The end of a marriage rarely sneaks up on anyone. As my expert guest can attest, it often becomes a “devolution caused by countless papercuts.”
Frequently, these years of compounded unhappiness manifest in a lack of intimacy and ten behavior stages she calls: The Marriage Death Spiral.
It starts out with unaddressed resentment in phase one. By number three, couples can’t seem to stop arguing over the little stuff. Then distractions like overworking or (insert whatever to get away from the tension) come at juncture seven.
So, what are the other behavior stages, and more importantly, how can you turn your relationship around?
Last week, I stretched myself to overcome my “talking about sex” shyness because I promised you that this podcast would be a place where no topic was taboo. And joined by certified sex and intimacy coach Irene Fehr, we kicked off a riveting two-part series about sex and connection.
Irene’s programs have brought marriages back from the dead. Widely respected in her field, Irene specializes in women’s libido and sexual desire in long-term relationships.
And fittingly, for the first part of our series, we dove into the “what” aspect that’s behind enduring couple intimacy. Today, for the meaty conclusion, Irene returns to help us better understand the “how” element of sex and connection for smoother, more satisfying transitions.
What You’ll Learn in this Episode:
- The “s” word = sinful
- Slow food & goalless touch
- A heartbreaking-yet-kinder option
- The Lesbian Deathbed
- Open relationships
Listen to the Full Episode
Featured on the Show:
Convinced you don’t have the time for coaching? Think it’s too much money to invest in yourself? Perhaps you should calculate the cost and loss of remaining unsatisfied. Then multiply THAT by however many years you have left. Your first step in a new direction is right here.
- Sundae’s Website
- Sundae’s Facebook Business Page – Sundae Schneider-Bean LLC
- Irene Fehr Website
- Free Video Series: How To Want Sex Again
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Full Episode Transcript:
Hello, It is 10:00 am in New York, 4:00 pm in Johannesburg, and 9:00 pm in Bangkok. Welcome to IN TRANSIT with Sundae Bean. I am an intercultural strategist, transformation facilitator, and solution-oriented coach, and I am on a mission to help you adapt & succeed through ANY life transition.
What if I told you about something that could boost your immune system, protect against heart disease, lower blood pressure, and even lower some risk for specific cancers? All of that and it’s free. Any guess as to what it is. I’ll give you a hint. Three letters: S E X. That is right. You knew it was good but did you know how good it actually is for you.
Welcome to Part Two of this two-part series where we focus on something that is definitely IN TRANSIT or always changing and that is SEX. Together with our guest expert, Irene Fehr, we will explore the many ways our lives are in transit and how that impacts our sex lives, what it takes to transform our sexual relationship with ourselves or with our partner, and perhaps give us some fresh insight on how you can redefine ambitious when it comes to your own sexual transformation. So welcome back Irene for Part Two.
Irene: Thank you so much for having me. Part One was so amazing. I cannot wait for this conversation.
Sundae: I keep thinking about our first conversation. So if people who are listening have not heard Part One yet, you’ve got to go back to it because there was some really, really good bits that you will remember. That’s for sure.
Let me tell you a little bit more about Irene for those who are new to her world. She is an expert in women’s libido and sexual desire in long-term relationships. She is a Certified Professional Co-Active Coach (CPCC) and her work is deeply rooted in evidence based practices, including the Gottman Method Couples Therapy and it’s also informed by Somatic Experiencing® to name a few methodologies. She also understands that what her clients go through as she personally has gone through a sexless marriage and the since transformed her own life along with the lives of many, many others.
Irene has been featured in The Thought Catalog, Shape, Cosmopolitan, Scary Mommy, and many more. So, really excited for Part Two Irene. Let me just briefly bring people up to speed. In Part One, when you are listening, you’ll check out some basics around sex, three types of sex where she helps us understand Friction Sex, Validation Sex, and Connection Sex. And what happens it helps us get a realistic view of sex and and what to expect.
I think one of the things I took away from that conversation is to take the pressure off of of what people think sex should be like, but also paint excitement and hope for what it could be like. So, in this episode, we’re going to dive in to the HOW not just the WHAT. So Irene please help me understand what are some of the biggest HOWs that people wish for when they talk to you when it comes to the sex department?
Irene: Wow, huge question because there’s just so many questions that people have, although, most people are too scared to name them. But the ones that I hear the most are, of course;
- How to have better sex, in general, emotionally.
- How to talk to your partner about what you want. Especially, if one or both partners are shy.
- How to decide if you should go to therapy together or if you should do it separately. If you should see a therapist or a sex therapist or sex coach. So understanding all of that.
- And really the biggest one is, it’s always the communication piece. How do I talk to my partner? How do I tell them what I want? How do I feel freer with them? How do I open up and can just relax around them? So it’s both of communication, verbal communication, but it’s also physical communication. Like, how do I send them signals that I’m enjoying things or that I want other things?
Sundae: Oh, that’s fun. Okay, so, oh gosh. I don’t know if we have time to cover all of those today, but there was one thing I wanted to bring up. You talked about if people feel shy and actually the word that came up for me, was shame. I think at least the culture that I grew up in, sex was, “The S word.” There was so much shame around sex that it’s hard to talk about it openly. We even joked before we started recording episode one that I’m shy about even having this conversation publicly because it’s such a private topic. So, I’m curious before we get into some of the HOWs, what do you see in your work that’s connected to shame? Or do you see shame at all in your work?
Irene: Absolutely. It’s one of the first things that I see because we all grew up with this notion. Like I said, sex is private, sex is something you do behind closed doors. For those of us who grew up with religious backgrounds, there’s even another layer of stigma around it, that it’s shameful. It’s another “S word”, it’s sinful. Right? And a lot of it too is associated with women’s pleasure of it, that so much of the religious bent on it has been that it’s for men’s pleasure and women enjoying it, that in itself is a sin. You should be doing it as a service to a man. So there’s that shame.
There’s just shame also when it comes to our bodies. So many cultures put shame on the body. That the body is this, dirty thing that has these animalistic desires and that it’s ugly or it stinks or things like that. So, so many people have so much shame about again, their bodies, the way they look, the way they smell, all of that. And of course, in sex, the point is to show your body to your partner, and shame shows up there.
And shame shows up with the desires, anything relating to what you want. What you want in the moment. Like you want to kiss longer or you want to make out or you want a certain position and especially the kind of desires that are more taboo or more kinky. We have shame around all of them and it’s just a different mix of people to people who have had more negative experiences in one area versus the other, they’ll have more shame there. But again, it just it’s all across the board.
Sundae: So I think it’s important to just name that. So if people are noticing that there’s shame around the topic. They’re not alone. It’s very connected to historical power dynamics, identity. So deep deep deep stuff. So it’s a miracle that we actually enjoy it!
Irene: We have fight against all these barriers to be able to enjoy it. And what you said is very true. It’s like, “Wow, if we can enjoy it. It’s a miracle. It’s a feat.”
Sundae: So let’s acknowledge that that might be something you have to work through in this process of enjoying it. So let’s start with just one of those, you talked about a very basic question; How can someone physically have better sex? I know that is so individual, so personal. But what is one thing that you think people often overlook when it comes to finding answers to that question?
Irene: Well, the biggest thing that people overlook when it comes to the physical aspect is actually the other question that we haven’t gotten to, which is the emotional aspect.
And that is because when we think of sex, we really just are conditioned to think about the physical.
Experience gets generalized, that that’s sexual desire. Or we think of sexual pleasure, as just that orgasm that we have.
Well, that comes and goes and it’s and it’s affected by a lot of things. And in the beginning of a relationship that comes naturally, but that naturally dies out in a long-term relationship. Something we talked at length about in the first episode. And so, then, once that wears off, what’s left? What’s left is actually Emotional Connection. And when it comes to pleasure too, this is especially true for women, we can do something once twice maybe three times and still have it be exciting. But after those three times, it’s going to feel repetitive. And there were going to lose the pleasure of the thing that was extremely pleasurable the first time. And that’s because our bodies are not made to do repetitive things over and over.
And without that emotional connection that’s going to allow both people to really tune into each other and create something new, like something new that really fits the moment, that physical pleasure is going to go away, or it’s going to be really minimal.
Sundae: Create something new to fit the moment. Create something new to fit the moment. That’s really beautiful. You specialize in long-term relationships. So I’m thinking, that’s a lot to ask for. Create something new to fit the moment, when you’ve been together for 25 years, 30 years. What is it that people need to keep that spirit?
Irene: Well, the first and really biggest thing is to let go of this idea that, you know your partner because you don’t. And this old idea that once we do something sexually, that is how we are is really damaging and it’s very limiting to our human potential.
Who we were sexually 16 is not who we are at 46 and 66 and 86.
Sundae: Oh, I love this. My word for the year is infinite possibilities, and this completely ties into that philosophy.
Irene: Exactly. Let’s use this analogy across the board. We don’t assume that we’re the same people so we should not assume this in our sex lives. So by the way, I look at these numbers up and they are staggering. So our skin changes over every like seven days, our liver changes over every three months. Now, don’t quote me on these exact numbers because I don’t remember them, but it was something like this, our entire body changes over every seven years. So by no means are we actually the same as we were before. And things change, what life stage you’re in. You might be pursuing opportunities when you’re 20, or you might be retiring from opportunities when you’re 60, and your desire is going to follow that. If and only if we really slow down to tune into what is our body and our soul, what are they all saying to us? What’s actually being called forth here?
Sundae: That’s gorgeous. I had no idea that conversation was going to go this direction. It makes me think of a quote that I was just speaking about the other night, about a woman, she said, “I’ve been married six times but to the same person.”
Sundae: So this idea of not assuming to know your partner. I love that. And It’s so easy for me to accept that I’m a very different person from when I was 27, but it’s easier to forget that our partner is too.
Irene: Yeah, and it really if we get very philosophical around this, think about our experiences, every day, you go to work, your partner goes to work and you come back, having experienced different things. And it may be, hearing, I don’t know, a co-worker’s story at the office may actually transform you. It may crack your heart open or it may scare you to death, and you come home in a different place.
And we discount that. And we don’t get curious about these pieces, which goes back to this question about emotionally connecting with each other. We share lives on a very practical day-to-day basis, but we don’t actually share our hearts with each other. And so it may look like you’re sleeping next to the same person, you have no idea what’s in what has been going on inside of them. Or again, what touched them during the day that maybe cracked their heart open or closed it up. We don’t know. And we’re opaque, so you cannot figure out just by looking on the outside of what’s happening on the inside.
And how to make your sex better is about learning to connect emotionally, learning to have these new eyes towards your partner, and really get curious. What’s in their heart. What are they wanting today? What did learn or how did they change today? What are they excited about or scared about? All these questions can take your sex life, even what you’ve been doing before to a whole new level.
Sundae: If you have an emotional connection and that is sustained throughout the day that can really amplify your sexual connection when you’re together.
So what do you do if one partner is more comfortable with emotional intimacy and the other is quite new to it?
Irene: Well, we can look at this from the perspective of, “Well, my partner’s not comfortable with it. So, how do I change them? What do I do? How do I fix them? How do I in a way change the situation?” And this is where so many people get in trouble. Myself included. If I look at my past, that, “It’s not going the way I wanted to. I need to change my partner.” A different approach to this if your partner is uncomfortable with it is for you to model vulnerability and model emotional connection. That so much of what the foundation of emotional connection is safety. If we don’t feel safe with each other and if we don’t feel safe with ourselves, like we don’t trust ourselves to tell the truth or to really open up with a partner rather than pretend or perform, especially around sex, we’re not going to.
So the safety piece is the foundation of emotional connection. And we create that by being emotionally vulnerable ourselves. We model that. And with that we open the door to our partners. Now, the key is not a firehose our partners with our emotional vulnerability. It is about honoring yourself and honoring your truth and also honoring their pace. So it may be that you talk about something for 15 minutes. And then you give each other a break. And you come back the next day rather than spending three, four, five hours talking about something.
So it’s both creating safety by being vulnerable yourself and opening or giving an invitation to your partner to do the same and doing it in measured amounts. Giving them space. Because just like with anything new just like if you have an exercised for several years and go to the gym and you spent three hours at the gym the first day, you’re going to be hurting the next day. There’s just no way about that. So it’s the moderation piece. Do it in moderation. Get your partner feeling safe today and tomorrow and the next day. And then they’ll open up more and more.
Sundae: That’s great. That’s great. Such wise advice. So how do you start that talk? What’s the first step?
Irene: The first step is really about; Getting honest with yourself about what is it that you want. Now, this is very, very, very, very hard for most people because, especially when things have been going so well, we focus on what’s not working. “Not getting my needs met. He or she doesn’t want to give what I want to me. They’re resisting. They’re not doing this.” Blah blah blah. So we usually are having the sex conversation or conversations about sex way too late after we have spun out in our heads already and catastrophized and thought about worst-case scenarios and built-up resentment and all of that. So it’s really important to get in touch with that and to be really honest, and take responsibility for it. Even though your partner may be responsible for a lot of stuff in whatever situation you’re in. But the key is to take ownership like, “Yeah, I did want to take more time to do sensual things. I wanted to take baths together or ask for a massage, but I was too scared.” I didn’t want to be an inconvenience to my partner or I didn’t want to take up their energy or something like that. So I didn’t. And that was necessary for me to get aroused. And to actually get into my body. And so I had sex too early. I had sex that wasn’t really pleasurable for me because I wasn’t ready. So, if you can notice here, I’m taking responsibility for how I contributed to the situation.
Sundae: But listen, it’s so much easier to just say, “Yeah, the other person is to blame.” And it’s so deep, right? It’s about self-worth. It’s about using our voice. It’s it goes deep. So this makes me think about the question, some people are perfectly prepared to maybe read some of your blog articles or resources online that are out there. There’s a lot more conversation around both emotional intimacy and sexual intimacy. But there are some cases where people really would benefit from support. What are the signs where it’s time to get support from someone like yourself or another person who specializes in this area?
Irene: This is a great question. And I actually have an infographic on this and a whole article which is what I call, The Marriage Death Spiral. And whether you’re at the first stage of the spiral, which is if you imagine the spiral, it’s narrow at the top and then it gets wider and wider as it spirals down, if you are at the top of the spiral, you will definitely benefit from support. If you’re at the bottom of the spiral, you cannot move forward without support. You need life support. Basically, your relationship needs life support. And so anyway, wherever you are on the spiral, support is going to be really important in reestablishing that safety in your relationship. And so I’m just going to go over the 10 pieces of the spiral and then the listeners can go to the article. But any of these are going to cause more damage in the relationship if they’re happening.
- So the first one is resentment. If you’re experiencing resentment towards your partner, even if it’s still like the early stage where you’re like, “You did the dishes wrong,” or, “Why did you take the garbage out this way,” it’s going to continue to cause damage if it’s not nipped in the bud.
- Because resentment grows into complaining and complaining turns into feeling really not heard in your relationship and criticized.
- Which turns into defensiveness and arguing over the little stuff. which means that you are getting into arguments all the time, which is contributing to eventually death by a thousand paper cuts. You’re not fighting about anything meaningful, but these are hurtful each time you’re having it.
- And so it leads to distancing and pulling away from each other.
- And then you start to manage each other and walk on eggshells. Like, “I can’t tell him that,” “I can’t tell her that.”
- Or you start to – this is what I see a lot with women and myself, this was me and my marriage– starting to manage the situation around sex. Like I don’t want him to get the wrong signals. I am not going to wear – I’m not going to walk naked in front of my partner because I don’t want him to get wrong signals. Or sex is like a sequence of, “Do this, then do that, then do this. And do not stray from this script because we’re not going to have it.” It becomes an incredibly rigid script, which then of course, feels terrible and you start to withhold from each other. You really withhold what you’re experiencing emotionally, what you want, everything. You might start lying like, “No, I’m fine. It’s fine.”
- Which leads to feeling a lot of shame about what’s happening in the relationship and starting to hide your relationship from others. You go to parties and you smile, everything is great, but you’re not telling people that you’re struggling.
- Which has you focused on distractions to get relief. So somehow work starts getting busier, you decide to get chickens and you build a chicken coop and dedicate yourself to raising chickens. I speak about that from experience.
- But underneath this is just a band-aid because underneath you’re actually experiencing a ton of fear and you’re catastrophizing, “Can this last? Can I last in this? What’s going to happen if we break up?”
- And ultimately it leads to a lack of trust and it could be doubting your own, whether your partner loves you and questioning whether they’re actually doing what they say that they’re doing it. “Is he over there working? Or is he watching porn?” Or, “Is she really going out with girlfriends? Why is she dressing up to go out? Is she going to see someone else?” So that lack of trust is the nail in the coffin.
Sundae: I was like have we hit the bottom yet? Because we are down low. Wow, that is incredible and thank you for sharing that because I think they’re going to be many listeners who think, “Wow, boom, boom, boom.” There are so many points on there that people can identify with. So I think just naming that as red flags, is a wonderful entrance to a conversation to say, “Hey honey, I noticed I’m feeling resentment,” or, “We’re in my place of defensiveness and I don’t want to go further on the spiral.” That is wonderful.
Irene: Yeah, exactly. And it’s also a conversation starter with your partner. Like you said, instead of focusing on individual complaints or grievances, you appoint an expert, which is usually more powerful than trying to explain something that you’ve tried to explain a thousand other times before. And that’s where expertise is really important. Most people can figure their relationships out by themselves if they spent the next 20 years reading over the literature, getting experience, getting education in the area, getting experience with hundreds of couples, but the reality is, obviously no one’s going to do that. And so the key is to get someone who’s an expert who can see through this.
When I start talking to couples, literally the first call that I have with them, which is a free consultation, I see these, they don’t need to tell me their history. I see how they talk to each other. I see what words they use, I see how they look at each other, or they don’t I can tell them exactly where they are. And that’s the benefit of working with an expert
Sundae: But I think there’s also a danger when you’re in a space and you go out like two friends, let’s say, “Hey, this is happening.” They might say, “Yeah, that’s normal because it’s happening to me, too.” Or, “That happened in with my parents.” It’s sort of normalizes bad. And it doesn’t paint a picture of how it could be better. So, those are really important things, I think. And seeking an expert if you’re somewhere on that spiral and, you know just having a few conversations about it isn’t enough, probably is a big sign. It’s time to get outside support.
Irene: Yeah and plus with, like I said, with conversations, so many, so many of our tactics around communication is to say what we said a thousand other times, but this time louder or articulating more clearly, what we said last time. Or just piling it on kind of like, with advertising.
So, all of these are terrible strategies, because the more you do them, the more disconnected you get. The less safe it becomes in the relationship. And so the next time you pile on the same argument, your partner’s heart is going to be closed. It’s going to have like another lock on it.
And so when couples get stuck in the same pattern, like, “Wow, we’re having the same conversation over and over and over.” That means that their hearts have close to each other and they need an intervention.
Sundae: Yeah, makes sense. So far, we’ve talked about, we need emotional intimacy to build on sexual intimacy. We’ve looked at, we have to do our own work to work through articulating and naming what our needs are. We’ve talked about some of the downward spiral when things are bad and how do you sort of slow that spiral or go back up again.
Can we talk about the good stuff?
Sundae: Decent intimacy, decent sex life, but maybe they’re mindful of, “Hey, we’ve been together for a long time and we’re going to be together for a long time. How can we inject something fresh into our lives?” Even when there isn’t a problem. What do you suggest for people who are in that situation?
Irene: Yeah. So once you have that foundation of emotional connection, then the physical aspect, there’s endless possibilities. And you don’t even have to fold yourself into a pretzel, a thousand different times, like origami, one of those origami things, to get sexual pleasure. That actually, there’s so much available when you’re connected because actually your whole body is more turned on when you’re connected. That’s especially true for women. Men normally arousal is not their problem. However, well, let me speak first for women. So our arousal goes up our body responds more to pleasure when we are emotionally connected and what that means is blood flows to the genitals. They become more supple and engorged. So you’re having pleasure not from friction, but actually from all that blood thumping and throbbing in your genitals, which means it activates this whole network of 8,000 nerve endings all connected to the clitoris. So there’s so much pleasure to be had there.
But when it comes to men, men, like I said, generally don’t have problems with arousal, but what they do have is that they have arousal that’s very localized and they miss out on a whole bunch of arousal throughout their whole body. So they’ll probably be aroused in their penis and their balls and the sensation is there. But would they miss out on by having sex that last five minutes is that they miss out on the aliveness in their skin, in their body, in their hearts, everywhere else, but the genitals. And so, when you have emotional connection, you can actually take time to explore that and men can start to experience full body orgasms. Not just localized genital orgasms. They can last longer in this journey of arousal. And that’s actually nourishing.
So typically men will substitute quantity for quality. They will want to orgasm at least once a day, if not a couple of times a day and that creates nice sensations, but because the rest of their body is not getting nourishment, again, quantity is taking place of quality. But when men are able to and are interested in learning how to build that arousal and connection to their own body through sensuality, through prolonged arousal states, they will find that they don’t want sex as often because it’s like a full meal.
When you’ve had a full meal, you don’t need to eat an hour later. You’re not hungry again because you didn’t get what you needed. So, what’s really interesting is that when – and this is something that is not talked about. However, it underlies a lot of our assumptions about women in particular and that is that when the quality of the sex that a couple, I’ll use a heterosexual couple but this also is applicable to any couple, but specifically with a heterosexual couple, when both partners are having exquisite sex, sex that is connected emotionally, that allows them to really explore the physicality of it through sensuality, through these heightened states of arousal, a sense of freedom in their bodies, men want less sex after that because they get filled up. They get very nourished. They get filled up.
Sundae: It’s like slow food.
Irene: Yeah, exactly. And again, it nourishes them on so many different levels that they feel full. Leaving the table full, which is a great feeling. But here’s the surprising thing. It’s not the same with for women. When women are having exquisite sex, they are – I’m at a loss for the word, but they want more and more of it.
Sundae: Are you getting distracted again? *laughter*
Irene: *laughter* My mind just went to that place.
Sundae: See episode one, where that happened. Now it happened again. *laughter* I love it.
Irene: *laughter* I’m at a loss for words because I’ve been transported to that state.
Sundae: What a gorgeous thing, right? Because I always say this, when people say, “Well men just want sex more often than women,” and it’s like, is that true? And what are the conditions and what are the optimal conditions for both, right? So what I’m hearing is it’s not black and white. It isn’t already a given in advance. That there are ways that we can connect, that will actually steer how we interact with each other. And I’m hearing more sensuality. I’m hearing maybe a little bit more time. And, when you have the emotional connection, the sexual connection flows. I’m guessing it might be a safe way to enter the conversation for those who aren’t used to having the emotional connection.
If you sort of like tease out that, “Hey, this will lead to the thing that you’re more comfortable with. Let’s experiment.” That might be interesting.
Irene: Yeah absolutely. And you know all of this adds up to play. So sensuality is exploring and teasing your body with stimulation through touch, through kissing, through different implements and toys. And that allows you to play. That allows a couple to create this literally this playpen where they don’t do things that they get to do in the rest of their lives. They get to play with their bodies, they get to step into a role that they don’t get to do otherwise, and so that amplifies all of this. Again, it’s a realm that you don’t share with anyone else, and you don’t share that out in the public. You don’t share that walking through the supermarket. Although you may, you can do it desolately with these kinds of inside jokes or inside experiences. But basically this realm is just it’s so private and it’s so unique in that way. It’s something that you get to share with each other and that’s amazing and cool. And again, fulfills us in ways that nothing else does.
Sundae: And that goes back to this conversation about creating something new to fit the moment. Letting go of knowing your partner because you’re discovering through that play. So I’m just noticing, we could talk about this forever and I want to make sure that we make time for some of our questions from our audience and it’s actually about the opposite. It’s about, no sex. One of the questions is: A sexless marriage can be fine if both parties just don’t want sex. But how do you manage a situation where one half still wants sex and the other doesn’t, especially when sexual intimacy is really important to the one who wants sex?
Irene: Yeah and again we can spend hours on this, and it is such a difficult question that has a lot of potential for heartbreak. And I would put this question in the category of big questions in a relationship such as does one person want children or not? Because I’ll use the children question as an example. Having children is a question not just about, do you want to get a blue car or red car? But it’s about either living out a dream or a legacy or fulfilling something in you that’s really essential.
Sundae: Like a part of your identity.
Irene: Part of your identity, right? Part of your mission in this lifetime or in this world. Part of maybe your religious purpose in life or your spiritual purpose. Whatever it is, it’s a big question and it’s an important one. Where if you don’t have, if you don’t fulfill this in some way, you’re going to miss out on something that’s really important to you. And so sex is like that for some people, not everyone. For some people sex is preferring a blue car versus a red car, it’s a nice to have. It’s a fun thing. Or like getting a Porsche versus getting a Ford. It’s a nice luxury. I’ll take it if it’s available but not a big deal.
But for others, for whom like I said, it’s more of a question of, “Do I want children or not?” It’s not really an option. And so the key is just to really understand where you fall into this. And if it is on the level of wanting to have children and your partner does not, it’s really about understanding again, the importance of it and honoring yourself. Can you live the rest of your life fully? Can you show up in your relationship joyfully and from a full cup? Like, you have things that make you really come alive and that really fulfill you, can you show up from that place? Or is giving up on sex something that is going to actually deplete you? Or is going to require you to give up a part of yourself? And ultimately the latter, giving up a part of yourself is going to affect your partner negatively. And so, if you’re not on the same page, sometimes the kinder thing to do, the more loving thing to do is to let each other go so that we can pursue the things that are really important to us. And like I said, wow, this can be potentially hard braking but the alternatives are also heartbreaking.
Sundae: This is so complex. Because also having a polyamorous relationship could add a whole other level layer of hard.
Irene: Yeah opening a relationship can work for some people. It really depends on the maturity of the couple, how mature and how connected they are to each other. So it’s not the maturity as in intelligence or being adults, but the maturity of the relationship if they’re really connected. And if they’re coming from this place of the kinder thing to do is to open up our marriage so that you pursue what you want. That’s one thing. You can also, of course, open up your marriage to just solve a problem that you’re not willing to look at and that’s going to backfire at some point.
Sundae: Thank you for that. That’s important. I think it’s also important to talk about times where there is that gap. And then the next question I have from the audience, we’ve talked a lot about heterosexual relationships, but specifically, in the lesbian community, there is another layer of challenge when it comes to sexual connection. And one of the questions is about libido, and if you have two women who are going through menopause and people’s libido might be impacted based on hormones and they might be impacted differently. What I’ve learned from the lesbian community is that there’s this phrase called The Lesbian Deathbed, where sexual intimacy stops. I don’t know how much experience you have with a lesbian community for this species or whether that is actually still relevant in the heterosexual community, but does it have to be this way? What are your thoughts on that?
Irene: So my experience with lesbian couples is that they experience the death of sex, the way I described it in the previous episode, wherein the beginning, there’s that natural excitement, then it wears off. And a big piece of it is all of it is for the exact same reasons. In the beginning, it’s the hormones. The hormones are making you do it. Then the love is making you do it. But then when all of that settles, the hormones wane, the love starts to have cracks in it. Resentment starts to build in, the disappointments grow, all of that, that hormone driven sexual passion dies out. And so with two women, you actually have an amplification of the emotional disconnect because both partners are really sensitive to it, more sensitive than if it was a heterosexual couple. So if there’s that emotional disconnect, and they start down on that spiral, again, it’s gets amplified because it connection just has a bigger influence on both of them. So in a way it is it has bigger impact on lesbian couples.
Sundae: And it also sounds connected to what we talked about in episode one, about people who are initiating sex more often versus people who are receptive to sex. And if there’s a hormone loss, in the libido loss, the initiator might take away the initiator role.
Irene: Exactly. And then you’re left with both people not initiating and everything disappearing. And last thing I want to say about hormones. And I want to point to this being the theme in my work. Is that our reliance on hormones to drive our sexual desire is a recipe for failure because our hormones change with age whether you’re a woman or a man, hormones change and hormones depend on a lot of different things which makes them unreliable. If things are going great, they’re up. If things are not going great, like you are not eating well, you haven’t exercised, you haven’t slept, this and that, they will not work reliably. And so to base your sexual desire in a long-term relationship on hormones, like I said, is a recipe for failure.
The opposite is learning to connect emotionally and explore each other, play with each other’s bodies through sensuality, through goalless touch, through stimulation of different kinds. To meet your body and actually to create responsiveness. So it’s like when no one is touching, you are neutral, but when someone starts to play with your body, you start to respond positively, like, “Oh, wow, that feels good. First, I feel relaxed, then I started to get tingles and start to feel a little bit fired up. And now, I’m just like jumping on my partner and kissing them because I have so much desire flowing out of the out of me.” All of that starts to build up. And this we have control over.
Sundae: This is also so inspiring like, when I was sharing with you in the last episode about Ashton Aapplewhite’s book, This Chair Rocks, and how she shared how it’s possible to have that kind of sensual or sexual connection into your mid-70s or mid-80s, and that’s exactly what you’ve said. It’s through this nonreliance on hormones and actually the reliance, what I’m hearing is on the intention, the intention is to stay connected. Not, “We are connected. So let’s do that.” It’s, “Let’s connect. And then it will lead to other sort of playful ways.” So that is a huge takeaway for me. What I’ve learned from your work and what I’m learning from others in this area and that’s so exciting. Because actually, what you need is that intentional, not hormones.
Irene: Exactly, intention. And also practices in place. For those people who are familiar with yoga, it’s that by showing up to yoga even without doing all the poses, or without doing everything, or doing it well, just by showing up and by committing to showing up, you actually are practicing this. So it’s about showing up to be with each other and then in that moment, determining what’s appropriate. Because in some moments, let’s say you show up to your daily 15 minutes of connection time, which is one of the things I teach my couples to do is every day connect physically. When they show up to that one day, it could be that they are so hot for each other because they’ve had an amazing time throughout the rest of the day and they just want to rip their clothes off each other and make out and leap into sex.
And other times they are they’re grieving a loss. So there was a funeral earlier that day and their connection during that time is obviously going to be very different and it’s about finding what that physical, maybe first comfort to each other might look like, to then maybe using central touch and stimulation to actually show love to each other while one or both people are grieving. To expressing grief through movement with each other, or whatever may show up. And this is where the realm of possibilities is endless.
Sundae: It’s beautiful. It’s so beautiful. I always think about, now that I’m middle-aged, I’ve been middle-aged for a while, you appreciate wisdom from your parents in fresh ways. And my mom always said, they’ve been married for over 50 years, she always said, “Sundae. Do you think that your father and I would be married for five more years if we stopped working on the relationship?” And I was actually like, “Yeah because you guys are given.” But I get it, this is this idea of intention and practice. That even if you’ve been married for 50 years, if you stop the shared intention, if you stopped the practice that things will will decline. So that’s beautiful.
Gosh. Thank you so much. There’s so much that you shared. I know there’s so much more. Do you mind if we just turn our attention to you as an individual just for a second before we wrap up and help people understand where they can find you. So on my show, I talk about Ambitious, Transformation in Transition, and I’m always very interested in hearing from our experts, what’s going on in their lives? Because it’s as an expert, you’re on a pedestal and you look like, you got it all together, but we all know that humans are messy. So I’m curious for just for you right now. When you hear, “Your life in tansit,” what transitions are meaningful for you right now or are you feeling?
Irene: Well, for me, I feel like I’m going to end of a transition stage which is a transition in and of itself. So I moved to a new country, the Netherlands, almost two and a half years ago and so in the COVID hit. So there’s been a lot of transitioning, a lot of just chaos happening and I feel like I’ve settled. And this is now opening up so much more energy to do things that I want and I love it. I love this now stage where I have more time or energy, more freedom to pursue things that really were on the back burner because of COVID and the move and everything else. And so, one of the things is pursuing this dream that I’ve had now for many years, which is to work with horses. And my background and training in somatic experiencing has really transformed the way I look at horses, the way I understand them, and the way I see, the value that they provide. And so I started working with horses and they’re kicking my ass. Literally and figuratively.
Sundae: Talk about confronting yourself, right?
Irene: Exactly. And one of the most powerful things, which is again, it’s fueling this inner transition in me, this inner transformation is that you can break a horse, but that’s not the kind of horsemanship that I’m into. I really want to make horses into my partners. And so what I’m having to learn to do is how to play with a horse. And one of the things I heard from one of my teachers, is this idea of playing with the horses energy. Engaging it and bringing out the best of it. And then they feel safe with you. They open up with you and they want to do more. And, I do that so well with humans and now it’s like, wow, now we get to do this with this thousand-pound animal and again, it’s just it works so well with everything I’ve done and it’s also pushing me to these new edges. And I love it. I feel like I am reaching this new level of growth that I didn’t know existed, and super excited for it.
Sundae: It makes so much sense. Like you said, you’ve been working with sensual energy, sexual energy. Now, it makes sense that you go to another level. So, tell us a little bit about what you define as ambitious right now? Because as I shared with my community, ambition needs to be defined by yourself for yourself, rather than being influenced by some external scope or scale. So for you, what is ambitious right now?
Irene: It’s also relates to the horses that it’s been a long time dream for me to have a retreat center. And I had to put all of that off to the back burner in these last couple of years. And so, for me, ambition is giving myself permission to dream big. This is what I want. I want to have a retreat center with horses. I want to do couples work with horses, eventually, but when I learned how to be with horses. So yeah, in a way again, like I mentioned the chaos has subsided and I’m opening myself up to some of these big dreams. I don’t have to be surviving from day to day because the last couple of years have been crazy. It’s like, “Okay, what are my big dreams? And what is it that I really want?” And reconnecting to that and giving myself permission to do that. Even though horse wise I may not be there yet. But yeah, just allowing myself to dream big.
Sundae: It’s gorgeous. So listen, there’s something I can’t end this episode without asking you. I want to know how people respond to you at a party when you tell them that you are an expert in women’s libido and sexual desire?
Irene: Well, there’s two types of people. Some, tell me that they have to rearrange their sock drawer and it has to happen immediately and they have to leave. And then there’s others who love the topic and can’t stop talking about it. So I love parties where there’s more of the latter and less of the former. But It’s often people pause, where they’re like, “Wait, did you just say what you said that you do?”
Sundae: Oh my gosh, thank you so much. For those of you who are listening, please go and check out her website. Your blog is amazing. You give so much insight and I remember when I was prepping for our call I was like, “Oh, this is a really good article. Are you prepping for the call anymore Sundae?” It’s really, really wonderful. You’ve got great things there. So I’m going to put that in the show notes. People get a hold of you and what’s the best way that you like people to be in contact with you?
Irene: Yeah, my website is that its IreneFehr.com and so you can contact me there or set up a consultation, download free videos here series and other videos, you can read articles. That’s the best way.
Sundae: Wonderful. So check it out. It’s been so wonderful. Thank you for joining me in this two-part series. It’s been so wonderful, Irene, I wanted to say thank you from the bottom of my heart.
Irene: Thank you. And I love this interview because I get to laugh so much too and even though it’s a serious topic. You made it super easy. So thank you.
Sundae: You can see where we definitely connect on play.
Sundae: And emotional intimacy as well. So for all of you listening, thank you for being here. This is IN TRANSIT with Sundae Bean, thank you for being here. I’m going to leave you with the words from Janine Roth and I had no idea when I picked out this quote how apt it would be to our conversation. So here it is: “Intimacy is not something that just happens between two people. It is a way of being alive. At every moment, we are choosing either to reveal ourselves or to protect ourselves. To value ourselves or to diminish ourselves. To tell the truth or to hide. To dive into life or to avoid it. Intimacy is making the choice to be connected to, rather than isolated from our deepest truth as that moment.”
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