‘How can I spice up our sex life?’

The words we use when we talk about sex are what we need to address when there is an issue in the bedroom, says Esther Perel

by Psychologies

  Recently, I answered an anonymous question from a man. ‘My wife is boring in bed. Very, very boring. She likes sex, and has no problem having an orgasm, especially when she’s on top. But she doesn’t like experimenting, and makes that “ew, icky” face when bodily fluids are involved.’ The man – let’s call him Peter – was frustrated because of her apparent lack of awareness. ‘I try to nudge her in a different direction. She doesn’t say “no” all the time, but I can tell she’s just not into it. It’s like she’s just doing it to please me, which makes me feel awful. How can I make our sex life more exciting?’

The language we use when describing our predicament is important because most couples are under the influence of the stories they tell themselves. So if Peter talks about his wife as being ‘boring in bed’, and that has become his prime construct for describing her sexually, then he should watch the way his language tries to capture his experience. Why? Because the language will constrain him. Peter has described himself as more adventurous and open-minded. And now, whatever his wife does, he’ll interpret it as boring. We see what we want to see.

The question of how people introduce their partners into new forms of sexual play is a delicate one, because preferences are often hard-edged and so are dislikes and disgusts. Everything operates on a track between what excites you and what turns you off. And to make these two tracks match is an art.

Peter needs to talk to his wife away from the bedroom. Has he ever talked with his wife about his frustration? And not just to tell her that he’s unhappy, but how he appreciates it when she does things he likes. He should ask: What’s it like for her? And is there a way he can make it more pleasurable for her? What would make sex more exciting for her? When does she feel the most desire? What is the compliment she would most like to receive? Does Peter have a sense of how to turn his wife on? Of how she gets excited by him? About how he can bring her into a state of ecstasy?

He shouldn’t be embarrassed to admit that he doesn’t know, or that the only place he’s seen female satisfaction is in porn. Because it’s very, very different for women. Primarily because in most of the type of porn men see, there is no body touch. And everything she may like may have to do with various types of touch: fast, slow, deep, slow, circular or suddenly going in a different direction – because of that feeling of the unknown, she doesn’t know where it’s going to go next. 

Peter should read Cuffed, Tied And Satisfied by Jaiya (Three Rivers, £6.99), which will introduce Peter to ‘edge’. Edge is threshold. It’s that very moment between control and letting go, pain and pleasure, between wanting more and having enough. So my question to Peter is this: are you equally generous with her? Are you open to doing things that will do nothing for you but may make her feel amazing? For many women, it’s more important what happens between her ears than between her legs.

Another book I want to recommend is Being French. It’s a man’s guide to women by a man who understands women. He shows you the world you can enter, a world that has nothing to do with an orifice.

Watch Esther’s TED Talk at:

Photograph: Istock

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