Whetting your appetite for . . . sex - 1/26/03

Smartmarriages ® cmfce at smartmarriages.com
Sun Jan 26 18:21:24 EST 2003

subject: Whetting your appetite for . . . sex - 1/26/03

from: Smart Marriages®

Whetting your appetite for . . . sex
Remember, Michele will be on The Today Show Monday Jan 27, at about 8:30am.

`It's a very simple principle, but when you are caring about your spouse's
needs and desires, there's almost always reciprocity.'

--Michele Weiner-Davis

By Patrick Kampert Tribune staff reporter Published January 26, 2003

All of the nine women gathered in therapist Michele Weiner-Davis' Woodstock
office had hubby trouble and poor sex lives.

So Weiner-Davis asked them to try an experiment: Go home and seduce your
husbands for two weeks, even if you don't feel like it.

Flirt, be affectionate, initiate sex.

These women, in their 30s and 40s, came from various walks of life:
teachers, administrative assistants, stay-at-home moms living in Henry
County. And they all were complaining vigorously about their husbands' lack
of attention and help with household chores. So when Weiner-Davis suggested
they come on to their husbands, they thought she had flipped but agreed to
give it a try.

Two weeks later, they returned, entering the room giggling and whispering.
"I could not believe what happened," one woman said. "My husband started
reading the kids bedtime stories--he never does that. He was talking to me
more. He was putting grout between the tiles."

Every woman had a similar story to tell. But one was still a little

"Why do we have to be more sexual to get our husbands to be more of a
partner in the relationship?" she asked. "It's not fair."

"Imagine if I was talking with a group of guys and they were interested in
being more physically intimate with their wives," Weiner-Davis replied. "And
I sent them home with a homework assignment: They had to talk to their wives
more, and they had to go out on dates and be a little more romantic. Can you
imagine if they said to me, `Why do I have to talk to my wife just because I
want to be more physical?'

"It's different ways of achieving the same closeness."

It could be said that for centuries people have been using sex to get what
they want. But to Weiner-Davis, the story is less agenda-driven than you
might think. It's what she calls "real giving," or simply, the golden rule:
Treat others as you want to be treated.

"All good marriages are based on the notion that people who love each other
take care of each other. It's a very simple principle, but when you are
caring about your spouse's needs and desires, there's almost always
reciprocity," she said.

"What happened with those women is that, rather than wait for their husbands
to be more of the men they were hoping they would be, they all took
responsibility for their own role in the marital stalemate and decided to
tip over the first domino. And in this case, that was being more physical,
being more sexual."

In her private practice, Weiner-Davis makes it a priority to get couples
talking about what makes them tingle. She said her experience with couples
tells her that there are many marriages out there with what she calls "a
desire gap," in which one partner wants more intimacy than the other.

Her assertions are borne out in a University of Chicago study published in
the Journal of the American Medical Association, which showed that 43
percent of women and 31 percent of men admitted to having sexual problems.
(Although a new Kinsey Institute study pegs that number at 24.4 percent of
women, U. of C. researcher Edward Lauman noted that the Kinsey sample was
smaller, was based on random phone calls instead of face-to-face interviews
and excluded women who may have had serious sexual problems.)

Finding an answer

Weiner-Davis found herself focusing on sex when she saw a pattern developing
in her practice. Most of her clients with troubled marriages put her
suggestions into practice and were off and running in rebuilding their
relationships. But others got stuck. It took her a while to solve the

"One of the things I finally figured out--like, duh--is that there was no
physical intimacy in the relationship," she said. "I wouldn't say it was
completely sexless, but it was infrequent and not passionate. They had this
void. When I finally started to ask about it and get them talking about it,
and getting them focused on touching each other, the relationship started
falling into place."

Clients say Weiner-Davis makes herself vulnerable during her therapy
sessions, sharing stories from her own life and marriage. Weiner-Davis
recalls a time early in her own marriage when she was less interested in sex
than her husband and how they overcame that crisis to deepen their bond.

"I feel like I've been there, done that," she said. "I know the benefits of
having come out the other side."

Weiner-Davis' new book, "The Sex-Starved Marriage: A Couple's Guide to
Boosting Their Marriage Libido" (Simon & Schuster, $24), hopes to offer some
of that problem-solving to couples she will never meet in person.

How much is enough

But if you think a "sex-starved marriage" is when the couple is intimate,
say, once a month, think again. According to Weiner-Davis, a licensed
clinical social worker with a master's degree in social work from the
University of Kansas, a sex-starved marriage is one struggling with that
desire gap, whether a couple has intercourse once a year or five times a

"Usually what happens is the person with less desire needs to have all those
good emotional things in place before they want to be physical," she said.
"But the person with more desire wants to be physical before they're willing
to invest energy in doing all those emotional things. It's like a Catch-22."

As she tries to help couples find a middle ground on sexual issues,
Weiner-Davis is moving away from being typecast as the "Divorce Buster." She
got that tag with the success of her book "Divorce Busting" (now in its 17th
printing), which caused a stir in psychological circles. In it, she admitted
she was biased in favor of marriage--a no-no in the world of therapy where
the focus is usually on an individual's self-fulfillment.

"I put the goals of the relationship above the goals of the individual, and
that means mutual caretaking," she said.

She also is at odds with her profession through her use of what's called
solution-oriented brief therapy, which focuses on a person finding inner
strengths to achieve wellness. Typically, her clients don't need more than a
few visits--far different from the stereotype in which a client gets
counseling for a year or two or three.

"When I'm stuck," she explained, "I don't want someone explaining that this
is based on the fact that I grew up like that. I want to know: What do I do
today? What are some ideas I can try?"

Yes and no

Her peers have mixed feelings about her. The American Association for
Marriage and Family Therapy gave her its Outstanding Contribution to
Marriage and Family Therapy Award in 2001, but she hasn't been invited to
speak at its annual conference in more than a decade.

Therapists from as far away as Afghanistan and Turkey come to the U.S. for
her professional training seminars, while others recommend her books to
clients. Some university professors make her books mandatory reading.

Yet she's accessible enough to dole out advice on everything from "Oprah" to
"Today" (she's scheduled to appear Monday on "Today").

"Michele is effective because she speaks in a language that the general
public can relate to. She's warm and she's humanistic," said Northwestern
University's Wei Jen Huang, a clinical psychologist. "However, everything
she says can withstand the most rigorous scientific challenge and, to me,
that's a gift."

Weiner-Davis dislikes it when mental-health professionals use complex terms
that go over the heads of the public.

"It's like there's this `in' group. And if you don't do what they do, you
can't have access to this information," she said. "I think it's obnoxious,
quite honestly, and I've made it my life's mission to translate this stuff."

As the Divorce Buster, her book and her Web site (www.divorcebusting.com)
are usually a last resort for couples or individuals before they end up in
the bustling world of divorce court, which is especially busy this time of
year. "It really picks up in January. People usually hold off on filing
until after the holidays," said Frank Ariano, an Elgin attorney and head of
the family of the law section of the Illinois Bar Association.

Weiner-Davis says some marriages should end in divorce, citing cases in
which domestic violence or chronic substance abuse is present. But she and
some respected sociologists, such as Paul Amato of the University of
Nebraska and Linda Waite of the University of Chicago, note that many failed
marriages with relatively little conflict could have been saved if couples
had been taught better skills and learned the scientific ebb and flow of

"In the same way we know that 2-year-olds act a certain way and teenagers
act a certain way, marriage also has developmental stages," Weiner-Davis
said. "Most couples get married and they're clueless about this. At certain
years and certain times in their marriage, they're going to hit bumps in the
road that are predictable. If they know this, it normalizes it and they can
see they can get through it."

So the Divorce Buster is branching out, trying to help couples long before
the love fades. And part of that effort has her talking--a lot--with couples
about sex.

Love lessons

Increasingly, she is using marriage-education seminars to help couples build
better communication skills. She says men in particular find the seminar
format less intimidating than private counseling.

A couple of weeks ago--even though she considers herself a liberal--the Bush
administration asked her to present a sample of her "Keeping Love Alive"
marriage-education seminar to a group of state social-welfare officials from
around the country.

"She is not the only one out there doing marriage education from a
skills-based approach, but she is a good example," said Wade Horn, assistant
secretary of health and human services. "She certainly is someone who has a
national reputation and has been doing this awhile."

Part of those communication skills is, obviously, talking about sex with
your partner.

"To this day, it blows me away," she said, relaxing with her husband of 25
years, Jim Davis, a real estate developer, in the living room of their home
in Woodstock.

"I'll work with couples who have been married 20, 30, 40 years. And many of
them have never had a conversation about their sexual relationship--what
they like, what they don't like."

So she's switching gears, moving from Divorce Buster to Sex Myth Buster.

For instance, in the traditional thinking about sex, desire leads to
arousal, which leads to orgasm. But Weiner-Davis found that, with some of
her clients, the first part of the order was reversed. When a spouse wasn't
really interested in sex but agreed to make love anyway, he or she often
found desire followed arousal. That lined up with a study by Rosemary
Basson, an internationally known sex researcher.

"I can't tell you," Weiner-Davis said, "how many people have sat in this
office and said to me, `You know, I really wasn't in the mood when my
husband approached me; I just decided to go along with the program. But once
I got started, I really enjoyed it.' I wish I had a dollar for every time
I've heard that."

The desire myth

Another myth about sex-starved marriages is that it's almost always the wife
who has less desire. Weiner-Davis admits she used to believe that one

"I wrote an article in Parade magazine on low sexual desire in women, and I
got hundreds of letters from irate women," she said, laughing. "They'd say,
`There you go: another professional perpetuating the myth about low desire
in women. When are you going to start talking about low desire in men?'"

Weiner-Davis' book speaks to both spouses--those with high desire and those
with low desire--without pointing fingers. She says that investing in
intimacy can help couples who have found themselves stuck in neutral when it
comes to nurturing other facets of their relationship.

"Our culture teaches us that if you talk, if you go on dates, if you spend
time together as a couple, the physical relationship will just fall into
place," Weiner-Davis said. "I've discovered the opposite is true too: When
people start to invest more energy into their physical relationship, all of
a sudden it triggers feelings of closeness and connection."

There is certainly a connection in her own home. As a photographer gets
ready to take her picture, husband Jim leans in close, talking quietly to
her and kissing her on the cheek. She dissolves in joy and laughter.

Exhaustion cools couple's chemistry

Rich and Tracy (they asked that their real names not be used) say they
didn't have a sex-starved marriage. But they do say Michele Weiner-Davis
helped them see how important the physical aspect of their relationship was.

The South Elgin couple went to see Weiner-Davis to get some help with
communication problems. (Rich, 38, works in sales; Tracy, 34, is a
stay-at-home mom with three kids ages 9 and younger.) But toward the end of
their sessions, they dealt with a common sexual stumbling block for couples:
a busy, tiring lifestyle.

Rich wanted sex more than Tracy did, and he also wanted her to be more
aggressive in the bedroom.

"Guys don't like to be the one who always initiates things," he said. "I
didn't feel like I was wanted."

>From her perspective, Tracy was exhausted by the end of the day between
child care and chauffeur duties with all the sports the kids were involved
in, from soccer to gymnastics to flag football. Weiner-Davis helped them
find a middle ground, they said.

"She's got three kids who are poking and prodding her all day," Rich said.
"She doesn't need to be poked and prodded by me all the time. I realized
that maybe I needed to cool my jets a little bit. I learned about trying to
put the other person's happiness ahead of ourselves."

"Both partners need to be open to meeting each other's needs, and it does
take a partnership," Tracy added. "Even though you're tired at the end of
the day, I think it's important to still make time to connect with your
spouse no matter how tired you are."

They also learned to be more creative in carving out time for
intimacy--grabbing short opportunities when the kids are out of the house,
using the lock on their bedroom door, getting the kids tucked in bed earlier
than their usual bedtime.

"It's made me realize that if we don't put our marriage first, then we have
nothing to give to our children," Tracy said. "If you are happy as a couple,
your children will be happy. They know when Mom and Dad are happy. They can
sense it."

--Patrick Kampert

True or false?

A government report issued last July by the Centers for Disease Control and
Prevention confirmed what private studies have been concluding for years:
Married couples have more sex -- and better sex -- than singles. Take a
true-or-false quiz based on marriage therapist Michele Weiner-Davis' new
book to test your sexual IQ.

- "JUST do it" is the slogan for Weiner-Davis' philosophy on jump-starting
marital intimacy.

- For men, SEX is primarily a biological urge, like scratching an itch.

- Husband and wives are doing a much better job of communicating about their
sexual needs and desires.

- Spontaneity in the bedroom is possible after children come into the

Time to score answers to sex quiz

1. True. Therapist Michele Weiner-Davis borrows the Nike slogan to encourage
couples to see how sex can revitalize their relationship. "If they can get
their feet moving and watch what can happen as a result, not only do they
feel physical pleasure, but they start to think of themselves
differently--that they're not sexless beings, they are sexual people,"
Weiner-Davis said.

2. False. "More often than not, it is about them feeling close and connected
to their wives," Weiner-Davis said. "It is about them feeling like men, it
is about feeling loved, it is about feeling wanted. And I don't think many
people with low sexual desire really get that."

3. False. "Sex is a taboo subject," she said. "Even for couples who have
been together for years and years. But when I get them talking about it and
focusing on touching each other, the relationship starts to fall into

4. True. But it is a little different. "You may not be able to jump each
other's bones when the mood strikes," Weiner-Davis said. "You need to do
more planning to make sure you have the privacy you need. But once you get
alone, you can be as spontaneous as you desire. Consider it planned

--P. K.

Copyright © 2003 Chicago Tribune

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