"Where there's nothing left to hide, there's nothing left to seek."
-Esther Perel, Mating in Captivity
I'm a big fan of relationship books that go against the grain. Esther Perel's book Mating in Captivity is one such book. A relationship therapist, Perel tackles a slew of topics that affect long-term couples. Most themes revolve around the plight of maintaining long-term relationships in our modern society.
One such theme has to do with the idea of keeping the fire alive after years of being together with the same person. How do you “spice things up?” Perel tackles this particular topic by framing the "spice" as a dichotomy between intimacy and passion. Passion rules the beginning of our relationships. There's mystery. Excitement. A cocktail of excitatory chemicals flowing through our brains. It's a wonderful, intoxicating chaos.
Eventually that excitement begins to wane. We get to know the other person. Secrets are revealed. Thoughts and feelings are disclosed. We begin to feel more secure with the relationship. The white hot passion fades to a warm connectedness. We intuitively replace the chaos with predictability.
The problem, of course, is that passion and intimacy are mutually-exclusive. They cannot exist in the same place at the same time. Unfortunately, far too many couples assume the decrease of passion over time is inevitable and irreversible. They don't consider that passion can be stoked at any time with the right tools. Or they may accept that passion can be stoked, but try silly gimmicks they read in women's magazines. You know, like wearing new lingerie or having sex with the lights on. These tricks may produce a temporary novelty effect, but they wear off quickly.
These couples don't really understand what causes passion or how it's related to intimacy. Part of the problem is the common misconception that intimacy causes passion. You know, share your secrets while cuddling on the couch, then hot claw-your-back sex will follow.
That's not how it works, though.
Passion thrives in a void. Passion is fueled by the unknown. Secrets. Mystery. It's the exact opposite of intimacy. The gimmicks in women's magazines produce a little bit of short-lived passion because the newness is temporarily mysterious, but it's important to understand why it works. Let's say your wife buys a new negligee from Fredrick's of Hollywood and wears it to bed. Yes, it may be visually stimulating, but the real passion-building effect derives from the fact that this new behavior adds a tinge of mystery. You don't know your wife quite as well as you thought you did, and that's a huge turn-on.
Now that we know how passion works, we can set up situations where we can intentionally manipulate the passion/ intimacy paradigm. This will create dynamic movement between the closeness and safety of intimacy and the heart-racing exhilaration of passion. All of the games I'll discuss in the next section effectively build passion over a short period of time which should result in erotic sex, then intimacy will naturally build in the wake. Wash, rinse, repeat.
While the goal is building passionate sex, it's usually best not to think of these as "sex games." Think of them as erotic adventures that are designed to build excitement. Us Americans have a tendency to regard sex as a mechanical act. Penises in vaginas, etc. Sex is only partly physical, however. Stimulating the genitals, no matter how good one's technique happens to be, pales in comparison to stimulating the mind. Think of these as erotic games, and the goal is to stimulate the minds of ourselves and our partners.
Intermittent Intimacy Fasting
Length of time: 24-48 hours
The goal of this exercise is for both partners to completely withdraw from each other while still in close proximity. No talking. No notes. No texting. No emails. No gestures. No touching. Eye contact the only communication allowed. Try to limit incidental contact as much as possible, so don't plop down on the couch together to watch TV. Sleep in a different room.
The lack of communication and touching, while still in the presence of your significant other (SO), will automatically begin building desire because it creates physical and psychological distance. Remember, distance is the fuel that feeds passion.
Start by planning this game backwards. Find a date and time you will be together and have some degree of privacy. It's best to assume you'll be having sex, though that's not necessarily the goal. Once the end is set, determine the start time. For the first attempt, start with about 24 hours. If you're really busy, 48 hours may be needed. Explain the game to your SO. Both agree to follow the rules. Only emergency contact is allowed. To make the game more fun, one or both can do some flirting or teasing, like getting dressed in front of the other, shooting them a seductive glance, etc.
Length of time: 24-48 hours
This game is a variation of the previous game, but subtly changes an important dynamic. Us humans love to talk as a means of building intimacy. Some have argued this is actually one of the reasons so many relationships fail- we're obsessed with over-sharing. Great for building intimacy; terrible for building passion. This game prohibits verbal or written communication, but allows for physical contact. The rules and setup are exactly the same as the previous game, only you're now encouraged to touch. It's okay to watch TV together. It's okay to sleep in the same bed. However, you cannot talk.
This game works on two levels. First, the lack of talking severely inhibits the building of intimacy. We're not accustomed to using nonverbal communication as a primary means of communicating, so we're not very good at it. If we're not building closeness, we're building distance. This activity builds distance via mystery. We have to learn to read our partner.
The second way this game works is attention to the physical. The game forces us to pay attention to our partner's subtle movements and behaviors. That attention will heighten our senses which fuels the sensual tension between us.
Length of time: Varies... however long it takes for a quickie.
There's a reason Fifty Shades of Grey was such a popular book. Our society likes to democratize sex. We have a tendency to seek opinions of our SO, negotiate, debate, concede. We ask for permission. We say please and thank you. We want to make sure everyone's happy. We distribute the power in the bedroom. Everyone gets their orgasms. Yay equality!
Unfortunately, this results in pretty bland sex. Part of the problem is the negotiating process builds intimacy, which kills passion. Another part of the problem is our secret desires. Everyone I've ever met that has been willing to discuss sex, both male and female, admits to wanting to play both the sexual aggressor and sexual "victim." They wish they could just pounce on their mate, use them for their own pleasure, then roll over and go to sleep. hey also wish their SO would pounce on them, use them, then roll over and fall asleep.
Admittedly, I'm a little shocked this fantasy is incredibly popular. I'm equally shocked so few people disclose it to their SO. Almost all of us want it, yet none of us will actually discuss it. Its shame, really.
Anyway, the game is simple. In the mood? Force yourself on your SO. Don't ask. Don't negotiate. Just fuck.
This game does come with a serious caveat- you have to discuss this well ahead of time, make sure your partner agrees, and decide on a safe word that will immediately end the advances.
Length of time: Varies.
Many fields of study touch on the idea that humans want what they cannot have. Economists have the law of supply and demand. Social psychologists have the scarcity principle. Seductresses and pickup artists play hard-to-get. The idea is desire to possess something increases as it becomes more difficult to acquire. This principle can be used to build passion in relationships in creative ways using a simple method- make something unattainable.
That "something" can be major (like we cannot have sex for five days), or very focused (you cannot touch my left nipple for a week.) It doesn't really matter what is forbidden as long as it is between us and our SO. To start the game, explicitly tell your SO what is forbidden. You can give them a length of time. Better yet, leave it open-ended... it helps build the anticipation via mystery. During the time period, remind them of the forbidden behavior several times per day. The more teasing you do, the more effective it becomes. The forbidden behavior will cause obsessive thoughts about the behavior, which will fuel their desire for that behavior. Drag it out as long as necessary.
This game is so powerful, it can even be used to build desire for things your SO may not want. The BSDM community uses this quite a bit. Let's say you really want your SO to perform oral on you, but they always refuse. Begging, pleading, and negotiating never work, and it's a bit pathetic. Try prohibiting it. Explicitly tell them they cannot perform oral on you. At first, they will probably laugh in relief. Persist. Remind them they cannot, under any circumstance, perform oral on you. Repeat this several times per day. Eventually they will begin to question their own hesitancy, which leads to curiosity. Curiosity will spark a desire to do the prohibited behavior. Once sparked, it's easy to drive them crazy. The longer you hold out, the more value they will attach to the behavior. It's a MUCH more effective (and fun) way to negotiate bedroom activities.
The Three Day Seduction
Length of time: Ummmm... three days
Perel discusses the myth of spontaneous sex in her book. To summarize, we think we want sex that's not planned. We want the type of sex that causes us to drop everything and succumb to our desires. It sounds good, but it misses an important point- "spontaneous" sex happens because we give in to our desires. We don't just randomly jump each other's' bones. There's a build-up. And that build-up can be deliberate.
Set a time and date for the sexy time. Work backward three days, which will be the start date. You can tell your SO about it or not; both options change the dynamics a little bit. During this time frame, you're going to do everything in your power to seduce your mate. If you've been together for awhile, you should know what turns them on. If not, check out Robert Greene's The Art of Seduction. It's an excellent book that should be required reading for anyone that has at least a passing interest in sex. A quick primer- seduction is all about pushing and pulling. Show interest, then back off. Compliment, then tease. Kiss, then leave the room.
Do this for three days. Tell them what you want to do to their body. Tell them how turned on you're getting thinking about you. Maybe even text them a picture or two.
The key is to build for the three days without relenting. Don't give in! The whole point of scheduling is to build anticipation for the time arriving; to make the wait agonizingly erotic.
All of these games work based on the same principle- they build mystery. Mystery is the building block of passion. Like Perel's quote at the beginning states, "Where there's nothing left to hide, there's nothing left to seek." Your relationship is a big game of hide and seek. We have a tendency to always seek and never hide. We build intimacy and kill passion. These games allow us to figuratively hide no matter how long we've been together.
Graduate Level Passion-Building
These games offer potentially year or replay value by altering the variables a little bit. However, even the most creative lovers begin to run out of ideas. If that happens, simply begin combining the games. How about a three day seduction with no talking allowed? Or how about ordering your SO not to orgasm for four days while you have indulgent fascist sex each day?
If you really run out of ideas, just make up your own games. Once you understand how passion is really developed versus how we're led to believe it develops, it's pretty easy to come up with new ways to spark it. Passion is 99% mental and only 1% physical. Our brain is a lot more effective erogenous zone than our genitals. Learn to master it and you'll never complain about a lack of passion again.