Let's Talk About Sex

BLOG-Let's Talk About ItI was never one to talk about my sex life. I thought discussing sex was distasteful. Where did I get that notion?

According to the New York Times article, Let’s Talk About Your Sex, I’m not alone. Even couples therapists don’t talk about sex.

Or at least, they didn’t until recently. And shockingly, couples therapists aren’t required to have any training in sex.

But there are provocative voices emerging in the field of couples therapy and the questions these therapists are asking and the ideas they are probing are gaining my attention.

A few months back, in a blog post titled, Your Brain and Love, I recommended Stan Tatkin’s book, Wired for Love. The premise of the book is that if you understand your partner's brain and attachment style, you can defuse conflict and build a secure relationship.

I am now reading Hold Me Tight, by Sue Johnson. She is the developer of Emotionally Focused Therapy and believes we are emotionally attached to and dependent on our partners in much the same way that a child is on a parent for nurturing, soothing and protection.

Both books emphasize safety, loyalty and attachment as the foundations for intimacy.

But the New York Times article also mentions therapist, Ester Perel, who I wrote about in a blog post called, Desire and Marriage: A Pardox? She believes that the current conversation around intimacy and sex are limiting, that while an affair can be an act of betrayal it can also be about expansion and growth.

Dr. Nelson, the author of The New Monogamy: Redefining Your Relationship After Infidelity, is also noted.

Both Ester Perel and Dr. Nelson believe that a marriage is not over after an affair. They are broadening the conversation, not speaking in absolutes, asking important questions. They are curious, studying.

In regards to an affair, Ester Perel speaks about being an investigator as opposed to a detective. A detective wants to know where and when and with who. An investigator wants to get to the meaning of the affair.

The New York Times article attempts to position Sue Johnson against Perel and Nelson and I’m wondering why we feel the need to turn their ideas into opposing ones, a battle of it’s either this or that.

Why can’t we look at their ideas as this and that?

All of the therapists mentioned above are adding to the conversation about what it means to partner with someone you love. They are changing the dialogue, challenging old rules and supporting new ways of being in relationship.  Some of their beliefs (like how an affair can draw a couple out of deadness or that your couple bubble comes first, even before your own children) can feel frightening or downright outrageous.

But they are talking, stretching our beliefs, and I admire that.

Not too long ago sex wasn’t taught in school. People feared that talking about sexuality would encourage kids to have sex prematurely. But some were having sex anyway so why not educate them, give them information that could prevent them from contracting a disease or getting pregnant.

Dr. Nelson trains therapists to ask a couple about sex in the first session. “If you’re not talking about sex, you’re perpetuating the idea that they shouldn’t be.”

So in an effort to move out of darkness and into possibility, I agree, Let’s talk about sex.

Killer Heels

Heels 2Is it true that men are chumps for women in pumps? A new study out of France says that men are more helpful to women in high heels. Is that why we wear them?

The first time I can remember being wowed by a pair of heels was when Olivia Newton John wore red stilettos in the movie Grease. Her beauty mesmerized me, even as she danced, a bit wobbly, as if dancing on stilts, singing You Better Shape Up to John Travolta. Given how good she looked to me, her discomfort and clumsiness seemed irrelevant.

I bought my first pair of heels, red Candies, just a few months later.

I was 14.

And I loved those shoes.

Some historical accounts show that heels were worn by men, and not women, as early as the 9th century in Persia. Other accounts say heels grew in popularity around the time of Louis XIV in France. High heels were symbols of power and dominance, allowing men to tower over other men. Heels were initially associated with class, status and privilege. Around the 17th century upper class women began to wear heels and by the 18th century, men stopped wearing them, deeming them impractical.

Heels went out of fashion for a while but then made a comeback in pornography, mostly pinups for men’s barracks during World War ll.

It wasn’t until after the war that the stiletto was invented and fashion aligned with erotica. While we may have had a desire for higher heels; we simply didn’t have the technology. But in the 50’s it became possible to create higher heels by putting steel in the heel, and crafting high heel shoes became an art form for striking and innovative design.

Presently, at the Brooklyn Museum, there is an exhibit, Killer Heels: The Art of the High Heeled Shoe. I loved the exhibit, and viewed the shoes on display in awe, appreciating the genius and beauty in the designs, captivated by the red soles on countless Louboutin shoes, gold leather Salvatore Ferragamo wedges from 1938 and silk creations from as far back as 1650.

But then there were the shoes from China that women who had their feet bound wore; and my heart literally clenched, my stomach turned. I went home and read about foot binding and how a woman’s foot was broken and bound in order for it not to grow. As a result feet would be smaller, more dainty and womanlike. This process, foot binding, was excruciating, feet deformed and women crippled. And yet the desire to be beautiful, and maintain high status, according to some cultural belief, allowed this to go on for centuries.

Is it so different today here in America?

Our back hurts, our calves are tight but go to Barney’s 5th floor any time of any day. Go to the Bergdorf’s shoe salon. Those floors are so crowded you would think they were giving the shoes away. On the contrary, prices have climbed as shoe departments have grown in size. It seems we can’t get enough. Of course flats are displayed too; but that’s not what catches my attention.

What fuels our desire for heels?

Is it Carrie Bradshaw from Sex in the City? Does her desire for Manolo Blahniks glamorize the high heel?

Are women more attractive in stilettos?

Or have we been conditioned to think that high heels are beautiful because celebrities and fashion models are pictured in them?

Here’s news: in 2010, at an Alexander McQueen fashion show a model took off her deadly sharp stilettos, protesting, choosing not to walk the show for health and safety reasons.

Are high heels the new cigarettes?

There was a time when Lauren Becall and Humphrey Bogart made smoking look cool. But in case you didn’t know, Humphrey Bogart died of esophageal cancer. As people got educated and became aware of the hazards of smoking, things changed.

So feminists, like the surgeon general, warn us. They proclaim that heels are unsafe and detrimental to the well-being of a body, our backs and feet compromised. And maybe that agenda has been successful. The image of the heel altered from something beautiful to something irrational, which leads one to believe that flats are just cooler. Image accounts for a lot. And possibly, in time, these shifts in thinking will change things for future generations.

Often, comfort wins out, and I wear flats; but while I believe there is nothing as uncool as wearing high wedges or heels to the beach or a poolside, sometimes, I do it anyway.

Even though it might not be considered the height of elegance or class, I have been known to dance barefooted at the end of a long night. Yes, I can be defeated, or more precisely, “defeeted” by my shoes.

And yet, I won’t stop wearing them. I gawk at them in wonder in magazines, on department stores shelves, on other women’s feet and in museum exhibitions. They are inexplicably alluring.

In Kinky Boots, the Broadway show, there is a song called, Sex Is In The Heel. And maybe that’s it.

After all, John Travolta responds as desired to Olivia Newton John as she struts in those red stilettos. He sings, “And I’m losing control ‘cause the power you’re supplying, its electrifying.”

High heels are instruments of power. And I, along with many other women, buy into the idea that they elongate your legs, make you wiggle when you walk and give you a taller, thinner silhouette.

Even though logically, I want to say those are silly, superficial reasons to wear high heels, on some primitive level, I’m seduced by them. Just as men are.

Masters of Sex

Sex QuoteWe all know them. Those women who fake a migraine or stay in the bathroom long enough for their husbands to fall asleep.

They are masters of sex all right, masters of getting out of it.

But why?

According to Denise A. Donnelly, an associate professor of sociology at Georgia State University, who studies sexless marriage, an estimated 15% of married couples haven’t had sex with their spouse in the last 6 months to one year.

Isn’t that strange? We live in America, the land of the free, and of hot Hollywood sex. We are a sex-craved culture. So, what’s up?

It seems that even singles are affected wanting less from partners, preferring to hookup rather than to build a relationship. But interestingly, hooking up is on the decline as singles choose virtual relationships, flirting via phone or computer with no intention of meeting one another.

It’s true hearts are unreliable; but are humans going through a metamorphosis, evolving into beings that don’t need intimacy?

Can we really protect ourselves from the fact that someone could stop loving us, leave us (emotionally or physically) or they could die?

In the Showtime series Masters of Sex, and in actuality, Bill Masters and Virginia Johnson pioneer studies in human sexuality, devoting their lives to sex research. But their real life story feels like a cautionary tale. Virginia Johnson gave up her dream of getting an education to work with Masters. She submitted to a sexual relationship with him as part of her job; and ultimately, she married him. Only to be left years later when he fell in love with someone he knew from his youth.

The lesson to be learned seems evident: You can’t be left if you leave first, or if you abstain, and never show up in the first place.

Sure it’s scary to connect deeply with another person; but maybe then engaging becomes worth it.

Sex therapist, and author of Passionate Marriage, David Schnarch, helps partners maintain a connection during sex. Read an interview with Dr. Schnarch who says that good sex is not about elevating your heart rate; it’s about elevating your heart.

Quickies, sexting, hookups and sex with your eyes closed keep us from emotionally attaching and being vulnerable.

Now that’s what I call safe sex.

Desire and Marriage: A Paradox?

800px-Small_Red_RoseMy friend sent me a text at midnight: I need therapy. She’d just had dinner with a couple that have been dating for three months. She’s been married for twenty-five years.

My husband doesn’t look at me like that. We have to discuss this. Why doesn’t my husband look at me like that?

Laughing so hard I thought my stitches would pop, I wrote: I just sent my husband to buy me stool softener. Maybe that’s why.

(In thirty years of marriage I’ve never asked this of my husband but post-surgery...)

Anyway, isn’t that the point? When you live with someone, share a life with someone, a real life, can there be mystery?

My final text before going to sleep was, You can’t compare three months of dating to twenty-five years of marriage.

But I woke thinking about this.

According to Ester Perel, a NYC therapist and best-selling author of Mating in Captivity, “Desire needs distance, freedom, dream, mystery. It is that very freedom that allows us to maintain desire that also has the risk to separate us. The freedom posits risks but without freedom we don’t maintain the intensity of desire.”

It seems impossible to have distance, freedom and mystery in an intimate long-term relationship. But Perel writes, “Reconciling the erotic and the domestic is not a problem we can solve; it is a paradox we manage.”

There is a well-known cartoon by Sam Gross that was printed in the New Yorker. Two snails are talking. They are staring at a scotch tape dispenser and one snail says to the other, “ I don’t care if she is a scotch tape dispenser. I love her.”

The shapes of these things appear the same but what else is known? This is what we do in the beginning of a relationship. We see some things and we conjure up the rest; part fantasy, part denial. And the distance and mystery stokes yearning.

Ester Perel asks an important question in regards to her work on desire.

Can we want what we already have?