Relationship therapists everywhere have been digesting the conversation started a few months ago by Daniel Bergner about female desire. As in sexual desire. As in libido.
We've been as eye-opened as the rest.
Since we started seeing clients, and for as long as we've been talking to women (a very long time), we have been struck by what seems to be a trend of restlessness. Women in particular, in solid marriages or long-term relationships, have been complaining that something is lacking.
That something, most often, is passion.
Bergner's book, What Do Women Want? Adventures in the Science of Female Desire, makes us look at women's lust and libido in a whole new way. As it turns out, women's desire can start to wane between one and four years of being with the same partner. The waning factor being the committed relationship, being monogamy. Really. It's backed up by research. In fact, Bergner even wonders if "monogamy's cure" may lie in the development of a female libido pill which would "reach into the psyche."
No longer can we therapists insist that all you need is trust and communication to rekindle that fire. Emotional closeness may bring security, but it may also be dousing the flames of desire.
At 3view, we ascribe to attachment theories for couples counselling. We believe in the mainstream view that healthy relationships depend on closeness, empathy, intimacy, and trust. And yet, we also believe that healthy relationships require a balance of passion and stability.
So, this may be one of the greatest conundrums a couple can face. How to have a stable and secure relationship, and keep the passion alive? How to become a family (with or without children) and yet remain lovers?
Bergner cites research that shows "women who don't live with their partners retain their desire much more than women who do." As therapists we see this more as a clue than a recommendation. Sure, it works for some couples to live apart. But for many others, this is not the solution. Just as popping a pill for desire may not be the answer either.
Further research, understanding, and shifts in our culture's acceptance of women's sexual desire, will shed more light on this delicate balance in relationships. For those couples who have found their own keys to passion, or who prefer to bask in their rock-solid stability, keep it up. For the rest of you, we have gathered research, clues, and client feedback for some practical ways to stay hot and heavy:
1. Try new activities or experiences together. If you have children, get a babysitter once a week. Studies have shown that sharing an activity that is novel and exciting can increase your sense of passion.
2. Fight the urge to use pet names or speak to your lover in a way that turns them into something cute, like a child or pet or teddybear. Remind your partner how sexy or hot or desirable he or she is.
3. Kiss on the mouth regularly, during sex and at other times.
4. Have separate bathrooms, if possible. If you have to share, don't use it at the same time for functional purposes, like brushing teeth. Sexy candle-lit baths and showers are OK... actually, better than OK.
5. Have separate closets, if possible. Either way, get dressed in private, except when you deliberately want to strip in front of your lover. Keep some of the mystery and unfamiliarity alive.
6. Plan to meet at a restaurant or date venue, rather than going there together. You did that at the beginning before you lived together and when you still had knots of excitement in your stomach.
7. If you can afford it, hire a housecleaner. You can spend your Sunday afternoons in bed rather than arguing over who vacuums the living room.
8. Maintain healthy boundaries with family and in-laws. You can still have a healthy relationship with your relatives without you and your lover becoming siblings.
9. Try not to spend every evening together. Go out and give each other space. Distance and space can increase longing. Remember Brokeback Mountain?
10. Remember the efforts you made for your lover at the beginning, especially around grooming and self-care. Those pyjamas with the worn-out hole in them may be really comfortable -- and even cute the first time you wore them. They're not hot.
11. Sometimes forget making love. Have sex. Scratch each others' backs. Pull each others' hair. Share fantasies. Forget for an hour or two all the daily demands, the mess in the kitchen, the heap of bills, and making children's lunches. Go a little wild.
12. Go on vacations together, alone. Even if you have children, try and get away for a night or two, or longer. Explore a new city. Wear provocative swimwear on a beach. Drink local wine. Sleep in a new bed. Have an adventure.
According to Dr. Jennifer Berman, co-founder of the Female Sexual Medicine Center at UCLA, orgasms increase your circulation, keeping the blood flowing to your genital area. This in turn keeps your tissue healthy!
Although it can't be considered an alternative to daily exercise, having an orgasm is a cardiovascular activity. "Your heart rate increases, blood pressure increases [and your] respiratory rate increases," says Berman. And because it's akin to running in many physiological respects, your body also releases endorphins. Sounds like a pretty fun way to work your heart out.
Feeling down in the dumps? An orgasm might be just what you need to pick yourself up. In addition to endorphins, dopamine and oxytocin are also released during orgasm. All three of these hormones have what Berman terms "mood-enhancing effects." In fact, dopamine is the same hormone that's released when individuals use drugs such as cocaine -- or eat something really delicious.
A little pleasure may go a long way towards a good night's rest. A recent survey of 1,800 women found that over 30 percent of them used sexual release as a natural sedative.
Having an orgasm not only works out your heart, but also your head. Barry Komisaruk, Ph.D. told Cosmopolitan that orgasms actually nourish the brain with oxygen. "Functional MRI images show that women's brains utilize much more oxygen during orgasm than usual," Komisaruk says.
One thing that Victorian practitioners may have been onto is that orgasms can work to soothe certain aches and pains -- namely migraines and menstrual cramps. (So now you know what to do next time you have a headache if you don't feel like popping an Excedrin.) According to Berman, the contractions that make up an orgasm can actually work to evacuate blood clots during your period, providing some temporary relief.
Most of our lives are so hectic that it's hard to even imagine being relaxed. However, it turns out that sexual release can double as stress relief. Not only do the hormones help with this task, Berman says that being sexual also gives our minds a break: "When we're stressed out and overextending ourselves, [we're] not being in the moment. Being sexual requires us to focus on one thing only."
There actually might be something to the idea that we "glow" after sex. The hormone DHEA (dehydroepiandrosterone), which shows increased levels during sexual excitement, can actually make your skin healthier.
Last but not least, when you know what it takes to make yourself orgasm, you may increase your emotional confidence and intelligence. "When you understand how your body works and ... [that it] is capable of pleasure on its own, regardless of your partner status, you make much better decisions in relationships," says Logan Levkoff, Ph.D., a sexologist and certified sexuality educator. "You don't look to someone else to legitimize that you're a sexual being."