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Sex Therapist Shares the Secret to Hot Sex (Hint: It Has More to Do With the Mind Than the Body)

Sex therapist Marty Klein's message is antithetical to the sex advice found everywhere from self-help books to the supermarket checkout line.
 
 
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Looking for the hot new position that will transform your sex life? The bedroom technique that will bring ultimate satisfaction? Look no further.

Not that sex therapist Marty Klein is actually selling any of those things — but his new book, “Sexual Intelligence: What We Really Want From Sex and How to Get It,” offers something better: an alternative to chasing that erotic mirage. His message is antithetical to the sex advice found everywhere from self-help books to the supermarket checkout line: The secret to a fulfilling sex life is mental, not physical.

It isn’t the sexiest directive, but it might actually get you somewhere. Klein has drawn on more than 30 years of counseling experience for this smart handbook on how to develop what he calls “Sexual Intelligence,” which he describes as the thing that “gets you from hormone-driven sex to sex you choose,” “from ‘sex has to validate me’ to ‘I validate my sexuality.’” The challenge here is to let go of notions of what “successful” and “normal” sex looks and feels like. The reward is a sex life where “failure” is virtually impossible.

Salon spoke to Klein by phone from his office in Palo Alto, Calif., about why so many sexual problems can be blamed on idealizing sex and our bodies as they were in our youth.

What is it, based on your experience with clients, that people most want from sex?

Well, if you ask people what they want from sex, they say some vague thing — some combination of “pleasure” and “closeness.” But while a lot of people say that, I find from my practice that what a lot of people really want is emotional satisfaction; sometimes it has to do with the connection with their partner and sometimes it has to do with their own sense of themselves. What a lot of people want from sex is to feel youthful, graceful, manly, normal, adequate or competent.

What should we expect from sex? What expectations are more realistic and more likely to bring actual satisfaction?

Well, partly that depends on what people are willing to put into it. You could say, “What’s realistic to expect from a meal?” and if you have very little in the refrigerator and you only spend five minutes cooking and you don’t have a decent pot or pan and you’re talking on the phone while you’re doing it and not paying attention, it’s unrealistic to expect a gourmet or satisfying meal. On the other hand, if you put enough time and effort and care into it, it’s not unrealistic to expect a good dining experience.

So, when it comes to sex, clearly it’s unrealistic in long-term relationships to expect the kind of heat and desire and passion that we typically experience in the early days of a relationship and in our youth. One of the reasons that grown-ups in long-term relationships don’t have much sex is they’re waiting to feel incredibly horny. What’s more realistic to expect from sex, if you put some effort into it, is to feel connected with somebody, to feel a sense of ownership of your body, a sense of a vacation from real life for half an hour. What’s not reasonable to expect is that sex at 45, with the same person you’ve been with for 10 years is the same as sex was at 25 when you were first getting to know somebody.

Why is it so hard to move away from that ideal of sex as it was in our 20s?

I have a few answers for that. One is that we live in a youth-obsessed culture where whatever our experience is in young adulthood, we assume that’s the best experience. So, we don’t prepare for a different experience and we don’t envision a different experience and we don’t want a different experience. If we experience the transition from adolescence to young adulthood as a dreadful loss of the best that life has to offer, then we’re not going to ask ourselves, “OK, how do I make sex at 35 the best sex of my life?” Most people are saying, “How do I make sex at 35 as near to what it was at 20?”

 
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