object for their husband to masturbate with.  Her needs are not considered.  And whether this is true or not, it is their experience and how they are thinking and feeling.

Moving down another level, deeper in the basement we have: 

Level -2: Abusive Interaction

This is more of an abusive Interaction.  Sex is act of conscious domination and exploitation.  One person acts to control the other person through psychological pressure or manipulation.  It can often be classified as marital rape.  The victim, trapped in a submissive role, is seen as an object, with no options to change or control what is happening.  The dominant perpetrator tricks or degrades the other person, damaging the other’s self-esteem and trust in the process.


The perpetrator often acts from a feeling of entitlement to sexual contact.  They rationalize or deny the personal harm they cause the victim.

Let me first off just say that this is NEVER ok!  I’ve had clients tell me that their spouse told them this was going to happen and they weren’t allowed to say no.  They weren’t allowed to say what they wanted and what was ok or not ok.  This is marital rape and is NEVER ok.  Your spouse is not allowed to do whatever they want just because you are married.  Even if you consent at first, you can withdraw your consent at any time. 

And the last basement level, the deepest we go is: 

Level -3: Violent Interaction

This is a violent interaction.  This is the lowest and most disconnected level.  This is where the perpetrator strives to have absolute control over the victim in addition to the abusive traits of Level -2.  The perpetrator is not thinking clearly, usually due to some serious psychological disturbance and pathology.  

At these lower levels, sex is not about two people working to become closer together.  This is about one person in the dominant role and another in the submissive role.  The person in the submissive role may have their self-image and sense of sexuality severally damaged by the sexual experience.  A person who is treated (or perceives themselves) as an object of the other’s sexuality.  This can do serious damage to the marriage relationship and needs serious work to be overcome.

Now that we’ve looked at the worst ways sexual energy can be channeled, let’s go back to that imaginary ground floor level and look upward towards more positive expressions of sex in marriage.  

The upper floors are built on conditions of mutual choice, caring, respect, love, and safety.

Level +1: Roll Fulfillment

If we take the elevator up to the first floor, we see a somewhat connected and intimate relationship.  It is typically based on social customs and norms, and well-defined gender roles.  

We have templates (mostly from the media) of what a sexual encounter is supposed to look like.  How we should meet.  Who initiates.  Who does what to whom.  Usually that looks like the male being assertive and initiating.  The female is passive and accommodating.  Their sexual repertoire is fairly limited.  There are a lot of shared assumptions (based on this template) and so there isn’t a lot of communication.

Level +1 is pretty typical in the beginning of relationships, especially within strict religious doctrines like ours.  Because of this, we see a lot a wives agreeing to sex to please her husband, even when she isn’t particularly interested.  The husband doesn’t necessarily coerce her and she doesn’t feel coerced.  She might even have a positive sense of self as one who fulfills her wifely duty.  She may see it as fairness because husbands also have their duties to provide and preside.  And while this level may not seem ok to some, to others there is a sense of safety and satisfaction.  Each partner knows what is expected and what is acceptable and what is taboo.  There is mutual respect, physical safety, and commitment to the relationship.  These are typically positive and enhance self-esteem because it isn’t pushing either partner into anxiety with unfamiliar territory.

But just because this seems to be positive, roll fulfillment is very limiting.  Sex can get boring.  There’s very little creativity.  Because partners aren’t really communicating, they don’t experiment other ways of channeling their sexual energy.  They often stay stuck, which overall doesn’t enhance or deepen their emotional intimacy.

A lot of women I work with are here.  Sex is fine.  It’s nothing special.  But they do it because it makes things better in their marriage (or so they think).  But really, they could take it or leave it.

Taking the elevator up another level we get to:

Level +2: Making Love

This is where things really start to get good.  Level +2 is all about creating mutual pleasure.  Breaking out of the prescribed rolls and giving themselves and each other permission to experiment, express individuality and creativity through intimacy.  Both partners view sex as special and worth learning more about and enhancing.  They communicate, try new things.  They plan and make time for intimacy.  Both partners’ wants and needs are taken into consideration.

At this level, sex becomes a celebration.  It’s recreation mixed with personal caring and sensual sharing.  There’s lots of experimentation to figure out what feels good for both partners.  They are able to reveal more of themselves and so they are more intimately connected.

Even though in Level +2 partners have broken free from the stereotypical roles, there may be some pressure to be a “good lover,” and to perform sexual gymnastics.  They may see orgasm, even mutual or multiple orgasms as a goal they are expected to reach.  So while things are good, they could be better.

Taking the elevator to the top of the building we get to:

Level +3: Authentic Sexual Intimacy

This is the natural growth of Levels +1 and +2, emerging from the established qualities of respect, safety, communication, mutual commitment, sensual pleasure, and love.  This level may be a momentary peak or it may be a sustained experience.  There is a sense from both partners of deep connection, a reverence toward the body and toward one another.  Both are enjoying sensual pleasure and expressing love for the other person.


“When sex becomes an act of conscious loving, it can open up a new dimension in the relationship.” – Wendy Maltz

Partners often feel a spiritual connection or a sense of ecstasy as their two selves merge, but they are not lost in one another.  Through this merging, each gains a great sense of his or her own wholeness.  They both feel safe and secure.  They communicate easily.  They are aware and explore the full range of sensual activities and pleasures.  They have a sense of freedom, knowing they can go where they want, together.  But rather than using sex to get to a specific place, the couple realizes that the moment they are sharing together, on this deeper level, IS their destination.  It is a destination with honesty with oneself and one’s partner, total intimacy, and orgasms may or may not be part of it.  When the couple is just with each other, totally authentically together, that is when they have arrived.  Sounds amazing, right?

Now that I’ve described all the levels, you should know that this sexual energy and the way we relate to ourself and our partner is fluid.  We are never locked on a certain level and partners may even be at different levels, depending on their relationship with themselves, their spouse, and their relationship to their sexuality.  The levels aren’t hard and fast either.  They kind of flow into each other.

These levels are just to help you get an idea of where you are now and where you might want to go as your relationship evolves.  You can enhance your relationship as you move up the hierarchy.  It can be helpful to visualize how you are using your sexual energy and is it moving you up the hierarchy or down?  It can be very empowering someone to see that sexuality can be channeled in a completely different direction than the guilt and shame they are currently experiencing, and what that can do in the relationship.

“If sex is truly like water, it is both life-sustaining and a source of tremendous energy.  We can only benefit by channeling this natural energy to positive, life-affirming purposes.” – Wendy Maltz

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