It is not uncommon for couples to come in to therapy with me and act ashamed when they report that they sleep in separate beds. Usually this is due to snoring or restless sleep, but it is presented as though it is a sign of lack of passion or intimacy. I encourage people to not discount the need for sleep as a paramount need. An exhausted body will not put focus on sexual desire. An exhausted partner will not make the best communication choices. An exhausted self will find everything in life just a little more annoying and overwhelming. You know how you feel when you are not rested. It is not pretty.
A recent study from Toronto on couple’s sleep patterns found that a surprising 30-40% of couples sleep apart. They also found that couples who sleep in the same bed missed the deeper sleep stages. Couples I have talked to who sleep apart say that the most difficult thing about it is the perceived stigma and embarrassment about it. So we have the opposite situation from the 1950s when we only saw couples presented as sleeping chastely in separate beds (remember Ricky and Lucy?). Now we only see couples cuddled lovingly around each other as they drift off to sleep. Knowing that 30-40% of couples are drifting off to peaceful sleep with a bed to themselves may help ease the sense that this is a sign of a bad relationship.
In fact, the idea that where we sleep and where we have sex have to be the same is limiting to our relationships. Also the fantasy that just by proximity of bodies in bed we roll in to each other and have more sex can make us lazy about actually planning time for sex. If you feel the need for separate space for sleeping, just be conscious of also making space for sexuality. You can have fun inviting each other into your beds, and/or eliminate beds from your sex life altogether and find new private places to come together for pleasure. If you are less tired maybe you will find an hour opens up at night for being sexual together. Make long sensual kisses a good night routine and appreciate the times you do take to lay close to one another. Just don’t let other’s ideas of what a good relationship looks like diminish the things you do to make your relationship work. A good night’s sleep may be your key to a happy, sexy love life.
We are so conditioned to strive for sexiness in our culture, we rarely doubt its value. Being sexy is a good thing, no need to ask ourselves why. But I am inviting you to take a moment and ask yourself what being "sexy" means to you and what value you place on it. Use this just to explore your own mind or to question social expectations, just take the time to be curious.
Respond to these prompts:
Being "sexy" means a person is...
Being "not sexy" means a person is..
I believe a sexy person has these characteristics...
I imagine a sexy person's life is...
I am sexy when I...
Ah the forgotten nipple – so important in the early teenage years of sexual exploration but overlooked once penetration comes in to the picture. Don’t let this happen to you. I encourage you to not forget that nipples have serious pleasure potential. Include them in your sexual play.
Nipples may not be the most effusive body part or the most dramatic, but they are often asking for attention. Both men and women’s nipples are sensitive and responsive erogenous zones. Everyone’s nipples are different; actually they are like fingerprints, each unique. So the type of stimulation that feels good will vary a lot. Some people like a gentle touch, some people are excited by fairly rough play with their nipples. Nipples are more sensitive when they are hard, but erect nipples occur for several reasons so they are not necessarily a sign of sexual arousal.
Studies suggest that women’s nipples are more enervated, and therefore more sensitive, than men’s. A 2011 MRI study found that when women’s nipples were self –stimulated it lit up the area of their brain associated with genital sensation, (Komisaruk, B. R., Wise, N., Frangos, E., Liu, W.-C., Allen, K. and Brody, S), giving scientific background for many women’s reports that they orgasm more easily when their nipples are being touched. Many women can achieve orgasm from nipple stimulation alone. Women’s nipple sensitivity is also very affected by hormonal fluctuations throughout the month, so they are great teachers for us in the need to vary the way we approach our partner’s bodies and our own. What feels great today may not do it for you tomorrow, best to have some variety in your approach.
So touch them with a feather, your lips, your tongue, fingers or the tines of a comb. Touch your partners when you are together, touch you own nipples when you masturbate. Just don’t ignore them!
Here is a not at all uncommon couple’s therapy moment : I am discussing with a couple agreements that they want to have in their relationship, something that they want to do differently. They have just hit on something they are excited about, and they look at me and say, “We can do that?” It is a fun moment for me as a therapist to be able to give people permission to define their relationship for themselves. Do your relationship the way you two want to? Yes, you can do that.
What I mean by this is, your relationship is between the two of you so you set the rules. If something works for you, it doesn’t matter if it works for your friends, parents, neighbors or your therapist. Each relationship is unique and trying to live by the rules established by other couples will not serve you. You can get ideas from Phil and Claire each week, but please don’t feel that every couple is doing thing their way. When it comes to being a couple, there really is no “norm”.
So if you and your partner decide you want to define watching porn as cheating, then that is your rule. If you want to open your relationship to other sexual partners, then that is your agreement. If you want to never go to sleep angry or always take a night to cool down before deciding, either is fine. You can always text several times a day from work or not be in contact during the work day. You can agree that Tuesdays are wear blue underwear day. You can shape your relationship any way – so long as both of you agree and find it to be a good fit. Making sure your agreements or rules are explicit and you both know what to expect is key.
Be honest about what you want and about what you can agree to, re-evaluate if it ends up not feeling good for either one of you, and keep communicating. And you will have a relationship that is the unique fit for you.