Desire’s Demise

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The Embrace by Egon Schiele

It must be time to spice things up with a hot topic I’ve never written about before. Now I’m no a sex therapist, but recently, three different clients, all beautiful and bright thirty-something women, started their sessions saying,  I’m s-o-o-o embarrassed, the words sticking in their throats. Uncanny! I thought. There must be something in the water. All raised an issue with sexual desire; all were terrified that the flames of passion were dying out and would never return again.

It’s all right; you’re not alone! I said encouragingly, the words sticking in my throat. Could I truly help these women given my lack of clinical training on the subject? I listened compassionately all the while wracking my brain for some useful information other than personal experience. I felt like a game show contestant on Jeopardy trying to come up with the right question before the clock ran out. Ticktock, ticktock…got it. Whew! Who is Esther Perel?

You might not have heard of her. I hadn’t, until another client, an enlightened 30-something dude (who’d actually make a terrific therapist) raved about Perel’s new podcast titled, Where Should We Begin? I googled her after his session. Ge’ez! Her TED Talk, The Secret of Desire in a Long Term Relationship, had over 10 million views. She must be a phenomenal speaker, I thought, and come to find out, she is. Funny, too!

To give you a preview, Perel explains how love and desire both relate and conflict. According to Perel, “Love seeks safety and security, whereas desire thrives on the unknown and unexpected. Both are essential to everlasting love.” states Perel, but she warns that, “Too much we and not enough me can surely extinguish the flames.”

She surveyed people in 20 different countries, asking: “When do you find yourself most drawn to your partners? Not attracted sexually, per se, but most drawn?” Their answers were universal:

  • When she is away, when we are apart, when we reunite. Basically, when I get back in touch with my ability to imagine myself with my partner, when my imagination comes back in the picture, and when I can root it in absence and in longing, which is a major component of desire.
  • When I see him in the studio, when she is onstage, when he’s in his element, when she’s doing something she’s passionate about, when I see him at a party and other people are really drawn to him, when I see her hold court (think Dany in Game of Thrones;) Basically, when I look at my partner as radiant and confident.

Now some believe (incluing some researchers) that men don’t have problems with sexual desire no matter how long they’ve been in a relationship. Could that be why my 30-something babes were freaking out? Bunk! Says Kristen Mark, a sex researcher at the University of Kentucky. Mark’s research found that desire has a natural ebb and flow in both men and women. “The longer the relationship goes on the lower the desire gets in men just as it does in women,” states Mark.

So what to do when the ebbs come and flows go? In addition to Perel’s suggestion of creating a sense of longing, Mark’s research points to the following strategies: communicate, even if uncomfortable, focus on meeting your partner’s needs, have sex without desire, and have patience / let time work out the problem. In addition, schedule sex, wear sexy lingerie, and put date night back on your calendar, especially if you can’t remember the last time you enjoyed an amorous evening, a mellow morning, or an intoxicating afternoon with your partner.

Most importantly, remember you’re not alone. Why else would a  TED Talk on sexual desire get over 10 million hits. Here’s the link once again: The Secret of Desire in a Long Term Relationship It’s a perfect activity for date night, that is, before enjoying something even better 😉

 

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