Advice on men, sex, and love.
My boyfriend and I have been dating for two years and we intend to get married someday. Our sex life used to be great, but it has become boring. I find myself wondering if I can sustain monogamy for a lifetime, even though that’s what I want to do. Help!
Bored in Boston
Dear Bored in Boston,
Way back in 1995 a researcher named Jack Morin, PhD surveyed hundreds of people, gay and straight, and essentially answered the question:
“What is hot?”
His findings can be summarized by the following equation:
ATTRACTION + OBSTACLES = EXCITEMENT
That sounds like the tired plot line of every Hollywood romantic comedy but also describes universal themes about what makes sex more exciting. If “obstacles” are sexy and a long term monogamous relationship tends to eliminate them, how do you maintain the excitement over the years? The answer is through exploration of fantasy with your partner. Fantasy allows the familiar to become new. This is not easy for many people to do. Your partner has great power to hurt you. We risk being belittled for our fantasies, or having them ignored. That’s why poor communication skills often lead to poor sex.
RESEARCH SHOWS: THIS IS HOT
Morin’s research revealed that most of us have a “core erotic theme”. He identified four common themes that he called “The Four Cornerstones of Eroticism:” They are:
This is why “naughty” can be such a turn on for so many people. Fantasy can release us from our own moral constraints and taboos. And fortunately, unlike real life, there is little chance anyone can get hurt.
“Searching for Power”
Power can be very affirming for both partners. Through his or her excitement, the more dominant partner demonstrates that the more submissive partner is desirable. And the more submissive partner shows the irresistible erotic power of the aggressor.
“Longing and Anticipation”
The experience of longing is why crushes are so powerful. The feeling of anticipation makes foreplay exciting. Both explain why sex with your partner can be better after he or she has been out of town for a while. It also explains why for some people an affair can be an aphrodisiac, since it involves longing for one who isn’t available.
Some people draw and repel us at the same time. Ambivalent attractions refuse to be limited by logic or reason. That’s why some people are attracted to partners who may hold values they abhor.
HOW TO TALK ABOUT SEX
Approach conversations about sex with a spirit of fun. After all, the whole point of sex is to create something enjoyable. You wouldn’t try to create a great party or a wonderful vacation by starting with a litany of complaints. You would attempt to stay positive. The same approach works well with sex. Tell your partner, with verbal as well as non-verbal cues, when he or she is doing something you like. Don’t bring up sexual issues when either one of you is in a bad mood or distracted. Talk about sex when you are having a good time together, like over a good dinner. If the thought of talking about your fantasies seems impossible, consider sending your partner a written plot line or a web link to a video or erotic story that you like.
There are few topics that can invoke guilt and shame faster than the subject of sexuality. Each of us, straight or non-straight, gets a hefty dose of shaming messages about sex from centuries of cultural beliefs.
Hopefully Morin’s research can help you reduce your own shame quotient by understanding that your sexuality has a lot in common with almost everyone else on the planet.
When it comes to sex, the answer to the question “Am I normal?” is usually “yes.”
Read last month’s column here.