This piece originally appeared on the Blowfish Blog. It doesn't talk about my personal sex life very much, but it does reference it a little bit. Family members and others who don't want to read that stuff, use your own judgment.
I've been kicked by the wind, robbed by the sleet
Had my head stoved in, but I'm still on my feet
And I'm still.
-Lowell George, "Willin'"
Rebekah's column in the Blowfish Blog on the F-word -- frequency of sex, and couples negotiating same -- reminded me of something I've been wanting to write about for a while. It's one of the best pieces of sex advice I ever read, and I wanted to pass it along.
It's from lesbian sex adviser JoAnn Loulan. Now normally, I'm not a big fan of Loulan; she's a bit too fixated on slotting people into sexual categories for my taste, she's insisted that butch/femme is a universal concept that applies to all lesbians whether they like it or not; and she's said some outrageously harsh and stupid things about bisexuals. But this piece of advice has always stuck with me. It's one of the most useful ideas about sex that I've ever heard... and as my sex life has changed and shifted with the years, it's only gotten more useful.
The idea is this: To have a sexual encounter that's pleasurable for both (or all) partners, you don't need to start out being aroused or excited or in the mood.
You just need to start out being willing
You need to start out willing to be aroused and excited and turned on. You need to start out willing to have sex, and to have a good time doing it. You need to be willing to be seduced... and to seduce. You don’t have to start out in the mood; you just have to be in the mood to be in the mood. If that makes sense.
I think this is good advice for anybody. But I think it's especially good advice for those of us who are getting older and whose bodies aren't as quick on the draw as they used to be. It's especially good advice for long-term couples who have been together a while, and who aren't as instantly excited by the mere presence of a sexually available person in their bed as they once were. And it's especially good advice for busy, stressed-out couples who are scheduling and planning sex to make sure they make room for it in their lives.
Let's take a closer look at that last one. Scheduling sex in advance is advice that's often given to couples whose sex life is flagging. But it also gets a bad rap. It's seen as unsexy, unspontaneous, clinical even, to have sex, not because you're "in the mood," but because it's in your datebook.
But when you let go of the idea that you have to be "in the mood" to get things started, then scheduling sex suddenly gets a whole lot easier. When you start reframing a willingness to be in the mood as a version of being in the mood itself, a pre-scheduled sex date seems less like a cold duty and more like a tingly, long-anticipated treat. Like sitting down to dinner at a fabulous restaurant that you've had reservations for for weeks.
To make this work, though, there's something you have to let go of.
You have to let go of the idea that sex should be perfect at all times, a splendid erotic ballet between perfectly harmonized bodies and souls. Specifically, you have to let go of the idea that the transition from not-sex to sex should always be fluid and graceful, the idea striking both parties like lightning at the exact same moment, the way it does in the movies.
A scheduled sexual encounter, between people who aren't yet aroused but are willing to be, will sometimes start out a bit awkwardly. When one or both of you doesn't quite have your motor revving at full throttle yet, there'll sometimes be a few jerks and hiccups before you get going. You have to be willing to let that awkwardness happen, and trust that once things get going, it'll pass.
So the thing to remember is this: Even if you're not in the mood when you start, starting to have sex can get you in the mood. And like most things, this gets better and easier with practice. The more you let yourself be willing to be excited even though you're not quite excited yet, the more natural and graceful it feels… and with the Pavlovian self-training of time and experience, your willingness to get excited feels more and more like the actual excitement itself.