My husband and I tried scheduling sexy nights at home
My husband and I tried scheduling sexy nights at home. And it wasn’t as tedious as we thought.
When I mentioned to a friend that I was having trouble coming up with a good gift idea for my spouse, she suggested I splurge on some sexy lingerie and present myself as the gift.
The idea seemed silly to me. I lived in stretched out granny panties and wireless bras, palazzo pants and schlumpy sweaters. The thought of being performatively sexy seemed so not me.
But here I was, with a new bra and panty set, black and sheer. And here I was, also creating 12 Months of Sexy Time coupons on my laptop. They weren’t that different from the coupons my 7-year-old once gifted me, offering free hugs and a clean bedroom. But these coupons featured illustrations of paddles and vibrators, lipsticked mouths and lube.
Who even was I anymore?
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How Parenting and a Pandemic Screwed Up Our Sex Life
We were nearly two years into the pandemic at that point, and it showed. Stripped of our conferences, our work summits, our in-office meetings, and our extracurriculars, we spent our days trapped together within the walls of our house.
For a time, our first grader was there, too, remote learning from her bedroom. In between Google Meets, she waltzed into our home offices, demanding snacks, lunch, attention, and a heads up when it was time to log into her next class. It was impossible to concentrate on anything, and we both bitched about the music teacher who couldn’t handle virtual learning and the idiocy of virtual gym.
Even when she entered second grade in-person, we still felt the residual effects of that extended period of way too much togetherness. We were angry at the world. We were out of patience. We were sick of each other.
At the end of the day, we did not want to be touched.
Still, there came a point when we were forced to acknowledge that, perhaps, we’d drifted too far apart. Every evening, after putting our child to bed, my spouse would drift down to the basement and watch television while I leaned back against my pillows and read a book. Many, many months went by between sexual encounters, and those smaller intimacies—hugs and hand holding and drive-by smooches—also fell by the wayside.
Now, sexual frequency varies wildly among partners. Some couples aim to have sex at least once a week while, for others (me), the prospect of reaching such a goal seems laughable. And that’s fine. A healthy sex life is one that is mutually pleasurable and fulfilling, however that looks. There are no rules that say you have to spontaneously rip off each other’s clothes at least once a day or experience simultaneous orgasms with every (or any) intimate encounter.
For us, however, all that time we’d spent at opposite corners of the house made us feel disconnected from each other. We were roommates. Parents. Housekeepers. Nothing more.
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Considering Scheduled Sex
In an attempt to reconnect with each other, we tried many things. CBD strips. Sensual massage. Mutual masturbation. A remote-control vibrator.
We even tried—gasp!—communication, breathing into each other ears where we liked to be touched and how.
Cannabis hangovers and chafed clitoris aside (I think we may have overdone it with the remote-control vibrator), we slowly regained our connection.
But the most helpful information we gathered centered around how we each experience desire.
There is a cultural expectation that we should feel desire for our partner out of the blue, perhaps because their butt looks really good in those jeans or because you made smoldering eye contact or because—you know—love. That desire then leads to sexy time, which in turn leads to arousal and pleasure and mind-blowing orgasms.
But this is only one model of how desire can work, known as spontaneous desire.
As sex educator and researcher Emily Nagoski writes in Come As You Are, not everyone experiences spontaneous desire all of the time (or even most of the time). A lot of the time, we instead experience responsive desire, which means that we become aroused due to some form of stimulation, and then we feel that sense of wanting the other person.
In my marriage, I experience responsive desire about 99% of the time. After a day of Zoom meetings and school pickup and homework help and cooking dinner and writing about the sexy-sex and suffering through our child’s bedtime routine, I am not likely to think, “Hey! You know what would be fun? Having naked time with my spouse that requires me to expend energy!” At that point in the day, my vagina feels like a barren desert and my clitoris is in a coma.
My spouse, meanwhile, vacillates between spontaneous and responsive desire. When he’s stressed out by work or feeling depressed and lonely, several hours of How I Met Your Mother reruns are more attractive to him than making the effort to get me out of my granny panties.
Most nights, however, seeing me unclasp my bra and change into my pajama top with the built-in shelf bra gives him a hankering for some hanky-panky.
Once I understood that I needed physical and mental preparation to get in the mood and actually enjoy sex, I proposed that we schedule it at least several days in advance.
My spouse was hesitant. He worried that removing the spontaneity would make the sex seem boring and obligatory.
That’s when I told him about the dual control model of inhibition and excitation.
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How to Prep for Enjoyable Sex
In Come As You Are, Nagoski also writes about the aforementioned dual control model. She describes it by explaining that as we move through the world, we have an internal accelerator and internal brakes, controls that make us want to either move toward or away from a thing or activity. When it comes to sex, many of us think that in order to rejuvenate our sex lives, we need to rev the accelerator, spicing things up with toys and role playing and scented massage candles and the like. Which is all well and good.
But Nagoski suggests that it can be even more effective get rid of the things that are most likely to keep us from wanting to have sex. And for me, that’s proven true. In scheduling sex, I have more time to lay the groundwork for enjoyable sex, removing those things that make me slam on the brakes.
Just a few things that make me pump those brakes are: the to-do list in my head, the clean laundry that hasn’t yet been put away, the child who is just down the hall, bone-deep exhaustion, general agita, depression, body shame…I could go on.
Obviously, I can’t make all of those things disappear. But I can put away the laundry earlier on in the day. I can get our child to bed on time or even send her to a sleepover at Nana and Papa’s house. I can get a good night’s sleep the night before, and then mentally prepare myself, so that I am not blindsided by the prospect of sex at a moment when I literally can’t even.
What makes you pump the brakes and which things do you have the ability to manage or remove?
Having that extra time also allows us to tap the accelerator in the lead-up to the main event.
Knowing what we have to look forward to once we’ve ushered our child to bed and locked our door, we often find ourselves being a little extra lovey-dovey in the preceding hours.
There will be impulsive hugs and kisses and mini kitchen dance parties throughout the day. We will be easier with each other, jokey, not as focused on our roles as just parents and/or just professionals who have important shit to get done.
Knowing that my clitoris needs some extra TLC in order to awaken from its deep slumber, I will sometimes even pregame with my favorite vibrator.
• • •
Being Intentional About Sex Changed Everything
Far from being boring or obligatory, our time together feels more expansive and fun. Having been more intentional in the lead-up to sex—having removed as many distractions as possible and having planted small seeds of intimacy and passion—our focus is on our mutual pleasure. Nothing else.
Now we’re in a rhythm that works for us. At least once a month, my spouse pulls a coupon from the drawer of his nightstand and waves it at me. We figure out a time that works for both of us. We make it happen.
The sheer bra and panty set has made it out of the drawer exactly once.
But it turns out we didn’t need sexy lingerie to make us prioritize sex again.
We just needed to get intentional about having the sex—schlumpy underwear included—that worked for us.
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Steph Auteri has written about sexuality for the Atlantic, VICE, Pacific Standard, Rewire News Group, and other publications. She is the author of A Dirty Word and the founder of Guerrilla Sex Ed. Learn more at stephauteri.com and find her on Instagram at @stephauteri.
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Interesting story, but now what do I do with what I just learned about desire types and the dual control model!
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