Celeste & Danielle Offer Sex and Relationship Coaching for a Passionate, Connected and Fulfilling Life

Over the years as Sex Therapists and Relationship Coaches, so many of the couples we’ve seen have shared their experiences of rough patches during the holiday season. Holiday gift giving and family visits can add emotional and financial stress. We came up with this list of pointers that can help you and your partner stay connected during the holiday season so that you can experience the love and joy of the holidays instead.

Make a “Naughty” and “Nice” gift list

There can be something pretty unsexy about the list making/gift giving process. In long term relationships where finances are collective, gift giving can really fall flat as you watch the funds leave your joint bank account and go to presents you might not necessarily want to spend it on. In new relationships it can feel like a test of weather you know someone well enough. Instead or in addition to traditional gift-giving, why not make a list of sensual or sexual favors you would like to receive. You might want a “nice” long massage or perhaps a quick “naughty” trip up the chimney? Sharing your gift list is a fun way to supercharge your intimate connection over the holidays.

Learn the family dynamics

Whether this is your first time spending a holiday with your partner’s family or the 145th family holiday (but who’s counting?), we have a hunch that there could be a bit more communication leading up to the events. Instead of having an every person for themselves survivalist approach to the holidays, it is important to ask your partner what they need from you during this time. Even the closest of families can fall into damaging patterns this time of year, and by coming up with some strategies beforehand you and your partner can find ways to enjoy the good parts. This goes both ways, of course. It so important not to take for granted that your partner will intuit your needs around family and holidays, but to give them a chance to support you.

Steal moments beyond the mistletoe

By all means steal a socially-sanctioned kiss under the mistletoe as often as you possibly can. But, also take time to slow dance in the kitchen, take a bundled stroll arm and arm, whisper a compliment or sneak away for a car makeout session that might lead to more. By creating lots of small moments of connection you can ensure your relationship heads into the new year strong. We have many suggestions for intimacy boosting exercises in our new book, Making Love Real. So, if you plan on purchasing something, might as well make it our book ;).

Create your own Sexy Traditions

Think of ways to infuse the traditions you already have with a sexy twist (i.e. Don’t wear panties to that holiday matinee). Or, create new traditions like enjoying a seasonal shag on a blanket in front of the fireplace where you can feel the heat of the flames. We had a couple who would always have a Thanksgiving quickie after they put the bird in the oven and before everyone else woke up. Instead of feeling like they had an annoying chore they got to get away with something. Whatever it is, come up with some annual events that will keep the holidays exciting and special for you as a couple.

Take Space When You Need It

We can not stress this enough. Between holiday parties, family obligations, shopping, work and sleep it can feel impossible to have any me time. During this time of year it is so important to find space to do what keeps you feeling like you even if it means missing an event or two or not helping with a family meal. This will allow you to be present for your partner and actually experience and enjoy moments of connection with family and friends as well.

Unless you live under a rock (with no cave drawings in sight), chances are you are constantly bombarded with images of perfect sex. Weather you watch romantic movies, porn, music videos or all of the above, your head is full of unrealistic, fantasy-fueled depictions of sex. Romantic movies show two incredibly hot people wordlessly falling into sex and then flash forward to the same couple out of breath and happily fulfilled. In more graphic depictions, we see intercourse begin after a few passionate seconds and ends with the magical simultaneous orgasm. In mainstream porn you mostly see contrived scenarios where the men have enormous cocks, the women are infinitely horny, and it’s all sucking and fucking all the time. It’s hard to know where to begin with the fantasy land of music videos, but we are pretty sure Miley Cyrus’s tongue is not actually that long in person.

Watching erotic content can be good, fun, stimulating entertainment. But, when it is coupled with a dearth of depictions of what realistic sexual experience might look like, it sets up an unattainable and damaging expectation of what perfect sex should be. It also gives a very warped vision of the steps it takes to attain your ideal sexual encounter.

You hardly ever see those inevitable awkward sexual moments—when someone gets poked with an elbow or their body makes a funny (and inexplicably loud) sound. You almost never see people teaching their partners what kinds of touch, kisses, or words they prefer, even though these scenarios can be extremely hot and erotic. In reality, sex has moments where things cinematically flow and moments where you just miss each other. Almost every sexual relationship has some moments of satisfaction and moments of frustration, awkwardness or pause. Sex won’t always be easy and usually isn’t perfect. Especially not from an outside perspective. But from within the experience, it can feel pretty perfect. The lead up to perfect-for-you sexual moments may have included some embarrassing conversations, uncontrollable giggles, and awkwardly placed limbs, but none of that actually matters.

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.”

Here’s an excerpt from our upcoming book, Making Love Real: The Intelligent Couple’s Guide to Lasting intimacy and Passion. 

Move Beyond Damaging Myths

Before learning tools to enhance your sexual connection, you must first understand why sex can be such a challenging and contentious area in your relationship. There are so many confusing social messages and harmful myths about how sex is supposed to be and how men and women are supposed to behave sexually. Because these messages are presented to you from very early on, they become a part of you, like the air you breathe. Most people never question the validity of these messages and don’t realize how harmful they can be. We invite you to question them and see how they cause misunderstanding, anger, fear, and sadness and how they disrupt your connection with your partner. Once you gain some freedom and distance from these messages, you can begin to approach sex with much more realistic attitudes and expectations, empathize with your partner, and better communicate your sexual needs and desires.

Damaging Myth #1: Sex is supposed to happen spontaneously.
People often get upset at the idea that they might need to plan sex. They remember when they started dating and sex “just happened.” However, dating is essentially planning sex or erotic connection. By planning a date, you are taking special time out to focus on the connection between the two of you. You dress up, fantasize about meeting each other, prepare, and get excited. This isn’t spontaneous sex; it’s anticipated sex.

Once you have joined your life with someone else’s, time together has many purposes. You might spend time together where you are each doing your own separate work, or you might need to talk about money, kids, and all the day-to-day logistics of life. Most couples stop carving out time together where the focus is on building and enhancing sexual and emotional connection. When you live in a culture where there is a high level of shame surrounding sex, soon one or both of you will likely move sex to the bottom of your list of priorities. Just as you’ve made a commitment to each other, if you want your sex life to last, you need to make a commitment to consciously cultivate your sexual connection the same way you did when you were dating.

This is the season to connect with loved ones and that’s just what Celeste and Danielle’s client and her husband do their Sex Therapy session and in part 3 of our series featuring her candid writings.

Lesson: Tension and Touching

“The second appointment with our sex therapist was full of laughter and more “flow,” a major change from our first appointment full of tears and apprehension. We talked about how we were afraid this would be like other attempts; that this new found passion would sputter and die out as it has in the past. The sex therapist reassured us that this is a long road and there was a lot more we could do to ensure this was a long-lasting change. She talked about some essential elements to great sex. She talked about energy, and specifically tension, and she talked about touch.”

“To illuminate what she meant about tension, she talked about those Hollywood movies where you can see and feel the build-up (think Mr and Mrs Smith). She said all great sex starts with that, and tension starts before sex. She led us through some breathing exercises (together this time — yay, dual participation) and had us take a deep breath in, then tighten our muscles (my pussy, his cock) and then exhale fully while relaxing those muscles. She made sure we were breathing through our mouths for this, and said mouth breathing is very important during sex. She encouraged us to be as vocal as we’d like on the exhale, though I’ll admit we were both pretty quiet. I mean, this is strange, right?!? Then she talked about touch: good touch, bad touch, light touch, heavy touch. Not touching genitals or anything, just touching each other’s arms and face and shoulders and legs. It’s pretty powerful stuff moving from tension to touch. And yeah, none of this is secret stuff we don’t know about. It comes naturally in the heat of the moment. But it is really interesting to talk about, break down, and reconsider how the things that happen outside of the heat of the moment can lead up to something really amazing.”

Homework: Sexy Movie Night

“So, now we are currently working on breathing and touching, and we’re watching some Hollywood movies with great sexual tension. And it’s working. And it’s great. And it seems so different from what might have happened if I had gone to the therapist that my OBGYN suggested.”