Sex and Relationship Coaching for a Passionate, Connected and Fulfilling Life

In the hierarchy of unforgivable relational sins, we, as a society, think of lying – and especially the lying associated with “cheating” – as perhaps the worst (non-abusive) relationship sin. Because lying is considered to be a universal evil, a person who lies in their relationship rarely gets much sympathy. Many potentially amazing relationships end because the person who lies is vilified and the offended party never takes a beat in order to get a handle on the why of the lie.

The truth is, people lie to the people they love all the time in small and not-so-small ways. Lying can be everything from saying you are “fine” when you are not to going behind their back and having sex with another person. As a sex and relationship coaches, we know that people rarely lie because they are evil, selfish monsters with no regard for others. Much more often, people lie because they are terrified of what might happen if they tell the truth. They fear they may be ridiculed, humiliated or left by the people they love the most.

Allow us to illustrate an example from our practice. Joe has wrestled with depression his whole life. While his depression did not go away when he met his wife, Catherine, he put it to us like this: “When I’m with her, it’s like she lights some part of me up that can rise above it all. I used to have trouble getting out of bed most days and I thought a lot about suicide and even made one attempt. These last 5 years being with Catherine, I’ve only had two depressive episodes.” Catherine and Joe came to us after Joe found out Catherine had lied about a work trip and went skiing with a group of friends instead. Joe was certain that Catherine had cheated on him on the trip and was feeling suicidal. He felt he could never trust her again.

In an individual session with Catherine she broke down crying, “I want you to understand, since I met Joe, for the most part I’ve been so happy and fulfilled. I’ve never felt alone, and I think he is really sexy, but I did lie to him and I feel horrible. There is no excuse for what I did, but I want to explain. I went on the trip and, while I was there, I kissed a friend of mine. I’m not even sure exactly why I kissed him but I think I was just feeling so suffocated, and on the trip I felt so free. I got pretty drunk and I was feeling this wild, playful part of me that I’ve kind of lost. I love Joe more than anything in the world, and I am so happy that I married him, but his depression has been really hard. I feel so selfish when I say it, but the two times it’s gotten really bad during our relationship, it was because of something I did. Joe can get really jealous and insecure and he takes my occasional flirting as certain evidence that I will cheat on him someday. In general, he is very anxious when I hang out with my friends. The first big depression was after he saw a playful chat I was having with a guy at work that had some sexual innuendo in it. I can understand that Joe felt jealous though I wasn’t doing anything with the guy and didn’t want to. After he saw the chat, he was in bed for a month, he almost lost his job. The stakes feel so high, like if I do something wrong he might be hospitalized or even kill himself. I don’t want to loose him but I do want to be myself. I know I should have tried to talk to him about this earlier, I was just too scared.”

Let us be clear, as Catherine said, none of this is about making excuses for lying. However, there is often a good reason. Infidelity is a very complex topic and is rarely black and white. Many people cheat even when they love their partner deeply and often cheating or other kinds of lies happen when a person feels like they have lost some part of themselves and are trying to regain it. Sometimes their partner rarely or never wants to have sex with them – something we don’t think of as universally evil or selfish but which can have grave consequences on a relationship. Sometimes the kind of sex they are having isn’t at all satisfying but the partner doesn’t want to try anything different. Sometimes the relationship has become isolating. And, sometimes there are so many good things in the relationships (often including shared children), that the stakes feel too high to tell the truth and face the potential loss.

All that said, we want to emphasize that lying to someone you love can have very grave consequences. It impacts trust and can shake the foundation of a relationship. Many relationships don’t survive a lie, especially one that involves sex outside the relationship. The way we see it, one of the worst parts of lying is that it takes the choice away from the deceived person, which often leaves them feeling humiliated. They are going along under one assumption about what is happening in the relationship and then suddenly they realize they’ve been wrong. In addition to simply feeling hurt, they often feel naive or downright stupid. Coming back from that humiliation can take quite a bit of work and a very supportive, understanding partner. Ultimately, the real healing comes when there is mutual understanding and empathy about why the lie happened.
Many people don’t want to lose a relationship that they have so much invested in, so they try and keep their secrets close. While it seems devastating when it is revealed, lying can offer an opportunity for couples to go deeper and understand where each of them stands, and what each of them really needs in the relationship.

For pride, Celeste decided to come out once more…as something a little different….

I want to speak on behalf of a group of folks who I think get a bad name – Unicorn Hunters – couples who are looking for a bisexual woman (or really, any woman, to whom they are attracted) who is willing to sleep with them. I have now been both the hunter and the prey – a unicorn and unicorn hunter. I can speak from a unique vantage point and say that I feel completely at peace with my cannibalistic nature. But it has taken me some time to get there.

A little history first. I came out as bisexual my freshman year in college. It was 1992 at UC Santa Cruz, a gay mecca if there ever were one and I was embraced with open arms – sort of. The queer community was amazing at UCSC and, because I was dating only women at the time, it was easy to be mistaken for a lesbian. I met so many wonderful, queer people who were exploring themselves and their sexuality and, occasionally, in groups of lesbians, I was privy to a slew of bi-phobic and derisive comments, “I’m never dating a bisexual again,” and, “I don’t think she’s even gay,” and, with a disgusted emphasis on the word man, “She left her for a man”. Believe me, I can understand wanting to minimize the chance of getting hurt in a relationship, the problem is, you can’t. Through my own relationship experience and as a Sex and Intimacy Coach I am acutely aware that part of being in a long-term relationship is dealing with the fact that people are different, and want different things. So, avoiding bisexuals or open-relationships or anything else you try to do to never get hurt, doesn’t work. You can try and control how you will be hurt, but it rarely works. But, I digress.

My point here is not to say that everyone should date bisexuals if that makes them feel unsafe. Humans judge in order to survive and I have compassion for that. However, I am a member of two groups who receive an undue share of societal judgement, unicorns – bisexual woman who are willing to sleep with couples – and unicorn hunters- the (usually, opposite sex) couples seeking them out. The roots of these judgments rely on ideas that women are not actually sexual, or capable of acting on their desires. As someone who has found both sides of the unicorn equation highly pleasurable I want to dispel the idea that threesomes are just something men talk unsuspecting “naturally monogamous” women into.

After college, as the lesbians surrounding me feared, I did have LTRs with men. This was not a “going back” into the arms of patriarchy and hertosexual priviledge. This was just my very personal trajectory as a bisexual woman who tried to find the partners that meet my changing needs. Gender can be a shorthand for all sorts of stereotypes that do and don’t hold true. For me, the women I had long-term relationships with had much lower sex drives than I did and often shamed me for wanting a lot of sex. I found I was more aligned with the men I dated in this and some other important aspect of relationships.

For most of my life I have been in a relationship, however, during the times I was not, I still needed sex. When I needed sex, for me the most fun, exciting and safe way to do that, was to have sex with couples. It was fun because I got to have great experiences with both men and women and it was emotionally safe for me. I didn’t have to worry about the things women are brainwashed into worrying about when they are single and have sex with single men – I didn’t have to worry about feeling used and I didn’t feel the need to justify the sex I was having by trying to fall in love with everyone I fucked. They had each other and I was a free agent. I also felt safe having a woman there, I felt more confident in asking for what I wanted and I felt my boundaries were more likely to be respected. The beautiful, amazing and occasionally uninteresting couples I had sex with were always respectful, giving and extremely appreciative. I loved being a unicorn.

During my partnerships with men, I have, at times, still been interested in dating and having sex with women. I negotiated open relationships with my male partners so that I could still experience sex and, less often, love with other women. Sometimes I looked for those women to date and have sex with on my own and sometimes my partner and I looked for women to date and have sex with. Sometimes I dated women who occasionally had threesomes with me and my partner and sometimes my partner dated women who I joined for threesomes. Finding and having sex with unicorns has been tons of fun and a deeply bonding experience with my male partners. It has also been an opportunity to have wonderful sex and bad sex and loving relationships and painful relationships with many amazing women.

I can’t say I did it perfectly. The truth is that women are often scarier to me than men and sometimes having sex with them is easier than the vulnerability of falling in love. I feel less certain about whether or not women are attracted to me and I fear they can change their mind at any moment and I protect myself more in relation to women. Being a unicorn and a unicorn hunter has given me ways of connecting with women, and my own bisexual desires, that feel safer and more comfortable to me. In all of my relationships, no matter how casual, I do my best. I always attempt to repair if there have been challenges and to listen when there are hurts. Sometimes, feelings of jealousy and possessiveness in my partnerships got so intense, I did not do well at all. Like everything else, being a unicorn hunter has it’s challenges.

But still, I am a unicorn hunter. I am looking for women who want to have sex with my partner and I who are self-possessed and know what they want and will ask. I am looking for women who want to have sex with my partner so they can just see what it’s like. I am looking for women who want lots of attention from two sexy, appreciative people who want to help them learn about their sexuality, their body and their orgasm. I am looking for women who are straight, bi-curious, bi, lesbian, mono, swinger, poly, top, bottom, switch – women who choose to identify whatever way they want and want to explore. I am looking for women like myself – afraid, brave, sexual and human.

With the phenomenon of Fifty Shades of Grey, Rihanna’s S&M and other popular representations, Dominant/Submissive fantasies are coming out of the darkness and into the mainstream imagination. However, these iterations often gloss over the core needs such fantasies satisfy. After seeing hundreds of clients, we can confirm that many people’s core sexual needs are about power in some way or another. As we help you to identify your “Hottest Sexual Movie” it is important to consider what side of the power dynamic excites you. You may want to feel like you have complete power, feel powerless or play around on both sides.

If you are submissive, you may want to feel restrained or contained in some way that makes you feel safe. You may want to feel like you don’t have to take any responsibility, as if it is all just happening to you. You also may want to feel punished or coerced. If you are dominant, you may want to feel powerful and in command. You may like the feeling of coercing your partner to do something and then having them realize they like it. You may want to be judgmental, scolding, or punishing. You may find that at times you like to be dominant and at other times you like to be submissive. This is commonly referred to as being a “switch” and the act as “switching.”

Dominance and submission can hit some sensitive areas (slight pun intended) and, as such, they require finesse. Some people who want to be dominated can be ambivalent about these desires, and whenever you are playing with power differences, it is important to be aware that this kind of play can provoke strong emotions. Not everyone is ready to play with dominance, and some need to feel a romantic or passionate connection before they are willing to explore it. Some people like light dominance but nothing heavy, and some never want to play this way.

Many women who are deeply invested in women’s equality have internalized this to mean that they should not want to be submissive in the bedroom or that this power dynamic might end up leaking into other parts of their relationship. The truth is there are power differences in relationships, and dominance and submission can be one way to openly explore these differences. This is why we also recommend switching roles and seeing what it feels like for each of you to be on the other side of the equation.

There are also socialized and expected gender roles for heterosexuals that make dominant women and submissive men less common in our society. This can cause challenges for some submissive men and dominant women, as they may feel ashamed of being in the minority or judgmental of their partner for falling outside gender norms. When two dominants or two submissives get together, it can be challenging. You might end up in power struggles, or with no one doing anything. This is why it is so important to bring a non-judgmental attitude to your Hottest Sexual Movie conversations. There is nothing either of you can do to change your partner’s desires. You can, however, accept them without feeling responsible for fulfilling them.

Even if your desires align, it is very rare to get the dominant/submissive movie right the first time you try it. Both you and your partner need to be prepared to have a number of “takes” in order to find out what words and actions turn the two of you on the most. With regard to words, remember that tone and attitude are important, not just the words themselves. If your partner tells you something turns them on (for example, “I really like it when you tell me to get on my knees and then you grab my hair”), ask what turns them on about it. When you begin to get some insight into why particular actions are a turn-on, you can add others that are similar thematically.
They may say, for example, “I like it because I feel like you’re in control of the experience and I have to do exactly what you say.” On the other hand, they might say, “I like it because it feels like you’re using me for your pleasure.” These are two very different themes that would lead to different kinds of sexual experiences. The first could include pleasing you both, while the second would mean that, as the dominant, you would focus more on taking your own pleasure; if you focus too much on your partner’s pleasure, they might get turned off.

Once you’ve found some words, gestures, and experiences that turn you on, continue to communicate your needs and desires and give feedback. This will add variety and keep your explorations fresh and interesting. After all, there are only so many times your “professor” can give you a failing grade that you have to work to change, or your “house servant” can fail in their duties and need to be punished, before you may need to change the story and your roles. In our recent book “Making Love Real” we give you specific advice on how to bring Dominant/Submissive role play into your relationship in a way that is safe, exciting, and dynamic.

It seems that everywhere we look we see couples in long term relationship suffering from challenges in their intimacy and sexual connection. More than half of all marriages end in divorce and a large number of those who stay married report feeling dissatisfaction in their sexual and emotional connection.

At the beginning of a relationship, also known as the “honeymoon period,” it may be possible for you to have super hot sex even you have not shared what you want out of sex and intimacy with your partner. Simply being with someone new upon whom you can project all of your fantasies, combined with the uncertainty of new romance can be enough to fuel the fires of desire and arousal and lead to a lot of sexual fulfillment.

The sexual honeymoon period doesn’t happen for everyone. For those who do get to experience it, a majority will see it fading as the excitement of newness and uncertainty wears off. It is then that the important question arises: “How can you keep sex hot in long-term relationships?” It seems like everywhere we look, we see new one-size-fits-all approaches to answering this question.

Therapists, coaches, sexperts, popular magazines and new age teachers have offered a variety of potential solutions. New age teachers will say that there needs to be polarity between the masculine and feminine. While this will help some couples whose desires include the need for polarity, others will be turned on by a feminine-feminine or masculine-masculine dynamic. Leading sexperts might tell you that there needs to be more mystery and distance that counters the domesticity. Yes, for some, that might be just the thing. For others however, less mystery and more safety will be what allows them to open to another. Some couple’s therapists advocate the idea that deep attunement and good communication will automatically lead to good sex, but that’s only true if what you need in order to get off is someone who is attuned to you. It is just as possible that what gets you off is that someone wants to use you for their pleasure.

The reason these approaches will not necessarily fix your sex life is because they are very simplistic and one dimensional. The truth of sex and intimacy is that there isn’t a cookie cutter answer that works for everyone. There is, however, a way to find out what will work for you and in your relationship.

If we have learned one lesson in our years of working with people around their sexual desires it is that people are extraordinarily diverse and unique – in other words, there is no one-size-fits-all fix. What people don’t realize is that each person has what we like to call their own unique Hottest Sexual Movie – a compilation of erotic and emotional experiences that elicit what they most want to feel in sex.

In order for sex to be hot, it must fulfill a good deal of each partner’s Hottest Sexual Movies. Those couples who have complimentary movies will generally stay much more satisfied with their sex life in the long term, but the majority of couples don’t get their movies met with the un-communicated, spontaneous sexual encounters that populate Hollywood movies. For couples who have less complimentary Hottest Sexual Movies, creating a sex life that fulfills both of your desires can be a feat!

Bottom line – what you don’t know about your own and your partner’s desires and what you haven’t shared may be killing your sex life and we hope you will begin to explore, experiment, teach and share your Hottest Sexual Movies. For a much broader look at some of the most common movies, check out our new book Making Love Real: The Intelligent Couple’s Guide to Lasting Intimacy and Passion.

Stay tuned… In our next blog – Discover Your Hottest Sexual Movie 101 – you will find out how to understand and share your own and your partner’s Hottest Sexual Movie and learn how your sex life can fulfill (as opposed to kill!) your partner’s desire.

To begin honest outsourcing takes an acknowledgment that no one person, or relationship, can ever fulfill all of our desires or needs, nor should we want it to. Most people already acknowledge this in one way or another, but when it comes to outsourcing sex or romance many folks feel threatened. We keep talking about the what honest outsourcing is, and The pros and cons, because we understand that operationalizing honest outsourcing in any given relationship is a unique task that can be very rewarding if approached with care and open communication. These 6 keys can guide that process.

  1. Go slow. Start by doing something that feels within your comfort zone, then slowly move on to experiences that are only a little outside your comfort zone. We see the biggest problems arise when people approach opening up from a place of scarcity and urgency, feeling like they have to get everything from the first experience. Non-monogamy works much better when you take the time to test out new experiences and communicate afterwards to see what feelings arise and share what worked and what didn’t.
  2. Always prioritize your partner’s needs and boundaries over the needs of other partners, and make sure your other partners know that you are going to do this. This may mean you have to disappoint other partners in order to keep your primary relationship strong.
  3. Do not expect your partner to have the same desires you do. When negotiating what you want, don’t try to be “fair.” Figure out what each of you wants to get out of the arrangement and whether you want to do it at all. For example, we worked with one couple where only one of the partners had other lovers and another couple where she wanted romantic dating with lots of kissing and occasional sex and he wanted anonymous sexual experiences with new people.
  4. You won’t know what it will feel like until you actually have the experience. Look at each new experience as a trial run where you see what you felt, whether it worked for you, and what, if anything, would need to change in order for you to want to do it again. Some experiences will feel good, and you may want to do them again; others will not, and you might not want to do them again. If you stretched too far, you might need to try experiences closer to your comfort zone before you try to stretch that far again.
  5. You and your partner will have different triggers around opening up your relationship, so it is essential to share your feelings. Don’t ignore them or try to get over them without your partner’s help. Don’t compare your ability to handle an open relationship with your partner’s ability. You each have your own feelings, needs, and boundaries. If you try to talk yourself out of any of these, you will build resentment and distance. To stay intimately connected, you will need to be as honest as possible about what is going on inside you.
  6. Learn what your partner needs in terms of reassurance that you are still there and committed to the relationship. When you are connecting with other people, your partner will likely need to have much more reassurance than they needed when you were being monogamous. For some people, there are specific words, for others they need touch or sexual connection to feel reassured. Let your partner know what you need and be specific. Give them information on the kinds of words, gestures and sentences are most reassuring for you.

Again, these are just a few helpful tools to begin discussing. If you want to explore opening your relationship with your partner, we strongly recommend you read some books on the topic. We recommend The Ethical Slut, by Dossie Easton, and Opening Up, by Tristan Taormino. Learning as much as you can and practicing with good communication tools is essential before you give honest outsourcing a try!

Whenever we talk to anyone about non-monogamy, the first question we always get is “Yes, in theory, but do non-monogamous relationships really work?” The simple answer is yes. Both monogamous and open relationships have their places of ease and their challenges which are quite different. For example, those who desire consistency and feel very threatened by the thought of their partner being with someone else may do better with monogamy while those who are less prone to jealousy and crave more variety may do better with non-monogamy. We believe the more important question is, “What really makes a relationship work?” Whether a relationship is monogamous or non-monogamous, what makes it work is mutual trust, respect, attachment, good communication, empathy, the ability to self-reflect and grow, consideration, and the desire to support each other in being true to who you are.

Pros of Honest Outsourcing

Negotiating non-monogamy can actually enhance your relationship because it requires high level communication skills that many monogamous relationships don’t develop. From our years of seeing clients, we can say that most relationships are under-communicated. Without a conscious choice to communicate, people get lazy about expressing their feelings, needs, and fears. Instead they use shortcuts and rely on what they already know, or think they know, about their partner. Imagining or practicing non-monogamy will likely uncover fears and insecurities that you may have buried and give you the opportunity to move through these feelings with the loving support of your partner. You can work through your fear of being left and insecurity about not being enough for your partner as you see them connecting with another person but still loving and staying with you.

Cons of Honest Outsourcing

Most of us think we know the con’s of non-monogamy, because we are taught that monogamy is inherently safer, easier, and more fulfilling. There certainly are challenges associated with opening up a relationship. You may feel jealous or fear being abandoned, and you may feel hurt at times. If you decide to practice some kind of honest outsourcing, you will likely experience misunderstandings, imperfect communication, and crossed boundaries. Even if the two of you are very good at communicating your needs and boundaries around being with other people, miscommunication is still possible. For some people, it will simply be against their grain – those folks feel more relaxed and fulfilled in monogamy and opening up is undesirable or beyond their capacity. The biggest challenges we have seen in relationships are when one person wants monogamy and the other wants to be open, it can work but it’s tougher.

It’s All Part of The Deal

Many people think they can avoid hurt or ever crossing boundaries in relationships, so they try to avoid any conversation or action that might bring up hurt or fear. However, any two people have differences, misunderstandings, and wounds that get triggered, and hurts and challenges are a normal part of relationships, both monogamous and non-monogamous. Learning how to take responsibility for your feelings, fears and actions and giving each other attentive, empathetic and listening will give you an opportunity to get through the hurt and back into your peaceful, loving connection with your partner.

If you are interested in beginning to open your relationship, keep your eye out for our next blog, 6 Keys to Success in Honest Outsourcing.

“He is totally there for me, is an amazing father, and also supports me in getting my sexual and emotional needs met. Why would I go anywhere else?!” – says one of our female clients about her husband.

“I feel like I’m getting to have the college years I always dreamed of, but was too shy to enjoy.” Her husband’s comment in response.

We love these quotes because they challenge many of the assumptions people have about non-monogamous relationships and highlight the importance of honest outsourcing. Although our clients are experiencing sex outside of their marriage, it is not cheating or an affair. They are completely committed to each other and ultimately are not going anywhere that would threaten their bond. They might be outsourcing sex, but they are fully invested in love, and they are in awe of their primary partner. Part of their strength comes from supporting each other in all of their desires, whether they can meet each others needs or not.

This example of honest outsourcing may sound appealing, intriguing, or insane. What we want to emphasize that there is no one-size-fits-all relationship model that works for everyone or every couple. The more you consciously co-create your relationship, the more likely it is to last. We’ve all heard about high divorce rates, and seen (or been a member of ) unhappy couples that stay together. Playing by the rules does not always lead to happiness or longevity.

Many unhappily coupled or married folks outsource dishonestly by having affairs or seeing sex workers. Despite these high rates of failure, people rarely ask, “Yes, but do monogamous relationships really work?” Monogamy is rarely scrutinized as a relationship model because, as a culture, we think of monogamy as “normal,” “natural,” or “right” and believe that staying monogamous with one person forever is the only truly successful relationship model. The belief that a lifetime of monogamy is the only way sets people up for a lot of pain and failure, as even most monogamous folks (a few unicorns aside) will generally have more than one partner in their lifetime.

We are not here to argue about whether or not monogamy is the way humans were meant to be. (For interesting discussions on monogamy and non-monogamy, check out Sex at Dawn: How We Mate, Why We Stray, and What It Means for Modern Relationships, by Christopher Ryan and Cacilda Jethá, as well as Strange Bedfellows: The Surprising Connection Between Sex, Evolution and Monogamy, by David P. Barash and Judith Eve Lipton.) Different relationship structures work for different people. Some people will actually be more likely to sustain relationships if they are non-monogamous, while for others monogamy is an essential component to relationship longevity.

The most challenging relationships seem to be those in which one person desires monogamy while the other desires some form of an open relationship. For these relationships, especially, it is essential to make a distinction between monogamy and commitment, since people often confuse these terms. You can be highly committed to your partner and not monogamous, and you can be completely monogamous without being committed. Commitment means being dedicated to working through the challenges that show up in every relationship. It means being aware of your own feelings, needs, and capacities and communicating instead of building resentment.

There are many reasons you might consider honest outsourcing as opposed to dishonesty or divorce. It can allow you to enjoy the depth of understanding and support that a long-term loving connection offers while also experiencing the excitement of new partners. Bringing in new people can often reignite passion between you and your partner. It can also make you feel accepted in all of your desires, which helps you feel more loving towards your partner. It can increase the stability of the relationship because no one needs to leave or lie in order to get their needs met. As our clients experience demonstrated, by going outside the marriage they were actually giving themselves less reason to ever truly “go anywhere else.”