DID YOU SEE: Washington Post column on what to do when marital sex wanes

Scrolling through the Washington Post website, I couldn’t help noticing a headline that reflected a sentiment I’ve heard from many a client: “Husband who hasn’t had sex in years wonders, ‘Is this normal?'”

I was impressed with columnist Carolyn Hax‘s answer, the gist of which was this:

What’s “normal” in a marriage is less important than what’s mutual.

If you’re worried, then, yes, you should be; if you’re not worried, then you shouldn’t be.

By that measure, the cause for concern at home is that you and your wife aren’t talking or touching.

Talking and sex are a fickle combination, though, with couples just as often cooled off by it as warmed up. If you tend to the former, then try this, first: Introduce more fun, physical but nonsexual activity to your lives together. As it stands now, you’re not touching, you’re not passionate, you’re putting on weight — this is about more than sex, no? It’s about losing your connection to your own bodies. When was the last time you and your wife hiked, biked, paddled, danced?

Using your body is the best way to wake it up — and not coincidentally, movement is a known emotional conductor. Get yourselves going, together, in a way that you both enjoy, and you stand to improve your connection (1) and communication (2) as much as you do your blood flow (3), all while adding an (I’m guessing) urgently needed shot of novelty (4) to your marriage — thereby accounting for the four cornerstones of passion. So. Take her hand, and go.

She has a few other things to say that make sense as well. Check out the whole column here and let me know what you think.

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QUOTE OF THE DAY: Sex

SEX

Sex is not always about reproduction or about love or about tenderness. All too easily sex derails from its species errand and becomes entwined with anger or guilt or fear, and thus the vast spectrum of human fantasies arise. This man needs to think of shoes in order to perform, and this woman dreams of spankings, and that man wants to wear and dress so his penis can engorge, and that woman thinks of whips and chains. In the darkness of his soul, this man wants little girls and that man wants little boys, and this woman needs an imaginary crowd to watch her movements and that one finds her satisfaction in piercings of the private parts urine, feces, animal costumes may all play a part in our fantasy lives.

Each sexual story has its origins in early years, in memories and wirings that we can hardly fathom, in our genes or in our nurseries or in our first experiences of our bodies, our own and those of others. We understand some things but just a few. Sexual preferences, some infused with hate or guilt, remain a mysterious continent open to exploration, open to spelunkers brave enough to follow the clues downward into our blackest hearts and our earliest memories. How good it would be to better understand the roles of shame and curiosity and pain and what part they play in our sexual lives. We have just begun to map our own complex minds.

But this list of sexual wishes, odd practices, less-than-dignified desires, compulsions is not confined to one sex or the other. It is a feature of sexuality that affects many human exchanges, and even more private dreams. Perhaps these rise from the efforts we make to control our lusts, or perhaps they rise from strange coincidences, stray moments that became electrified in our memories, or perhaps they are the result of the controls we must exercise as human animals who can restrain impulses but pay the price for that restraint.

Maybe as we think more about our sexual lives we will find better ways to enjoy them, to fuse them with love and release them from hate. Or maybe not. But, either way, the species needs the sexual life of both male and female in order to reach out into time, enduring civilization while dragging its discontents behind it.

–Anne Roiphe, “Order and Desire”

"Obscene" by Mel Bochner

“Obscene” by Mel Bochner

SEX IN THE THEATER: Mae West

According to the Writer’s Almanac, it was on this day — April 19 — in 1927 that actress Mae West was sentenced to 10 days in prison for her starring role in the play Sex, which she also wrote and directed. It was her first Broadway show. Sex got terrible reviews but attracted huge audiences. It had been running for 41 weeks when the police showed up and arrested the cast and crew — although only West was sent to jail. She was charged with “producing an immoral show and maintaining a public nuisance.” She said: “I wrote the story myself. It’s about a girl who lost her reputation and never missed it.”

In jail, West was forced to turn over her silk stockings, but allowed to keep her silk underwear. She got her own private cell, and she charmed the warden and his wife so much that they invited her to eat dinner with them in their home each night. She befriended the other inmates while she made beds and dusted. In her down time, she read business articles comparing various Hollywood studios. She was released two days early for good behavior.

The following year, she wrote and starred in the play Diamond Lil (1928) on Broadway, and it was a big success. She went to Hollywood, got a part in Night After Night (1932), and was allowed to rewrite her scenes. In her first scene, a hatcheck girl says to her “Goodness, what beautiful diamonds!” and West says, “Goodness has nothing to do with it, dearie.” It was a hit, and the next year she co-starred with Cary Grant in I’m No Angel (1933). By 1935, she was said to be the second highest paid person in the United States, after William Randolph Hearst.

mae west

DID YOU SEE: Esther Perel interviewed in The Sun

Belgian-born sex therapist Esther Perel is an expert on the subject of sex, intimacy, love, and desire in long-term relationships. The author of Mating in Captivity and the subject of a very smart and widely-circulated TED talk on desire, she was recently interviewed by Mark Leviton in The Sun, an excellent literary magazine renowned for its in-depth Q-and-As with remarkable thinkers.

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I’m a tough customer when it comes to speaking and writing in this field, I suppose because these subjects are near and dear to my heart, and I hate the amount of misinformation, bad advice, and stale thinking that goes out under the rubric of relationship counseling. But Perel passes my bullshit-detector with flying colors.  I found myself completely engrossed in this article (“A More Perfect Union”) and in agreement with her almost every step of the way. I particularly like the way she talks about fantasies and also how she addresses the subject of parenting in contemporary life. Since I’ve quoted those passages online already, I’ll offer an excerpt here in which she talks about the subject of infidelity:

I don’t abide by the perpetrator-victim model of infidelity, in which the cheater is criminalized and the victim is given all the empathy. I also don’t believe an affair automatically means the relationship is bad. Here’s the usual view: If we, as a couple, have everything we want from each other, there’s no reason for either of us to go elsewhere. Hence, if one of us goes elsewhere, there’s something missing between us; infidelity is a symptom of a problem in the relationship.

That’s sometimes the case, but affairs often have more to do with the unfaithful individual than with the couple. People go elsewhere for sex not so much because they want to leave their partners but because they want to escape who they themselves have become. They are looking for parts of themselves that they’ve lost because of the relationship. But many adulterers are reasonably content in their marriage and monogamous in their beliefs. In my experience most have been faithful for ten or fifteen years before they’ve cheated.

If you see adultery only as a symptom, you sometimes take good relationships that have worked well for decades and make them look like failures. I don’t think that’s right…

I’ve seen couples in which I’m convinced there’s an affair going on but no one wants to talk about it. I’ve seen couples in which one person keeps asking the question and the other keeps denying it, or one keeps dropping hints and the other doesn’t want to pick up on them. I’ve had clients who are resisting having an affair, and others who can’t talk clearly about their marriage because they are intoxicated by an ongoing affair and everything else pales in comparison. Or they are irritable and don’t want to go home because of their guilt or because they don’t like their partner at the moment. Other clients might want to be in the relationship, but their partner has Alzheimer’s and can’t recognize them, and they need a way to rejuvenate themselves so they can spend an hour every day with their partner at the nursing home. I hear about kinds of infidelities that never existed before now, but infidelity itself is timeless. At all four corners of the world, at any moment, someone is either betraying a beloved or being betrayed. Infidelity: historically condemned, universally practiced.

You can read the entire interview online here. Check it out and let me know what you think.