SEX AND THE MARRIED MAN WITH MARRIAGE EXPERT DAN LACOVARA
Men’s Vows recently sat down with licensed marriage and family therapist, Dan Lacovara, for a wide ranging conversation about sex and the married man. Dan shared expertise from his work with gay clients in Los Angeles who are navigating the complex world of relationships - and from the perspective as a married man himself.
What should couples consider about sex before they marry?
The more you know about a person’s sexual fundamentals in a relationship, and the more you see a person’s sexual life in context, the more intimate you’re going to be.
But, couples need to understand that sex is only part of intimacy. For many gay men, sex is often the first introduction to “intimacy” with another man. The “fuck first, then fall in love” trap is a big one. I think it’s important that each know about the other’s sexual history in terms of first experiences, any sort of sexual trauma and other factors that might affect how each sees sex. This is critical so that neither is caught off guard as they deepen their sexual relationship.
The other critical piece that two men need to address very early on in a relationship, are their differences in sex drive. “Limerence” is a term that refers to the intense and passionate desire for the other and the hope that the other desires them just as much. It is not always sexual, but it is a powerful force in how two men connect. Once all that excitement in the early stages wanes – as it does most often – the real world begins to intrude.
For example, if children enter the equation and all the talk the couple hears about each other is: “your dad want’s you to do this, your dad needs you to do that,” there’s very high likelihood that the couple stop being sexual objects for each other, unless you are talking about how life is affecting your sex life and how you, together, want to address it.
In addition, the simple fact of any relationship is that couples rarely share the same sex drive. We are all biologically, psychological and emotionally unique, so our experience of and approach to sex is also unique. It’s important to understand early on how this might affect the relationship and respect the difference between the two of you.
And, no matter what, over time my body becomes intimately familiar with your body. I know what you like sexually. I understand what turns you on (and off). I can tell when we’re in sync during sex and when we’re not.
It seems to us that what is synonymous with good sex is good talking.
I hear so often from couples that they are not having great sex, and I ask them if they are talking about it. Couples do too much mind reading in relationships. If they are not on the same wavelength when they talk about sex – what it means to them, how much do they want it, what gets in the way – then they are not going to be on the same page when they have sex. This almost always leads to conflict.
Remember, the more each man can surrender himself emotionally, the more powerful sex can be. The more we understand each other, the more sex will be a bond.
How does the sexual relationship evolve in marriage? How should couples plan for said evolution?
A successful marriage is based on the deepening of the intimacy between two people: the ongoing discovery about what the other person needs and how to articulate that. It’s really the willingness to see deeply into the “other.” This goes for sexual needs, too.
Couples should be open and honest about how they feel about their sex life. They should share fantasies and desires, even ones that might feel embarrassing or strange. Too often couples get stuck in the sex “box” – this is what we do, how we do it and when and where we do it.
In the best relationship, sexual desire and sexual connection will wax and wane, and will likely be perfunctory at times. That’s normal. Jobs, money, emotional challenges all play in to how we feel about our partner and ourselves. And the fact is, biologically, all men’s sexual drive are related to testosterone production. Welcome to the real world of getting old.
Your partner can also become less “attractive” to you or vice versa. Part of this is due to your partner being your source of greatest joy and greatest pain. We are extremely vulnerable emotionally when having sex, so when you are hurt by him, retreating is a way to protect oneself.
Also, as we’ve already discussed, partners do not have the same sex drive. This may or may not be obvious early in the relationship. Don’t expect your partner to read your mind that you want sex or expect that when you want it, they will. Again, it’s something to be discussed and negotiated in an on-going manner.
If you cannot accept that your partner wants more or less sex than you, it will be difficult not to become resentful. And your partner is not going to want to have sex with a resentful person!
What about pornography in married life?
Pornography can be very healthy. It plays a role in our lives. It’s a two-dimensional, non-relational expression of our sexual needs. In other words, it’s easy.
When you’re having sex with another person, there is a sharing of control, submitting to their desires. With pornography, it is all about my needs, it is all about what I want: I get to choose what I watch, what kinds of guys to watch how long I watch it. It’s me and a screen.
Now, pornography becomes a problem when someone starts escaping to it to avoid having sex with their partner or to avoid intimacy. One stops relating to another person sexually. Intimacy is scary. We reveal ourselves. Porn is safe. I can’t get hurt. Porn can also lead to a change in brain chemistry, making it difficult to have sex with something other than a screen.
Between two men, is monogamy ultimately possible? Necessary?
I think monogamy is possible for anyone. There, of course, is the argument that human beings are not “wired” to have only one sexual partner for life; and that men by nature are driven by the urge to reproduce, meaning to feel powerful and dominant by having multiple partners.
At the end of the day, monogamy is a choice like any other decisions couples make together. I believe that this is one of the first conversations couples should have when casual dating evolves into a relationship. With that information, either can decide if they can handle what has been proposed. It is also critical that if the choice to be monogamous becomes difficult for one or both partners, they are honest about it. This may lead to renegotiation of sexual boundaries, couples therapy or in the worst of circumstances, leaving the relationship.
I also believe there is a difference between fidelity and monogamy. From my perspective, fidelity can be defined as faithfulness to your partner in terms of loyalty, support and loving them above all others. Simply put, your partner is your “North Star.” Monogamy, on the other hand, is simply a sexually exclusive relationship. If both men in the couple can honestly separate sex from emotions, they can still have a nourishing, intimate and generative relationship. It’s complicated, to say the least.
Of course, non-monogamy has its landmines. If boundaries are set regarding sex outside the relationship, are they honored? Where, when or how? Don’t ask, don’t tell?
If one in the couple starts to have feelings for a sex partner or “fuck buddy,” can he turn back into the relationship and talk about it? And if one partner decides he wants to go back to a monogamous relationship, can the other partner put aside his sexual needs? If the answer is no to any of these, fidelity no longer exists.
What is fundamental to a healthy married sex life?
1) Have fun. Sex should be about enjoyment and playfulness.
2) Keep cool. Remember that sex is not the be all and end all in marriage. If it is for you, you’re in trouble.
3) Experiment once in a while. Be open to trying new things, whether it’s something you want or something your partner wants.
4) Talk, talk, talk. Keep the conversation going about how you feel about your sexual relationship.
What are the signs of an unhealthy married sex life?
The opposite of above:
1) Sex becomes a chore most of the time.
2) You become too fixated on sex as defining the “health” of your relationship.
3) You keep your fantasies secret for fear of judgment or that your partner will say “no.”
4) You become resentful and don’t talk about it. You cheat.
Dan Lacovara is a licensed marriage and family therapist in private practice Los Angeles. He received his Masters Degree in Clinical Psychology from Antioch University in 2011. In addition to his previous work with clients at the Los Angeles LGBT Center, he receive advanced training in treating sex and love addition, and complex trauma while working at the Center for Healthy Sex.
For more information, visit insight-la.com