But what can you do, when sex is vital to your happiness, and you see it slipping away in the secure loft of a long-term relationship?
My guest this week on In Bed is psychologist Esther Perel, and she has come to detonate the All-American marriage bed-death conundrum.
In Bed with Susie Bright 273: Mating in Captivity with Esther Perel
Here's the whole interview...
Or, a little sample of Esther blowing my mind. Her Belgian accent is so persuasive...
Perel is the author of the Mating in Captivity: Reconciling the Erotic and the Domestic. She is not your average advice-monger— she would be glad to shred every piece of conventional marriage manual wisdom.
Esther argues that erotic passion— to a certain but critical degree— is built upon distance and ambiguity. In her view, transparency is for politicians, not for lovers.
"It's often assumed," Esther writes, "that intimacy and trust must exist before sex can be enjoyed, but for many women and men, intimacy— more precisely, the familiarity inherent in intimacy— actually sabotages sexual desire. When the loved one becomes a source of security and stability, he/she can become desexualized.
"The dilemma is that erotic passion can leave many people feeling vulnerable and less secure. In this sense there is no 'safe sex.' Maybe the real paradox is that this fundamental insecurity is a precondition for maintaining interest and desire. As Stephen Mitchell, a New York psychoanalyst, used to say, 'It is not that romance fades over time. It becomes riskier.'"
I know that Esther counsels a lot of couples who are afraid NOT to merge, who are flabbergasted that taking erotic risks might preserve rather than imperil their marriages. They think they're going to save their sex life by "talking it out," or planning a few exercises, like it was a weight-training program. On the other side of the spectrum, she meets many married lovers who sexually survive only through complete deception and denial to themselves and their partners. She knows it's complicated— and that's what makes her philosophy so interesting and literate.
If I could have had Esther all to myself... ha!... I would love to ask her what she thinks of "bed death" among the kinky and adventurous. It's not just something Ozzie and Harriet face. Familiarity breeds contempt even among the polyamorous, the bohemian, the tightrope walkers.
In my case, it is true without my internal intrigue, I'm nothing! And I am a romanticist, in the sense that if I didn't desire my partner, I'ld be heartbroken.
I'm adding Esther's book to my shelf of "read it, or shut up about it" philosophy-of-the-bedroom classics. She is the anti-Puritan cocktail, and we all need a long, silky swig.
...Also featured on my podcast this week is the story of the Wife Swap invitation I had the pleasure of wallowing in a few weeks ago— and in my "Try This at Home" mailbag, I advise a listener about the pleasures of a Jello shot versus a G-Spot shot.
Don't forget, you can send your confidential questions, feedback about the show, requests for Susie's girly cards (ho! ho! ho!) to firstname.lastname@example.org. (Episode 273, December 15, 2006). You can also listen to Esther's entire book on audio, here.