I’m curious about you dear readers. Aside from the comments on specific posts, the only information I get about you is the search terms you use to get to this blog. Don’t worry about privacy – I can’t tell who Googled what. I consider these search terms a window into your lives as they connect to the issues of dating, sex, and life in your 60s.
So, let’s kick back on this holiday weekend and have a splurge of white truffle egg salad while peeking at your quest for knowledge and help.
It is no surprise that the most common search is for information on dating in your 60s. I hear your frustration when you ask “Why is it so difficult to have a new relationship in your 60s?” I wish I had a simple answer to that question. I think we’re all dealing with an imbalance of supply and demand, the particular demographics of where we live, and the difficulties of online partner assessment. Just to name a few issues.
Sex is also of interest. Specific sex-related topics, with my comments, include:
*Rude sex (It happens.)
*Office interracial lunch sex (The sandwich alternative.)
*Is it normal to not be interested in sex in your 60s? (There are lots of reasons for this.)
*Rude sex profile pictures (An almost daily occurrence.)
*Amore sexual networking site (I have no idea who is using my name to run a business.)
*Talking about sex (It’s a problem if you can’t talk about sex with your partner. I hope this person read: http://bit.ly/1Iz2EWp)
*Dating, sex, and friendship (Not sure of the intent here, but don’t sleep with your friend’s significant other.)
*Do single widow 60s (sic) like oral sex? (Women are free to like or not like anything.)
Readers also search for information on intimacy and falling in love:
*36 dating questions
*The 4-minute intimacy experiment
*I have been dating a guy for 7 months and the sex is great. I see him 1 time a week per my request and he is so passionate when we have sex. So why am I afraid of falling more deeply for him?
(I don’t think my blog can assist but you might want to address this issue with a therapist who can help you work through these feelings.)
*Love in one’s 60s
*Falling in love in your 60s (My personal goal.)
Many search for dating tips:
*Fantastic dating profile
*What can I write for my online dating profile? I’m a 60-year-old woman.
*How to end a relationship in your 60s (This is tough at any age.)
*Breaking up in your 60s
*Flirt dating (My pet peeve: flirting that doesn’t lead to dating.)
*What is a dating dry spell? (I wish I didn’t know what this is.)
And then we have the offbeat and off-color:
*Dating site for denture wearers (I guess this might be helpful.)
*Hot male with big d_ _ _ with 300 photos (NSFW and not available on this blog.)
*Let’s just f_ _ _ on your lunch break (You may need that sexual networking site that someone else searched for.)
*Beef niche girls’ sex (This blog does not eat meat.)
Beef niche aside, I hope I helped most of you find what you needed. In fact, this blog addressed almost all of the topics mentioned above at some point.
So, keep on searching for information about dating, love, and sex. Let me know if you find what you are looking for here — and in life.
A couple of weeks ago, I made the mistake of Facebook stalking my ex’s current girlfriend (GF). I had not done this before and it was not premeditated. I was searching online for local music events and happened upon an upcoming performance by my ex- and his romantic partner. The duo’s title was their two last names. I had not known the GF’s last name and only accidentally learned of her first name when one of my children let it slip. So it was pretty easy to confirm that my ex’s band mate and GF are one in the same.
I’ll back up a bit to explain the situation. Join me in some warm fusilli salad while I fill you in. Although some divorced couples maintain communication, we don’t. Our children were adults when we divorced and now that all financial entanglements have been untangled, we have no “business” reason to communicate. And that’s fine with me. I’m just not feeling the desire to stay in touch.
Right after we divorced, I admit to some minor online stalking of my ex. I wanted to clarify the names of his bands to avoid attending a performance.
But after I had that intel, I had no further interest in e stalking. It was time to move on with my life. So it was a departure for me to snoop on his GF’s social media page.
More back story: this current GF is not the woman my ex took up with soon after we separated. She’s long gone. I was mildly curious about her replacement.
So when I popped open GF’S Facebook page, I saw that she was younger than my ex (and me) and blonde, like her predecessor. A cliché come to life. There are so many “experiential clichés” in life – e.g., middle-aged man buys a sports car.
The GF’s Facebook page had only a few photos and no pictures of my ex. A check of her “status” revealed she was “in a relationship” as of 2013. She didn’t name her significant other, but I knew it was my ex. And then I saw his complimentary comment about her latest photo.
I closed the page.
Here’s the funny part. If my ex came crawling back to me, I wouldn’t have him. Truth: I don’t want him. And yet, it hurts to see evidence of his relationship and how relatively easy it is (and has been) for him to find someone. This is a harsh reality of what I call dating disparity. In general, divorced men have an easier time finding a date, a companion, or a partner, than divorced women – especially in the boomer years. Challenge me on this but this has been my experience and what I have observed.
So when I’m in a dry spell and not meeting any men, when there are no possible relationships in my life, I think about dating disparity and my ex.
In contrast, when I’m dating and have lots of possibilities, there are few thoughts of either dating disparity or my ex.
I’m used to this cycle by now. Dating dry spells can lead to the blues and self-pity. But self-pity doesn’t offer any rewards. To counteract the blues, I learned that it helps to get busy, reach out to friends, do something new.
That’s why even though I knew in advance that opening the GF’s Facebook page might trigger some emotional shakiness; I also knew any blue notes would be brief. It’s called healing.
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I went to a Match.com happy hour a few nights ago. This was not an easy task for a somewhat shy 60-something singleton. I went unaccompanied and anticipated not knowing a soul. I also worried about running into a nosy single, male neighbor who is on the site or perhaps one of the men I used to date. But I put on my big girl panties, actually I put on my Spanx leggings (seriously, these are fabulous), channeled Wonder Woman and all the movie characters who said, “Let’s do this,” and I did.
The event was held in a “rock and roll” themed restaurant/bar music club. Match said attendees would be able to see who had checked in to the happy hour in real time on the event’s mobile site. But I never received the promised link to view the check-ins. So when I arrived, I had no idea who would be there.
The happy hour was billed ($10) as an event for 45-65 year olds. I worried that the women attending would be on the young end of the margin putting me at an immediate disadvantage. I don’t like competitive situations so if fangs were in evidence, I was prepared to duck out.
Like so many life situations (waiting to take a test or waiting for the results of a medical test), one often anticipates the worst possible outcome. Fortunately, things often turn out well – or better than expected. I feared being a “wallflower.” Other than surviving with ego intact, my goal was to be sociable and talk to some men.
When I walked in, the place was packed. I asked a friendly-looking man if this was the Match happy hour. He smiled and pointed to the back of the main room. There, in a sectioned off area, was a Match check-in desk.
As a somewhat shy person (yes, there are somewhat shy versus totally shy people), I had wondered whether there would be any “ice-breaker” activities. Eureka! Each attendee wrote the last place they travelled to on a sticky note and wore it instead of a name badge. So with Aruba scribbled on my tag, I approached the bar to buy some liquid courage.
It was 30 minutes into the event and people were talking in groups of 2, 3, or 4. I wondered if I could easily break into a conversation. There were clearly more women than men. Sadly, none of the men made my heart stop.
As I turned from the bar, I met “Chicago.” He asked me about Aruba and when I had been there. For some reason, I totally blanked (even before the wine) but finally remembered. Chicago and I had journalism in common and we ended up chatting for about 20 minutes. No sparks but a pleasant time.
As he walked away, I smiled at “Caribbean,” a woman about my age standing at the bar. We started talking, comparing dating notes and life stories. After awhile, we both realized we had the beginnings of a possible friendship. She said, “I consider this evening a win-win,” and I agreed.
After a quick trip to the restroom, I returned to find my new friend chatting with a man, “Sydney and Australian cities.” After “Caribbean” left, I stayed a few minutes to chat with “Sydney.” Again, I felt no chemistry with this man, but we had a nice talk.
It was about 9 pm at this point and only a few attendees remained. I left with an overall positive feeling about the evening.
Summary: About 25 to 30 people showed up versus the promised 70. Most were in the middle or upper end of the predetermined age range so my fears of being the oldest woman there were unfounded. A day later, Match sent a recap showing profile snapshots and photos of all of the people who RSVP’d. You could filter the list to see who had attended – a great idea if you were too shy to approach someone or just didn’t get a chance to connect.
According to the recap, 60 people RSVP’d (not sure what happened to the other 10) and 19 checked in. My guess is a few more just bypassed the check in desk – or I need help with my counting skills.
Everyone seemed friendly. Just like with the Meetups I have attended, people are there to connect so you have a better chance of getting a welcoming reception if you approach someone than you would in a random situation.
There’s no way to know if you’ll meet the man of your dreams at an event like this…but you might have a nice social time, find someone to go out with, or meet a new gal friend. All are win-wins!
And it’s lovely to have a break from scanning the online sites and swiping left or right. I plan on going to another event – perhaps an activity-based one.
Have you been to a dating site event? Let me know what happened.
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Although I frequently encounter online dating scammers via email, I finally had the “pleasure” of speaking to one on the phone.
Mr. O was my first “match” or connection on Coffee Meets Bagel, a dating app I recently downloaded to my phone (for a review of other apps, see Dating Sites and Apps: A Rodeo Roundup). For those unfamiliar with this free app, it provides daters with a section for a brief profile and photo and sends you a daily match or “bagel” at noon, provided the bakers or rather matchmakers in charge find someone for you. If there are no quality bagel matches, CMB may send you some “also rans.” You can take these imperfect matches or give them away to your friends. Unfortunately, there are no options to search on your own.
From our first exchange, I was a bit suspicious of Mr. O but I found his profile and photos appealing. I decided to play along safely for a while to confirm my suspicions – or not – and flex my investigative muscles. I hoped I would be proven wrong and that Mr. O was the real deal.
The Mr. O interlude was a slow unveiling of some odd, unusual or inconsistent “facts” that one/I could easily overlook in a search for romance.
For example his profile claimed two bachelors degrees – one from the University of Stavenger in Norway and one from the University of Sydney. In an early email, I asked Mr. O if he was Australian given the Sydney degree. He wrote that he had taken a short course there. Despite this inconsistency, I forged ahead.
Mr. O wrote he was Hungarian and noted that people had a hard time understanding him in conversation because of his accent. When I was confused about something he wrote, he asked me to remember that English is not his first language. Of course, that’s a ready-made excuse to explain inconsistencies.
Here’s a quick round up of other troubling details, provided for your learning pleasure.
Despite two bachelor’s degrees (or not depending on whether the Australian stint was a class or a degree), Mr. O wrote that he had been in the gem stone business before becoming a contractor in the construction field. During one of our two phone calls he revealed he was a civil engineer. There’s nothing wrong with being an engineer but this occupation seems to be the fake job of choice of scammers. And the gem stone business is a rather exotic and unusual job that got me wondering.
On two occasions, Mr. O referred to his efforts to secure funding for his construction projects. A need for funds is associated with scamming. I also don’t think of civil engineers as people who do project fund raising.
Mr. O’s profile said he lived in Delaware and yet his cell phone number was from North Carolina. When I texted him about this, he didn’t respond but transitioned to another topic.
He didn’t pick up on any of my witty banter (one could argue that might only mean he is humorless) or my banter is lacking.
He was widowed 10 years ago and had not been intimate with anyone since his marriage. Widowed engineers are “classic” scammer types. An update on his sex life was TMI for an early get-acquainted correspondence.
Mr. O wrote that he was a cancer survivor. Along with being a widower, surviving great personal tragedy is another favorite story of scammers.
During our second phone conversation, Mr. O said he travels all over the world for his work and was planning a trip to Singapore. International travel alone is not a reason to indict someone but it falls into the common profile of a scammer, along with widowed engineers.
There were lots of clichés in his emails. How many times have you seen this line or a version of it?
“There is nothing finer than a woman who looks good in a pair of jeans and a T-shirt and can still dress up for a formal party when the occasion calls for it.”
Before our phone conversation, I dutifully searched Mr. O’s email address and cell phone number as well as unique sections of his profile on Google and romancescam. I searched his phone number on a security ID site. I wanted to search his photos on Google image search and TinEye. However, since there is no online version of Coffee Meets Bagel, I couldn’t save his photos from a web site. So I used my iPad to take a photo of Mr. O’s profile photo on my phone and then cropped it in iPhoto – creating a searchable jpeg file. Still nothing.
During our second phone call, however, I noticed Mr. O’s Hungarian accent periodically drifting into an African one. (Quick aside: if you ever want to identify an accent, check out this website with recordings — http://www.dialectsarchive.com.)
The accent shifting fueled my determination. I had to out him. I went back to romance scam and searched several unique sentences in the emails he sent me. One of the excerpts was a match. Mr. O was a known scammer.
A eureka moment like this is more sad and frustrating than joyful. Even when you’re suspicious of someone, your heart can start to engage.
It took awhile but I’m finally an experienced dater. So here are the dichotomies. I am not only more aware of and able to detect falseness but I’m also more vulnerable. I may have a discerning eye but I’m also tired of the game and willing to overlook some details.
Scamming aside, I am more likely to consider someone who at first glance might not seem like a match. I wonder if there’s a potentially good book underneath that used, slightly tattered cover. But I’ll also make damned sure that the book isn’t plagiarized.
Postscript of safety measures taken:
I always kept my guard up with Mr. O. I did not reveal my last name and used my dating email address. After finding sections of his email on romance scams, I blocked his number on my cell phone and set up a filter so I didn’t have to see any future correspondence.
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It was a beautiful sunny fall day and as I approached Panera, the coffee/shop restaurant where I was meeting Mr. E., my first Tinder date, I decided to sit outside.
I sent Mr. E a text to let him know my location. A few minutes later, my phone rang. It was Mr. E calling about a logistics snafu. His ex- forgot to pick up his son from school to take him to the doctor. Mr. E. needed to reschedule.
“Why don’t I take you to dinner?” he suggested. Although I have broken this rule many times, I don’t usually want to have dinner on a first date-meeting. Who wants to be stuck in a restaurant with someone if there’s no chemistry, connection, or conversation? I prefer going for a drink or coffee. So we agreed to meet a few hours later at a wine bar.
As I was getting ready for our date once again, Mr. E. texted me to say he was tied up and wouldn’t be able to make it. He apologized and said that he and his ex’s co-parenting duties sometimes got switched at the last minute.
So, for the second time that day I changed out of “nice leggings” and a dressy top and put on sweats and a long-sleeved t-shirt. I kicked off my heels, put on beach shoes, and placed my necklace back in the jewelry box. I hung up my small “date” purse and collapsed on my bed.
I got out my iPad, clicked on iTunes, and selected Colbie Caillat’s song Try. Given my day, it was a good song to listen to. I started thinking about what a woman does to prepare for a first date and what a man might do as well.
Too bad an inconvenienced woman can’t send a bill to her cancelled date for her lost time and mental anguish. Why are doctors the only ones who get to do this?
Let me share with you my typical get-ready-for-a-date scenario and ladies, you can let me know if this sounds familiar. My guy readers can comment as well. Let’s multi-task and also have some veggie-heavy frittata.
T minus 48 hours (if the date is planned that far in advance):
Get hair touch-up at salon if suffering from excessive root visibility
Get manicure (a do-it-yourself manicure should be done the same day as the date)
Do laundry if the most likely date outfit is dirty
There’s no way to lose 10 pounds but at least get to the gym
T minus 24 hours
Print out my date’s profile so I can review before the date. Make list of things to ask about. Highlight potential negatives to be aware of (did he mean to imply he’s been divorced more than twice?)
Get to the gym once again
Try on a couple of date possibility outfits remembering that guys like red and pink. Resolve to buy more red and pink clothes.
T minus 6 hours
Switch purse essentials from everyday bag to date bag
Add “extras” to date bag: breath mints, toothpicks, date makeup.
Tweeze eyebrows, shave legs, etc.
Try on same outfits as yesterday plus another couple of possibilities
Put makeup on with extra care
Style hair with extra care
Hydrate skin with excessive application of pricey perfumed lotion
Hydrate lips with super expensive lip balm
Review date’s profile and notes from phone calls
T minus 2 hours
Touch up makeup
Touch up hair
Brush teeth, use mouthwash
Re-hydrate skin with excessive lotion application
Re-hydrate lips with super expensive lip balm
Put on fresh underwear (just because)
Fret about outfit
Get dressed with 2nd outfit
Check date bag to see what I’ve forgotten. Check! Retrieve driver’s license, credit card, and cash and put in date bag
Quick look at date’s profile so as not to confuse with other guys “in the running.” Oh God, why do I have CRS?
Last minute mirror check
Out the door
My date’s imagined first date prep:
T minus 2 hours:
Put on last pair of clean pants and shirt
Quick look at date’s profile
Pet the dog; say, “Let’s do this!”
Out the door
O.K., my routine might be slightly exaggerated for effect (writer’s prerogative) and not all steps happen every time…but it’s close enough to an essential truth: Women spend a lot of time putting their best face and body forward for men. If only it could be worth it more than 25 percent of the time.
It’s early Sunday morning (really early – before sunrise) and I’m sipping coffee, reading my latest OkCupid email. What a lovely note from a cultured man but he lives 2,384 miles away in Vegas, is 4 inches shorter than me….and he’s 86 years old.
You have to give him credit for desiring intimacy and going for it. And perhaps I’ll take him up on his offer of a road trip to see the Southwest…but it would be a friends-only no benefits excursion.
Before I pack my bags for Vegas, it’s time for a rodeo roundup of recently tried dating sites and apps. There’s a chill in the air so let’s have some cioppino to warm our bellies.
I tried to come up with a theory about why I like or dislike various sites and apps. Thoughts swirled around and I had a vague notion of why some of them worked better than others. My theories jelled after reading Maureen O’Connor’s recent article on dating apps in New York Magazine’sThe Cut column. As she wrote, “We choose our dating apps the same way we choose bars, parties, coffee shops, concerts, and everywhere else we go with the vague hope of finding a mate – based on the people.” According to O’Connor, “the make-or-break factor in whether you stick around to flirt, or clam up and leave, is the crowd.”
My successes and failures with various sites and apps are certainly crowd-based. I hated eHarmony because the eHarmony folks picked the wrong crowd for me: they were boring and unattractive, and they all lived hundreds or thousands of miles away. To top it off, the site gave no option to scroll through and select guys I wanted to communicate with. I could only view men preselected for me.
Ms. O’Connor’s article presents a quick summary of the populations she encountered on 15 dating apps. Different users will, of course, see different crowds based on their profiles and search preferences. I tried some of the same sites/apps but my “crowd” is composed of older guys in a different location. Interestingly, in some cases, I must be getting older DC-area versions of the younger guys Ms. O’Connor found in NY.
Here’s my rodeo round up of sites and apps I tried, including a “senior” dating site geared to baby boomers and a couple of niche dating sites.
My assessment of online dating venues is based on whether there are a good number of dateable guys who are attractive, educated, and interesting; whether the men reach out and contact matches rather than just viewing them; and whether the site has a lot of scammers and fake users.
Dating Sites and Apps Round-up:
Match: I continue to find “dateable guys” seeking relationships on Match and they have the largest subscriber base of all of the sites so this one’s a keeper even though I receive a greater volume of inquiries on some of the other sites.
OkCupid: This used to be my favorite site and I have had a couple of 90-day relationships from matches on this site. However, lately, the site seems to be overrun with scammers, fake users, and strange guys. I’m not giving up on Ok but it’s gone down a notch on my list.
Plenty of Fish: I like this site and have had a number of dates from fish in this sea. No winners yet but at least the guys are dateable and reach out.
eHarmony: see above. Grade: F
JDate: My matches did not appeal and the guys did not seem to reach out as much as men on other sites.
OurTime: At first I loved OurTime, a site for those 50 and over. The users are active. They reach out frequently. However, too many of the guys are not appealing or educated and none of my conversations resulted in actual dates. I deleted it after a few months.
Ebony and Ivory: My foray into this niche dating site was a bust and I have stopped using this site. I was seeking ethnic variety but I was presented with mostly older, white dudes out of my geographic area. The “personal” emails I received were generic bits of profiles. The one time I wrote to Customer Service, I received a canned response to my complaint about geographic incompatibility.
How About We: Hardly anyone is on this site and no one appealed. The concept is clever: you suggest a date idea and an interested party can respond to that idea or suggest an alternate one. There’s also a nice feature that says you’re available to go out that night. I never received a “match” for the “go out that night” feature. The only date I had was with a widower who acknowledged he was not ready to date. I’m no longer a member.
Bumble: As a child of the ‘60s and ‘70s, I was immediately intrigued by a “feminist” dating app. Created by one of the co-founders of Tinder, Bumble’s “shtick” is that only women are allowed to initiate contact with a guy. I like the idea of women being in control. I am proactive on traditional sites/apps, but prefer to have men make the first move on these platforms. On Bumble, I feel freer to be the pursuer.
I was worried at first that there wouldn’t be enough men my age on Bumble. And that appears to be the case. I haven’t received many matches and the only date I scheduled was with a younger man who cancelled at almost the last minute due to a work crisis. I’ll keep using this site but due to the small number of matches I’m getting, I feel like the likelihood of my finding someone is the equivalent of a needle hole in a haystack…or perhaps a tiny bee in a big hive. Sorry, couldn’t resist.
Tinder: I have to give credit to Karen Yankosky of the Women of Uncertain Age podcast for inspiring me to try Tinder. Apparently Tinder is not just a hook-up App. Women and men can – and do — indicate they are seeking a relationship, not a one-night stand. So I bit the bullet a few days ago and quickly and easily created a profile.
Both Tinder and Bumble pull your public info from Facebook. Only your first name shows up on the App. If you feel nervous about exposing your Facebook info, you can follow my example. I pruned the public info on my profile. There is nothing in my Facebook profile that a stranger could use to identify or find me.
In addition to pulling information and photos from your Facebook profile, Tinder displays your location information and age. If you like someone, you can swipe right or select a heart. If you don’t like the guy, you swipe left or select the big X. If two people swipe right, they are both alerted by the app that they like each other and can start messaging. There seems to be an endless supply of men on the app (many of whom I recognize from other dating sites). I have my first Tinder coffee date set up for next week.
I love Tinder. It’s addictive. I especially like the fact that you only communicate with someone when you both like each other. Of course, this is my latest App download…and so I’m still in the crush phase.
To wrap up my rodeo, I leave you with two summary points. I think it IS a good idea to be on as many sites as you can handle. Some dating advisors suggest limiting your sites and apps to 2 or 3. I disagree. For one thing, if you have started dating someone from one of the sites, but you are not exclusive yet, you might want to browse on another site without your possible keeper guy knowing about it. Plus, with more sites, you’ll have more options. Maximize your possibilities!
If a site is not working out, stop using it but consider another trial period in 6 months. There may be some new users or app upgrades that change the experience.
“I write about sex because often it feels like the most important thing in the world.” Jeanette Winterston
When I think about the sex ed classes I had in junior high and high school, the focus was on DANGER: from sexually transmitted diseases to unwanted pregnancy to the dreaded menstrual cycle a young girl feared in advance of puberty. As I grew up and entered adulthood, there was no Part 2 class other than experience. What was missing was a scientifically-based exploration of the pleasures of sex and sexual physiology that wasn’t just focused on reproduction, and a look at the range of sexual experiences.
Now I’m not advocating a no-holds barred discussion of all things sexual in junior high sex education classes, but at some point and in some venue (maybe one’s home), there should be the beginnings of a better discussion about sex. And it shouldn’t begin and end when one is a teen or young adult. It should continue throughout life.
For don’t we all have questions about sex, sexuality, and our sexual relationships at different stages of life?
But people don’t talk about sex for the most part – unless it’s a joke or a complaint: “I’m not getting any,” for example. They learn from sexy books and magazines and watch sexy movies. And some may have an intimate discussion with a friend or relative. Women likely do a better job than men of talking to their good friends and close relatives about sexual response and enjoyment but an explicit discussion is likely not that common.
And talking to your partner about sex is not always easy or productive. So people may not fully realize the intricacies of sexual enjoyment and passion and how they can live a sexual life to the fullest – and help their partner do the same.
All this goes to say that Ian Kerner’s work as a sexologist, sex therapist, writer, and media personality is never done.
His books combine scientific research, clinical experience, and interviews with non-patients. His writing style is witty and humorous. He’s also very open about his own past challenges with premature ejaculation and he explains how this issue prompted him to first learn the value of pleasuring a woman orally.
I said in a previous post about my Ten Favorite Things that every man you’re in a relationship with should read She Comes First – after you peruse it of course.
So read on to learn what Kerner says about cliteracy, raunchy lovemaking, spontaneous and responsive desire, and how to talk to your partner about sex. Kerner’s comments have been minimally edited for clarity and brevity.
N: What do you think the take home message is from both She Comes First and Passionista?
I: One of the main reasons I wrote She Comes First is because as a sex therapist one of the most common complaints I heard was, ‘I’m not experiencing an orgasm during intercourse, what is wrong with me?’
And I really wanted to share the message to women and men that nothing is wrong with you — intercourse is not the most consistent way of helping a woman to achieve orgasm.
I wanted to subvert what I call the intercourse discourse and to get men especially to have a realistic understanding of female sexuality and to create mutually pleasurable experiences.
So the take home message for She Comes First was that really the clitoris is the powerhouse of the female orgasm in response to persistent stimulation and that intercourse is not really the best way to provide that. It was a book that was promoting the concept of sexual cliteracy as opposed to ill cliteracy.
With Passionista, just as I tried to give men a realistic understanding of female sexuality, I wanted to give women a better understanding of male sexuality based on research and science. Men experience low libido for example; men don’t just switch on and off in terms of their sexuality. I wanted to provide women with a more nuanced view on male sexuality.
With both books, it was important that I’m not just philosophizing but offering tips and techniques and sex scripts that are implementable. I think one of the big problems with literature and sexuality and self-help literature at large is that there is often a big message but there isn’t always a clear way to translate that message into action.
N: Did you find that your target audience read the books when prompted by their partner rather than seeking it out on their own? In other words, did men go out and read She Comes First or did women give it to them?
I: Well SheComes First was an interesting book in that it was a crossover book. It’s been out for more than 10 years and remains the best selling sex book of the last decade. And part of the reason it has been so popular is that not just men buy it but women buy it as well– both for themselves to understand their own sexuality as well as to give to their friends and to give to their partners and in some cases to even give to their children. I’ve heard from at this point scores of men and fathers and mothers who have given the book to their sons when their sons entered early adulthood.
So I think She Comes First’s success is because it was a crossover book — to be able to fluidly move between different types of consumers. Certainly I’ve also heard from women who say, ‘I’ve read your book or I have your book or I heard about your book, how do I get my guy to read it? He thinks he knows everything, he already thinks he’s an expert.’ Those situations present more of a problem.
N: How would you advise that woman to encourage her partner to read it?
I: In some cases, I say get both She Comes First and Passionista and make it sort of a neutral present in pleasuring each other. Sometimes I say you can package it with another book or a sex toy or make it part of a desire to just have a fun, sexy experience with your partner.
Sexual Concerns in the Boomer Years
N: What do you find is the biggest sexual concern for women in the boomer years –from the age of early 50s on up?
I: I hear about a number of concerns from women age 50 and up when it comes to sex. First of all, I want to say in some cases I talk to women and men in their 50s and 60s and they’re having the best sex they’ve ever had.
Finally the kids are out of the house, they have more time, they have more disposable income and they have more chance to connect. Many boomers are enjoying the best sex of their lives.
That said, I also hear a number of complaints. From women, sometimes it can be about a loss of libido or a loss of interest in sex. It can be about self-esteem during sex.
In some cases, women in their 50s aren’t always partnered. Either they’re divorced or they’ve lost their partners and they’re concerned about how to reinvent their sex life and to start over again with their sex life. And of course there are postmenopausal issues related to hormonal changes — vaginal atrophy and drying of tissue and difficulties lubricating. So that would be a handful of the issues that I hear from boomer women. But again, many who I hear from are really enjoying the best sex of their lives — whether they are single or in a relationship.
N: What are the concerns that men have in that age group?
I: Certainly in the 50 plus age group you have a lot of men who are starting to experience erectile impairment for the first time in their lives and that can be extremely unsettling for a lot of men. Their libido isn’t what it used to be so they’re experiencing low desire.
A lot of men in their 50s are going through bigger life transitions and may be depressed or anxious so that’s also affecting how they relate to their partners and how they feel about themselves and ultimately their sexuality. Sometimes the issues are related to back pain and having sex.
But again, on an up note, I often hear from men in their 50s who are single or partnered and are really enjoying their sex lives and they’re taking care of themselves and leading the sorts of healthy lifestyles that lend themselves to healthy sex.
The Value of a Healthy Lifestyle
N: Do you think that’s one of the most important things that people can do – leading a healthy lifestyle – for sexuality?
I: Absolutely. And a healthy lifestyle includes obviously what you eat and managing your weight. It’s also about exercise and staying fit and staying elastic and stretching. It also has to do with how you manage stress and anxiety and depression.
It also has to do with how you relate to your partner in being able to keep things interesting, fresh, positive, and optimistic. Maintaining a healthy lifestyle that promotes healthy sex really covers a spectrum of different dimensions.
Sex, Myths, and Types of Desire
N: What do you think is the most common misconception about sex from both a male and female perspective?
I: I think first of all that male and female sexuality shares certain similarities but also certain differences. Male desire tends to be considered spontaneous and men can generate desire almost out of nowhere. So when we talk about male desire, we often talk about spontaneous desire. When we talk about female desire, we often talk about responsive desire.
Women don’t respond as clearly to a single sexual cue. They respond to multiple sexual cues. Many women are less apt to have an interest in sex spontaneously but more apt to be interested in sex once it’s initiated and they’re responding. So that creates confusion because a lot of men wonder, ‘Well why am I always initiating? Why am I always the only one who always has to step up to bat and potentially strike out? Why doesn’t she initiate? Why isn’t she more like me? Or does it mean she’s not interested in sex?’
And then a lot of women wonder as well, ‘What’s wrong with me? Am I broken? Why am I not experiencing spontaneous desire like I see in the movies or maybe like I experienced in the first days of infatuation?’
And so a lot of women under the spontaneous desire paradigm feel like they’re either defective or broken. And that’s why we have drugs right now that are getting approved to potentially treat female desire.
I’m not really personally a fan of medicalizing sexuality and medicalizing desire but you know the dominant model for how we think about sexuality and desire is really around spontaneous desire. Again it’s like the movies – both men and women should want to tear off each other’s clothes. But when you look at the reality and, again, female desire tends to be more responsive then spontaneous, I think we need to develop a better understanding of the differences in how men and women experience sexuality.
The other misconception I think is that sex is something that should just happen and that sex tends to be largely a physical act. But when you really think about sexual arousal, it’s as much if not more mental than it is physical. Sure you can touch your genitals or touch someone’s genitals and after a long enough period of time something’s going to happen and hopefully it’s going to feel good. But we are also able to get sexually excited through thinking and reading and seeing and smelling and tasting and all of the senses. And so I think too often couples just rely on sort of a physical script to get them through a sexual experience. And I think they don’t really integrate enough of a mental experience into the act.
Spontaneous versus Responsive Desire
N: I’d like to go back to spontaneous desire because I was reading Emily Nagoski’s book and she seemed to be saying that in fact some women do feel spontaneous desire. Do you think it’s just a smaller percentage?
I: Yes, it’s a smaller percentage. There are plenty of men who also experience responsive desire as opposed to spontaneous desire. I think it’s a big generalization but it’s just that. It’s a generalization. But at a high level; it’s one that holds up. I think generally men tend to experience spontaneous desire and women tend to experience responsive desire. Do you agree or disagree with that?
N: Yes I think it works both ways. I do. I found that very interesting because I had never heard of that concept.
I: Also, I work a lot with gay couples – both men and women.
In gay male couples there’s quite a bit of promiscuity; there’s quite a bit of high libido; there’s a lot of shared sexuality; there’s a lot of non-monogamy. And I think that’s often what you get as a result of two men experiencing spontaneous desire. There’s going to be a lot of sex and a lot of interest in sex. With gay female couples it’s often the opposite – not always but a lot of the time. And I think that’s the result of two people experiencing responsive desire.
Taking the Lead
N: You mentioned something about the man saying, ‘Well why isn’t she initiating?’ Do you feel that men would prefer equal initiation or do some men feel threatened and they find that inhibits them? From your practice, what do you see?
I: From my practice, I find that many men are frustrated because they would like their partners to initiate more. They feel like the burden of initiating sex often is upon them. Now that is not to say I don’t encounter a lot of men who are experiencing low male desire, but for those men who have a healthy level of desire, a lot of them feel like it would be nice to be the one who’s being courted or pursued or it would be nice to have her initiate or for her to take the dominant role.
I rarely encounter men who would be threatened by that…I mean it may be a generational thing as well – that more traditionally gendered role of guys pursue and women get courted. But today you have so many egalitarian couples who are sharing responsibilities and sharing their lives in interesting ways that I think a lot of men would like a more egalitarian approach to sex and initiation.
N: I’m not sure if in your practice, you see many single people but let’s say someone is in a new relationship, do you find that if a woman is more assertive sexually, it would be less desirable to her partner than if she was in a long term relationship? Or don’t you see it as being a factor?
I: It doesn’t really come up and I work with a lot of single people. In general most of them are interested in getting partnered and in developing a secure, safe attachment with a person that includes a strong intimate, erotic component but I don’t really hear too often that one way or the other who’s initiating – it doesn’t really come up.
What do People Know about Sex?
N: How would you describe the degree of education that men have about women’s sexual anatomy and physiology? Do you think they’re in general not well informed?
I: Certainly a lot of men get a lot of their ideas from both their friends and what they hear or learn from porn. I think in both those cases – with friends and porn — there can be some good information and some good truths. You can learn something by talking to a friend and you can learn something by watching porn. But there are also a lot of untruths as well and sometimes a lot of pressure or a lot of expectations.
The other way a man can learn about sex is from a partner but a lot of people get very tongue tied when it comes to talking about sex. Or they feel shy or that it’s inappropriate or that you shouldn’t have to talk about sex. You know there are still a lot of women who would opt to fake orgasm rather than communicate to their partner about what they want.
So a lot of men are growing up in an age of porn and with partners who aren’t always communicative and they don’t know how to communicate. So I would say a lot of men are misinformed about female sexuality.
N: And what about women? Do you think they are more informed?
I: No, I would say that women are sort of equally ill informed. Women also get a lot of their ideas about sex from friends. One friend may really value penis size. Another friend may not. Women also get a lot of their ideas about sex from porn or from Hollywood movies. And I think what you want to be doing is getting your sexual information and feedback hopefully from a loving, trusting connected partner. That’s the best way to get your information – is through having sex and being able to talk about it in a loving, constructive, erotic, interesting, and sexy way.
It would also be great if we had better sex education in this country and if talk shows talked about sex in a deeper, more interesting way. You said that you read Emily Nagoski’s book. She’s a good friend and a colleague of mine. You’re not likely to get too much about the differences between spontaneous and responsive desire in a two- minute talk show segment. So there isn’t always access to the cutting edge, accurate information.
How to Talk to your Partner about Sex
N: I’d like to go back to what you mentioned before about being able to talk to your partner. How would you help a couple who had a hard time talking to each other about sex or how would you help an individual who wanted some way to be comfortable in a conversation about sex? What can people do?
I: Talking about sex doesn’t have to be heavy handed. It doesn’t have to be clinical. It doesn’t have to be a bummer. It doesn’t have to be aggressive, offensive, non-constructive, which is often what it turns out to be. I think talking about sex, first of all, can be sexy.
I have an exercise that I use with my patients. A woman comes in and looks sad because her partner doesn’t spend enough time on foreplay or her partner’s oral sex technique is lacking or he doesn’t give the way he likes to receive per se. And there’s a lot of anger and resentment. And so one way of dealing with it is to go and bring it up and argue back or have an angry conversation.
But I often say, ‘Well, what is the solution first of all? What do you want?’ ‘Well I want more connection. I want more kissing. I want more foreplay. I want more oral sex. I want more frequency’ – whatever it is. And I say, ‘Well, how could you express that to your partner in the form of a fantasy? Or as a sexy desire?’
And now you’ve moved from a place of negativity where you’re focused on what you’re not getting to a place of positivity where you’re reframing what you’d like to be getting in a really positive sexy way. So now you can go to your partner and say, ‘hey, you know I’m having these sexy thoughts and these sexy fantasies about you and let me tell you what’s going on in my head.’ And that’s a much more friendly and inviting and sexy way that’s more likely to lead to the sex that you’d actually like to be having.
N: And then maybe the partner would also do the same thing in conversation?
Are People Happy with their Sex Life?
N: Do you think most people are happy with their sex life? I guess you’re seeing a different population and it’s hard to tell.
I: Well, I generally see people who are unhappy but I certainly hear from plenty of people who have read my books and have said they’ve been helped them to improve their sex or continue to expand their sexual horizons.
You know it’s interesting — I’m part of a website called goodinbed.com and we did a survey not too long back on the topic of boredom. I think close to 70% of people – couples – were bored in their relationships. And more than just sexual boredom — but sexual boredom was definitely high among the types of boredom that people were experiencing.
So that was a little disheartening – about 70 percent were bored in their relationship — but well over that percentage of people said they were very open to a sexy suggestion from their partner to try something new and different. So while I found the overall levels of boredom disheartening I found the interest and the potential for changing that boredom into something sexy and adventurous was optimistic. So going from boredom to interested could be as simple as making a sexy suggestion to your partner.
When a Couple is not Getting Any
N: What are some of the reasons leading to a lack of sex in a relationship? When you hear from people who say, ‘We’re not having sex any more,’ what are some of the common triggers of that?
I: I think certainly it can be a number of life factors from having kids to working to being busy to feeling overwhelmed to being stressed out to being depressed to feeling not so great in your body. I think all of those are factors especially in this digital age where you’re always connected and there’s always some kind of stimulation that’s a click away…whether it’s a text, an email, a blog entry, something to read.
You know there are more demands on our time but I find what a lot of people are actually saying is, ‘I want to want sex, I just sort of don’t really want it. In theory, I like sex. In theory, I like my partner. In theory, I’m interested in all these things. I don’t know…It’s just not happening.’
We were talking about spontaneous desire and responsive desire before and especially for women, there’s a stage before desire. That stage some people call willingness. Some people talk about an arousal that can lead to desire but desire doesn’t come out of nowhere. So if you’re not doing anything to create a context for desire, you’re not going to experience it.
I think the main thing is that couples are not really putting themselves through the motions. Sometimes you have to put your body through the motion and trust that your mind will follow. And I think a lot of couples just aren’t putting themselves through the motions and so desire isn’t really manifesting. And that’s when a month goes by and you haven’t had sex and now, statistically, you’re in a sex rut.
N: What is your philosophy of sex?
I: My philosophy of sex I would say is raunchy lovemaking. And by that I mean it’s very important I think to have a partner you care about and to whom you’re attached.
I’m not saying that casual sex isn’t a whole lot of fun. And for some couples non-monogamy can be great. But I think in general we are sort of wired to pursue a secure attachment with a partner who we love and who we’re attracted to. And I think it’s important to find that secure, safe attachment.
But that attachment on its own is not enough to generate a high quality sex life. You need more than attachment. You need the ability to fantasize, the ability to be raunchy, to be naughty, to be filthy, whatever it is you want to be. You need to have that base of attachment but then really be able to layer a level of risk on top of it with your partner.