Since my relationship with my other girlfriend, Kristen, is going to hit two years next month, I’ve been giving a lot of thought to maintaining sexual adventure in a long-term committed relationship. Often, I think people put a whole lot of time and effort into their sexualities when they are looking for a partner, and after having one for a while, after getting into a pretty stable, loving, generally successful relationship, our focus tends to shift to other things, like having a satisfying career, pursuing work or activism in the world, fine-tuning our familial relationships, keeping a domestic household, integrating into a lasting community, hobbies and arts pursuits, and all those other lovely things that make life interesting and worth it.
And then ... the dreaded bed death might start showing up, drying up the juicy erotic energy between loving partners, forgetting to ignite the fire in our generators.
Though our sex life is still pretty juicy and abundant, every once in a while, a stressful event or extra-busy week or month will make us focus elsewhere, instead of on each other and our erotic connections. In my opinion, it’s nothing major, no fundamental difficulty that we need to overcome, and I know that Kristen and I are both committed to deepening and expanding our erotic lives, both individually and together. Our particular orientations are so well aligned, and there is so much more that we have said we are interested in exploring, that we haven’t even tapped into yet, who knows whether or not they will be something we end up integrating on a regular basis or if they will be just a one-time exploration?
So, Kristen and I have been clocking our desires for each other, clocking our wants and the times when we feel like we don’t get enough or when we feel extra-satisfied. What does that look like? How often do we want to have sex? How much and what kinds of sex do we desire, and need? How often do we feel satiated?
Since we’ve been having these conversations a bit lately, I picked up the book Just Do It: How One Couple Turned Off the TV and Turned On Their Sex Lives for 101 Days (No Excuses!)(Crown, 2008). The guy who wrote it, Douglas Brown, is a journalist and got some major coverage when it came out. I remembered seeing the reviews.
The premise is simple: After being married 14 years, and with two young children (under 10), Brown reported on a conference he’d attended at which there were men involved in relationships who hadn’t had sex in over one hundred days who’d formed “hundred-days clubs.” His wife, Annie, suggested they form their own little club, only reverse it: “instead of not having sex for one hundred days ... let’s have sex for one hundred consecutive days.”]
They both thought this would be a fascinating experiment.
The book follows their journey as they embark upon ways to make sex more interesting (his requests: lingerie—particularly sexy stockings—and porn; her request: sex toys); how they could actually schedule more time to have sex (babysitter, housecleaner), what kind of research they could do (read books, watch documentaries, go to conventions), and how they could deepen their bond.
To be honest, I am not the target audience for this book. I (arguably, I suppose) work in the sex industry in some ways: I write about sex, I study sex, I read sex books, I keep up on the sex world. I study gender, and attraction and relationships. Most of the adventures in this book felt under-researched, that they were barely scratching the surface of this industry, and often taking things at face value that actually can have deeper, artistic or pleasurable meanings—like porn, for instance. They decided they didn’t like it, because the women all had fake boobs and the men’s dicks are too big. But this is only accurate if you’re only watching mainstream porn, and not finding the vast amounts of independent, women-made (or queer) porn that’s available. It was like saying you want to try a restaurant, going to McDonalds, and deciding you didn’t like restaurants.
I thought the information about the sex industry and their observations of people who make their careers around studying sexuality was trite and limited, especially because I too am involved in that world. Perhaps someone not involved would have found those revelations fascinating, but I also think they weren’t entirely accurate, so it frustrated me as well.
What was interesting, however, were the things that they learned about cultivating desire in their relationship. They were having sex at night, primarily, so eating heavier meals early in the morning, and only salad in the evenings, for example, made it much easier for him to get it up and perform. She decided to explore yoga, which she’d never done before, to keep up her body, and he started lifting weights and running to keep up his. Eating right and exercise made a difference, and some nights they struggled through the sex session to which they’d committed and decided to make other choices (“No more fried food at night,” for example).
It was interesting too that some of the things they did were to specifically enhance their gender presentations. She explored waxing, lingerie, sexy nightgowns and slips, and he upgraded his sweatpants to pajama pants and even, eventually, bought a silk pair. He also worked on his muscles, bulked up his shoulders and tightened his abs. At one point, late in the book, he went into a sports shop looking for fishing poles for himself and his daughter. He asks the worker for help, saying exactly what he knows and what he doesn’t know, and reflects:
“Nearly a hundred days earlier I’d stepped with caution into Bass Pro Shops, worried that my version of masculinity wouldn’t jibe with the store’s. Now I was blithe. Daily sex had fortified my sense of manliness, and this time I didn’t wonder if I should wear my machismo prominently on my sleeve. I was a sexual male, not a shuffling, middle-aged cream puff who had left behind the vigorous and demanding pleasures of sex for the effortless, bland amusements of hobbies and interests.”
I don’t appreciate the ways he equates sex and sexual conquest with masculinity and successful masculinity, but I understand that he’s reflecting what most folks in this time and culture believe. There are plenty of moments in the book where he makes comments like this: one time, he’s in a store and the clerk shares that men had been complaining that the colors in the fall line were “too gay,” and he feels embarrassed about the shirt he bought. He shares this without any consciousness behind or deconstruction of the masculinity policing, but clearly he noticed it and knew it was significant.
I’m not sure I’d recommend the book. I think most folks I know are too smart for it, and it wouldn’t be that interesting or relevant. But I appreciated the insight both the author and his wife gained from this hundred-day experiment, and there were occasional revelations that I found applicable.
And it got me thinking: Maybe I need my own hundred-day experiment. It certainly would be an adventure.