After you appear on The Today Show a couple of hundred times to talk about sex and relationships, you start to develop a reputation. As the “friendly neighborhood sex therapist,” most mornings I can’t walk out the door without someone hitting me up with a sex question: the coffee guy wants to know the difference between Levitra and Cialis, and whether ginkgo biloba really improves sexual stamina; my superintendant worries whether his wife is faking it, and my next upstairs neighbor is a “sexual hypochondriac” who has a different issue every week – recently he wanted to know the diagnostic criteria for having a “micro-penis”(less than 2.5 inches fully erect). Even the UPS man stops by to talk about his sex life – and most of the time he doesn’t even have a package for me!
So suffice it to say I get to hear what’s on people’s minds when it comes to sex, and, lately, many of the questions have had a rather contemporary flair: should we try swinging? What do I think about open relationships? Do I have a template for a non-monogamy contract? A template? Really? A template. Give me a break: I’m a sex therapist, not a contract lawyer!
In the terrific new show, Satisfaction, we see modern issues come to dramatic life in the form of Neil and Grace, an attractive, loving couple that are grappling with a fundamental marriage conundrum: long-term relationships are built on transparency, predictability and dependability. We want a partner who will respond in a flash to our texts, and rearrange their schedule to pick up the kids when something comes up. We crave a sense of security and safety in our relationships, we need a trusty shoulder to lean on. But when it comes to sex, we want spontaneity, unpredictability, magic and mystery. And therein lies the dilemma: for the couple that wants it all —the predictability of a loving relationship and the unpredictability of hot sex – how do we achieve both with the same person?
I don’t know if I have the answer, but I spend a lot of time with couples working on the problem. In my practice, I often meet people who fall into one of two sexual categories: “thrill seekers” and “comfort creatures.” For comfort creatures, less is more. They’re happy to have sex with the same person in the same bed, in pretty much the same positions. For thrill seekers more is not enough: they get restless without a steady stream of adventure, novelty and stimulation. In the beginning of a relationship, we often don’t notice the differences in our respective sexual temperaments. The newness of the relationship provides all the excitement we need. But once the neurochemical cocktail of infatuation starts to wear off, differences appear.
Recently I helped to lead a study of nearly 5000 people on the topic of relationship boredom. My feeling was that boredom is basically like an attack on our relationship's immunity system – once weakened, we're all the more susceptible to a cascade of ailments. Those surveyed were mainly heterosexual and in committed relationships, many with a kid or two. Sadly, well over 50% were extremely bored in their relationships, with “sexual boredom” at the top of the list. Bummer, right? Maybe that’s why over 40 million Americans identify themselves as being in sexless marriages (getting it on less than ten times per year). But here’s the silver lining: Over 70% of that same group said they would be very receptive to their partner making a sexy suggestion to try something new in the bedroom. So if you’re lying in bed next to someone but feeling a million miles apart, maybe bridging the gap is as simple as reaching over, tapping that person on their trusty shoulder and sharing an unpredictable, sexy thought. Before you decide to negotiate non-monogamy, try first to negotiate some nooky with your partner.
Viva la Vulva!