"Communication is Lubrication"

Photo by Wavebreakmedia/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Wavebreakmedia/iStock / Getty Images

So I was listening to the "Sex with Emily" Podcast the other day (and if you haven't listened to this, it's a must!) and she stated: "...communication is lubrication". This got me thinking. Nearly every couple and individual I work with in sex therapy sessions have difficulty communicating about sex. This can be for several reasons; shame, embarrassment, lack of initiation, fear of rejection or causing a fight, apathy, not feeling like it is necessary, or simply not knowing how to have a healthy convo about sex. But Emily (from Sex with Emily) is right! Once the communication waves get opened up, and conversations begin to happen-> sex improves!

As a society, we never learn how to have conversations about pleasure, desire, sexual issues, fantasy, etc. Most of us were taught that these sorts of conversations were naughty or shameful. So our language and verbal communication skills related to sex are stunted. I often ask clients what they like, how they prefer to be touched, is kissing fun for them, what is their favorite sexual position, etc. The responses I receive are a squeamish, uncomfortable "I don't know..." We know and have no problem sharing what kind of ice cream we like, if we prefer or soft or a firm pillow, what our favorite color is, but when it comes to sex we shy away from truly understanding and communicating what it is that we like and don't like.

And it's not just communication around sex, it is communication as a whole. How many times are you involved in a conversation and instead of truly listening to what your partner is saying you are thinking about how to respond? This is even more obvious in times of conflict. When you and your partner are fighting, do you tend to listen to what they are saying or are you figuring out to be "right"?

When we can slow down, be present and listen to others, we learn. And when our partner slows down, is present and listens to us, we feel heard and validated. Our walls can begin to come down, defenses subside and we can actually communicate with each other.

The first step to improving communication is to work on it in a conflict-free time. Here's how:

  1. Make an appointment with your partner (literally!) "Hi honey. Are you available to talk with me, uninterrupted, in 10 minutes(an hour, tomorrow, next week, etc.)?
  2. Identify the topic you would like to discuss. Try and pick something that is low-stress when first attempting this: " Would it be okay if we talked about our upcoming week schedule?", "Would you be up for talking about the movie we saw last weekend?" The content isn't all that important. It is about carving out time for one another, being collaborative, not combative and to get both of you on the same page (not one person attacking and the other going on the defense).
  3. Once you both agree on the appointed time, subject and location it's a date! Sit down across from one another and make eye contact. Take a moment to connect (maybe take a breath together or hug for a few seconds. Whatever it takes to connect and ease any tensions.
  4. Turn off the TV, put the phones on "Do Not Disturb", make sure you will not be interrupted for at least 10-15 minutes. 
  5. Now take turns talking. No Interrupting. After your partner speaks try and mirror back what they said to you (or at least the gist of it) and ask if you understood them correctly. If they say "yes", have them respond and you mirror them. If you didn't quite understand what they said ask them to repeat it to you and try mirroring it back again. 
  6. Take it slow. This may sound super simple- but we live in a day and age of really poor focus. It can get a bit tedious to slow things down this much, but it works.
  7. Practice makes perfect! Make sure to practice this exercise at least once a week when you are starting out. As you become more comfortable with the exercise you can begin to discuss topics that are a little more conflicting. 

This is an exercise borrowed from Harville Hendrix's Imago Therapy. It is tried and true way of breaking down barriers, melting away anger and creating intimacy in conversation. I use it with all of my couples in sex therapy and relationship counseling, and always see benefits and improvements. Remembering that opening up these communication lines is a foreplay all of its own. When we can talk and connect we are more open to be aroused and experience desire with your partner. If you have further questions about this exercise or anything else relationship or sex-related do not hesitate to contact me through my website

New Year, New... Sex Life

Photo by AlexRaths/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by AlexRaths/iStock / Getty Images

Lose Weight, Get More Sleep, Pay Off My Credit Cards, Drink more Water, Eat Healthier.... Sound familiar? 'Tis the Season, right? How many of you make a New Year's Resolution on January 1st only to find that by February 1st you have already severely disappointed yourself. Maybe the problem isn't you. Maybe the problem is the resolution. Not that any of these things are goals we shouldn't aim to reach, but they aren't exactly fun. What if, this year, you (and your partner) were to make a resolution regarding your relationship- or even your sex life? The following are a few New Years resolution options. Pick and choose. Be creative. And most importantly push yourself out of your comfort zone- because this is where real growth happens.

  1. Focus on giving (and receiving). This is the season for giving and receiving, isn't it? So why not let the holiday spirit spread a little joy in the bedroom. For many of us, receiving pleasure can be an uncomfortable experience. Maybe we were taught (by parents, society, exes, and so on... ) that we weren't supposed to enjoy sex, or there is shame in pleasure. Let me tell you a little secret: pleasure is a human right. Everyone deserves to feel good. Giving yourself permission to pleasure yourself or to allow a partner to make you feel good is such a freeing experience. Relax, breathe and notice what feels pleasurable. If you're with a partner give verbal direction of what feels good and what doesn't. If you're alone take some deep breaths, be present, and notice what feels good to you. Additionally, giving pleasure to a partner can be just as rewarding as receiving. Ask directions. Be curious and have some fun. 
  2. Make time for  sex. Whether you are single, dating or in a committed relationship, or anywhere in between, it is so important to prioritize sex. For many people sex is one of the first things that falls by the wayside when we become busy or stressed with work and  life. Set aside some time to commit to connecting with yourself or a partner. Try carving out 30 minutes a day or an hour a week (whatever you can manage). Switch your phones into "do not disturb" mode. Talk to your partner, or write in a journal. Take turns giving and receiving massages. Take a nice long shower or bubble bath. Whether it leads to an orgasm or not this time spent focused on being mindful will help you feel centered and connected. 
  3. Create space for sex. The concept of setting the scene is such an important yet overlooked element of a great sex life. Its not very sexy to masturbate while you have the 10 o'clock news blaring in the background. Or to make love with your partner with dirty dishes next to the bed. Straighten up your room. Turn off the TV. Light some candles. Put on some sexy music. Try to tap into all of your senses. Is what you are smelling pleasurable to you? Do your sheets feel good against your skin? Is there clutter around the room reminding you of all of the things on your to do list? Take some time and create a sensual setting to increase arousal.
  4. Be open minded. Remember earlier when I said that the space outside of your comfort zone is where the magic happens? Well it's true! Trying something new in the bedroom can help you to build trust with your partner, discover some new things that you can add into your repertoire, and help you to keep learning about yourself (which is the point of life, right?) Whether you like your new endeavor or not, you learn. Try reading some erotica. Explore your fantasies- if you don't have any work on building a fantasy. Buy a deck of sex position cards and play around with some new acrobatics. The worst that can happen is that you won't enjoy it. But maybe you will...

In order to make real change in our lives (no matter how big or small) its important that we have motivation and curiosity regarding our resolution. Entering into a personal contract with resentment and negativity will only set you up for failure. Allow yourself to move towards your goals with inquisitiveness and amazement. Give yourself permission to explore and expand your sex life. Happy New Year!

Monogamy....not monotony

Photo by Ridofranz/iStock / Getty Images

Photo by Ridofranz/iStock / Getty Images

For so many clients that I work with in couples counseling, there seems to be this overarching belief that since they are in a long term, monogamous relationship the sex and passion will fade. "In the beginning we had sex 2 or 3 times a day", "she used to dress up for me, wear sexy lingerie", "we used to have the hottest sex. Anytime. Anywhere". Then after 6 months, a year, 5 years, things become routine, life happens and the hot passionate sex that once was is a distant memory.

So how do we get it back? I think the biggest part of the answer is that you won't. I know, I know- depressing. But hear me out. When we first begin dating someone and falling in love our bodies and brains go into hormone and chemical overload. Listen to CNN: "Researchers concluded that falling in love is much like the sensation of feeling addicted to drugs with the release of euphoria, including brain chemicals like dopamine, oxytocin, adrenaline, and vasopressin".  

We can't live out the rest of our lives drunk and strung out on our significant other. We have to sober up and return to normal life. But this doesn't mean all is lost. We may not have crazy, stupid sex like what we had in the first few months of our relationship, but I think you can have something better. Different, but better. 

ACCEPTANCE. The first step is acceptance. If you are spending your time and energy reminiscing about what she used to be or how he used to act you are setting yourself up for disappointment. Acceptance of how things are in their current state is the first stage of growth and change. "Currently my wife and I have routine, predictable sex"... Now we have a baseline from which to grow. 

CHANGE. Understanding, and celebrating the fact that as human beings we change- we grow! These are good things. And just like us, our sex lives can mature and get smarter. With age and maturity we become more level headed and gain more insight and perspective. Hopefully, we stop being so self-involved and begin to gain self-love and self-compassion. Through kindness and gentleness towards yourself and your other, an environment of erotic safety can grow. As a couple, turn towards one another with love and curiosity instead of moving away due to fear or lack of communication around sex. 

CREATIVITY. Next, we have to get creative. Within the realm of a safe and secure relationship we have the luxury of being able to explore and experiment without the risk of losing the person. Exploring your fantasies- find out what you like, because if you don't know there is no way that your partner will know.  Make a sexual/ intimacy bucket list together. Visit a sex store together and explore in a light-hearted, nonjudgmental way. Buy a book on different sexual positions and experiment. Immerse yourself in all thing sexual and sensual and see what you like!

PERSPECTIVE. And lastly, its all in your head! Remember, our brain is our largest and most powerful sex organ. Changing your perspective regarding your current situation can make all of the difference. It may be having sex with the same person for the rest of your life (Glass Half Empty). But remembering that there is newness in every experience (Glass Half Full). Every breath we take is different from the one before. Through the use of mindfulness (staying present in each moment), we can begin to experience and relish the new delight in each experience. Continue to explore each others bodies as if it were the first time. Explore your own body, it has changed since yesterday. Approaching your love life with fresh eyes (and minds) allows you to find novelty in daily life. 

Working through this issue instead of rolling over and accepting that this is just what happens in long term relationships is so important. Take ownership of the current situation and make some changes. I have worked with so many couples in sex therapy that have reported that their sex life is so much better now than it was at the beginning of their relationship. With a little work, creativity and communication you and your partner can have a better sex life now than ever before.

Desire Discrepancy- My wife won't have sex with me anymore!

I would say probably 80% of all the calls I receive are regarding some sort of desire discrepancy: "He wants to have sex all the time! It's not normal", "She never wants to have sex", "He never initiates anymore", "She used to love having sex when we first got together, now nothing..." The subject of wives not wanting to have sex with their husbands has become so commonplace in our society that it is joked about on the radio, in movies and on nearly every sitcom. But even though it seems to be a common occurrence, and often laughed off,  there is a lot of hurt, frustration, guilt and anger that arises due to these sexual disagreements. (I am generalizing here, because I do see some couples where the wife has more sexual desire than the husband, or in same sex couples there is the lack of an initiator, etc. But the majority of what I see is when the wife has lower desire than the husband, so that is what I will speak to.)

When clients come to see me for sex therapy or marriage counseling it tends to be after several months or years of bitterness, resentment and unresolved anger. The couple I see across from me in my office look more like strangers than marital partners. And this is where my work begins. Having couples talk and explain  what it was like when they first met- what attracted them to one another, what made them so special. This is when I can get a idea of where this couple wants to go. Take a moment and remember what it was like to see your partner for the first time. Do you remember that moment you knew you were falling in love with them? What was it that sexually attracted you to them?

Throughout a marriage there are so many transitional periods that we tend to let the relationship go on autopilot so we can pay attention to "the important things": "Jimmy has the flu", "I have to work late so I can be considered for this promotion", "I am tired", Facebook, emails, cell phone calls, and so on and so forth. The day to day tasks take precedence over the intimacy and eroticism of the relationship. How can our sex lives be passionate and romantic when we barely even have time or energy for a conversation?

A common complaint that I often hear from wives is that they don't see or hear from their partner all day (or if they do it is to handle planning or logistics). "My husband comes home from work, "zones out" (insert mind-numbing activity: has a drink/ plays on his phone/ plays video games/ watches TV) and then later on in the night he tries to initiate sex. Most of the time this approach leads to resentful sex, disconnected sex, or no sex at all. Listen up husbands! foreplay is not the 5 minutes of heavy petting right before sex. Foreplay starts the minute you wake up a week before you expect sex. Women need to be warmed up, connected and to feel safe and loved in order to feel ready to open herself up for sex. Sending that sweet text during the day, picking up the dry cleaning, helping out with some of the mundane household tasks- this is foreplay. 

That being said, ladies, you have to take some responsibility for you desire (or lack there of ) as well. Women, generally have much lower levels of desire naturally (due to less testosterone), so you need to be taking advantage  the small, little, sometimes nonexistent spark that does occur. Do a little self-exploration and see what you can do throughout the day to turn yourself on. Read erotica (I always assign "My Secret Garden" by Nancy Friday). Watch a sexy movie. Wear something that makes you feel sexy. Stimulate yourself. You may not be able to experience spontaneous arousal, but you can work at creating arousal on your own so that you have something to offer yourself and your partner when you're finally collapse into bed together at the end of the day.

You can have sex without intimacy or connection, but it won't be very good sex. Working on connecting with each other outside of the bedroom can help prime both of you for the moments when sex is possible. Remind yourself why you love this person, why you want to be with this person and how important it is to show them. So send that sexy text, hug them for a little bit longer, whisper something sweet in their ear. It will be worth it- I promise!