Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus speaks about desire, sensuality and her new book, Sex Points
Sex can be wonderful, but it can also be boring, uncomfortable or awkward. If you find your opinion of sex falls into these latter categories more often than not, sex therapist Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus wants to help you reclaim your sex life. In her new book, Sex Points, she offers a multi-point system that will empower women to reenergize their own desire, sensuality and eroticism. We spoke with Dr. Marcus about everything from rebuilding trust after infidelity to choosing the sex toy that’s right for you.
KCM: When women are stressed out, it’s obviously harder to get turned on. How can you get over that mental hurdle in order to get “in the mood”?
Dr. Bat Sheva Marcus: That’s not so obvious, and it may not even be true! It just speaks powerfully to some of the unhelpful myths around sex that we’ve all bought it too. We have a preconceived notion that we always need to be calm and relaxed to get turned on. Like any of our lives are calm and relaxed? Honestly, if that was the case, then it would be hard to explain why early relationships, which are often tempestuous, stomach-churning roller-coaster rides, are sometimes the best sex of our lives. It speaks to the fact that some women, if they are open to the idea, can find that anxiety and stress can increase their interest in sex, and that sex can help manage excess anxiety and stress (to a point). Sometimes it’s more useful for women to hear that message and think about using stress and anxiety rather than wait for a magic moment (which may never happen) when stress isn’t ever-present in their lives.
However, for those women who have a harder time getting into the mood when they’re feeling stressed out, I always recommend one of two options:
1. Make quiet time before sex. Take a bath, put on music, light candles, read a sexy book or watch Bridgerton. Or lie with your partner for 10 minutes before “getting started,” just quietly breathing and gently stroke each other. It’s amazing how that can tone down your internal stress, kind of like meditation.
2. Take the time before sex to actually work out: move, dance, expel some of your stress in a physical way. This can also be helpful because increased blood flow is also great for sex!
What do you do if having sex feels like a chore, and what are some ways to rekindle desire when you’ve been with the same partner for many years?
Another myth that we seem bought into is that women have an easier time with monogamy than men. Data doesn’t seem to support that at all. So while men may whine about having to deal with one partner and how they would love to be with other partners, they seem to do just fine with their regular partners.
We women find it harder to admit to ourselves that being with one man is difficult. And so often, we just shut down our desire because of this. I think that’s why women are accused of having low libidos. Maybe it’s just a low libido for the guy you are with.
You’ve heard all the old tricks about trying new things, incorporating new toys. I think those things are important, but they only get you so far! There are several deeper ways to deal with this issue, and I outline them in my book. However, one of the most important things is learning to redevelop your fantasy life both with your partner and yourself.
In your imagination, you can be everywhere you want, with whomever you want. You need to get over the fact that it’s not cheating on your partner if you fantasize about someone else (or multiple someone else’s). You’re bringing it home to them!
Once you get past that and realize that any fantasies you are having are in service of the relationship, it makes life so much easier. But learning how to fantasize again is tricky. Learning to work with that part of the brain, which we may have shut down, can significantly turn things around and is an important approach to dealing with boredom and rekindling desire.
If you or your partner has been unfaithful, how can you learn to build sexual trust and intimacy again?
This is such a fraught topic, and it can’t really be handled in a few quick sentences. But you should know that there are wonderful books on the issues, and I’d encourage you to read some of them. There are, though, two points I want to make that may surprise you.
One, our current sex mythology is that a partner’s affair kills your sex drive. You would think so, wouldn’t you? It’s such a breach of trust. I’ve actually seen the reverse happen many times. It goes back to the last question regarding longterm relationships and boredom. Somehow when you are forced to see your partner in a new and different light, even if that light is somewhat horrifying, it gets your sex drive moving in unexpected ways. That can be simultaneously horrifying to you and a turn-on. Yup. I know. Our erotic brains are not neat and clear.
The second thing that is important to keep in mind is not all affairs are a result or an indication that there was a prior problem in the relationship. Nothing is ever that straightforward and tidy. Affairs happen for such a myriad of reasons, and it is essential to remember that when and if you decide to try and move past it and repair the relationship. It can be helpful to know that many people have gotten past affairs and healed and ended up with stronger relationships.
Is there a “normal” amount of sex that a committed couple should be having?
I love this question! If I was answering like your run of the mill “good” sex therapist, I would say to you, “Really. Whatever amount you both want” is the “right” amount. And to some degree, that would be true. But I’ve also come to realize that for most couples, if they’re having sex less than once every other week, cracks begin to develop. Please notice that I said “most” and refrain from the hate mail because, again, this is individual. Some couples do fine with less sex. If they’re both being honest and really what they both want, the less sex can work just fine, thank you very much.
However, I used to tell couples once a week was a good number because it seemed to me from hundreds of conversations and my own anecdotal experience that that worked. I was so excited when data came out to support that. A 2015 study reported the more sex you have, the happier you will feel, until a frequency of once a week. Again, this is an average! So every couple needs to find its magic frequency.
For parents whose adult children have moved home during the pandemic— how can you find time together to be intimate when you have to get used to no longer being empty nesters?
Oh my God, we are all struggling with that! Hopefully, you haven’t changed your home too much from when you had little kids. You still have a lock on your door, a white noise machine, which I recommend for every parent, and a sense of humor. The good news is that, in my experience, your kids don’t want to know about your sex life. And young adults are great at tuning out what they don’t want to see. (If you don’t believe me, look at the pile of dishes in the sink.)
Assuming you and your partner have alone quiet time in general (and well you should!) and there are times that you go off to bed, I’d lock the door and not worry about it. Let’s be honest here, the absolute worst thing that can happen is that your kids will know that you have an active sex life. Is that so terrible? Isn’t that a wonderful gift to give them?
How to you broach the subject of wanting to use a sex toy with your partner?
Hallelujah! Thank you for asking this question. I talked about this a lot with women when I was doing my Ph.D. thesis on women’s use of vibrators. One of the participants said to me, “Really Bat Sheva, how do you bring that up with a partner? Today I did the laundry, I went shopping, and I bought a vibrator??” I get it. I do. It’s awkward. I often suggested that people blame it on me at the Center. Now that I have a book coming out, I’m just telling women to blame it on having read the book. Women are afraid of bringing it up because they fear that their partners will be hurt or defensive. However, in my experience, most partners want to give pleasure. And it turns them on to watch their partner getting turned on. So, the truth is that after a little conversation bump in the beginning, you’re usually good to go. In my book there’s a whole section about using vibrators with your partner. Show it to your partner or leave it under his pillow with a post-it in that chapter.
What suggestions do you have for women who may be looking to purchase their first vibrator?
Women often find choosing vibrators overwhelming. That’s because there are so many on the market. But the truth is that once you understand vibrators, you realize that they are essentially variations of three to four types.
Every woman should own a “wand.” I call it the little black dress of vibrators. It’s an external vibrator that you hold in your hand, chargeable and strong, with a round head that you use on your clitoris. That’s generally the one that will produce the fastest and strongest orgasm, but you want one that is not too heavy, and comfortable in your hand.
The only addition to this I would make is that if you are a woman who is not currently in a relationship with a penis of any sort, it is a good idea to have something internal in your vagina every once in a while. Like other parts of your body, it’s “use it or lose it” with your vagina. In that case you should get yourself an internal vibrator. It won’t help with your orgasms, but it will help you keep your vagina moist and supple. You can use it simultaneously as you use an external vibrator (wand) on your clitoris. Or you can purchase something called “a rabbit”. That’s a vibrator with two parts, one that goes inside your vagina and one that sits outside of it on the clitoris.