Tuesday, May 29, 2012

Talking Sex: Will It Fix a Sexless Marriage

The sexual revolution has come and stayed. We know more about sex, are more aware of sex, talk more about sex and are more exposed to sex than any group in the history of the human race.

Roughly speaking.

We affirm the joy of sex. We pick up sex tips by the handful every day. We are encouraged to think about sex obsessively. We openly discuss sexual activities that our grandparents never even imagined.

And yet, Elizabeth Bernstein reports, more and more of us are dissatisfied with our sex lives. Married couples, in particular, seem unhappy because the conjugal bed has become a sex-free zone. 

Observing this strange disjunction from the outside a rational person might suggest that there is some connection between the two.

We do not respect sex, so sex has returned the favor. It has left us, so to speak, high and dry.

We all want to be sexually liberated; we are terrified of looking like prudes; so we have brought sex out of the shadows, the better to let it frolic in the light of day.

We are proud of being open-minded. We are proud that we have so many mind-blowing orgasms. We all agree that nothing sexual should be forbidden or tabooed.

We might consider ourselves sophisticated to a fault, but we have ignored one of the basic lessons of psychology: more exposure means less sensitivity.

The more you see it; the more you think about it; the more you talk about it, the less you will want to have it.

Americans, especially married Americans, seem to have lost interest in sex.

It makes sense that Bernstein would ask sex therapists how to solve this problem. Then again, maybe we should rethink that one: sex therapists believe that solving sex problems begins with talking about sex. After all, they are in the business of talking about sex.

So they say, and Bernstein dutifully reports, that you can solve your sex problems by talking with your spouse about what really turns you on… given that he or she no longer does.

And you can also, these experts say, solve your sex problems by explaining to your spouse that your sex life has, for the past years, or maybe forever, been inadequate, unsatisfying, and boring.

What else would you expect them to recommend?

If, as I suspect, all this openness and honesty about sex is the problem more than the solution, then sex therapy is probably the wrong way to go.

After all, both of these messages are fundamentally demoralizing. And we ought to know, if we know anything, that a demoralized lover is not a lusty lover.

Demoralize your partner and you will quickly see his or her desire going the way of all flesh.

People who do not talk about these matters might have a good reason. If they do have a good reason, then the sex therapists are disrespecting their decision, even to the point of pathologizing it.

The sexual revolution made sex into a banality. It made it less sexy. Women’s liberation deprived women of their feminine mystique. The therapy culture declared war on shame and counseled full and open exposure.

The result: less sex. 

Sex was never intended to be discussed openly and honestly on the public square. There is a reason why all human beings, from the dawn of the species, have covered their genitalia.

Why do we not know this? Because we, as a culture, are so narcissistic that we refuse to respect tradition. We believe that we are going to blaze new trails of sexual glory. We end up re-inventing the wheel.

If the sex therapists are the problem, not the solution, what is the solution?

More than a decade ago Wendy Shalit wrote a book called: A Return to Modesty: Discovering the Lost Virtue. Naturally, Shalit was widely excoriated for recommending that young women rediscover their feeling of modesty. And this was before young women proudly marched around town calling themselves sluts.

The thought police attacked Shalit. They accused her of being a Puritanical prude who was trying to kill everyone’s sex life and make everyone neurotic.

If Shalit was trying to encourage women to rediscover modesty, then apparently her success has been very limited.

There has been no return to modesty and therefore, if Bernstein’s correspondents are right, everyone’s sex life has gone down the drink.

If we ask why couples living in the most sexually liberated culture in the history of the world cannot talk openly about their sexual needs and desires and kinks, then perhaps they are trying to recover their sense of modesty. Perhaps they are trying to resensitize themselves to sexual stimuli by limiting their exposure to such stimuli. Maybe they are trying to bring some mystery back into the bedroom.

This is not the way most therapists see it. They believe, as an article of faith, that open and honest discussion solves all problems. And they see a failure to talk about your kinks and to tell your spouse that he/she is lousy in bed are signs of an underlying pathology.

Amazingly enough, Bernstein chooses to buttress the sex therapist’s arguments by offering up the case of Kai and Pamela Madsen.

Bernstein mentions, discreetly, that Pamela Madsen runs a blog on which she sometimes comments on female sexuality.

Already I was suspicious, so I looked up the blog: it’s called Being Shameless. 

I haven’t read through it, but you get the drift. Madsen is doubling down on vulgarity. She is arguing that the best way to improve your sex life is to dispense with your sense of shame.

Why not become a porn star? Do you think that that will make you more or less desirable?

It isn’t just that shamelessness desensitizes. An individual who exposes his sexuality in public will discover, in time, that his spouse finds him less attractive.

If you don’t believe me, ask your friendly neighborhood porn star.

Exposing your sex is a betrayal of intimacy. When you betray intimacy, it will depart for more welcoming regions.

To be fair, Madsen recommends various fetishes. She herself seems to like bondage fantasies. For some people getting a kink on will spice things up, up to a point.

When it comes to human sexuality, fetishes are what I would call a default mode. They are designed to compensate for waning sexual desire. Try them if you like, but they tend to be a stop-gap solution.

I would offer one more reason why sex has left American couples high and dry.

As a culture, we no longer believe in sex. Therefore sex no longer believes in us.

When I say that we no longer believe in sex I mean that we no longer respect the differences between the sexes. We no longer believe in sexually defined social roles.

We have become chronic gender benders. Anything a man can do a woman can do. So we think. We do not ask whether a woman doing what a man can do is thereby making herself attractive to a man. Could it be that she is making herself unattractive?

Far too many people blindly accept that men are superfluous excrescences obstructing a woman’s quest to attain complete personhood.

Better yet, women are being advised to have sex like men, because if there is no difference between men and women and if men like to fool around, then women should naturally be able to fool around too. If they do you do not have a right to judge them.

All that talk about modesty is really a conspiracy to prevent women from having orgasms.

The result is that young women do not respect themselves or their sexuality. If a young woman is first initiated into sexuality via socially sanctioned traumas: sexting, hooking up, and a series of meaningless impersonal relationships... this will likely color her attitude toward sex and her sense of herself as a sexual being.

And young men who are initiated into sex through an overexposure to pornography and to young women who have porn-star level sexual skills are not likely to respect women or to respect sexuality.

I don’t want to sound too much like a scold here. As a free individual you may do as you please. I am saying that there will very likely be a price to pay. 

Moreover, our gender bending culture has decided to try to deprive men of their traditional male roles of protector and provider.

Why would you expect that men who are disparaged and disrespected as providers are going to feel sufficiently manly to desire their wives?

Every other day, it seems, someone in the media is celebrating about how we Americans have succeeded in overcoming traditional male and female roles.

We are all gender-neutral beings. Better yet, we are gender-neutered beings.

The mystery is how a married couple, gender bent out of shape, feels any desire all.


n.n said...

Ah, dreams of instant gratification without consequence and progressive confusion. What are people learning in schools and in popular culture? The lessons are incompatible with both the natural and enlightened (i.e. consciousness which engenders individual dignity) orders. I assumed children were taught principles of evolution; but, the evidence suggests that fitness has not been defined or was distorted to support a diverse set of dreams.

Hilarious. The progress we have realized can objectively be measured as regression; but, don't anyone dare to "harsh my mellow." I suppose we will enjoy the fruits of productive labor for as long as they last.

Unknown said...

The doctor raises both eyebrows, but he is so amazed that such a mature couple are asking for sexual advice, that he agrees.sex therapy

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