Yesterday Elizabeth Bernstein took me to task on Twitter. Bernstein writes the “Bonds” column for the Wall Street Journal. Truth be told, she is one of my favorite columnists.
On Tuesday I wrote a post about her most recent column, a column about how to resolve relationship issues. As it happened, I took issue with much of the advice that Bernstein had gleaned from “experts.”
Given that our colloquy took place on Twitter, it was, to say the least truncated. You may access it at @EBernsteinWSJ or at @SASchneiderman.
Thus, I will take the occasion of this post to clarify and elaborate my ideas on one of the questions. Evidently, I could barely do so on Twitter. And, to be perfectly honest, my post on the topic was somewhat dashed off.
In response to the question of how a man can persuade his wife to have more sex, one of the experts recommended more talk about sex. I responded with the following:
Even those of you who are not experts know well that women do not like to talk about sex. And you probably also know that women are turned off by explicit and graphic references to sex.
If you think that women are turned on by discussions of fellatio, fetishes and lube… you do not know very many women.
That might be the reason why she no longer wants to give it up for you.
To which Bernstein replied that, indeed women do like to talk about sex and that within a good relationship talking about sex can be an aphrodisiac.
She added that I might have missed the point because women do not talk about sex with male therapists. They might be saving the conversation for more appropriate times and places.
For my part, having practiced psychoanalysis and psychotherapy for decades, I have always found that women are generally modest when it comes to talking about sex.
I suggested that perhaps the current vogue—assuming that it is such—of women talking about sex has something to do with cultural trends… the influence of Sex and the City, for example.
I might have added that the pervasive presence of pornography has made talking dirty to be more acceptable.
I would add that the current pornification of sexual experience might well have turned off some women from sex altogether.
Of course, I admit that some women do like to talk about sex. And some women talk about sex with their partners because they have been told that they should be doing so.
And surely, happy couples might well decide to enhance their sexual experience by trying out new things… even discussing them in advance.
Perhaps this proves Bernstein’s point. In my defense I would note that the question raised in her column concerned husbands who were frustrated that they were not getting enough sex. One of her experts works with couples where there is no sex at all.
One suspects that these couples are not involved in the kinds of relationships where they can easily broach a conversation that presumed sexual inadequacy.
When a man who is unsatisfied with his sex life broaches the topic, his wife will naturally assume that she is being criticized, even rejected. She might even believe that she is being told to do what he wants or else. She might feel that he is threatening to look for what he wants elsewhere.
One might say that he ought to bring up these issues tactfully, but, truth be told, very few males are really that good at tact. Moreover, however considerate he is, he does not control her reaction.
Even if we accept that modern women do talk about sex, I am not at all convinced that they like doing so.
Most women, when they talk about erotic matters, talk about intimacy and love making. I do not think that these are euphemisms. I believe that for women sexual experience must be meaningful. It must be about more than sex. When sex is reduced to the mechanics or to organs and orifices, I believe that women will eventually turn off of it.
For all I know, sexless marriages are the consequence of too much graphic, explicit talk about sex.
The question requires some further elaboration.
For instance, in some cases the marriages are sexless. But, in others, the men are complaining because they do not have enough sex. Men say they want more, but more than what? Are they being shut out completely or do they believe that they deserve or are entitled to have as much sex as they want.
One has, by dint of experience, heard of numerous cases where men had an active sex life but did not believe that their sex life was active enough.
Is there something abnormal about this? Should women be talked into having sex as much as men want it? Or ought men accept having less sex?
It might well be the case that their wives are having all of the sex that they want and are happy with their sex lives. It might even be the case that said women are happy to feel desired all the time.
One suspects that, however much women like sex they do not, under normal circumstances, want to have it as often or as much as men do.
In some cases, of course, women are completely turned off to sex. Assuming that there is no medical issue, I believe that a man whose wife has turned off of sex should ask himself whether he has not contributed to the situation.
If he has spent time complaining about how little sex he gets or if he has tried to bully her into having sex when she is not exactly in the mood, her diminished libido might well be his just reward.
Or else, bullying behavior about matters that have nothing to do with sex might produce similar circumstances.
One recalls Dr. Freud, a man who complained that the sex had gone out of his marriage when he was relatively young. It is altogether possible that a man who made it therapeutic for women to talk openly and honestly about sex never had a conversation on the topic with his wife.
But, if we ask why Frau Freud lost interest in her husband sexually, we would note, as I did in my new book The Last Psychoanalyst, that her husband had forbade her, a pious Jewish woman, from lighting Sabbath candles throughout their long marriage. For that she had notably called her husband a monster, an Unmensch.
Could it be that Freud’s bullying tactic cost him his sex life? Being forbidden to light the Sabbath candles, Martha Freud felt no inclination to light her husband’s fire.
One might add that Freud also forced his wife to put the toothpaste on his toothbrush every night of their marriage. Do you believe that this bedtime bullying might have had an influence on Martha Freud’s libido?
Haven’t all men been taught that, for women, there’s more to sex than sex? Haven’t all men been taught that, for women, sex must be more than going bump in the night?
If men want more sex, they should try being more considerate, more tactful, more respectful.
A man who complains that he does not get any oral or anal sex might find some magic words that will persuade his wife to undertake to please him. But, he might also accept that, when it comes to sex, his wife’s predilections and preferences must be respected. And her wish for less frequent sex should also be respected.
Trying to bully a woman into doing something that she does not want to do--even succeeding in getting her to do it--is not a formula for a good sex life.