BOOM CHICKA BOOM CHICKA WAH WAH. A-BOOM CHICKA BOOM CHICKA WAH — It’s time for sex!
Wait, where are you going? Get back here.
Admittedly, 2020 wasn’t the sexiest year on record. As I write, there are ongoing studies by the National Institute of Mental Health and various health organizations trying to determine what the pandemic has done to our sexuality. There are studies that find married couples having more sex (because really what else do they have to do?), even though hampered by the omnipresence of children; and single people having way less, abandoning their quest for la petite mort to avoid la grande one. The public service messages want to sound sex-positive in the midst of uncertainty, but somehow I didn’t find myself cheered by the oft-quoted “You are your safest sex partner” — and even after that, we were admonished to wash our hands.
But slowly we are being vaccinated, we are being freed; and soon Thanatos and Eros may not be so scarily intertwined. Here’s hoping.
THE 80/80 MARRIAGE: A New Model for a Happier, Stronger Relationship (Penguin Life, 240 pp., $26) is extremely well intentioned. Nate and Kaley Klemp, a high-powered executive coaching duo, found their marriage was foundering because of a very modern problem: the quest for “fairness.” With the idea that everything needs to be 50/50, life becomes a constant negotiation: If I’m stacking the dishes in the dishwasher, why are you playing Civilization and not reading to the kids? The bickering was endless — and was not even an improvement on what they deemed the 80/20 model of “traditional” married couples, where the women generally had most of the responsibilities for the home. At least, the Klemps theorized, there was comfort in clearly defined gender roles. No one argued over who stacked the dishes.
So Nate and Kaley came up with the concept of the 80/80 marriage, where you don’t strive for perfection but everyone gives 80 percent (yes, the number is random, don’t worry about it). Here, the mind-set is not “If I win, you lose,” it’s “If I give a lot and you give a lot, we both win.”
They take their idea of “radical generosity” into the bedroom, quoting the marriage therapist Corey Allan: “How you do life is how you do sex. How you do sex is how you do life.” So you have to put yourself out there, sometimes in uncomfortable ways. If, for example, you are the less randy partner, you don’t just say, “I’m not in the mood.” You say, “I’m not in the mood now, but how about tomorrow?” This not only softens the sting of rejection; it quells anxiety and keeps the affection bubbling. (The caveat being, don’t be an idiot. Put out, and do it with joy.)
I love the idea of making generosity the focus of a book, and a relationship. Then I think about actual human beings. The book has a chapter devoted to what you do when you have a spouse who is utterly unwilling to change from being a taker to being a giver. Let’s just say that I think that’s the first chapter most readers will turn to.
In SEX POINTS: Reclaim Your Sex Life With the Revolutionary Multi-Point System (Hachette Go, 320 pp., $28), Bat Sheva Marcus has come up with a way to visualize your sex life as a circle with four quadrants — desire, pain, arousal and orgasm — and how many points you gain or lose when taking the mother of all quizzes that she’s devised here determines where you are in your overall satisfaction levels. You might be anywhere from 160 (swinging from the chandeliers) to well below 100 (hanging by a thread). It’s like Sudoku for shtupping.
The book then tackles the most common problems that keep us from having great sex; Marcus is a believer in doing whatever it takes to surmount a sexual obstacle. (Botox for vaginismus: Who knew?) What’s refreshing about “Sex Points” is that it starts with the assumption that bad sex isn’t always some deep-seated psychological problem — that in fact, for both men and women, it is often physical, and it’s the physical problem left unsolved that leads to anxiety, stress and avoidance.
“I’ve had patients quote their therapist’s telling them that their vaginal pain was their vagina’s way of telling them that they ‘weren’t ready’ to have sex,” Marcus writes. “Oh, really? Or maybe it was actually their vagina telling them that it was actually time to find a new therapist.”
Stephen K. Klein’s SADOMASOCHISM AND THE BDSM COMMUNITY IN THE UNITED STATES: Kinky People Unite (Routledge, 220 pp., paper, $44.95) has an alluring title that led me to believe I’d learn a thing or two; imagine my surprise to discover that Klein is an academic from the University of Memphis, and this is a serious volume chronicling the rise of the B.D.S.M. movement in America — “from scattered networks of sadomasochists and the bars, businesses and magazine publishers who catered to this small, maligned sexual practice in the 1950s” to today’s “coherent community grounded in a shared literature, led by local and national organizations, and bound by shared principles epitomized by the phrase ‘safe, sane, consensual.’”
Still, the book did end up having a self-help component. It pointed me toward two of the oldest B.D.S.M. organizations in the country, the Janus and Eulenspiegel Societies, each of which runs online workshops on perfecting any kink skill you can imagine, from creating a submissive résumé to self-bondage (I guess that one’s really for the pandemic), whipping techniques and several things I’d never heard of before. I must say, after some initial alarm, I was pleased to discover that “pet play” doesn’t involve any actual pets.
I am not the audience for many of the books I review; if I were, they’d all be titled “Sex for Desperate Women of a Certain Age.” (Coincidentally, that’s the title of my match.com profile.) But even when I’m not the demo, I know what works. THE GREAT SEX RESCUE: The Lies You’ve Been Taught and How to Recover What God Intended (Baker Books, 272 pp., $16.99) is brought to you by the people who run the popular Christian marriage blog To Love, Honor and Vacuum, which answers questions like “Am I tainted by sex before marriage?” And the author, Sheila Wray Gregoire, begins with this interesting premise: “What if our evangelical treatment for sex issues make things worse?”
“The Great Sex Rescue” explores Christian teachings on sex against a backdrop of academic research on evangelism and sexuality. A chapter entitled “Your Spouse Is Not Your Methadone” is intriguing in its exploration of how one idea central to Christian sex education — that men must have to constantly control their lust and women are the sexual gatekeepers — has been disastrous for many couples. Traditionally women are blamed for men’s porn addiction. Gregoire puts the blame squarely with the addict.
I don’t want to leave the impression that Gregoire writes about sex in a punitive fashion, though. Far from it. There is a lot of joy in these pages. In fact, I’d like to suggest she retitle her book: “Oh God, Oh God, Oh God.”