Valentine's Day is this week and while many of us are baking cookies, buying chocolate and busy helping our kids get all those valentines ready for class parties, there's something else we should focus on, says Raleigh mom and sex therapist Laurie Watson. It's the bedroom.
Watson, a Raleigh mom of three who has been married for 25 years, has been helping couples with their sex lives for more than a decade at Awakenings: Center for Intimacy and Sexuality in Raleigh. She is certified by the American Association of Sexual Educators, Counselors, and Therapists and a licensed couple’s therapist. And she writes the “Married and Still Doing It” blog in Psychology Today’s online magazine.
Her first book - "Wanting Sex Again: How to Rediscover Your Desire and Heal a Sexless Marriage" - was published in December. Learn more about it on Watson's website. We'll have a contest for a copy of her book this week.
She answered a few questions for Go Ask Mom on the topic.
Q: How does one become a sex therapist? It’s not an occupation you hear about while growing up… what has your journey been like?
Watson: I'm a fully licensed marriage and family counselor with a special certification in sex. Sex therapy is all talk therapy with no exams, no nudity and no sexual touching. When I was first in practice, I taught a premarital class for many years and the young couples all came back with their first crisis - their sexual adjustment. While we may think sexual problems only occur during menopause or later in life, the reality is that two years into the marriage nearly 30 percent of all marriages are sexless (less than 12 times a year) or low-sexed (less than 24 times a year).
Everyone has problems with sex but no one talks about it, so couples feel inadequate, isolated and disappointed. The good news is that most sexual problems are resolvable. My favorite compliment as a sex therapist is, "you're so normal!" People think it will be awkward talking to a stranger about intimacy, but women tell me that it feels like talking to a close girlfriend. Men seem to relax once they realize how strongly I support sex as essential to marital happiness.
Q. You say moms need to make time for romance. How important is sex to the overall health of a marriage?
Watson: Many men spell love with three letters: s - e - x. Women tend to feel closeness through talking and time spent together. Each gender wants to feel love their way before giving love the way their partner experiences it. Marriage becomes fraught with a power struggle just about the same time we throw in a couple of kids or so. Time, energy and money start to evaporate and both spouse hoard their supplies. But she needs sex to remember herself as woman and partner, not simply caretaker.
To be relaxed and enjoy sex, she must take time out for herself. When? Four hours every Saturday and one night off during the week to replenish her rest, friendships and interests outside the home. It'd be great if she had time to exercise a few days a week too! Arousal is easier within a half hour of exercise! She has to use her imagination to think about sex sometime during the day so that she comes to bed with some fantasies of her own.
Q. What advice do you have for busy moms who feel overwhelmed and under appreciated?
Watson: Resentment is the monster under the bed. A colleague of mine says women need "fairplay" as much as foreplay. She needs to stand up for sharing the load of household management and childcare equally. If possible, hire out every affordable piece of non-essential work like laundry, housekeeping, car washing and yard work to free busy couples from overload. Also, lower your standard of perfectionism. The house doesn't have to be perfect in order to relax. Don't compare yourself to your neighbor. Many young women complain that their girlfriends seem to get everything done without stress. But you never know if they have a mother who comes twice a week to give them a break, an inheritance that allows them to hire a fleet of elves or the "born organized" gene that makes it easy.
Men can easily have 100 times the amount of testosterone in their bodies supplying physiological desire, focus and optimism. The condition of the house is rarely a reason not to have sex. The amount of hormone means they could have sex on the top of a pile of laundry - not notice, not care and have a great time.
Q. Your business is thriving and you’re swamped with clients. What’s a typical session like?
Watson: I let the individual or couple tell me their story. I'm interested in how they met and what drew them together as well as what's gone wrong. We talk about the relationship and sometimes even the details of their sex life. I don't prompt them to tell me anything before they are ready and nothing that would make them feel ashamed in front of their partner. It's like have a deep conversation in your friend's living room that is completely confidential.
Q. What’s the biggest misconception about sex therapy?
Watson: People wait too long to get help thinking they can work it out on their own. Seeing a sex therapist seems like a desperate measure and an admission of failure. But where do people get good information about sex? We don't get it from the movies that tell us only perfect bodies are sexy. Porn is an abysmal teacher. Our families have sometimes said absolutely nothing about sex other than to wait for marriage. But once married, then what? Sex therapy helps couples work out sex during their first-year adjustment, during the difficult child-rearing years and later when there are physiological changes or aging.
Q. You have three grown sons. Do you feel comfortable dishing out relationship advice to your boys?
Watson: Suffice it to say, I am an invited guest speaker by my middle son, who is a resident advisor at UNC-Chapel Hill for a lecture on "Ask the Sex Therapist about the Hook-up Culture" followed by a Q&A. I was honored by my oldest son's post-grad friends who asked to see me this Christmas for a party and to sign their copies of my book "Wanting Sex Again."