Dr. Stephen Snyder is an M.D. and sex therapist who has treated over 1,500 couples and singles over the last 30 years. In his new book, Love Worth Making: How To Have Ridiculously Great Sex In A Long Lasting Relationship, he shares what he has learned during his career. The goal of his book, he says, is to “help couples connect more deeply with their sexual feelings and enjoy their lives more.” The goal for couples in particular—to “find the place where sex feels and is fed by love.”
Brides sat down with Dr. Snyder to discuss his findings culled from his many hours of counseling couples. “I’ve heard more about bad sex than you can possibly imagine,” he jokes. "But bad sex can turn into great sex.”
Takeaways from his thoughtful, helpful book include the sex therapy concepts of “simmering,” “two-stepping,” and the “sexual self.” “There is a realm where sexuality connects us to each other and to the deepest parts of ourselves,” he says. The secret: "Finding your sexual self.”
BRIDES: Why did you write this book?
Dr. Stephen Snyder: I couldn't find anything worthwhile to give my patients to read that talked about sexual feelings. So I realized I'd have to write it myself. The psychological aspects are more important than the physical.
One of the book's central concepts is what you call the "sexual self." Can you explain what that means?
Eros recalls our attachment to the first people who held us, rocked us, enjoyed us, and told us we were wonderful. Sex is basically infantile. The emotions that get stirred up by good lovemaking are a re-awakening of primitive feelings from infancy and early childhood. Good sex takes you back there.
What do all couples who come to sex therapy have in common?
They all feel terrible about themselves. The sexual self, like a small child, has very little coping capacity and gets easily discouraged. You can't waste time as a sex therapist. You need to get busy right away, restoring hope.
How do you recommend a couple have "vacation sex" if they can't get out of the house and are too busy with their jobs?
Humans weren’t built to work long hours. It’s unclear whether our early ancestors would have understood the idea of “work” at all. But even the busiest couple can give themselves permission to feel excited together, even when they're not going to have sex. Just for a minute or two, because it feels good. There's a moment there that won't come again. In sex therapy we call this “simmering.” Done right, simmering can actually a kind of mindfulness practice.
"Mindfulness" isn't the first thing most people think of when they think of sex.
Mindfulness isn't some mystical, exotic thing. You don't have to sit cross-legged, or eat vegan. Mindfulness just means paying attention to the moment. That can be a wonderful prelude to sex, if you do it with the right intention. I include some recipes for this in my book—including one I call the "Two-Step," where step one is to spend time in bed naked together, doing absolutely nothing. Step two is to have sex without losing your sense of mindfulness from step 1.
What do you tell a couple where one person in the couple has lost or is losing sexual desire for the other?
First, don't panic. It's okay. It happens to every couple at one time or another. Most sex books recommend you "sex it up" again with new adventures, sexy dates, etc. I don't love that approach. I prefer couples start by doing a mindfulness practice, like the "Two-Step" above, which makes no demand on your sexual self to feel anything other than what it's honestly feeling in the moment.
Any advice on what to do if your partner loses his erection?
Erections are involuntary. He can't control them any more than you can control goosebumps. When a man suddenly goes soft, it usually means there's something upsetting his sexual self. Unfortunately, he'll often freak out when this happens, which will of course upset his sexual self even more. Not a good thing. In my book, we call this a "sex-knot"—where your natural reaction to a problem only makes it worse. Just be in the moment. That might involve just lying in the bed together talking. Without judgement. Losing an erection is not a big deal.
You say that "The secret to good sex in a lasting relationship is to "sanctify the erotic moment." What do you mean?
Sexual arousal opens you up to another dimension of time. Arousal makes you more aware of particular moments in time. Sometimes you will feel highly aroused, and sometimes it will be no more than a still, small voice. Part of being a sexual adult is learning to listen to that still, small voice.The secret to good sex in a lasting relationship is to sanctify that moment in time.