HOW TO MAKE LOVE TO THE SAME PERSON FOR THE REST OF YOUR LIFE--AND STILL LOVE IT!
--By Dagmar O'Connor
THE TURNOFFS OF EVERYDAY MARRIED LIFE!
Marriage is a perfect arrangement for avoiding sex. It can provide more alibis, excuses, distractions & tensions to keep us from enjoying each other sexually than any other scheme designed by Man.
Yet marriage is also the best possible arrangement for enjoying the most exciting & pleasurable sex there is.
After 15 years of practicing sex therapy counselling, I am convinced that it is not marriage itself which turns any of us off: We turn ourselves off in marriage.
But my experience has also convinced me that we have the power to turn ourselves back on & enjoy the absolute best sex there is.
"IT'S NOT ME, BABE"
Over the years, I feel like I have become a connoisseur of sexual alibis. Practically every day someone tells me that, "It's not my fault" that his or her sex life has become infrequent, dull & unsatisfying. It is marriage, the person's partner, "nature" or hundreds of other "circumstances beyond my control" which are to blame. And at first they seem to be right.
YOU TURN YOURSELF ON...AND OFF!
We are potentially sexual all of the time. Sex is there & ready & waiting for us to express it every moment of the day. We can become aroused by a fleeting fantasy in the laundry room, a passage in a book, a stranger's thigh accidentally brushing against our own on a commuter train, the brief glimpse of a young woman walking by. Yet we routinely--& automatically--turn ourselves off before these things can affect us.
Of course without this safeguard we would be sexually active helter-skelter with just about everyone. But most of us, alas, become overcivilised. By the time we make contact with our partner at home, we have been turning ourselves off all day. And that is only the beginning. Because home is often the ultimate turn-off.
Home is the scene of our greatest anxieties, our major responsibilities, & our most upsetting conflicts. It can immediately set us thinking about bills to be paid & duties to be performed, children to be taken care of & arguments to finish, schedules, routines...just about everything but sex. And to top it all, home is the place where we are a family, just like we were with Mom & Dad. This fact alone can activate all the automatic turn-offs we learned as children in our first families.
"Who can feel sexy while the washing machine is running?" one woman said to me. "Or when you know people are coming for dinner in an hour? And who can swing from the chandelier & growl like a tiger when the kids are in the next room yelling or doing their homework?"
Turning ourselves on requires relaxedly focusing on our sexual feelings & shutting everything else out--all the distractions & anxieties. Probably the easiest way we can start to convince ourselves that we are in charge of what we feel is by a simple exercise which demonstrates how much control we have over our sensual responses:
Caress the back of your arm with your hand while focusing on a specific problem which is bothering you--say, money or the children. Or simply do the same in the midst of home distractions--kids screaming, washing machine chugging.
Now find yourself a quiet spot where you will not be interrupted & again caress the back of your arm. Close your eyes, relax as much as you can, let your fantasies wander & focus on your feelings.
Examine the difference. In the first instance, you probably felt very little. In the second, you probably felt much more. The "touch" was not different, only the way in which you allowed yourself to experience it.
"I'M IN THE MOOD FOR LOVE, WHY AREN'T YOU?"
There is a scene in the Woody Allen film "Annie Hall" which everyone seems to remember. The screen is split: On one side Woody is in his psychiatrist's office; on the other his lover (Diane Keaton) is in her psychiatrist's office. Both are being asked how often they make love.
"Hardly ever," Woody answers. "Maybe three times a week."
"Constantly," Diane answers. "I'd say three times a week."
It is no accident people remember this scene: It strikes home. In just about every marriage there is some sexual imbalance: One partner wants to make love more often than the other. And both complain that they are rarely in the mood for sex at the same time.
THE PRINCESS & THE PILL
A great many men & women wait for the "perfect mood" to strike before they engage in sex, the same way that a romantic poet waits for the perfect inspiration before he begins to write.
"Sex is not a mere physical thing, like an itch or going to the bathroom," one woman, Gwen, said to me. "It's a totally magical feeling that just comes over me. I can't plan it. And if Jack tries to create the mood--you know, candle light & champagne--I usually get totally turned off. He's just so deliberate & obvious about it. I can't help myself."
Believe me, people who wait for the perfect "inspiration" to have sex rarely have sex at all. Like Gwen, they often will not even allow themselves to be gotten into the mood; their partners' attempts are "too deliberate & obvious". In other words, it makes sex too conscious.
Unfortunately, Gwen was married to a man who needed sex on a regular basis. If he didn't get it at least once a week, like a vitamin pill, he became anxious & grumpy. Gwen, however, resented the thought of being a "pill" but wanted to be a "princess".
Over the years Gwen had always wanted to be "in the mood" before she had sex, but at the beginning of her relationship with her husband Jack she had been "inspired" 2 or 3 times a week. Likewise, Jack had always had a steady need for sex, but it had been perfectly satisfied at the beginning. Yet as time went on, Gwen began to see Jack's need as a drag on her. She felt blackmailed by his threats of glum moods, so she retreated more & more into her position of "waiting for the magical moment when I would be turned on". And Jack began to feel more & more rejected. No matter how hard he tried to create the "magic" for his wife, she was rarely interested any more. And the more rejected Jack felt, the greater his need became--not just his physical need, but his emotional need to feel connected to Gwen, to be reassured that she still cared for him.
Life without some regularity of sex & physical communication--especially married life--can be very dismal. At the most basic level, we are all still little children who need to be stroked or we will become despondent. "Need" is not a dirty word; it describes the sexuality of all of us, even if we are reluctant to admit it.
Still, seeing sex as simply another of our animal needs on a par with food, drink & going to the bathroom can make it very unappetising. Men, especially, who view sex this way tend to reduce it to a mechanical--& often purely genital--act totally devoid of feeling & personal contact. They tend to want to "get down to business".
It turned out that Jack was only focused on the end result. Little wonder that Gwen was constantly waiting for the perfect mood, & blaming him that it never arrived.
Time & again I meet women who complain of "end-oriented" husbands. "He knows all the right buttons to push," one woman said to me. "He's got it down to a science. Five minutes on my breasts, then bingo!--He dives for my clitoris & puts in 10 minutes there before he climbs on top of me. I feel like a pinball machine."
All the women I see, no matter how uninhibited they have become sexually, still crave touching & affection for its own sake, not just as a warm up.
Couples like Gwen & Jack can become polarised. One, yearning for affection, endlessly waits for a "magic moment"; the other, needing to "get down to business", constantly lives with his own frustration.
The first "assignment" I gave Gwen & Jack was a simple one. I asked them to make a deal with one another: For one month, Gwen was to allow Jack to ask for sex as often as once a day. And when he asked, Gwen had to respond.
As so often happens, Jack asked to make love every day for the first week, once every other day for the second week, & by the third & fourth week he was content with twice a week. Typically, Gwen had assumed he would want it all the time, but he had only wanted sex all the time when it seemed that he could not have it at all. Furthermore, Gwen timidly admitted that by about the third week she found that she enjoyed their sex "a little more" than she had expected, that once they got started she "somehow got in the mood". Many men & women have told me that it is just the "getting started" which is their problem; once things "get rolling" they have no trouble responding.
In the end Gwen was able to come to terms with her own sexual needs. She had them too. All those years when she had spent most of her time "waiting for the magical moment," she had been thwarting her own needs--not just Jack's. And once she "got started", the mood was there. "I'd been waiting for the right mood," Gwen said happily at our last session, "but the fact is the mood was waiting for me."
HEY, THAT WAS TERRIFIC! WHY
DON'T WE DO THIS MORE OFTEN?
"Getting started" is the biggest hurdle in most marriages, the largest single cause of that scourge of married life, lack of sex. Once a couple has made the decision to have sex and the act is begun--one button unbuttoned, one zipper unzipped--nothing much can stop it. But somehow most of us simply do not get started--at least not anywhere near as frequently as we want to. And if we don't start, nothing follows.
The fact is, we usually are not feeling all that sexy at the moment we make the decision to have sex--we are simply planning on feeling sexy. But without sexy feelings to ease the way, we have to just admit to ourselves: We actively want the pleasure of sex.
THE SEXUAL SEESAW!
But "getting started" is only half the problem in most marriages. "Who starts" is the other half, & can lead to that most dangerous of sexual games, the "sexual seesaw". In this game, it is not merely "bad timing" when one partner wants sex & the other does not. On the sexual seesaw, one partner does not want sex because the other does. Scores are being settled, sexual slights are being paid back: One sexual refusal deserves another, & up & down we go, rarely if ever wanting sex at the same time. This game can last a week or month, or, with brief periods of harmony in between, it can last an entire marriage.
Critical to whether we get into the sexual seesaw is the way we respond to sexual refusal: If our partner says no two nights in a row, do we see that as a personal rejection? Three nights? Four? Is a week of our partner's "headaches" enough to make us feel humiliated & angry--even if we know our partner has been under pressure at work or in a generally depressed mood? Once we feel truly humiliated by a refusal, we usually respond by either stopping initiating sex--not risking another humiliation--or by paying back our partner by refusing him or her the next time he or she initiates sex. With that, the seesaw has begun.
We must bear in mind that sometimes our partners really are not in the mood for sex, that every sexual refusal does not have to be seen as a sexual rejection. A partner who is under strain at work, who is tired or depressed, will probably not be in the mood for sex for awhile, & this has nothing whatsoever to do with us. We are more than willing to see a roommate's or friend's bad mood as just that--their problem, something which will pass. But when it comes to our sexual partners, we see a bad mood as our personal rejection. If he does not want to make love to me tonight, that means he is tried of me, cold, bored; surely it's the beginning of the end. It couldn't possibly be because he is simply not in the mood for sex tonight. I see countless men & women who never initiate sex with their partners anymore because they do not want to risk a refusal--it is always seen as total rejection. And all it took was one refusal to confirm this for them.
It is a source of wonder to me, even after all these years as a sex therapist, that simply touching & being touched can solve so many of our problems. Once we allow ourselves to feel another touching us, it is difficult to stay angry at that person. Once we relax under our partner's caress, the question of "who is in control" or of who "started it" seems irrelevant. All that seems relevant is that it feels good both to touch & to be touched, real caring affection!
MAKE ANGER, NOT LOVE
When one partner refuses to make love, it is often because he or she is angry about something & does not want to "give in" to sex. Anger & fighting are a component of almost every marriage, yet how that anger influences sex can determine how well a marriage thrives.
It is very difficult, of course, not to let anger get in the way of sex. Yet on the other hand, we often even let love get in the way of sex. We think that we always have to feel tender toward one another to have sex, & so when we are feeling angry, we don't "give in" to sex. The very term "making love" might be loaded: Perhaps there are times when it is more appropriate to "make anger" than to "make love". The important thing is that you do it.
"Making anger" is not really so strange an idea. We all recognise those film scenes--"Gone With the Wind" has a classic one--where a man & a woman abruptly break off in the middle of a fight & suddenly grab one another in a passionate embrace. Both anger & arousal are expressions of excitement, products of a passionate interaction with one another. And the anger often fades once in bed, since it is hard to remain angry when you are giving one another pleasure.
"LET'S MAKE A DEAL!"
For both partners to want sex at the same time or with the same frequency is a major problem in married life. Yet whenever I tell a couple that sex is negotiable they react in horror.
"You make it sound so cold & businesslike," they say. "We want romance & you're talking about transactions."
"I'm talking about both of you getting what you want," I answer, "from romance to orgasms. And waiting for that just to `happen' can take the rest of your lives. You don't have to negotiate while you're having sex, but negotiations certainly are a good way to get sex started."
I suggest a very simple kind of deal-making which goes something like this: "I'll make love more often--say three times a week--if you promise to spend more time touching me first." "Okay, it's a deal!"
These exchanges can extend to all parts of your relationship, from the way you want the "mood" for sex to be set to a particular sexual variation which you have always fantasised about, but were too timid or afraid to ask for. Once one wish is out, the rest seem to follow more easily:
"I've always wanted you to kiss my chest & belly."
"And I've always wanted you to talk to me while we make love."
If we truly listen to one another's wishes & make an honest deal we can live with--for one night or one week--we are well on our way to a fulfilling balance in our sex lives. And there is nothing cold or heartless about that.
There is a story which one of my professors liked to tell which went like this:
A middle-aged couple sat down in his office for their first session & he asked them what had made them decide to come for sex therapy. The couple looked nervously at one another for a moment & then the man said, "You tell him, Mother."
The story is a joke, of course, but it underscores one of the greatest causes of sexual unhappiness in marriage: We identify our spouses with our parents--wife with mother, husband with father--& then we find we do not feel very much like making love to them.
My guess is that at times all of us have experienced the sexually deadening effect of "Family Love". Making hot, uninhibited love to the one we love turns out to be a problem. How did we end up with this awful sexual confusion?--Sometimes we bring it upon ourselves.
All too often, women who were once taken by their husband's "charming boyishness" come to me complaining that they cannot stand living with an overgrown child. Perhaps there are times when we have to "mother" our husbands or "father" our wives, but too many of us slip into the roles of mothering & fathering our mates virtually all the time. It becomes the only way we see one another, & it is not a very sexy role for either of us.
"The moment Larry walks in the door, he pulls this hangdog look on me," Martha, a young housewife, told me. "And that look says, `I've had a terrible day--take care of me.' I don't really mind bringing him a drink or rubbing his shoulders, but after about five days in a row like that, I feel like screaming, `Shape up! I've been a mother all day long. I don't want a wimp, I want a man! I want romance!' Just once I'd like him to walk in the door, take me in his arms, & give me a passionate kiss. Instead, I get a peck on the cheek & that famous look of his."
Martha went on to say that their sex life was infrequent & lackluster.
"At eleven o'clock on the button, he says, `Let's go to bed,' but I can't make the switch that fast. Presto chango from his mother to his lover. Sex feels like one more duty I have to perform--like doing his shirts & getting the car greased. He hardly looks like Prince Charming to me."
In traditional homes the spheres of duty & responsibility are prescribed to press the wife into the role of "Mother", the husband into the role of "Father", & both into the role of the other's "Child."
"Somehow I always manage to fall into the trap of being Bill's fawning, overeager little girl," Marilyn, a 30-year-old Washington wife said to me. "I'm always showing him something I've done & then waiting to see if he's going to be critical or not. Usually he's critical, of course." Marilyn had come to see me because her orgasms had become less & less frequent.
Living with a critical "father" is frequently smothering; it certainly is not conducive to free, responsive sex. "Life with Father" is not very sexy at all.
And yet again, when I spoke with Marilyn's husband, Bill, a government attorney, I saw that he was not alone to blame for his role of "Father" to Marilyn's "little girl": "She's always depressed," he told me. "She's always saying something like `I can't get anything done' or `I'm getting fat,' & I'm supposed to hug her & say, `No, you look great, Honey.' But after awhile I just turn off & turn away. I mean if someone tells you often enough that she's losing her looks, you start to believe her. I get tired of being Big Daddy who has to cheer her up & handle her with care."
Again, we see two people who have locked themselves into a parent-child relationship, & with this relationship has come a failing sex life. A wife who always acts like a man's mother will often find him acting like an inhibited, undemonstrative, & certainly unromantic child in bed; & a man who routinely treats his wife like his mother will frequently find that she is losing sexual interest in him. Likewise, a man who primarily acts like his wife's father is apt to find her a reluctant, nervous lover after awhile; just as a wife who repeatedly "asks" her husband to assume the role of a "father" in too many ways may soon find him drifting into sexual apathy.
HOW TO "UNMOMMY" YOUR WIFE & "UNDADDY" YOUR HUSBAND
The process of "UnMommying" our wives & "UnDaddying" our husbands begins in our minds, where the confusion started. Mature men & women can learn to make the transition from "Mommy" or "Daddy" to "Lover" without having to feel confused or guilty.
Fundamental to making this transition is learning how to merge affection & sex. For too many of us, affection signals Family Love to the exclusion of Sexual Love. There is no better case in point than kissing.
What ever did happen to kissing in married sex? An occasional Mom-&-Dad peck, yes--but what about those lovely, lingering, open-mouthed kisses of our premarital days? Why should they now make us feel so uncomfortable & nervous?
There was a time in most of our lives when we could hug & kiss for hours on the front porch or in the back of the car & tingle with sexual excitement--& we are still those same people with those same sexual feelings, yet we have turned them off. "Affection" is one thing, we seem to have decided, & "sex" is another. Sex has to do exclusively with breasts, clitorises, & penises--& maybe a kiss when the sex is over--& affection has to do with fully clothed, quick hugs & kisses like the ones we give our children.
Kissing can make us more sexually nervous than intercourse itself. Face-to-face, lips-to-lips, & eyes-to-eyes, we seem to be in more intimate contact than when just our genitals are touching. We think of our "Selves" as living behind our eyes & when we kiss, our "Selves" make contact: There can be no fantasising about another person, no "fogging" of our identities. We are making direct & intimate contact with each other.
When Martha & Larry (the couple who had locked themselves into the roles of comforting, boss-of-the-home "Mother" & needy, demanding "Child") came to see me, their sex life was at a virtual standstill.
"All he wants is a pat on the head & someone to listen to what a rotten day he's had," Martha told me. "It's no wonder I'm turned off to him. When I hug him, I feel like I'm hugging another one of the kids. I want some passion in my life; is that too much to ask?"
Give him all the "mothering" he wants, but you choose the setting--& make it a sexual setting. Lead him by the hand to the bathroom, draw a warm bath, & undress him. Bring him a drink if he wants one. (This time "Mother" does not bring him a glass of milk; she brings him a glass of wine!) Scrub his back & neck & shoulders while he unburdens himself. But think sexually while you are doing all of this. Change into an attractive robe or swimsuit while you "mother" him--his real mother never looked like that! Allow yourself to take pleasure in soaking & stroking his body. Move to his chest, his belly--gradually--giving you both time to relax with the sensuality of what is happening.
In a similar way, we can UnDaddy our husbands. Again, we do not deny the role, but we merge it with our other roles. We let "Father" & "Lover" mingle together so we are not locked into any one way of seeing one another.
In both UnMommying & UnDaddying, the trick is to allow ourselves to be children again--but we are children who can go "all the way." Once we feel secure in our ability to move from one role to another, we can play any sexual games we want to; & many of the best games are children's games. I know one couple who broke through the "Father/Child" barrier by playing out the "Forbidden Game" of an older man teaching a younger woman about sex. "What's that?" she would say in wide-eyed wonder when he undid his pants. "I'll show you," her husband would answer. Other couples I know can relax sexually by talking baby talk in bed. True adults are comfortable with childlike sex; they are not afraid of being playful. By being children in bed, we can break through the taboos which inhibited us as children. And we can have better sex than Mom & Dad ever did.
TONIGHT'S PERFORMANCE HAS BEEN CANCELLED
I have this funny, old-fashioned idea that there is not all that much that most of us have to learn about the technique of making love. It is all pretty much the same as learning how to get to the airport in a new city--a couple of trips & you know basically how to get there. All the rest comes rather naturally. Now this may sound like a bizarre admission coming from a person who has spent the past 15 years as a sex therapist. But my task with the great majority of the people I see is not helping them learn how to "do it right"; rather we spend most of our time trying to unlearn the myths & propaganda which have prevented us from simply feeling sexual pleasure. And at the top of the list of these self-destructive myths is the one that proclaims that making love is an "act" which requires expert mastery to be "performed" with finesse. Overcome by this myth, we fault ourselves or our partners (or both) for not living up to expectations.
The Sexual Revolution produced millions of what I call "Phantom Lovers", men & women who felt compelled by social pressure to get out there & perform sexually even if they did not feel emotionally ready for it. Instead of coming to terms with their own fairly common sexual inhibitions, they raced pell-mell into the sexual foray, girding themselves with sexual techniques. Devoting themselves to sexual mastery became a substitute for learning how to relax with sexual pleasure. They became sexual "experts"; all that was missing was sexual feeling. Now, in the '80's, I am seeing the veterans of the Sexual Revolution & their biggest complaint is that they do not feel anything anymore.
"I learned everything there was to know about sex during the Sexual Revolution," one woman told me. "The only thing I neglected to learn was how to enjoy myself. It's almost as if I were impersonating a lover all that time. If I had been on the ceiling of my bedroom watching all that thrashing & moaning going on below I would have seen myself as a terrific lover. But meanwhile down on the bed, I was just going through the paces, doing all the right things but never really just letting go & having a good time."
Goaded by the fad of sexual freedom, this woman was forcing herself to perform intimate acts for which she was not emotionally ready. In another era, she might have delayed sex until she had a better grip on her anxieties about men & sex; but in the midst of the Sexual Revolution she leapt into bed & kept men at an emotional arm's length by embracing them in unfelt passion. She was doing sex, not feeling it.
What all these sexual performers have in common is that they experience sex from the outside in: They begin with the right moves, the right look, the perfect control, while sexual pleasure--if there is any--is the end result of all this technique. But sex that begins with our sexual feelings--that focuses on our own sensations rather than on our performances--finds its own techniques.
The Hard Worker in Bed. In recent years, since the so-called "rediscovery" of the female orgasm, many performance-oriented men have become fixated on it. They have to give their partner "The Big O"--& they have to give it through sexual intercourse--or they consider themselves sexual failures. A "Perfect Lover" makes his partner come each & every time. It is both his burden & his reward. Little wonder that his partner often ends up faking it.
Unhappily, husbands (& wives) with performance anxiety see every sexual encounter as a test--& a potential failure. And often they rig the test to make sure they fail. The test may just start with: "Can I do it [have an erection] at all" But that is just the preliminary. Next comes: "Can I last long enough to make her come? To make her come before I do? To make us come at the same time?" The requirements for a passing performance keep getting upped to keep pace with our insecurities. I spoke with one performance-oriented man whose wife often enjoyed multiple orgasms. And he, of course, counted them. Thus, if she had four orgasms on one night & only three on a succeeding night, he got upset. Maybe he was doing it wrong!
I call these performance-oriented lovers Hard Workers. They work at sex the same way they work at most everything else in their lives: Earnestly, proficiently, loyally, & with an eye on the goal. Sex is another job to be done well. The doing of it is nowhere near as important as the getting it done. It is simply another achievement. Obviously, there is little relaxed sensual pleasure for these Hard Workers. And there is frequently little relaxed sensual pleasure for their partners.
"It never feels like he is really there," one woman told me in private. "I feel like I'm some video game he's playing. Turning the knobs, pressing the levers, trying to get the highest score in the shortest time."
A frequent complaint of wives with Hard Worker husbands is that they are in too much of a hurry. Hard Workers usually do not want to linger very long with petting & foreplay, especially after they are already erect. They are afraid that if they are stimulated too long before they begin intercourse they will not last long enough to bring their wives to orgasm & that would be the greatest of disasters; for the Hard Worker to come before his partner does is his personal "failure". One sad irony here is that a great many wives do not really mind if their husbands have orgasm before they do. In fact, many would actually welcome it. The other irony is that if these men were not so preoccupied with lasting longer, they would last longer. Anxiety is the chief cause of premature ejaculation.
Intimacy. In most of our relationships one partner is more the "pursuer", the other is more the "pursued". One partner says that he or she wants to possess the other more, wants the other to reveal her or himself more, to be more "open"; the other partner wants more "space" & privacy, does not want to feel smothered or overwhelmed. Naturally, these feelings play themselves out in sex: One partner wants to "possess" the other sexually, wants his or her partner to be more "giving" & responsive, more open sexually. Usually, this pursuer is the one who initiates sex more frequently--& is turned down more frequently. And the other partner feels pestered sexually, always "under attack," & "under demand". He or she usually initiates sex less frequently, if at all, & often feels angry or guilty (or both) about having to fend off the others' sexual advances.
For most of us, the fear of commitment is really our fear of loss. Like children afraid of being abandoned by our parents, we are afraid that if we become too involved, too "close" to our partners, we will surely lose them--& the whole World with them. By rejecting them, we deal with our terror of being rejected. By demanding "space", we deal with our fear of being abandoned. We are like the man who could only deal with his terror of heights by living on a mountaintop.
A corollary to our fear of losing our partner is our fear of losing ourselves. Tara told me that she felt if she "gave herself completely" to David, she would never get herself back. She would be totally overwhelmed by him--which is to say, she would be totally overwhelmed by her love for & dependency on him.
The loneliness of the long-distance lover. "I never feel like I get enough of Tara," David told me. "She always seems removed, like she's holding back some important part of herself. She doesn't really share her feelings with me. And when we make love, I sometimes feel like I'm doing it all alone. Instead of a duet, I'm out there doing a solo."
I hear complaints like David's almost every day, probably more frequently from women than from men. They speak of their intense loneliness with their mates, especially in bed. Typically, they talk about how it feels to make love to a "Silent Partner": "The minute he gets into bed, it's like he's struck dumb," one woman said to me. "He doesn't utter one word until it's all over & then it's something like, `That was great!' Great for him, but lousy for me. All I feel is emptiness."
A Silent Partner is not only uncommunicative, he frequently closes his eyes as well as his mouth as soon as the sexual proceedings begin, & if he kisses his partner at all, it is once at the beginning & once at the end before his "parting" words.
Not only do these women feel lonely, they feel used--as if they are merely sexual objects, not persons. And missing for all of them--women & men--is the feeling that the other person cares.
I can deeply sympathise with the loneliness of these wives & husbands of distant lovers. Because we see sex as the ultimate "shared experience", it can be the most isolating experience when we feel that our partner is not "there" for us.
But perhaps many of us also expect & demand an unreasonable amount of closeness from our partners. If, for example, we are married to someone who does not express his or her feelings easily in every aspect of life, it seems unfair to expect that person to suddenly become expressive in bed--unfair to our partner, but especially unfair to ourselves because we doom ourselves to always end up feeling lonely & cheated. And maybe many of us seek reassurances of closeness & commitment more than is necessary. Does your partner really have to profess love every time he or she crawls into bed with you? Look at the total picture of your lives together--doesn't that at least begin to answer your need for reassurance?
If we are particularly in need of closeness & contact, we have a tendency to blow incidents out of portion. We see a week of our partner's remoteness as a picture of our whole relationship rather than considering that our partner is going through a bad or depressed period or simply a period when he needs his own space. We have to try to see our partners as separate people with moods & emotional schedules which have nothing to do with us, instead of drowning in our own insecurity. Silence is not always rejection--usually it is just a personal need. We have to learn to leave the other person alone some of the time--to just let them be & to let them be themselves. And to do this, we have to let go of the idea that we can ultimately change our partner--that we have the power to either "fix" or "destroy" our partner's life. We cannot "fix" anyone but ourselves.
Yet in the end, I believe that true intimacy is achieved by simply being ourselves with each other. And by letting our partners be themselves. This is true sexually as well as in every other part of our lives. If, say, our partner expresses him or herself with moans & tears at orgasm, take pleasure in that. And if our partner expresses him or herself with bated breath & closed eyes, take pleasure in that too--for that is who he is. Furthermore, it is a mistake always to demand of sex that it be the height of shared intimacy--it can be many other things too, including just the satisfaction of a simple bodily need. And those times when it is just a need, we do not have to feel lonely--we can just feel pleasure.
THE WORLD'S MOST COMPETITIVE INDOOR SPORT
Last year when the Science Section of the New York Times reported on recent statistics showing that the average American couple makes love with decreasing frequency the longer they are married, I swear I could hear a citywide sigh of relief which echoed from Brooklyn to the Bronx.
Every couple seems to think that every other couple is "doing it" more frequently than they are--& probably "doing it" better & enjoying it more. Invariably, when I ask a couple how often they have sex, after answering they say, "Is that normal?" or, "Are we within the normal range?"
American couples are preoccupied with "keeping up their average." It seems every one of them has some absolute number in mind--be it once a day, once a week, or once a month--& if they fall behind, they start to feel like losers. There is something wrong with their sex life. They aren't "normal". And often they end up blaming one another for their "low average". The last question on these people's minds is whether they actually desire sex more frequently than they are having it. That somehow seems irrelevant. The "number" has a life of its own, it is all that counts.
Keeping it up with the Joneses. Sally & Ted, an attractive New York couple in their late thirties, sat nervously in my office for several minutes before either of them was able to talk. Finally, after considerable prodding from me, Ted told me their "problem": "We're undersexed. On the average, we only make love once a month--& sometimes it can go up to six weeks."
"We feel like we're old before our time," Sally chimed in. They were both conservatively dressed, well-groomed people who spoke quietly & deliberately.
"Do you feel frustrated much of the time?" I asked. "Yes," Ted answered. "Especially when I realise that 3-4 weeks have gone by without our doing anything."
"I meant sexually frustrated," I said, "not statistically." Both of them allowed themselves little smiles. Indeed, Ted's frustration at this point had more to do with an unfulfilled number than with his unfulfilled desire. His very first words belied his attitude: "Undersexed" clearly meant under the average, under what he considered to be normal. And Sally was obviously concerned with how they compared with other couples too. She was sure that in the sixties "everybody else was having sex all over the place." She was worried about how they compared--about missing out on something which everybody else had--not about what her true desires were.
They had come to me hoping that I could help them "up their average"--they wanted to learn how to do sex more frequently so they would be "normal". But my task was to get them to stop "doing" sex all together & to start "having" sex--sex which begins with natural, uninhibited desire. The numbers, I told them, will take care of themselves.
The Swedish Sex Athletes Go to the Olympics. Why are the Swedes (or the men & women with Swedish lovers) having all the fun? Why are Blacks, Italians, teenagers, all of those who are single or divorced having more & better sex than we are?
This common kind of jealous, competitive thinking--a sort of inverted prejudice--can only lead to bitterness & sexual dissatisfaction at home. And as far as I can tell, these myths are based on little, if any, truth. Yes, some of these groups I have mentioned may be more devoted to sex, but is theirs a devotion to sexual enjoyment or to sexual performance?
Time & again I see couples who have let this particular jealousy fester in their relationship, causing one or both of them to become dissatisfied with their sex lives. They become preoccupied with missed opportunities.
"I missed the Sexual Revolution by about a minute", one woman told me. "I was getting married when everybody else was swinging from the chandeliers."
I would venture that the single greatest cause of divorce in the past 20 years is our preoccupation with missed sexual opportunities. We resented having to make love to just one person while "everyone else" was out there swinging. We felt cheated & so we began to cheat & in many cases this put an intolerable strain on our marriages. Again, by focusing on missed opportunities & on the so-called swingers & "liberated" teenagers around us, we are avoiding the best sexual opportunity of our lives: Building a solid, adventurous, & varied sex life with the one person we love.
Who's winning? Of all of the competitions we engage in--over money & power, territory & physical strength, popularity, status, achievement, & sports--sex is the only one where we can never really be sure who is winning. Joe may have a young & attractive wife, but are they really having more & better sex than we are? We are not privy to their bedroom, only to what Joe tells us.
Somehow most of us have gotten stuck with the notion that we are the only people in the World who are holding back our sexuality, that we alone are repressed & inhibited from having more active sex lives while everyone else is "doing it all the time."
And if Joe's stories of his sex life are not enough to confirm this suspicion, what we hear & see in the media is. How could anyone who watches television (just the commercials will do) or who goes to the movies & reads popular novels & magazines think anything else? In the World portrayed by the popular media everyone is "doing it more" & doing it "more skillfully", having more partners, lasting longer, & clearly enjoying it more than we are. And, of course, they are far better-looking, better sexually endowed in every way, giving rise to one of the most destructive myths of them all: That "beautiful people" have better sex than the rest of us.
The people we see on the screen & read about in novels are the only sexual competitors we ever know the "truth" about; it is only their bedrooms (& yachts & secluded lagoons) that we are privy to. In other words, the only sexual competitors we ever see "in action" are fictional characters.
Dudley Moore's Telescope. In "10", a movie which for all its nudity contains more sexual irony than sexual activity, Dudley Moore plays a middle-aged man who spends a great deal of time staring through his telescope at the home of his swinging neighbour, a younger man who hosts a perpetual orgy. Dudley is obsessed with all the sex going on over there & he feels cheated by not being a part of it. But meanwhile, in his own bedroom, he never seems up to making love with the woman he loves. His chief sexual activity is peering through the telescope--sex at a distance; up close, he loses sexual interest.
Competitive sex, like all Performance Sex, keeps us away from our sexual feelings. We are constantly looking for results, trying to keep up our average, or becoming High Scorers, but we rarely look at the sensual body right there next to us. And when we do look, we are dissatisfied. Sex with him or her does not begin to compare with sex "out there". We slip into sexual boredom & listlessness. And if our "average" slides, we get even more depressed, convinced that we should be "doing it" more to keep up with the Joneses, to be "normal". It is an endless cycle. And it is an unnecessary one.
If you are afraid of heights, don't swing from the chandelier. The best sex we will ever have is sex which is an expression of who we are. To expect anything else, to force ourselves to emulate anyone else, is doomed to disappointment & depression. When a woman who was physically timid in every way in her daily life came to me complaining that she was not "wild enough" in bed, I said to her, "If you are afraid of heights, why would you want to swing from a chandelier?"
We make ourselves--& each other--quite miserable by trying to measure up to sexual ideals which have nothing to do with the sexuality we really feel. The way you make love is your personal signature. It reflects your entire personality, no one else's. To me, genuine sexual maturity is the ability to say that you like yourself sexually--your sexual desires & appetites--just the way they are. And that if you do not feel like a "swinger", that is fine. That is not who you happen to be. It takes guts to be happy with who you are--sexually as in every other way.
The same is true with the way we regard one another. To expect one's mate's sexuality to somehow be radically different from the rest of his or her behaviour is to create an impossible demand & pressure on both of you. I have seen countless women with husbands who are orderly & efficient, who achieve goals as quickly as possible in every aspect of their lives, & yet these women complain that their husbands are too "efficient" in bed, that they do not linger on foreplay & they come too quickly. What did they expect? The irony is that most of these women say they married their husbands because of these very same traits--they wanted dependable, achieving husbands. Why were they now so disappointed because they were not "wild & crazy" lovers?
All of us enjoy having a little "obsession" once in awhile. As teenagers, nothing was more thrilling than "falling in love" with a movie or rock star. But when we act on these obsessions--especially after we are married--we run the risks which always come from mixing fantasy with reality. I have seen more than one case of men who divorced their wives & married their lovers only to have the same sexual inhibitions & frustrations once they were married to their new wives. Once the "fantasy lover" was a "real wife" the obsession (& the thrill) was gone & they were back where they started, but now with a broken family behind them.
"I do...I think". Obsessions with trying other lovers all too frequently end up in fiascos. The fantasy is usually so much sweeter & more romantic than the reality. And the question remains, why are we so willing to convince ourselves that sex with someone else is something we have to try? Do we feel the same about other experiences we have not tried--say, visiting Afghanistan or becoming a Buddhist monk? I would not argue that making love with every person is the same experience--that certainly is not true either. But in the end, it is our own sexual responses which make the critical difference in the experience. Our "Dream Lover" may come along, but if we are uptight we still will not enjoy it.
Make your own partner your dream lover. I have seen too many people who find the time to schedule clandestine meetings with their lovers, but who have never thought of scheduling an afternoon or evening of sex with their own wives or husbands; people who carefully search out romantic settings for their extramarital encounters, but who never consider taking their marital sex lives out of their bedrooms at home & into a new & stimulating setting; people who find the energy to make love all night with their lovers but who complain they are always too tired for sex at home; people who can get themselves in the mood for sex at a moment's notice with a lover, but who wait for the "perfect mood" to strike to make love at home; people who will try all kinds of "crazy" things in bed with a secret lover, but who claim they feel shy or self-conscious about trying anything other than the "missionary position" in their own bedroom. In short, people who make extramarital sex fun, but who insist that sex at home must be "serious" business.
The fact is, if we refocus our sexual energies in these & other ways--if we "think positively" about sex with our committed partners--I am convinced we can have the best of both worlds: The security & trust of a continuous relationship & the thrill & adventure of an affair--an "affair" with our husband or wife. Every one of us can make our partners into our "Dream Lovers". Over the years, I have seen countless couples do just that & I know it is the key to a thriving marriage.
Instead of waiting interminably for both partners to "be in the mood for love", we can try "Taking a Sandwich--& Each Other--to Bed" once a week & see how the "perfect mood" was waiting for us all the time!
Sex seemed to be everywhere when we were young. It bloomed bright & luxuriant like wildflowers in the most unlikely places. A curtain drawn across a bedroom window as we wandered by elicited an instant fantasy of tempestuous lovers' naked bodies undulating on the bed behind those curtains. A lone car in a motel parking lot in the middle of the afternoon set off an inevitable train of thought about clandestine passion. Mentally undressing strangers was an endlessly satisfying pastime. Thinking sexually was a reflex.
But somewhere along the line--often around the time we got married--we lost that reflex. It was buried in the countless new reflexes we adopted for turning ourselves off.
Turning ourselves back on begins in the same way it did in adolescence: By thinking sexually. By seeing the whole World & everyone in it as sexual beings with sexual feelings. And by catching ourselves before we automatically turn ourselves off to all this sexual wonder.
The best way to start feeling more sexual at home is to allow ourselves to start feeling more sexual every moment of the day.
Going wild--in very small steps. All right, let's regress. Not every minute of the day but here & there, let us switch the focus of our perceptions to the sexuality in our everyday World.
Rediscover the lost art of "mentally undressing" people--strangers as well as people you know. Imagine what they really look like underneath all that cloth--their chests & bosoms, their bellies & buttocks, their sex organs. It is all there, you know. The only "illusion" or "distortion" is to think that they don't have bodies underneath their clothes. And remember, none of this makes you a "dirty old man" or a "nymphomaniac". Nothing could be more natural. Humans started mentally undressing one another from the day they started covering themselves.
Excuse me--you might turn me on. When we were young & single, the slightest, most casual physical contact with anyone could make us tingle with sexual excitement. And that feeling could remain with us for some minutes, even longer, giving us a lift--a "high"--which seemed to make the whole World more inviting. No harm was done when a stranger's thigh accidentally pressed against our own as the bus took a sharp turn. It was an innocent source of pleasure until--"Excuse me"--we begin to turn ourselves off in alarm.
I am hardly advocating promiscuity here, or wanton self-indulgence. I am only suggesting that instead of pulling away, tightening up, & turning off every time we catch a stranger's eye or brush against someone passing through a door, we allow our natural responses to have their day. The World will not come tumbling down.
Bringing it all back home. There is probably no better place for thinking & feeling sexual than a party. It offers people groomed & dressed at their best. It offers physical contact through dancing. It offers an opportunity for flirtation.
But this said, there is another problem: Allowing ourselves the sexual pleasure of flirtation. Too often, dancing with an attractive man or woman who is not our mate, we automatically--& guiltily--turn ourselves off. "Yes, I'm dancing with someone else," we seem to say to ourselves, "but I'm not going to feel anything. That would be going too far."
Too far for whom? Dancing is dancing--if your mate is not hurt by that, he or she will certainly not be hurt by what you feel while you are doing it. But there is something else which often troubles us: We feel that if we become sexually aroused by someone, we have to follow through--do something about it. Again, nonsense. Sexual arousal is a pleasure in itself; it does not have to go anywhere from there. There are no obligations, no "uncontrollable" drives. Dancing & flirting, we can feel ourselves as sexual beings--feel witty & attractive--& we can feel our bodies flush & tingle with excitement. There is no harm in that; no one has been hurt or cheated. And later, when we go home with our mate, we can bring this excitement with us. Instead of arriving at our bed after an evening of turning ourselves off, we arrive there thinking & feeling sexual.
And there is something else you can bring home: A fresh perception of your mate. As we have seen, the numbness of daily routine often prevents us from seeing our mates as anything more than vague presences. He can shave off his moustache & we do not notice it for weeks. She can come home in a new dress & it does not register. But at a party, we have the opportunity to see our partners as others see them. And that can go a long way in getting us to think sexually about our partner again.
There is an exercise which I often recommend to people who see their mates too automatically--& who thus no longer see them as sexual or sexy. One of my patients gave this exercise the moniker "Seeing Your Mate from Somebody Else's Pants":
At a social gathering, watch other men or women relating to your mate. Imagine yourself seeing him or her as they do. Feel their attraction as they look in your mate's eyes, touch his or her arm, laugh at his or her stories. Fantasise flirting with your mate, "picking him or her up." Carry these feelings home with you that night.
"LET'S GET PHYSICAL"
Surely the shortest course of therapy I ever gave was to a couple in their mid-forties, Marcia & Larry, who came to see me because their sex life, once quite active, had diminished in frequency to once every other month, & even then, they agreed, it was "lackluster & lackadaisical." From the moment they walked into my office--slouched in, rather--& jointly lit up cigarettes, I could see that this was a couple who had allowed themselves to become physical wrecks: They were overweight, short of breath, had poor posture & muscle tone, & in general had low body energy.
Before Larry & Marcia could begin to renew their sex life, they had to renew their sexual energy--& to do that they had to renew their general physical energy. The only exercise I gave them was this: "Instead of watching television for the next two weeks, take a brisk walk every evening--no dawdling or stopping to smoke along the way. Try to get your walk up to a half hour daily before I see you next time."
Two weeks later, when they marched into my office, Marcia immediately announced that they were "cured".
Unlike many other couples I have seen who used the excuse that they were "too tired for sex" as a cover-up for avoiding their sexual anxieties & tensions, Larry & Marcia really were too tired for sex--just as they were too tired for almost anything other than slouching in front of the television set. As it turned out, those walks--& the showers which followed them--were the best sexual "foreplay" in the World for them. It was more than just a beginning of a cure: Reviving their energy & recontacting their bodies was all that was standing between Larry & Marcia & the active sex life they had allowed to drift away from them.
Staying in shape physically is a prime way we can stay in shape sexually. By walking, skiing, playing tennis, or swimming together, we get our hearts beating, our blood flowing, & our "juices" going again. We feel more vital & more sensitive, stronger & less prone to fatigue, & ultimately, we feel more relaxed. Just the smallest regular regimen of exercise can diminish physical tension & emotional stress immeasurably, leaving us both more willing & more able to enjoy ourselves sexually.
There is no better way to become relaxed & ready for sex than physical exercise.
Age before beauty. "I'm too tired for sex" is probably the biggest alibi around for avoiding sex & the anxieties which go with it. But the alibi which comes in a close second is "I'm too old for sex."
But it is not people in their 70's & 80's who are most apt to latch onto the "I'm too old for sex" alibi. It is people in their middle age, their 40's & 50's. In this period of life, a period which is frequently fraught with career, money & family anxieties, the "too old for sex" line is a convenient excuse for not dealing with the real causes of sexual apathy.
Love thyself. One "routine" that causes couples to drift into sexual apathy is making love in the same position every time. Today, there is hardly a couple who do not know most of the alternatives to the "standard" Missionary Position (the woman lying on her back, the man lying on top of her), yet somehow many couples never get around to experimenting with these alternatives, especially the option of the woman on top, sitting astride her husband. As we have seen, some men resist this position because not being in the "dominant" position, not being "in control", makes them anxious. And many women resist this option for a similar reason: It makes them feel "too aggressive" & not "ladylike" enough. But there is another reason why women often resist being on top, even though they may long for some variety of sexual position: They are embarrassed about how they look.
Most of us, women & men alike, have disastrous ideas of how we look. We can go on for hours cataloging what is "wrong" with our bodies--each sag & crease, each blemish & bulge. I do not believe I have met a woman yet who is completely happy with her thighs. Every woman in America seems to think she was singled out by her Maker to have fat or shapeless thighs. Rare, too, is the woman who is completely pleased with how her breasts look.
If we are convinced that we "look awful", how can we possibly make un-self-conscious, uninhibited love? With all the lights off & the sheets pulled up to our chins? That seems like a terrible limitation to put on ourselves, one that eliminates taking visual sensual pleasure in one another--pushing us further into depths of sexual dissatisfaction. But making love when we are unhappy about the way we look is like going to a party in a dress we are convinced is ugly: All we can think about is that dress. And worse, feeling unattractive, we become unattractive to our partners.
The case against twin beds. When I first learned English, I was amazed to discover that the expression "sleeping together" meant the same thing as "having sex together". "Sleeping is sleeping & sex is sex," I thought, "& who can make love in his sleep?"
I was wrong. As it turns out, we all make love in our sleep in a sense. Sleep is a sexual activity--over the course of a night's sleep we all become aroused & rearoused several times. Sleep, then, is a natural preface to sex: In the middle of the night or early in the morning we can slide very naturally from dreamy arousal to sexual contact with our partner. What a shame that in practice so many of us keep "sleeping together" & "having sex together" as separate activities.
My personal opinion is that the adoption of separate twin beds in marriage has done more to diminish marital sex than anyone suspects. Going to sleep without touching at all--no arm flung across a chest, no cheek snuggled against a neck--we have abandoned the best natural "foreplay" in the World.
An attractive couple in their mid-thirties, Penny & Rick, beset by what they called the "sexual doldrums", came to me in hopes of discovering what had gone wrong in their marriage. For the first few years before & after they had married, sex had been marvellous for both of them, but then, as Penny put it, "It started to become a chore & then a bore."
"What did you use to do together that you don't do anymore?" I asked them.
Both Penny & Rick shrugged. "We still do everything more or less the same," Rick said. "But we don't seem to be able to get into it the way we used to."
"Maybe it's time to do something different with each other," I said. "Your sexual tastes change, you know, just like your tastes for food & books & everything else. Have you talked to each other recently about your fondest sexual desires? About what you'd like your partner to do to you in bed--where you want to be touched & how?"
Again, they both shrugged & looked somewhat embarrassed. After a little coaxing, Penny told me what put her off about talking with Rick about what she wanted from him in bed: "It seems to me that spelling things out like that takes all the magic out of sex. It seems so darned matter-of-fact to sit there & say, `I want you to touch me here like this & there like that.' No romance, just taking care of business. Before, I never had to do that. Rick always knew exactly what I wanted without my having to tell him."
"And if he can't read your mind now", I said ironically, "then you aren't going to tell him, right? I mean, if he really loved you, he'd know exactly what you want without having to ask."
Penny gave me a reluctant smile. "Well, something like that," she said.
Too many couples get stuck with the "If You Really Loved Me You'd Know Exactly What I Want" myth & end up going to bed night after night never really getting what they want at all. They say that a Perfect Lover would know "instinctively" what would turn them on just by looking in their eyes & at their bodies, just by touching them. And they say that something must be missing in their relationship if their lover does not have (or has lost) this "instinct".
We are afraid to come out & say what we really want from each other in bed because we do not want to appear selfish--to our partners or to ourselves.
Learning how to be more open."My husband never just comes out & asks me for sex," one woman told me. "Instead, he wanders around the house in a blue funk for a couple of days until I ask him what's wrong & then he grumbles, `What's wrong? We haven't had sex in a week, that's what's wrong!'"
And one man told me that his wife never says to him that she wants to have sex, "She waits until I initiate it & then, just when I'm getting started, she says, `I've been hinting at this all week--I wondered when you'd finally get the idea.'"
In both cases, the partners could not simply say what they wanted & the result, when sex finally did "happen", was joyless, begrudging lovemaking--all because they were too shy or embarrassed.
Give & ye shall receive. Make a deal with one another for the next two weeks to ask for whatever you want sexually when you want it!
Do not wait until you think your partner is receptive or in the "right mood." Do not give in to your "natural" inclination to be shy or embarrassed. And do not be afraid to very explicitly show or say exactly what you desire.
Give permission to each other to ask for anything at all, even to wake you up at three in the morning & say, "Now."
But always allow your partner to reserve the prerogative to say, "I'm not in the mood for a big production right now, but if you want, I'd be happy to masturbate you...or simply to hold you while you masturbate." And accept his or her answers without an argument.
TAKE EACH OTHER--AND A SANDWICH--TO BED
"We're too busy for sex." That is the most common complaint I hear, especially today with both husbands & wives working. But invariably my response is, "Nonsense!"
I've talked to hundreds of couples "too busy for sex" who think nothing of dedicating a full hour to the preparation of their dinners, who somehow manage to spend at least an hour watching television each evening, & who average two nights out of a week with friends, classes, gyms, or meetings.
For most of us, being "too busy" is simply another subtle way we avoid sex--another way we turn ourselves off without honestly confronting what we are doing. We say, "Look at all the virtuous things I am doing--the PTA committee meetings, the aerobic dancing, the classes, the concerts", & so we never have to think about what we are not doing & why. By not having time for sex, we never have to face the anxieties or resentments which are the real reasons why we haven't made love for weeks or months on end.
The best way I've found for breaking the "too busy" pattern is in one fell swoop--straight into bed.
One evening a week--Wednesday is a nice, neutral day--pick up a bottle of wine & two sandwiches-to-go on the way home from work, & take each other--& the sandwiches--directly to bed. Do not turn on the TV. Do turn off the phone. And for the next three or four hours, just eat, drink, & fool around.
"I really should be doing something more important." For most people who try it, putting a red circle around every Wednesday of the month is a marvellous aphrodisiac in itself. It provides something to fantasise about, something to look forward to.
"Isn't it unromantic?" While we're on the subject of what is Romantic Sex--& what isn't--it seems to me that we've trapped ourselves into tired old categories here too. Why should "Romantic Sex" imply only soft lights & champagne, soft music on the phonograph, & whispered sweet nothings?
Is tuna & the newspaper necessarily any less romantic? Or a pillow fight? Or an under-the-blankets yodeling contest? There's got to be more to romantic sex than what they tell us in perfume ads--in fact the only limits are our own imaginations.
Sexing out. One couple, Terri & Borden, told me that the only time they had any real fun sexually was the two weeks they spend each summer on the beach.
Most couples enjoy more active sex lives on their vacations. They have left the anxieties of work & running a home behind them; they can break out of the inhibiting routines & dulling habits associated with home & bedroom; they are more rested, more relaxed, happier. All of these factors contribute to a better atmosphere for sex. But there is another factor: Making love in a different place--in a different bed--& doing it at different times of the day & night--recaptures some of the adventure of "naughty sex".
The advice I gave to them is advice which I think could spice up the sex lives of just about every couple--take "Evening Vacations." "Sex Out" as often as you can:
Instead of getting a sitter & dining out or going out to the movies or theatre, get a sitter & go out for an evening of sex in a hotel or motel. When you add it up, the cost is almost the same. And it can be infinitely more fun. There is no need to limit "vacation sex" to two weeks a year--you can have it once a week or every other week.
"Talk me into it." Time & again, men & women tell me that what they miss most in married sex is the thrill of seduction. One woman, Liz, told me, "Before we were married, Hal always made a big production out of getting me into bed. It started with flowers, went on to wine & soft music & romantic talk, & then he'd kiss me & talk some more before he went on. It was lovely. And now it's all gone! Now, he waits until bedtime & then he wants to go at it the minute he gets into bed."
This was a woman who found that she was rarely "in the mood" for sex with her husband anymore. She had concocted a whole litany of excuses--from headaches to menstrual pains--for refusing his late night, perfunctory advances. As far as Liz was concerned, her married sex was just a duty now, nothing more; the thrill was definitely gone.
"Next time he wants to make love without any preliminaries," I told her, "instead of saying you have a headache, say to him, `Talk me into it.' Perhaps you can put some seduction back into your sex life."
I went on to say that if she tried this "game", she had to be willing to have sex. In other words, she did not have to promise that she would be "talked into sex", but she had to at least open the door to that possibility.
The first time--again. Whenever a married couple tells me that their sex life has lost its pizzazz, I tell them to try to recall a special sexual experience they had together in the past when it was still exciting. Just about everyone has at least one such experience he can remember.
"We were at a movie", one woman told me, "a ridiculous comedy that neither of us was particularly interested in. And we started to make out. What a wonderful term that is--`making out'--I'd almost forgotten it. Well, we really went at it hot & heavy. My bra was undone, my hand was on his crotch. At one point we just looked at each other & rushed out to the car & made love right there in the parking lot. It was fantastic! But I guess it's a hard act to follow: We never have."
"Do it `the first time' again," I told her & her husband. "Go to a movie--the more boring the better--& `make out'. Go as far as you can. Break all the rules."
It is an experiment we all could enjoy: Pick out the setting of a hot sexual experience you had in the past--a bus, a car, a porch swing, whatever. And then make out & pet as you did then.
Make a joyful noise. For many men & women, keeping a "tight lip" during sex is a habit left over from their early experiences with "sneaky" sex--masturbating in the bathroom, petting on the front porch. Too much noise risked discovery then. Yet it is precisely breaking this habit--breaking the rules--which can make noisy sex so exhilarating.
"Making a joyful noise" is something we can work up to. Some couples try it first when they are "Sexing Out."
"We were in a motel & I didn't give a hoot who heard us," one woman told me, "so I just opened my mouth & let it all come out. Bill too. We sounded like a regular barnyard in there & after awhile we both started laughing."
Gradually, this couple was able to bring their "barnyard" home with them &, like a string of firecrackers, all of their sex became freer.
Keep your pants on. A harmless game which also seems to get lost in the "down to business" attitude of "grown-up" sex is seductively undressing each other. Indeed, undressing each other before sex seems to have become a lost art. But women, especially, miss the tantalising excitement of their partner unpinning their hair, slowly unbuttoning their blouses, unzipping their skirts, all the while touching & fondling them. For some, the most erotic touching comes during this process. One sexually happy woman told me, "My husband can sometimes take a whole half hour undressing me. And he always leaves my undies on until the very end, pressing & caressing my vagina through the silk. Sometimes I come before my pants are even off."