Reading Anaïs Nin, I came across this: "The possession of knowledge does not kill the sense of wonder and mystery. There is always more mystery."
There's a refreshing fearlessness around this both/and accounting that I think bonding science could learn to better model. In the Western world, it's taking us a long time to add "true and false simultaneously" and "neither true nor false" to our default True/False way of thinking.
It recently occurred to me how frequently I'm left with this vague sense of whiplash from listening between the Gottman camp's, "You aren't close enough!" and Perel's "There's not enough mystery!"
It's BOTH. It's a balance. It's our favorite answer in psychology: "It depends!"
But there really does seem to be a nice middle path where you can keep things sexy and preserve enough mystery without being anxiously fused at the hip. I said, 'nice,' not "easy."
Esther Perel does articulate the sort of balance that I'm aiming for in Mating in Captivity: "For [erotically intelligent couples], love is a vessel that contains both security and adventure, and commitment offers one of the great luxuries of life: time. Marriage is not the end of romance, it is the beginning. They know that they have years in which to deepen their connection, to experiment, to regress, and even to fail. They see their relationship as something alive and ongoing, not a fait accompli. It's a story that they are writing together, one with many chapters, and neither partner knows how it will end. There's always a place they haven't gone yet, always something about the other still to be discovered."
My beloved both/and is right there! 'BOTH security AND adventure.'
Only when delving into the philosophy of love relationships, I notice that friends and colleagues in monogamous relationships struggle to see how you can have security if you risk certain adventures, and poly/open friends tend to be more confounded with how you can have enough adventure if you secure things too tightly in certain places.
Depending on your wiring and a zillion other factors that make you uniquely and beautifully you, striking this balance isn't necessarily an easy process. It seriously helps to find partners who prefer similar contexts in terms of what makes you reel relationally safe and subsequently adventurous!
Okay, I realize that I promised you easy-to-use tips! This one just needed a set-up. So, how can we put this to use in our love relationships *today*?
I call it 'The 70/30,' but maybe someone famous has already thought of something similar and there's an official name. If you know know of one, DM me please!
Here's the framework: 70% of the time sex is aimed at mutual pleasure, and the remaining 30% of the time is: 15% mind-blowing for one partner and 15% mind-blowing for the other.
If you're more than two partners, you can still apply this! I've even worked with a seriously egalitarian couple who preferred 50-50: 50% mutual and 25% for each. See what works for you!
It seems simple, but focusing on what you bring to a sexual relationship and not just what you're getting from it can really turn things up; when we put in solid effort to make 15% of sex JUST what our partners crave, it makes the 70% better, and also 'our own 15%.'
This is a simplistic breakdown for the purpose of making it easy to put to use because I tend to work with couples feeling a lot of distress about the amount of time that's passed since they've been intimate and/or felt good about it. It seems to work best when the approach is less accounting-based and more gentle, like: "More times than not over the last few months, the majority of our sex has been mutually satisfying, and there have also been times when each of us has felt special and totally rocked."
I will say, if you're already prone to compulsivity and fixating on numbers and frequency, this may not be the best technique for you!
Where I would direct you first to kind of start building a foundation if you're, for instance, quietly notating days on the calendar to count how many times per month you have sex (or don't), would definitely be Sue Johnson's Three Kinds of Sex.
If you or your partner/s notice that one or all of you are getting kind of hung up on the amount of times you have sex, it might be a good idea to zoom out a little and see what it is you're going to intimacy for, and what you and your partner are actually experiencing.
Hint: this requires talking. I recommend face-to-face. Find a counselor if it feels too scary! We're good at catching bullets and helping things go nice and slow.
Again, in the spirit of this post, it's all about balance.
If you're not having synchrony sex 100% of the time, that definitely doesn't make you sexually incompetent. In my experience working with relationships, there can be a lot to learn from (and a lot of fun in!) 'solace' and 'sealed-off' sex. There are seasons for everything!
Sustainable desire is possible. Whether you're two or more! Open, monogamous, and everyone in between. We just have to seek that middle ground with dedicated, loving intention.