Apr 302014

Partners in Passion

Ed. Note: I’m excited to present this guest post by Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson, authors of the new book, Partners in Passion.

Articles bemoaning the state of marital sex seem to emerge in clusters, often in the run-up to Valentine’s Day. This year, The New York Times helped lead the charge with the publication of two articles on successive Sundays.

The first, “Good Enough? That’s Great!” by Daniel Jones, editor of the “Modern Love” column, appeared on February 2nd and was excerpted from his recently published Love Illuminated.  Jones characterized couples that seek to maintain or renew their erotic connection as “Restorers” whose approach to relating is based on either “drudgery” or a need for “spice.” He concluded that it is “risky” for couples to do more than settle for staleness and that the prudent course is to be “appreciatively resigned.” This conclusion neglects the very real possibility that those who choose to be interested in each other, to be curious and engaged are not seeking to recapture something that has been lost but are instead cultivating relationships skills that others would benefit from learning. Being “appreciatively resigned” is no sign of wisdom, and remaining emotionally and erotically engaged need not be either “drudgery” or “spice”; it can be a shared adventure.

Jones discussed the outcry over Ayelet Waldman’s 2005 statement that putting her “marriage ahead of motherhood” was the key to her marital happiness and erotic satisfaction. In his characterization, Waldman is akin to an alien being and her marriage is “extremely rare”, though letters he received during his years as editor of “Modern Love” hardly comprise a scientific sample. It would have been more illuminating to examine the sources of the outrage – America’s almost cultish devotion to the child; the still pervasive sexist and sex negative currents in our society; and the notion that love is a zero-sum game.

Jones’s piece was followed by a cover story in the February 9, 2014 Magazine by psychotherapist Lori Gottlieb – titled “Sexless but Equal” on the cover and “The Egalitarian-Marriage Conundrum” inside. In the article, Gottlieb cited a study published in 2013 claiming that couples in “equal marriages”, where husbands do “what researchers characterize as feminine chores like folding laundry, cooking, or vacuuming” had sex 1.5 fewer times per month than couples whose division of labor was more conventionally gendered. While Gottlieb acknowledged several potential flaws in the study, she relied on anecdotes from her personal life and practice to bolster the idea that relatively equal partnerships are likely to suffer from erotic deficit.

Gottlieb’s article was replete with essentialist ideas about gender – for example that men watch Pornohub and women follow Pinterest. Her thinking about pornography generally was antiquated or naive – that it’s all about male pleasure, women being subservient, with no negotiation, female desire or role reversal (the proliferation of feminist porn notwithstanding), and that the “MILF” is a new cultural phenomenon. Some of the biggest porn stars of the1970s were middle-aged, even though the term had not yet been invented.

The anecdotes from her practice were similarly superficial. In one case, a woman in her 40s and in an “equal” marriage examined her husband’s Internet history and discovered that he had viewed porn involving scenes of domination. The discovery inspired her to express her own desire to be dominated; a fantasy the couple explored. The woman was “surprised by his lack of enthusiasm” and felt rejected as a result. Gottlieb never mentioned the apparent invasion of privacy and how that violation may have impacted the interaction. Also unexamined were some potentially deeper issues, how the woman communicated her desire, whether it was received as a criticism, and perhaps more importantly why the husband was unable to take pleasure fulfilling his wife’s fantasy. There’s no intrinsic reason that acting out fantasies of domination in the bedroom will have any implications in other aspects of life.

MarkandPatricia-high-resIn another anecdote, one of Gottlieb’s clients claimed to “crave” her husband when he returned from the gym, undressed, and got into the shower. The husband replied that he had done just that on the morning of the session, and she became irritated because he had thrown his clothes on the floor and then complained that he had failed to vacuum “the day before, when she had to work late.” The conversation then turned to the fact that the wife did not find vacuuming a turn-on.

Gottlieb either ignored or missed the fact that the woman shifted her attention from her desire to her resentment. It’s by no means self-evident that the dynamic has anything to do with gender-neutrality or egalitarianism or that her response would have been any different if the task involved had been one that is conventionally deemed to be masculine – taking out the trash or fixing the car. In this incident, resentment, not gender equality, killed desire.

These articles partake of a generalized cultural anxiety about marriage and long-term relationships that is not entirely misplaced. The work of Esther Perel, which is cited in both articles, highlights the tension that between the domestic and the erotic. 21st-century society imposes a very heavy burden on long-term relationships; partners are expected to be lovers, friends, and parents, and it is not easy to balance these demands, especially when work and other obligations are factored in. Nonetheless, examples of couples successfully navigating these conflicts are not that difficult to find.

Perhaps it’s sexier to focus on dissatisfaction and lack of sex. Perhaps it is safer as well. Long-term couples that have satisfying sex make relationship a priority. They may explore various forms of open relating or kink, which are typically downplayed or ignored in the ‘marriage in crisis’ genre, or they may be vanilla and monogamous. What these couples have in common is a dedication to maintaining their erotic connection. The reaction to Ayelet Waldman’s statements makes it clear that making the erotic a priority remains a radical act, especially if the person prioritizing is a woman and a mother.

Mark A. Michaels and Patricia Johnson are a devoted married couple. They have been creative collaborators – teaching and writing about sexuality and Tantra together – since 1999. Michaels and Johnson are the authors of Partners in Passion (Cleis 2014), Great Sex Made Simple, Tantra for Erotic Empowerment, and The Essence of Tantric Sexuality. Their books have garnered numerous awards: Independent Publishing (IPPY), ForeWord Reviews, and USA Book News Best Books, among others. They are also the creators of the meditation CD set Ananda Nidra: Blissful Sleep. To support the pleasure-positive community in New York, they co-founded Pleasure Salon in 2007. www.MichaelsandJohnson




Feb 192013

christopher ryan

This Friday on Sex Out Loud at 8 pm ET / 5 pm PT, I’m live with Christopher Ryan, the renegade researcher behind the New York Times bestseller, Sex At Dawn, a controversial, idea-driven book that challenges everything you know about sex, marriage, family, and society. We’ll discuss the ideas behind the book including monogamy, sexual orientation, and family dynamics, as well as his latest project, KoTango.com. Kotango is an ethical non-monogamy site, a global community dedicated to modern relationships, and the culture that surrounds them.

Christopher Ryan received a BA in English and American literature in 1984 and an MA and Ph.D. in psychology from Saybrook University, in San Francisco, CA twenty years later. He spent the intervening decades traveling around the world, living in unexpected places working at very odd jobs (e.g., gutting salmon in Alaska, teaching English to prostitutes in Bangkok and self-defense to land-reform activists in Mexico, managing commercial real-estate in New York’s Diamond District, helping Spanish physicians publish their research, Ebonics to English translation for a Spanish film festival…). Along the way, he decided to pursue doctoral studies in psychology. Drawing upon his multi-cultural experience, Christopher’s research focused on trying to distinguish the human from the cultural. His doctoral dissertation analyzes the prehistoric roots of human sexuality, and was guided by the world-renowned psychologist, Stanley Krippner.

Christopher has lectured at the University of Barcelona Medical School, consulted at various hospitals, contributed to publications ranging from Behavioral and Brain Sciences (Cambridge University Press) to a textbook used in medical schools and teaching hospitals throughout Spain and Latin America. He’s been featured in major national media, both conventional (e.g., MSNBC, Canada’s CBC-TV, Oprah Radio, CNN, NPR, The Washington Post, Time, Newsweek, The Atlantic, Outside magazine) and Internet-based (e.g., Salon.com, Seed.com, Big Think, and Andrew Sullivan’s Daily Dish blog over a dozen times). He and his work have also appeared in many international newspapers (e.g., The Times of London, Toronto Globe and Mail, Israel’s Ha’aretz, The Sydney Morning Herald, SonntagsBlick) and television (U.S., Spain, Russia, Canada, Australia).

Aug 032012

Do you feel that your partner is somewhat obligated to share their sexual fantasies with you, no matter how vanilla or bizarre? I’d love to know what my wife’s deepest darkest fantasies are but she says she doesn’t have any (ya right). Do you have any advice on getting it out of her, and do you feel like I do, that she sorta owes it to me as her partner and husband of 20yrs? I’ve assured her that nothing she could say would bother or upset me, and that I just want to do go with it and have fun, but she refuses. Is it any of my buisness? Thanks!

Your wife is not “obligated” to do anything. It doesn’t matter if you’ve been married for fifty hours or fifty years, she has the right to reveal her fantasies whenever she wants.

That being said, don’t take her shyness personally. When it comes sharing fantasies, everyone has a different comfort level. Some people love it. Some people hate it. Some people never reveal their fantasies, no matter how open and honest their partnerships. Why? Because, for these folks, fantasy needs to stay in the private world of their sexual imagination in order for it to remain arousing.

Moreover, consider the possibility that your wife may not fully understand her own desires. She may be confused, scared, or overwhelmed by what she wants and/or thinks. Verbalizing and explaining these fantasies may make them seem too real. In other words, she may not be afraid of revealing her desires to you, her husband, but rather, afraid of revealing them to herself.

My advice? Tell her your fantasies. Open up to her the way you want her to open up to you. When you ask her about her fantasies, don’t pressure her into revealing them or scoff if she says she has none. Give her time. Remind her that you would be accepting of anything and everything (that is, if you are accepting of anything and everything. Do not lie.) Most importantly, remember that she is not required to tell you her fantasies. They are her thoughts–not yours.

Got a burning question, problem, dilemma, or issue for our intern? Email intern at puckerup.com.

Abby Spector is a recent graduate of Wesleyan University, where she majored in Feminist/Gender/Sexuality Studies. She is currently interning for Tristan, a job that allows her to write about sex, research feminist porn, and play with dogs (among other, equally awesome things). When she isn’t working, Abby enjoys comfortable nudity and salty foods. Her dream? A world where she could sit around naked and eat overly-salted french fries. Her blog is Sexy Awkward Times.