When “the spark” is missing, is it sexual or emotional? Laurie Watson has advice for married couples.
I asked my husband what men would like to hear about. He responded that men wanted to know the bra trick and probably how to get her interested and how to make it good for her—they wanted someone with a manual to share the important secrets. Here are five tips to help.
1. Romance opens her heart and eventually her legs.
When you think about a Thanksgiving feast, you probably think about snitching crisp turkey skin right off the bird straight out the oven, creamy mashed potatoes dripping with gravy, luscious spicy pumpkin pie mounded with whipped cream, and eating so much you have to loosen the belt.
Chances are your wife has already started to plan that delicious menu. She likes to eat, too. But she’s also thinking about her guest list — how to keep Aunt Suzie from dominating poor nephew Allen. She’s wondering about which single woman she can invite to the growing table that might make a match for her single brother. Pottery Barn catalogs are being pored over as she plans her own table settings. This year’s centerpiece will be the piece de resistance. Candles have already made the shopping list so everything will be perfect.
My point is while you may be thinking about eating, your wife is thinking about the whole ritual of the day, the romance of the gathering—connection, beauty, and light. You’ve heard it a million times: be romantic. It’s tired advice. Tired but true. But you don’t know why anyone would bother with the trimmings when there’s a feast ahead; doesn’t matter to you if it’s on china or a paper plate.
Women like to feel deeply connected before they turn on sexually. The setting, the build-up, the relationship all work together to make the moment work for her. These things do matter to her.
Women complain to me in therapy that their husbands never call when they’re at work. Right, I tell them as I defend you. That’s because he’s thinking of work. Men compartmentalize to the task at hand. Women think more like the web—everything links to everything. It works against us when the task at hand is sex and we can’t let go of the cares of the day. Compartmentalizing works for you when it comes to sex because you can focus and enjoy, but it works against you when it comes to providing some forethought to the moment.
Flowers sitting on the counter provide relational constancy for a woman. Object constancy is a developmental milestone. When you hide the ball behind your back and your baby remembers and tries to find it; he has achieved object constancy. He remembers the ball when it disappears. Relational constancy means we feel secure even if our partner is absent or preoccupied. Gifts and flowers are like transitional objects standing in for your presence. You go to work, travel, get busy, and she remembers you still love her. “He does think of me when he’s away from me.” You get points when you’re not even there. Romance proves forethought.
Romance is like exercise. If you jog in the morning it doesn’t mean you won’t have a heart attack that night. Romance doesn’t mean: I brought you flowers, so I should get sex tonight. Exercise creates a healthy body. Romance creates a healthy romantic backdrop for a woman’s responsiveness. It’s a tactical, practical thing you can do that adds to her feelings of connection.
2. Personalize the ask.
Make it about her, not about being horny. Forget the bump and cup. If she likes to be touched first, start generic. As far as verbal suggestions, “Do you want to have sex?” leaves women cold. “Mmmm,” they think, “do I want to have sex…uh, no.” It’s the wrong question. If fact, initiation shouldn’t be a question, it should be a statement of what you want.
Look her in the eyes. Tell her she’s beautiful. Tell her you want to make love to her. It’s so much more personal than, “what about tonight?” or “are you in the mood?” or “wanna do it?” Women can think that all men want is sex. Show her that all you want is her. Be vulnerable instead of nonchalant.
Maybe this seems like splitting hairs. You think she should know you want her. Seemingly no matter what you do, initiation results in the same answer—no. But all things have to work together. You can’t only concentrate on the turn of your golf swing. You’ve also to have the right grip and keep your eye on the ball. Marshal all these sex tips for a coordinated effort. Think about creating a climate verses an event.
3. She’ll be coming ‘round (or up) the mountain when she comes.
From a dead start (i.e. weeknight sex), women take about 40 minutes to get to the peak sexually. They take about 20 minutes of very general caressing to change from willing to have sex to wanting to have sex. Then, they take another 20 minutes of genital stimulation to reach orgasm. If you rush her, she’ll conclude it’s not her night and tell you to go ahead. Usually this is unsatisfying to men because they want a responsive partner. Almost every woman I’ve ever talked to thinks she takes too long. Compared to you she takes a very long time.
Her hormonal funding of testosterone, a hormone in both men and women that governs physiological craving for sex, can be as low as 100th of yours. Think about weightlifting with and without steroids. You can do everything that your buddy does curl for curl, but if he’s on steroids his rate of build is going to be much higher. A man’s normal testosterone levels are 300-1,000 ng/dL serum blood. Parents of teenage girls are afraid of the 1,000 level, and at 300, a guy often seeks a sex therapist for low desire. At 300, he won’t have morning erections, he struggles even with Viagra, will think about sex about once a week, and if he has a fight with his wife he won’t want it. A woman’s testosterone level is about 70 ng/dL when she is 18 and half that when she is 40 if she’s lucky. Her experience in her body is markedly different that your experience. While we may process testosterone differently and there are also measurements that are even more sensitive, this is the primary reason you crave sex and she doesn’t. She likes it, she needs it but she only knows that once she’s having it. Testosterone also governs her rate of arousal.
4. Suggest new techniques, positions, and fantasies when she’s halfway up the mountain.
If you’re a sexual pursuer, you like to improve things. You probably have fantastic ideas about how to spice sex up. And you’ve probably been shot down a time or two (or hundred). The best time to suggest something new is not on the car ride home but after she is very aroused. At that point her modesty is lower, her inhibition has dropped, and she is the most open to your suggestion.
You can help by not lording it over her in the morning debrief. Don’t say, “Wow, I knew you’d really like x if I could ever talk you into it.” Instead, be reassuring. Say, “That was fantastic last night.” Leave the details until the next time she’s halfway up the mountain. For some reason, some women experience shame when their vulnerable experimentation if recounted. You’d be wise to get her to talk about it only when she’s aroused.
Women are often socialized to be the brakes, not the engine, of sexual desire.1 My female clients often tell me about their spouses’ ideas. Many of your ideas include acts, positions, or fantasies about things they would be willing to try. Unfortunately, they are afraid that one thing might lead to another—meaning one deviation from the norm might lead to deviancy.
Reassure her of your own boundaries so that she will relax. If you want to tell her your fantasies but know that they will always remain in fantasy only (i.e., they are things you would never do)—say so. If you know you have fantasies that she would never consent to, prove you know her and say that. Tell her you respectfully submit the ideas for exploration in fantasy only. The exception to my above advice: don’t push against known sensibilities or moral views at a time when she’s aroused. She will stop trusting to let down her guard and become aroused with you. Those discussions should take place outside the bedroom.
5. Know 20 different touch techniques.
The difference between a professional massage and a husband’s in-front-of-the-TV-back-rub are pretty stark. The masseuse works each side of the back with perfect symmetry. Every muscle is kneaded. Touches are measured and planned to deepen relaxation. There is enough repetition for the recipient to rest and enough change to keep it interesting.
Similarly, a man needs to know and be able to stimulate a woman’s genitals with knowledge and intention. He should know each part with lights on and with a reach in the dark. Because the woman’s genitals change during arousal, he should know the particulars for those changes: color, engorgement, erectile tissue, lubrication. A good lover has at least 20 different touches to use. The two primary variants are pressure and friction and a combination of the two.
Because 19 of them may not work on a particular night given her menstrual cycle, level or tiredness or alertness, bloating or not—your wife should guide you with lots of feedback about what works and doesn’t. Ask her to give you a number on a scale of one to five rather than “that feels good.” You may find that one touch that took her to the moon one night never works again. Not your fault. You may find that she only wants the same ole’ touch over and over. Not your fault. You may find that you are almost out of options. Not your fault. She is the only one who can know what feels good at any given moment. Know only two or three touches or rush the process? Then, the lack of progress might be your fault.
Gentle encouragement to tell you her preferences will help. Don’t think you know what works. You can’t know. You shouldn’t feel criticized if she redirects you. If you have many touches in your repertoire, the odds increase that you can please her even when she is having a tough night relaxing. Do research different touches orally and manually in sex books. Do research live on her with a night set aside for learning. Tell her you want nothing in return that night—only to learn how to please her. Porn is an unrealistic teacher of technique often emphasizing intercourse. As I’ve said in many previous blogs: most women don’t climax from intercourse. Only 15 to 20 percent do; but 100 percent of ambulatory disease-free women can climax from adequate clitoral stimulation (read: at least 20 minutes once aroused) Please do see fellow PT bloggers Michael Castleman’s excellent book Great Sex or Paul Joannides’ Guide to Getting It On!
This article originally appeared at Psychology Today.