Sex therapist Ian Kerner says that in order to have more satisfaction inside the bedroom, sometimes you have to step outside of it. His new book is called “Sex Detox.” In it, he suggests a 30-day fast from sex to help rejuvenate your relationship. Here's an excerpt:
The premise of this book is simple: When it comes to sex and relationships, sometimes we get in so deep the only way out is to start over again.
For many of us — whether we’re in a relationship or actively dating in the hopes of finding that someone special — our love lives have become a source of toxicity, rather than one of sustenance and renewal.
This program is a powerful way to take action in an area of your life that often lacks a clear point of entry: sex and relationships. Think about it: When you want to get in shape, you sign up for a gym membership; when you want to lose weight, you go on a diet; when you want to get out of credit card debt, you consider consolidation plans. But how do you start consolidating your love life?
If you’re in a relationship, I’m going to ask you to take sex off the table for thirty days (and, yes, nights too) and give yourself over to the “thrill of the chaste.” This is not to say that you can’t or won’t end up having sex in the days that ensue — after all, accidents happen, and hopefully they are ones with happy endings — but rather I implore you not to have the kind of sex that is joyless, soulless, or more of the same; bid farewell to the sex that is bereft of the passion, intimacy, and sense of loving connection that you crave and deserve.
And if you’re stuck in a rut and thinking to yourself that the last thing you need in your life right now is to be having even less sex, then consider this program the difference between slowly being starved to death in an environment that leaves you feeling desperate and powerless and actively choosing to undertake a diet that you know will result in your becoming a healthier, stronger person both inside and out.
But also know that you don’t have to be in a relationship currently to benefit from this program: If you’re one of the tens of millions of single people on the hunt for love, and you’re feeling burnt out and bruised by the process, it’s time to go on a dating detox — to take a break not only from any casual sex you may be having, but to stop dating altogether for the duration of this program and reset the relationship-results you seek.
Regardless of whether you’re single, coupled, or somewhere in between, you only have one love life, and it’s time to live it to the fullest.
The birth of an idea Much of this book was written during what turned out to be one of the most romantic periods of my life: when I was doing a six-month production stint away from my family in Los Angeles. I know that doesn’t sound terribly romantic, so perhaps I should explain.
I was filming a television program for the Discovery Health Channel that helped couples in long-term relationships overcome difficult hurdles. During this time, my wife Lisa and son Owen came out from New York to visit for long weekends, which never seemed long enough. In between, Lisa and I had resorted to “drastic measures” — naughty emails, breathy late-night phone calls — reminding me of exactly what I was missing on the sizzling island of Manhattan.
When I returned to New York, Lisa surprised me with a “welcome home” dinner, inviting a number of our closest friends. After we were mellowed on merlot and mingling, I half-jokingly asked one of my wife’s oldest friends and her husband if they wanted to participate in my program of limiting sex to boost libido.
“Are you kidding me?” cracked Thea. “When it comes to not having sex, you could take our picture and put us on the cover of your book.” Then they chuckled away their discontent with wine.
I turned to Steve, Thea’s husband. “When was the last time you were able to feel close and connected to each other without feeling like there was something missing from your marriage, without being painfully aware of what was lacking?”
“Not since Brian was born. What was that, around three years ago, sweetie?” he replied, to which she nodded with sullen embarrassment.
So I seized the opportunity to explain. “What if you could turn that on its heels? Make not having sex sexy? What if instead of pretending you were exhausted or sick or too stuffed from dinner or watching a documentary on whale migration patterns, you could embrace and recharge your sense of intimacy by not having sex — you know, transform it into something you were not doing together?”
They were intrigued, so naturally I pressed: “What if the two of you became achingly aware of not touching each other, of not kissing, of not making love, to the point that one more moment of not being entangled in each other’s arms made you feel like a tight coil ready to spring? What if instead of avoiding sex, you promised to ache in longing to revel in that first touch, that first kiss, to conjure up that extraordinary sense of self- and mutual discovery you once felt as teenagers, but this time with each other?” (I might have been a little less eloquent than this at the time, but I was certainly as passionate!)
“That’s a nice idea,” said Steve, “but we all know that’s impossible.”
And that’s when I told them: Not only was it possible, it was theirs for the taking. All it required was a decision — they had to be ready to rebuild their libidos from the inside out with that explosive sense of intellectual curiosity, emotional hunger, and physical longing that was present long before they’d begun to worry about mortgages, nursery schools, and love handles.
A mere few days into the detox program, they were rapt instead of laughing. As they went through the process Steve brimmed with sudden desire for a woman he’d taken for granted for as many years as I’d known him. In a matter of days, his wife Thea had been transformed from that comfortable female friend on the sofa beside him to a mysterious, forbidden temptress, capable of igniting his deepest desires.
What I told Steve and Thea that evening is what I’m going to tell you now: Rather than accept the rote menu of sexuality we’ve screwed ourselves into, you can have the magical, mysterious sex life you’ve always dreamed of. But to get there, you’ll have to deprive your senses in order to feel the full intensity of your aches and longings. Instead of blocking out the fact that you’re not having sex, you’re going to focus on exactly how that deprivation impacts you at the most visceral level.
Although I call this program a sex detox, its benefits extend well beyond the bedroom. How you love is ultimately an expression of how well you know and love yourself. You will find that the Detox inspires you to engage hidden parts of yourself, bringing to the forefront all of the issues you have with love, sex, dating, general self- esteem, and conflicts that inhibit your desire and ability for intimacy. If there’s emotional scar tissue that surrounds your heart, it will be stripped away, rendering you vulnerable but open to positive change. Emotional toxins will be released, revealing patterns of behavior that are masks for deeper fears that have long been hidden.
What you’ll encounter in this bookIn Part I (which you are reading now) I will introduce you to the basic underpinnings of the detox program. Just as a physical fast, or change in diet, will rapidly alter your metabolism and natural body chemistry, so too will a sex/dating detox impact your neurochemistry, enabling you to reset, rewire, and, ultimately, rejuvenate your love life. Not only will the Detox help you to find peace of mind, it will help you transform that new mindfulness into actions that reverberate throughout every aspect of your life.
Parts II and III are more programmatic. In Part II, we’ll get into the nuts and bolts of the Couples’ Detox, laying out a course of action for you to follow over a focused thirty-day period that includes assignments and exercises in self-reﬂection. If you’re in a relationship, you will learn to see yourself through your own eyes rather than your partner’s. You will come to understand your “sexual history” as not just a series of physical encounters, but rather as connected experiences in which the whole is so much greater than the sum of its parts. If you’re single, the Singles’ Detox will give you a chance to step off the dating treadmill, catch your breath, and recover your inner strength for the road ahead.
But the detox period is only the beginning. If you’ve ever undertaken a food fast — or any disciplined diet for that matter — you know that the key is to stick with it and sustain the healthy new patterns so that they become a lasting part of your daily life. In Part III, if you’re in a relationship, you’ll learn how to touch your partner with a renewed sense of passion and possibility. If you’re single, you’ll recalibrate your aspirations to connect to potential mates from a place of strength and self-knowledge that will eventually bring long-term compatibility.
Whether you’re single or coupled, throughout this book you will find case studies of people who were, in one way or another, leading lives of quiet desperation and used the Detox to take action. For couples, our case studies will cover a gamut of sexual issues: low desire, mismatched libidos, boredom; sexual trauma and common sex problems; relationships weakened by one or both partners retreating into a secret world of infidelity or porn, often tuning out and turning off altogether rather than facing basic incompatibility.
For singles, our case studies will include issues such as commitment-phobia, anxiety over rejection, the desire for sex versus the need for intimacy, and the fear of always being alone. If you’re dealing with or have dealt with any of these issues, I hope the case studies will help you see that you’re not alone.
But what if you’re ready to reset your love life and your partner isn’t on board? If you’re single and undergoing the program, it’s clearly not an issue. But what if you’re married or in a long-term relationship with someone who wants no part of the Sex Detox? All the more reason to give it a try! You can do it, and you can do it alone. Of course, your partner should support you in your mission for self-improvement just as he or she would with any such regimen. But as we know, that’s not always the case — and in fact, that may be part of the reason you’re undertaking this program to begin with. I would therefore encourage you to stick to your resolution and make a commitment to yourself to see this through. In my experience it’s not uncommon for one partner in a relationship to refuse to participate in the process, but powerful changes nonetheless occur when one person decides to take action on his or her own behalf. And who knows — the evidence of your newfound confidence and contentment may well convince your partner to run the gauntlet him or herself after the fact! Either way, the important thing to know is that you will be happier and healthier for it over the long haul.
This what Marilyn, a forty-one-year- old nurse, had to say about the Detox:
“I guess I lost interest in sex mainly because of the kind of sex I was having: boring and routine. I had come to accept that it was just part of being in a long-term relationship. What I found during the Detox is that choosing not to have sex is very different than simply not having it out of boredom or disinterest. In making the choice to go through the Detox, it was my way of saying that I wanted sex to be vital again. I wanted it to be more than just a routine physical act performed out of obligation.
“My husband never did get with the program, so to speak; at least not completely. But I have grown more comfortable with myself, as well as with communicating my needs and desires, and as a result, he’s become more responsive and open to change and our sex life has gotten better. I’ve even begun to take the lead in bed, and I’m shocked at how sexy and strong that makes me feel.”
To all of you reading this book, let me offer some advance clarification. Some sections of Part I may not appear to relate to your situation exactly, given that I address both singles and couples. While I have made every effort to be clear about who I am writing for, if you’re single and come across the term “sex detox,” please think of it more broadly as a period of recharging that applies to both sex and dating, and if you’re in a relationship and come across the term “dating detox,” consider it potentially applicable to your program of sexual fasting. You will find Parts II and III (the actual detox and rejuvenation programs) are clearly broken out for couples and singles. Regardless of your relationship state, I hope you will read Part I in its entirety, as it provides an important overview of the program’s fundamental principles and may impact you in unexpected ways.
Excerpted from "Sex Detox" by Ian Kerner. Copyright 2008 Ian Kerner. Reprinted with permission from HarperCollins. All rights reserved.