By Alison Pilling, sex coach and writer
Let’s say – for the sake of argument – you’re a good communicator and a “good enough” wife. You’ve articulated your hopes, desires, and frustrations on countless occasions, yet nothing is changing. Your relationship is “good enough” but you’re missing the erotic charge you used to have? You‘ll have tried a few things: trips to lingerie shops, date nights, mini-breaks, gifts. Even counseling. You’re close yet not close enough. You love each other but you need a breakthrough to rekindle the spark, connect in bed and rediscover your desire for each other. And to find your own erotic and playful nature again.
This is a very familiar and common issue. You’re far from alone. Whilst we’re all encouraged to communicate, what if that’s just Groundhog Day? Sometimes, it’s new information that’s needed, not more talking or new knickers. Learning what to do when the clothes come off is key. Showing up for love and sex takes some time and new input. Time to put aside the distractions of domesticity and the passion killers of kids, television, sport, phones, endless busyness.
In her book, Mating In Captivity, Esther Perel talks of love being created by time spent together and desire by time apart. And this helps to answer the million-dollar question “How do we create love and desire in long-term relationships?’ Seeing our partners anew as “the other” rather than the person we load the dishwasher with. Recreating the ‘separation’ by finding newness in each. How do we do that so sex isn’t like household chores, but sparky and alive with energy and meaning?
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Finding the jump leads in the bedroom helps the mystery which revitalizes the longing for connection. Like when someone has been away the sense of missing them increases the delight of the return. Both being willing to learn about relationships and try new approaches is key. Reaching for a sex toy, a mini-break, an affair with the gardener or a swingers club might work, though each carries varying degrees of high vibe and high risk.
The three most successful things I’ve discovered are first learning about the body through skilled mutual touch, second, a practical tool called the Wheel of Consent, and third the Enneagram which helps us understand and accept more about each other’s personality and behavior. If I was to write a modern-day marriage manual these 3 things would take up most of the pages.
These 3 together strengthen love, ignite desire and give a greater understanding of persistent relational issues. They broaden the range of what’s interesting, what’s possible, and what’s absolutely delightful. For women in any long-term relationship, getting more interested in what’s possible in your bedroom isn’t altruism, it’s self-interest. You have to hang out with this man for the rest of your life if you’re lucky.
So if you’re smart and interested in fulfilling connected sexual pleasure in your life, you might find it’s fun to take the initiative. Let’s not leave it to the men. They don’t know this stuff either as they got conditioned too, but in a different way to you. Just because male sexuality is the version that generally runs society, that’s no reason for it to be true in your bedroom.
None of us went to sex school. As most of us haven’t been touched with much skill or finesse in our lives, we have little idea how wonderful touch can contribute to our sense of safety and sexiness. Although we might think other things are our problem, such as libido differences, inexperience, body image, past traumas, or lack of self and sexual confidence, learning about good touch can cut through all of these.
Often women switch off and say nothing because it’s just been years of the same old boring thing. They feel they can do nothing about it as they have no idea what to say or do or what to do to change it to. And men withdraw, feeling shame around sexual desire yet having nowhere to take it. Sadness sets in.
The gap in the bed widens and a beautiful place where you used to connect disappears. It can be bewildering. Blaming your partner is easy but doesn’t help. You created it together. The partner with the least desire for intimacy actually controls it, yet it’s a hollow power.
The good news is you can solve it together with a bit of focus, practice, and love. I hear talk about the Orgasm Gap. What I’m more interested in is how we break through the ‘Touch Skills’ gap in our education?
If you can’t imagine it, you can’t ask for it. So learning to feel what good, slow, skilled touch really really helps. Understanding how different kinds of touch can be healing, nurturing, sensual or erotic increases variety, connection, technique, and confidence.
Learning how to feel more and more varied pleasure gets you off the kissing, oral sex, penetration production line. All of those can be included of course, though the magic is when you develop a wider repertoire to choose from as your touch skills build. As does trust and curiosity and love.
The second, The Wheel of Consent is like jump leads for couples. It’s a new model for understanding enthusiastic consent, what’s going wrong, and how to put it right. And it makes life in and out of the bedroom so much clearer. It turns the whole commonly understood ideas of giving and receiving inside out, by asking the seemingly simple question “Who’s it for?”
We’ve all been in that position when someone says they want to ‘give’. And felt a bit icky about not really wanting it yet doing it anyway. Oral sex might an interesting example here. You hadn’t actually asked for it, what you actually wanted was the dishwasher unloading before you got naked!
What we all know but find difficult to express without seeming ungrateful, is that really it was them who wanted it all along. After all, they suggested it. I’ve been given bicycles and butt plugs and bins that I haven’t asked for. Moisturiser would have been a better gift, though actually, the posh kitchen bin is great, it‘s the only gift that got used more than twice.
It’s a really common issue but something of a mystery to solve because ‘giving is good’? Right? And we should be grateful. My instinct is this is key to why women quietly switch off. But what we do about it in marriages and long-term relationships with people we love in so many other ways is so important. Switching off just makes it the elephant in the bedroom. Flapping its ears.
The first key is owning your desire about what you want for you is and learning what feels nice for you, because often with our limited experience we think we don’t really know. Actually, we do, but we often don’t know how to hear our body or express that.
Another key is to understand the distinction between wanting and willing. The first is for you, the second is for your partner. Both are good as long as you know that you can say No to anything. And instead of pretending it’s for you, once a partner owns and shows their desire, life can get a lot more interesting. You are no longer just giving each other a pair of socks.
Lastly and possibly slightly off at a tangent, It’s possible to learn more about each other’s personalities with The Enneagram. What you can change and what needs to be accepted. Did you know we’re not all the same and your partner does weird things just to annoy you?. No really?! That was a surprise to me too.
Until I met the Enneagram I thought human beings were broadly the same. Because as at heart we are all longing for love, connection, freedom, and security, I just thought previous partners were wrong because they didn’t believe or want what I wanted. Yet in that search for those basic human needs, we each do that in some many ways, subconsciously motivated by our individual early situations and beliefs.
Understanding these differences and similarities through The Enneagram of 9 personality types can lead to more warmth, appreciation, and insight, and instead of bickering over persistent differences, they can be kindly included.
Sometime’s it’s good to leave a relationship, I’m friends with most of my exes, as the Enneagram offered insight into why we loved each other and why it was good to leave. I wasn’t married so arguably it’s more straightforward.
But if you are and you want to stay happy with the man you picked all those years ago and get even closer, this will help you understand each other more, not least by not taking things so personally.
Keeping love and desire, security and adventure, individuality and merging may seem like paradoxes. Yet they keep relationships embodied, alive and interesting. Enjoy holding and exploring the tension of opposites. Let sex connect you. Do it for you.
Alison Pilling is a sex coach, writer and so much more! Her focus is on helping couples and individuals explore their sensuality, sexuality, and relationships. She believes this is a vital part of our lives which is at heart, a spiritual journey, a search for connection with self and others. Reclaiming and enjoying our sexuality is possible and however tricky, heartbreaking, or exciting, it’s ultimately an expansion of the self and soul. To find out more go to www.sexschoolforgrownups.com