Steven Ing
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Please take a moment to get comfortable in your chairs, (Laughter) take a nice, deep breath because we are going to be talking about sex. And for the next 10 minutes, I'd like you to be careful about no inadvertent touching of anyone around you. (Laughter) I'd like you to take a second to consider how it is that we all tend to settle down in committed relationships without really getting to know the other person. This is particularly true in the area of sex, where we irrationally assume that the other person is going to like sex pretty much just like we do. We fail to do what in business terms is known as performing our due diligence. (Laughter) And most of us are made quickly aware of just how irrational we were in that assumption. I am a marriage and family therapist, and for the last 20 years, I have been working with people who have sexual problems. I was a little nervous getting started with this work, and so I attended every conference, participated in every training and read every book on sex that I could find. But the most important things that I have learned have come from simply listening to my clients. And I have learned something from listening to them that I have never shared publicly before. We all have a comfort setting on our sexual appetites, a magic sex number that is pretty much unchanging over our lifespan. My own learning began with a couple who came into my office seeking counseling. They argued a lot, each felt that the other was insensitive and uncaring. They both were confused, angry and upset about having married what was perfectly clearly the very worst person on Earth. (Laughter) They had a lot of problems. But all of their problems seemed to lead back to one thing: the profound difference in their sexual appetites. Like a lot of other men, he would drive home from work, wondering if today just maybe he might be lucky enough to get some. (Laughter) He would then engage in a calculus of sexual expectations, beginning with recalling the date of the last sexual encounter and counting the number of days since then, (Laughter) dividing that number by the number of times he had pleased his wife or contrariwise, multiplying that number by the number of times he had displeased his wife. Other variables would include how burdened his wife was with the cares of this world, and how much he really, really wanted to have sex. (Laughter) If he judged that the odds were in his favor, he would arrive home in an unusually attentive frame of mind. (Laughter) ''No, honey, how was your day?'' (Laughter) ''Honey, can I help you with those dishes?'' ''No, honey, let me, let me do it.'' He would then excuse himself to go take a shower when he had already showered that day for his job at the air-conditioned office. Emerging from the shower, he would engage in the annoying behavior of walking around cheerfully. (Laughter) Or even worse, (Sigh) whistling a happy tune. (Laughter) She would notice all this, of course, and she would engage in her own calculus of sexual obligation, in which she would try to determine whether or not he really deserved it. (Laughter) And whether or not as a consequence, she had a moral obligation to give it up. (Laughter) The differences in their sexual appetite were so disconcerting that they each had a theory to explain the other. His theory was that she was the unfortunate victim of early childhood sexual abuse and, as a consequence, was therefore sexually frigid. Her theory: he's a sex addict, (Laughter) a monster and really not a very nice person. They were both equally wrong in their theories. But nothing I did seemed to help this couple, until one day - I distinctly recall hearing him say that he was the sort of guy who, if he could, would love to have sex every day. And I raised my eyebrow, you know, the way counselors do, and I looked at her, and she understood and quickly volunteered that she, if she could, would love to have sex once every two weeks. (Laughter) And then it clicked: they were each as they were meant to be. Just as each of these two lovely people had a specific number of hours of sleep they required in order to feel refreshed and a specific number of calories they needed in order to get through the day, they each had a specific number of sexual encounters that they required in order to be their most comfortable. So now, I have a question that I ask people that I want you to answer. Not out loud. (Laughter) After the honeymoon, and all the other hoopla has settled down, and you are in a long-term, committed relationship, not just any long-term, committed relationship, but your ideal committed relationship with the ideal person who loves you as much as you love them and who is as attracted to you as you are to them. How often, in that ideal relationship, would you, ideally, like to have sexual encounters? Per week or per month? Or per year? (Laughter) Now, a lot of people try to lowball me and all come in with something like ''Oh, three times a week could be amazing, I mean, I'd be over the moon with three times a week, but come to think of it twice, I'd be glad to have a twice-a-week, that would be fantastic - damn it, I'll sell it for once. Once a week, it would be too good to be true." (Laughter) Other people tend to overpromise. ''Oh, I'd be willing to have sex as often as my partner wanted to. Really, it'd be no problem at all as long as they're nice to me and my mother." (Laughter) These are not answers. (Laughter) Therapist Marthy Klein talks about normalcy anxiety in regard to how badly we all want to be normal, and there is nothing more calculated to create normalcy anxiety than being asked how often you'd like to have sex because none of us know what is the correct number of times to want to have sex. But guess what? We're all normal. We all fall somewhere on that vast and very beautiful bell-shaped curve that encompasses the range of human sexual appetites. So no matter what your magic sex number is, that's what's normal. But having a magic sex number also means you're not exactly sexually compatible with people whose number is significantly different. How big of a difference does it take to be significant? Or let's consider a different couple, much closer. One of them would like to have sex everyday; the other would like to have sex every other day. No matter how you slice it, they're in a relationship with someone who wants either twice as much or half as much sex as they do. That's a significant difference. Now, of course, they could compromise and thus, ensure that everyone is equally miserable. (Laughter) So now, single people have yet another question to add to that intentional interview that they conduct on those they're considering for a leading romantic role in a long-term, committed relationship. They don't have to ask about the magic sex number, they could just hope (Laughter) everything works out, magically. But what about the rest of us? What about those of us who are already in a committed relationship? What if our mates want sex more often or less often than we do? A talk like this could be pretty discouraging. Well, consider this, all you sexually mismatched couples out there. (Laughter) Your mate's magic sex number is not about you. It has nothing to do with how beautiful you are, how handsome you are or how sexy you are. Your mate's magic sex number is utterly and entirely about them, and they are as interested in changing their number as you are in changing yours. Which is to say, not at all. (Laughter) Knowing this simple truth is very empowering because it means I don't have to keep trying to change my mate, but I could instead begin to learn to really accept them as they are. And yes, there are those relationships that are so full of wonder and joy and the deepest of satisfaction, that sex is, unbelievably, a very small part of an otherwise very big picture. And yes, there are those relationships that were never meant to endure. But instead of blaming each other for being either sexually frigid or sexually addicted, we could instead step up and take responsibility for being the ones who leapt before we really looked. Sometimes life give us a chance to learn a very important lesson that we're going to need later, and sometimes that lesson is even magical. I suppose some of you might wonder what happened to that first couple I was telling you about. Well, I am not going to tell you (Laughter) because your magic is in you. And that's the magic that matters. Thank you. (Applause)