1. What are the most common sexual fantasies that you’ve come across in your work?
The most common sexual fantasies center around power dynamics, particularly submission, dominance and forced seduction.
From a psychological standpoint, what people actually do—or fantasize about—is often less important than the meaning it has. I focus on context more so than content. Helping people understand how their sexual and relational health can be enhanced by being in control or by relinquishing control is powerful and healing. Often, if people are disempowered in their life, they’ll want to be empowered in the bedroom. Or if they are always in control and hyper-responsible out in the world, they’ll often want to be submissive and not responsible for anything in their sexual fantasies.
Forced seduction (i.e. rape fantasies) are very common for women. I don’t like to call them “rape fantasies” because, in our minds, everything is always consensual since we are scripting it, even if we’ve written the script to portray a lack of consent. We are actually still very much in control. Many women like to feel taken, utterly wanted, and irresistible. Within the context of these power dynamics, the submissive partner is actually the one with more power in this scenario, even though on the surface it appears otherwise.
2. What’s the best way to communicate a sexual fantasy to a partner?
Pick your timing, do it in person, and lead with curiosity. Do not bring up your sexual fantasy in the midst of having sex. Your partner will most likely feel like, “Wow, what we are doing right now must not be good enough.”
Instead, pick a moment when you feel connected, have plenty of time, and can make direct eye contact with each other. Please, please do not do this over text! Then, lead with curiosity. Try something like, “Hey, I’ve noticed myself fantasizing about tying you up and having sex with you. I’m curious, what you think about that?”
This gives your partner time to respond thoughtfully and without needing to get defensive, because you haven’t criticized them—you are simply curious about their thoughts and the possibility of bringing your fantasy into reality.
3. Do you have any specific, pragmatic tips for helping people feel less ashamed or embarrassed when communicating or indulging their sexual fantasies?
Yes, absolutely. I feel like the definition of sex positivity goes a long way toward diffusing shame and embarrassment when it comes to discussing sexual fantasies. Sex positivity is defined as: all sex is good sex as long as it’s consensual and pleasurable. So, if it checks the box of “consensual” and the box of “pleasurable,” it can help to reduce shame because we realize we aren’t doing anything bad or weird.
People are incredibly creative in their fantasy lives; my clients never cease to amaze me! There really is no normal in sex, or at least the only normal I’ve been able to identify is immense variation. How we were raised and the culture we live in confer a lot of the shame and guilt regarding how we feel about our inherent sexuality. If we can break that down with the straightforward premises of consent and pleasure, we will make enormous progress in helping people to feel good about—and own—who they are as sexual beings.
4. How do you tell your partner that they just don’t really know how to give you an orgasm?
Show them, don’t tell them. Your partner may literally have no idea what you’re talking about, so rather than having them feel bad, frustrated, or ashamed that they can’t please you, show them exactly what you want by touching yourself.
Even if we’ve been with our partner for decades, they still can’t read our minds. Lead with a compliment or an appreciation for the things they are doing right, and then offer a suggestion for something they can do—or tweak—that will make you feel even better.
For example, you could say, “I love how you grab my butt when we’re having sex, but when you touch my breasts it feels a little rough. I’ve discovered my nipples are really sensitive. Would you mind going more slowly and gently, like this? I think I’ll love it.” This will be your most fun show-and-tell ever.
5. Are we monsters if we watch porn separately from our partners?
Oh my gosh, no! That’s our puritanical heritage and sex-negative culture talking. Our partners can’t be everything to us. To be our best relational selves, we have to have sexual agency and autonomy. Most people learn what they like through experimentation, and often part of that comes from watching porn.
Porn has given us scripts for things we’ve previously only imagined in our heads, but now we get to see that we aren’t weird or alone because other people like those things too. And it would be extremely rare if both partners are exactly aligned on what turns them on. Part of the fun of being in a secure sexual relationship is that you can introduce your partner to things you’ve seen and want to try, and they can share with you as well.
Or, your porn viewing can be just for you, and what you and your partner do together becomes a beautiful and connected amalgamation of both of your wants and needs. Porn is no more a threat than Netflix. It’s about the meaning we give it, particularly if we try to hide it out of shame, embarrassment or fear of confrontation with our partner. Can you imagine openly sharing what you watch with your partner? I think porn can be a great inroad to this, which then leads to more pleasure and excitement for you both.
6. If one partner wants sex, and one wants overall intimacy, which creates more desire for sex, and how can this be negotiated?
I like to have my clients write, in detail, about their “perfect” sex life. For many people, sex involves a high degree of intimacy. For others, it can simply be an act. Intimacy gives meaning to that act. Even if the meaning is, “I’m only here for pleasure and a quickie,” that’s still meaning.
Helping couples understand what they really want from sex is key.
Do they need to feel appreciated or desired, do they need more physical touch and affection throughout the day, or does sexting turn them on? These—and more—are questions people need to know about themselves and be able to openly share with their partner. Again, our partners can’t read our minds. We have to be vulnerable in expressing ourselves and feel worthy when asking for what we need.
7. How do you communicate your needs and desire to a partner who ignores housework and ignores kid tantrums and watches TV, then just magically wants you to be attracted to them and have a romp each night?
Ask them if they’ve ever heard of a “choregasm.” Of course, I’m being a bit sarcastic here, but in many ways, this is entirely on point. Most people need to feel connected to their partner in order to have great sex. Connection can mean many things, but one element that comes up often is appreciation and the idea of being on the same team or having each other’s back. If a relationship feels one-sided, that’s a recipe for resentment.
I can fairly easily help couples navigate through anger, sadness, or chronic stress, but what’s much harder to dismantle is resentment. It sticks. The easiest way to address and resolve resentment is to notice it early and talk to your partner openly. Tell them how you feel and how you think the imbalance in responsibilities is hurting your sex life. Ask for appreciation. Ask for hugs. Ask for the things that make you feel connected.
8. How do couples with extremely different levels of sex drive have a sex life that satisfies them both?
After defining—or perhaps redefining—the expectations for their sex life, both need to tap into the ability to compassionately understand where their partner stands. From this place of empathetic understanding, they can sink into the feeling that neither or them is right or wrong, not enough or too much. Each person’s qualities and quantities for a fulfilling sex life are entirely unique, and that should never be pathologized. There is a middle ground that can work.
This may look like the higher desire partner cultivating a rich fantasy life, but the difference is it doesn’t have to be hidden. The lower desire partner might look for ways to connect that feel more intimate, which can open the door to pleasure that doesn’t necessarily involve sex as they previously defined it.
Most importantly, the couple can stop arguing about the sex they are or are not having. Their sex life becomes expansive and malleable because they can talk openly and often about what’s working and what needs further discussion and adjustment.
9. Can sex thrive in a marriage if it’s a scheduled negotiation?
Yes! Some of the best sex is scheduled sex. Particularly in long-term relationships, it’s harder to be spontaneous once the limerence (“honeymoon”) phase has passed. Novelty is the seat of human desire, and if what we want is always right there in front of us, we often have to put in work to create that spark.
Scheduled sex can be more exciting than many couples think. Decide on a time and place and then create anticipation around what will happen. Sext each other throughout the day including photos and thoughts about what you want to do to your partner or what you want them to do to you. You might even roleplay a little to set the mood.
Creating anticipation for the pleasure and connection that awaits can be much hotter than having the obligatory quickie before you turn the lights out at night. Make your partner feel wanted and help them to make you feel wanted too.
10. What do you recommend if sex is really painful for the woman (75% of women experience painful sex at some point)?
First, don’t do it. Sex shouldn’t hurt. Full stop. Second, make an appointment with your OBGYN. From there, they may recommend strategies ranging from hormone supplementation, additional lubrication use, or a referral to a pelvic floor therapist.
Also, it is incredibly important to talk to your partner about how you’re feeling. Many people get aroused by seeing their partner experience pleasure, so when it’s actually the opposite of this and they are experiencing pain, it isn’t just an issue for the woman but an issue within the relationship.
Most partners I have worked with in these situations are incredibly understanding and want to help. Not speaking up prolongs the pain which eventually causes a reluctance to have sex (understandably) and distance between partners. Pain during sex is most often treatable and therefore not a problem anyone should have to live with.
11. The obvious answer is “it’s different for everyone,” but what do you think about inviting another person into your married sex life?
True, it is different for every couple, but what isn’t different is the foundation from which the invitation should be offered. I cringe when couples come to me for help opening up their sex life to a third, but for reasons that are less than healthy.
This may look like one partner being more into consensual non-monogamy than the other, or using a third person to de-escalate a conflictual marriage or thinking a threesome will somehow save their marriage. When the foundation is unstable and insecure, opening to others can be a recipe for disaster and a quick road to additional conflict.
All marriages should be opened from a place of mutual respect, understanding, and agreement about what the third person will offer. A secure relationship ensures that each partner will feel safe to openly express their hopes, goals, and expectations without fear of judgment.
12. What are some pragmatic, approachable tips for couples (and non-couples!) to maintain healthy, active, positive sex lives during the pandemic and quarantine? Should we even be worried about maintaining our sex lives right now?
Almost everyone is feeling anxious during the pandemic AND we all have very different ways of dealing with it, which naturally extends to our sex lives. For some people, sex is the last thing on their mind. For others, it’s the first. Both of these positions are valid.
Our world is unpredictable, somewhat unstable and quickly changing, which brings many people profound feelings of anxiety. Some deal with their anxiety by constricting and keeping themselves safe and guarded (no sex whatsoever), whereas others deal with anxiety through expansion and connection with others (lots of sex). If a couple wants to recommit to pleasure and connection, scheduling sex is a great way to go. Carve out one or two hours once a week to be together, focusing just on each other, which means no phones, getting a sitter for the kids, no work, etc.
Also, outside of the bedroom, talk about ways you can rediscover each other. Are there things you can do that will make you feel like a team, less encumbered and weighed down with freedom to move your body and have fun, yet still feel safe? For some couples this is exercising together, for others it’s a weekend getaway, while for others it’s a beautifully prepped cocktail hour in the backyard complete with favorite drinks, food, music, flowers or anything that helps you feel sexy, connected and appreciated.