Article By Zoë Kors
~ APRIL 2022 ~
I had a ten-year sexless marriage in my twenties.
There, I said it. I married a man I loved dearly. He was loving, funny, and gorgeous, but the thought of having sex with him made my skin crawl. Eventually, I left.
What was missing for me, where gynecology and therapy fell short, was that I gained no understanding of how my emotional relationship with my husband affected my physical relationship with him. I was still left wondering how a healthy, educated, self-aware young woman who loved her husband had inexplicably lost her sex drive. This set me on a lifelong path of exploring the true nature of sexuality.
My extensive exploration included reading and researching the fields of psychology, neuroscience, meditation, and mysticism. It wasn’t until ten years later that my personal mission became my professional calling. When I opened my private practice as a sex coach, what surprised me most was the nearly universal disorientation inside the topic of sex. Conversation after conversation led me to realize how little most of us know about our bodies, our minds, and our hearts when it comes to our intimate relationships.
It’s only now that I am able to look back and see the micro and the macro of my relationship with my husband, in and out of bed and recognize that skillful navigation of our sexual relationship would have spared us both a decade of suffering inside what was otherwise a loving and respectful partnership.
More than a dozen years on and having worked with thousands of clients, I am able to help others navigate the mysterious landscape of sex and intimacy. Whether it’s desire discrepancy, low or non-existent sex drive, or just plain boredom in the bedroom, I find myself saying what I wished I heard all those years ago, “There’s a way out. It doesn’t have to be like this.” Here are my three secrets to improving your sex life:
Stop making orgasm the goal of sex
Don’t get me wrong, orgasms are great. If we all had more orgasms, I’m sure the world would be a better place—especially women, for whom “the orgasm gap” is real. However, when we mistake orgasms to be the goal of sex, we miss the opportunity to experience all kinds of pleasure along the way.
Something I ask my clients to do is take the possibility of orgasm off the table for a predetermined period of time—usually two to four weeks. Whether they are having partnered or solo sex, I encourage them to continue to engage in sex but to stop short of having orgasms. In doing so, I invite them to explore their relationship with pleasure.
My client, Kate, had a history of struggling to reach orgasm with a partner, an issue she didn’t encounter when she was with herself. She reached out to me when she had entered into a new relationship and didn’t want to fall into her familiar pattern of not being able to have an orgasm during sex and all the compensating behaviors, including faking orgasms to spare her partner’s ego. I had her invite her partner into a “pleasure laboratory” in which they experimented with giving each other all kinds of pleasure while stopping short of orgasm. What they found was life-altering, as Kate put it. Not only did she find a new level of pleasure, but she reported finally being able to “get out of her head” during sex. Shortly after she and her partner ended their orgasm moratorium, she climaxed for the first time ever with a partner.
I have observed that when we slow down and give our bodies a chance to open-up gradually to the natural stages of arousal, we also give our minds the opportunity to process and be present with what is happening moment to moment.
Master Your Instrument
When I was in high school, my girlfriends and I had a book called, “Our Bodies Ourselves” published by the Boston Women’s Health Book Collective. It was like an owner’s manual for our young evolving bodies. It gave me a good start to understanding my body and how it worked, but, years later, when my sex drive inexplicably disappeared and I was struggling in my sexless marriage, one thing that would have helped me would have been to have an even greater depth of knowledge, not just about my anatomy but my physiology.
When it comes to sex, knowledge is power. There are plenty of sources for science-based information at our fingertips about the physiology of sex.
Beyond what you can learn about your sexual response cognitively, learning about your body experientially will directly contribute to your enjoyment of sex. My client Grace is a good example of how this works. Grace was raised to believe that sex before marriage is dangerous and immoral. Masturbation was warned against as well. When Grace became an adult, though she remained close to her family, she rejected many of the values and perspectives from her childhood.
After college, she moved across the country, launched her career, met someone, and got engaged. It was then that she reached out to me because she felt intimidated by having sex with her partner, who was much more experienced. Her partner was a generous lover and asked her regularly about her sexual preferences; what she likes and how to touch her. Grace didn’t have answers to any of these questions. Although she didn’t believe self-pleasure was philosophically wrong, it wasn’t something she did often and even when she did, she felt conflicted, guilty, or a little embarrassed.
I invited Grace to create a pleasure laboratory all for herself. By exploring her body—in its entirety, not just her genitals—she would be able to learn how her body responded to various types of touch. Just like with Kate, I suggested she see the experience of sensation as the goal in the lab, and to remove orgasm as the destination. Each session should last at least 30 minutes before climax, giving her plenty of time to feel fully her stages of arousal.
Grace came back to me after two weeks of intentional self-pleasure with a completely new outlook. She reported that until that time, she hadn’t even known what her body was capable of feeling. She said she felt like an entirely new version of herself.
Grace then took her discoveries to her partner and invited her to join in the experiments. Not only was she able to answer her partner’s questions, but together they found answers to even more questions they didn’t know to ask.
Our ability to connect powerfully with each other is magnified exponentially when we master own instrument and mutually share that information with our lovers.
Start scheduling sex
Hollywood often has us believing that sex has to be spontaneous in order to be good. That the “tear each other’s clothes off” sex is the way it’s always supposed to look.
Many of us likely did have spontaneous sex early in our relationships, before living together and responsibilities such as shared bills, kids and chores became part of the equation. we rarely feel the kind of insatiable and simultaneous desire for each other that we did early on.
My husband and I solve this problem by scheduling sex. It’s not that we don’t have spontaneous sex, it is that we intentionally create opportunities for spontaneity to happen. If you think about it, that’s exactly what we did when we were dating: we carved out time to devote to each other. We anticipated that time with excitement, made plans, showered, dressed, put down our devices, and focused on each other. We created the conditions in which desire, and great sex, could flourish.
Now, many years later, we continue to do the same thing by scheduling sex. Doing so sends a signal to ourselves and each other that we care enough to nourish a very tender and delicious aspect of our relationship.
No matter who you are and who you like to have sex with, I believe that the key to having a great sex life is to form a deeply intimate relationship with ourselves first. We can meet each other only to the extent that we can meet ourselves. While it can be challenging to form an organically healthy relationship with this very tender part of ourselves, taking the time to get intimate with ourselves allows us to share and receive each other in a way that makes sex profoundly more intimate.
Zoë Kors is sex and intimacy coach and author of Radical Intimacy: Cultivate the Deeply Connected Relationships You Desire and Deserve. She offers her services through her own private practice as well as Center for Relational Healing in Los Angeles.
All views expressed in this article are the author’s own.