“Sex isn’t just about gratification,” I found myself explaining to my wife, Erin, one night. “It’s about overcoming your inhibitions and conquering fear and shame on behalf of a shared pleasure.”
Stay with me, guys: this preamble was meant to lead to a list – our sex wishes and sexual goals for the New Year – that I wanted us to write together. See, we had fallen into a routine, as couples sometimes do and I consulted a sex therapist, who suggested this experiment as a way to break us out of it. But I couldn’t just assail my wife with such a list. We needed to have a discussion. So I did what any man would do: I went out and bought a fancy bottle of wine.
Then I cooked Erin a gourmet meal, with plenty of salt to facilitate drinking. Pretty soon the wine was gone and we retired to the boudoir. Then I suggested, as casually as possible, that we make a few erotic resolutions. And with that we sat down, compared our lists and uncorked a second bottle.
Erin kicked things off. “We need to do more massage,” she said immediately. I nodded thoughtfully. But honestly, I was hoping she’d start with something involving a buxom dominatrix. Massage, to me, has always been a kind of sweet but exhausting form of foreplay.
“Okay,” I said. “Sure.”
The edge of petulance in my tone was not particularly subtle. “I don’t think you’re getting what I mean,” Erin said. She was speaking the same way she does when our children struggle to connect two dots.
“Two words: happy ending.”
My first suggestion was that we have sex outside. I had in mind a very public place, like the park. The danger of getting caught, the adrenaline surge, a cool breeze on naked flesh – I could see it all.
I was drawn to this scenario, I told Erin, because our sex life, with its scheduled date nights and same old venue, had come to feel a bit safe.
Erin was not entirely convinced. In fact, she laughed. “Now that I think about it, I’ve never actually had sex outside, if you don’t count a car.”
Good Idea! Sex in a Car
This led directly to my backup suggestion. I had done my share of backseat groping but had never gone all the way in a car. “What could be hotter than doing it in a Prius?” Erin asked.
“How about doing it in a Prius with three car seats?” I replied.
“Yeah, we’d have to remove the car seats,” she said. “And you’d have to buy me a six-pack to get me in the mood.” This felt like progress.
I wanted more specifics on Erin’s next resolution because she’s a former Dungeons & Dragons aficionado… and there’s really nothing less sexy than D&D.
But Erin had a whole plan at the ready. “I mean we could get all dressed up and go somewhere we don’t usually go, like the ballet. But we would arrive separately and pretend we don’t know each other. And I’d be wearing a ball gown but no underwear. Then, during the second act, we’d go and have sex in the women’s bathroom.”
“I love the whole concept,” I said. “But how about instead of the ballet, we go to a bar?” Erin considered this for a minute. “As long as I can wear the gown.”
And that response, if I can be frank, is what I love about my wife: she’s a gamer. Not only that, but contrary to what I’d previously thought, she’s not against all forms of exhibitionism. She’s just against exhibitionism that involves being outdoors and that isn’t exactly shocking given that her idea of roughing it is staying in a hotel without DStv.
At this point we’d moved through the preliminaries and killed half our second bottle. So it was time for me to bring up a topic that made me genuinely self-conscious: pegging.
I had read that men could have very intense orgasms with the help of prostate massage, an act sometimes referred to as – God help me – “milking the prostate”.
Erin’s reaction was not entirely reassuring: “Are you asking me to wear a strap-on? Because anything where I have to pretend to have a cock goes directly into the ‘creepy’ category for me.”
“Agreed,” I said.
“But you want to be penetrated?”
“That makes it sound dramatic.”
We continued to discuss the topic, somewhat gingerly, for several minutes. Mention was made of butt plugs, dildos, lube options. I’d been drawn to this idea, frankly, because I liked the way it subverted the basic male hetero taboo. I hated to think that some macho hang-up was going to deprive me of a mega-orgasm.
At the same time, my brother is gay, so the whole subject of what I suppose I’ll have to call “ass play” is pretty fraught. Erin could sense that the discussion was making me increasingly anxious. She set her hand on my cheek and said, with a reassuring calmness, “Let’s list that one as ‘Proceed, but with caution.’ ”
It hardly came as a surprise that Erin pitched this idea. She’d brought it up before and even had a book on the subject, which I was supposed to have read, though I’d gotten only as far as the pictures.
But hey, I’d read the interviews with Sting. I knew what tantra was all about: prolonging sex in some vaguely Buddhist manner so as to produce mind-blowing climaxes. “I’m in,” I said immediately.
“Okay,” Erin said. “But you did read the book, right?”
“Right,” I said.
“So you know that it’s not just about sex.”
“Of course,” I said.
“The focus is not on orgasms.”
“There are going to be sessions where we just breathe together.”
“Hold up,” I said.
The ensuing discussion went just about as badly as you might imagine. I kept saying things like, “Couldn’t we just quietly hump when you come back all sweaty from yoga?”
A pattern seemed to be emerging in our resolutions. Erin was emphasising activities that involved a fair amount of – for lack of a better term – emotional legwork. I, being a dude, was more focused on revamping our physical repertoire.
Erin’s next suggestion struck me as the perfect balance of our respective agendas: dirty yoga. This would involve opening up our bedroom windows on hot summer evenings after the kids had gone to bed, undressing, working up a sweat and allowing yoga to loosen up our muscles and our inhibitions.
Erin is passionate about yoga. It’s as close as she comes to a spiritual practise. She’s often urged me to try yoga to alleviate my stiffness and calm my nerves. Erin, I could see, was trying to integrate our sometimes-divergent needs.
“Can we do that now?” I asked.
Having reached a moment of erotic connection with my wife, I naturally proceeded to overplay my hand. I mentioned our maybe thinking about, you know, a threesome.
Did this make me feel like a slobbering masculine cliché? Sure. But what can I say? It’s something I’ve thought about a few thousand times over the years.
“Here’s the problem with a threesome,” Erin began. “It’s a great fantasy. But in reality you’re not just bringing another body into bed. You’re bringing a whole person.”
“Right,” I said carefully.
“It wouldn’t work if we knew the person. And if it’s someone we don’t know, then it’s basically just casual sex with a stranger.”
“Right,” I said, even more carefully.
Erin knew exactly what I was thinking, which is why she said this next: “I assume you’d be cool with our third being a man.”
I wanted to say, “Of course I’d be cool with a man.” I wanted to say, “What’s good for the goose is good for the gander, right?” But I didn’t say that. I said, “Define ‘cool’. ”
My wife shook her head. “Right. So it would be another woman. Honestly, I don’t think I’d be able to watch you with another woman.”
“I’d be happy just watching you,” I said. Erin didn’t buy this for a second. As a reminder, though, we’d had a lot of wine at this point. “The only way it would work,” she said, “is if it were someone who was in the business of pleasure, almost like a sexual massage therapist.” She proceeded to tell me about a TV show she’d watched in which a woman hires a sex worker to be with both her and her husband. “It was really kind of sweet,” Erin said wistfully.
She then admitted that “threesome” had been on her list too.
I stayed quiet for a very long time.
“Is that a green light?” I said finally.
“Well, it’s not a red light.”
I will preface this by mentioning that while I love all of my wife’s body parts, my feelings about her rear are especially tender. And yet, for reasons mostly having to do with her low pain threshold, anal sex has never been on the menu. Nor does it need to be. I made this perfectly clear to Erin – that I was expressing a desire, not an expectation.
This may be the key to this whole exercise – because the truth is, everyone approaches sexuality with a different agenda. And it’s not just due to gender differences but also because we all have distinct physiologies and temperaments. The important thing Erin and I realised was that we were both full of untapped desires.
The fact that we hadn’t acted on them had more to do with exhaustion than anything else. So the real commitment we made to each other at the end of the night, just before collapsing into a soused sleep, was not simply to check a few new sex acts off our lists. It was to set aside the time and energy required to remain connected as lovers.
The next day, for instance, I began looking into ballet tickets and started reading the book on tantric sex. For her part, Erin cruised the Internet for the finer points of prostate milking, a subject about which a startling wealth of information is available.
As for my final ask, Erin couldn’t quite green-light that. “But it’s something we can keep talking about,” she promised, “and working on.”
“Working on,” I said gratefully. “Yes. Perfect.”
By Steve Almond