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What I've learned after two years of daily sex: Part 1.

Updated: Jul 16, 2023

This week is my attempt to write a special blog-iversary post of sorts to celebrate one year (as of December 25th) of sharing my erotic journey with you. And as we've embarked on yet another new year, and as I take a moment to marvel that I've been writing now for one whole rotation around the sun, I can't help but wonder what I've learned.



I mean, I think I've learned a lot of things -- about myself, about PM, about our relationship -- and I hope that I have been able to clearly convey at least some of them to you in my essays. But what I mean, is I find myself asking if there has there been any fundamental lessons that I've learned through this journey of sexual discovery.



Looking back over the last two years, our sexual relationship went through a serious evolution. Somehow, against all odds it seems, despite having been together 25 years and being right in the middle of the insanity of raising three children together, we've not only relit a fire for one another but have managed to keep it lit over the past few years.



So what has changed? After all, we haven’t always been like this with one another.



For the better part of our marriage, we enjoyed good sex 1-2 times a week. At times when things were busy and I was caught up in one thing or another, that frequency would slip to a few times a month. But now? Regardless of what madness is happening around us at any given time, we seem to come crashing back together every friggin' day.



And while it would be easy to just thank my lucky stars that my best friend and life partner has also managed to once again become my lover and not give it any more thought, that's not who I am. What can I say? I don't like a puzzle or mystery left unsolved!



Ours has been a journey that we stumbled upon quite haphazardly, and yet, nevertheless, we've managed to stay on this course. It begs the question whether there is some essential ingredient, a single thread that runs through our experiences together, that I can pinpoint and say, "Yes! That's it! That's how we're doing this!"



Because, frankly, I really like what PM and I have now. *nods and grins mischievously* And if, in the future, we find that things between us have begun to revert back to the way they were before, I'd like to have some sense of how we can fan the flames of passion and get back here once again. I suppose this whole blog has become a roadmap of sorts.



So what have I learned over the last two years of doing it with my hubs on the regs?



First and foremost, I have realized the need to acknowledge one another’s separateness.



In order to continue to appreciate each other within our relationship, we need to allow one another the freedom to be distinct individuals outside our relationship, with friends and activities and goals and, yes, even erotic imaginings that have nothing to do with our partner and are all our own. That privacy and space are not a relationship’s enemies. Counterintuitively, allowing some distance to exist between PM and me doesn’t drive us apart but feeds our desire to be together.



Psychotherapist and author Esther Perel reminds us that like fire needs air, passion needs distance. There’s no room for connection to happen with my partner if we’re so merged that we don’t exist apart from one another. That desire needs separateness is “the essential paradox of intimacy and love” (Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence, 25).



After all, I can feel incredibly close to PM but at the same time have no interest in him sexually. *shrugs* In our existence as a couple and then as parents together, it has been incredibly easy for me at times to relegate my spouse to the “friend zone” — that relationship that has all the love and intimacy of a couple but lacks any sexual tension.



These last few years together have been an ever-evolving lesson for me in how to nurture separateness in our marriage. I don’t just want PM to be my person. I referred to him as "my person" recently, and what I was trying to express was the idea that no matter what happens between us, other attractions or even sexual experimentation, I'm committed to him and to our relationship. I was echoing how a friend of mine refers to her spouse and their level of loyalty and commitment to one another. It made sense to me when I said it.



And PM called me out on it.



“I don’t want to just be your person,” he told me. “That sounds like I’m just a given in your life. Or that I’m someone you keep around because you rely on me or need me for something.” And he’s right. It’s not fair to think of him like I would an emergency contact or my bestie. It’s not fair to him for me to stay married to him simply because I can’t imagine my life without him. He deserves more. I deserve more. We both deserve to be truly seen, as more than just the sum of the needs we fulfill for one another. We both deserve to feel wanted. We both deserve to feel desired.



And so, I don’t just want PM to be my person. I don’t want our marriage to be one of domestic partners who stay together because it’s the best arrangement for this task of raising children. Nor do I want this to be a marriage of best friends that are so mutually dependent on one another, so merged, that we can no longer see the amazing, brilliant, sexy individuals we both are.



Perel tells us that, “The grand illusion of committed love is that we think our partners are ours” (Mating in Captivity, 211). Desire and passion require that I acknowledge the fact that this other human being beside me can never be fully known by me. And there’s excitement in that mystery. It makes space for wanting. For curiosity. For longing.



And so, over the last few years together, I think I’m gaining a better perspective on what it takes to create space for desire, and “separateness is a precondition,” Perel reminds us (25). Acknowledging the fact that PM has the freedom to desire someone else, to fantasize about someone else, to love someone else even — the reality that I can never own my partner — is scary. But it reminds me not to take him for granted. That even though it sometimes feels as though our commitment is a given, we both still exist as individuals capable of desiring others and being desired by others. And yet we continually choose one another.



And in the perspective that separateness allows me to have, I can catch a glimpse of the man I fell in love with and married. And, fuck me, that man is sexy, and funny, and brilliant, and dark, and surprising, and confident, and ridiculous, and kind.



However, I've also come to realize that in nuturing separateness, we inadvertently made room for something more to happen between us. We've created a space wherein we can have a totally different dynamic with one another, outside the expectations of day-to-day life. A space where anything is possible.



Over the past two years, PM and I have explored Dom/sub dynamics together, bondage and the pain/pleasure line. We’ve shared sexual fantasies with one another and used them to create narratives that have heightened our desire for one another. We’ve incorporated toys and props and ramps, finding newness and the unfamiliar within the familiar.



We’ve discovered how the addition of things like weed and smutty movies to our nightly down time together has helped dial us into a sexy mindset. We’ve talked about crushes and attractions to others and found there’s excitement in seeing one another through the eyes of others. Dirty, flirty texts when we’re apart and playful, sensual touch when we’re together. (I hope to talk more about these last two elements another time.)



What does all of this sexing and sexting have in common? I would argue that underlying all of our frisky, flirty, dirty, sexy times has been the element of play. Once we began to give one another the space we needed to breathe, we inadvertently created a space where playfulness with one another became possible. But it didn't start in the bedroom. And it doesn't stay there either.



So what do I mean by "play"? And what does that look like in our relationship? This week I'll address the first of these questions, which I hope will lay the groundwork for Part 2 of this piece where I'll look at how play plays itself out for PM and me. Make sense? So if theory isn't your piece of cake, bear with me. I promise I'm going somewhere. (At least, I hope I am. *bites nail nervously*)



Classicist Stephen Kidd in his work on the concept of play in Ancient Greece, points out that in classic Greek texts, the opposite of “play” was that which was the “serious.” In several of Plato’s works, play is also defined as “that which is for the sake of pleasure alone” (Play and Aesthetics in Ancient Greece, 6-7). The serious, on the other hand, is goal-oriented. Play here is something that exists outside the ordinary, serious stuff of life, but what more, play is so closely associated with pleasure that it can be understood as a form of pleasure itself.



Curiously, according to the ancient Greek understanding, "Play is not a certain set of activities which unleashes a certain feeling of pleasure; it is rather a certain feeling of pleasure that unleashes the activities we think of as 'play'" (Play and Aesthetics, 6). Herein we find this idea that play emerges out of an internal sense of bliss or pleasure rather than the other way around. In fact, the Greek verb "to play" comes from the Greek noun for "child," suggesting that somehow the joyful state of being a child leads to playful behavior (20-21). This understanding of play envisions a loop of sorts, wherein feelings of joy lead us to play, which in itself is a form of joy (5-6).



We see some aspects of these ancient conceptions of "play" in our everyday, colloquial usage of the word. We talk about play as something over against work. The saying “work hard, play hard” suggests the importance of balancing the energy one puts into professional endeavors and things undertaken for fun. We work for money, for success, for power, for status, for a sense of fulfillment. Play is something that we do by choice, over against the obligation of work, that has pleasure and enjoyment as its central aim.



While we may enjoy our work and we may even find that play brings us things like money or status, we relate to these two things in two different ways such that they exist in counterpoint. And though play manifests itself differently for different people –– for some its fantasy football, for others its donning a costume and commanding the stage, for still others its lying on a quiet beach digging their toes into the sand –– it's perhaps one of those cases of we know it when we see it. Play is something that we don't have to do but that we take part in for the feelings of pleasure we associate with it (or for the ancient Greeks, something that erupts from us when we're in a child-like state of bliss).



So we have these dichotomies of play and work, play and the serious. It seems simple enough, but in a culture that places so much value in time management and efficiency, even play tends to get assigned other values apart from the pure pleasure of it. When we were children, play for the simple sake of pleasure came easily. As adults, play doesn't come as naturally. For most of us, the serious stuff of being an adult takes over at some point and crowds out the space we once had for bliss.



What more, we often feel the need to explain and justify our play as adults. I play tennis to stay healthy and to help me de-stress. I go on vacation so I can re-charge. I take a weekly art class in order to get out on my own, away from my kids. In a way, the aforementioned adage, "work hard, play hard" likewise reduces play to existing only as the counterbalance to work as part of a well-rounded life: since I do this, I should also do that. But does play begin to lose something essential when we pursue it for a specific payoff?




We even apply these same efficiency standards to foreplay. In the way people conventionally think and talk about foreplay, it exists, not as an act of pleasure in and of itself, but as the precursor to sexual intercourse.



I've talked before about how this narrow view of foreplay really fucked with my head, especially in our early years of marriage. For most of our relationship, we both approached foreplay as a set of arousing activities that one did in preparation for sex. We had never openly talked about it, but expectations of penetrative sex were clearly attached to sensual, physical contact. And while I hate to admit it, sometimes I would internally cringe when PM would try to kiss me or caress me, because I knew he was hoping to get a piece. If I participated in said contact, if I allowed PM to engage me in this way, I was giving him the signal that I was up for gettin' down. If I stroked his thigh or sent him a suggestive text, he assumed I was communicating that I was in the mood.



Because of this association between sensual contact and sex, if I didn't want to have sex, I tended to avoid any kind of interaction that I thought might send PM the wrong message. Conversely, in an effort to avoid making me feel pressured, PM tended to limit the way he interacted with me erotically outside the bedroom. (And he recently admitted that these interactions had been fraught with anxiety for him, unsure as he was how I would respond.) The result was a stilted sex life that lacked passion.



PM and I have since rejected this idea of foreplay. More specifically, we abandoned the idea that sexual intercourse should have to follow after sensual, or even outright sexual, contact. What PM and I scrapped was not the play itself that precedes sex, but rather the idea that sexual or sensual play must inevitably lead to P in the V.



What I realize now –– and what I didn't recognize when I first wrote about abandoning the conventional notion of "foreplay" –– is that the real problem PM and I were having was that we had taken the "play" out of foreplay. When intimate contact with my partner becomes just a pit-stop on the way to the F-train, when not undertaken from a sense of delight but with some other goal in mind, what I have is just another form of work. It's no longer in the realm of "play" and has become part of "the serious."


 

I'm taking for granted here that foreplay can, in fact, be conceived of as a form of "play." Kidd notes that, at least according to the ancient Greeks, activities like eating and sex cannot be considered play as they are simply processes that produce feelings of pleasure. In Part 2 of this post I will make the argument that foreplay or sexual play, and even sex, can, in fact, fit the more rigorous, philosophical conception of play. What more, PM and I have found that a sense of playfulness is imbedded into the very fabric of passionate sex.


 

Truth be told, our relationship had become more and more devoid of play and playfulness over the years. In building a life and family together, we had gotten bogged down with all the obligation and duties, the must-dos and should-dos. Playfulness with each other –– a playfulness that had once thrived when we were young and newly in love and when a life together was still a dream –– had begun to seem like a waste of precious resources. Any time and energy given to play was dedicated to our children. And it made perfect sense. PM and I loved one another and were committed to being life-partners. In a relationship built on love, trust, and commitment, what need did we have for play? Well, if we've learned anything over the last few years, it's that we were sorely mistaken.



In what is perhaps the most influential study from the 20th century on the concept of play in human culture (Homo Ludens: A Study of the Play-Element in Culture, orig. pub. in 1938) Dutch sociologist and historian Johan Huizinga famously set down several rules for determining what constitutes play. According to Huizinga, play must be free; for example, if something is undertaken from a sense of duty or obligation or is forced on someone, it’s not play. What more, play takes place outside of ordinary life (whether an actual physical space or a headspace) and, therefore, is not subject to the rules and expectations of regular, everyday life. Huizinga uses the phrase "magic circle" for this space of suspended reality, a concept that would later be further developed and popularized by game designers.



In addition, Huizinga tells us that play has distinct times and spaces and that it creates order (that is, play has its own set of expectations and rules that you follow so as to not ruin the play). Finally, Huizinga argues that play has no material interest, that is, it doesn't serve any other purpose. After all, play finds a counterpoint in work, which is goal-oriented. So again we find this idea that play -- and the pleasure associated with it -- is an end in and of itself.



On the relationship of eroticism to play, Esther Perel explains, "Eroticism is the cultivation of excitement, a purposeful quest for pleasure" (Mating in Captivity, 217). In her work with couples, Perel found that those partners "who maintain a sense of playfulness with each other, in and out of the bedroom" are the ones that also keep alive the flames of desire (218). Desire and lust need space to play. Within that "Magic Circle" of play, all the weight of a domestic life together ceases to exist.



What does all of this mean? Is it possible for a couple to find this suspension of reality that is has no concern for obligations and duty? Can two people entrenched in the everyday routines that help keep the chaos at bay also create time and space for an alternate reality of sorts with its own rules and without any real goal apart from indulging in delight? I'd argue yes. We've got three kiddos under 10, and we seem to be doing it.




I want to share with you some of the ways that play has entered into PM's and my relationship, what it looks like when I say we've found space to play with one another again. Because I'm not just talking about kinky stuff, although that's there, too. *eyebrows waggle* But you'll have to wait until next time to read all about. *grins maniacally*



Until next time, stay kinky. 😉

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