New York Times:
First Comes Sex Talk With These Renegades of Couples Therapy

September 11 0 Comments Category: News

First Comes Sex Talk With These Renegades of Couples Therapy

By AMY SOHN

Is the classic postcoital question “Was it good for you, too?” outmoded?

A recent conference would indicate yes. Last month, the New York Center for Emotionally Focused Therapy held a symposium in New York called “Sex and Attachment: Coming Together.”

The event, with workshops on polyamory, sex-therapy interventions and compulsive sexual behavior, sold out to 400 clinicians, with a waiting list.

In March, the Psychotherapy Networker Symposium in Washington, D.C., the largest gathering of therapists in North America, offered nine workshops dealing with sexuality, sexual orientation and gender identity. Five years ago, there were only two.

In traditional couples therapy, which is about 50 years old, sex has often been shoved to the sideline. Practitioners are trained to work on underlying relationship issues, like blame or communication, many discussing sex only if the couple wants to talk about it.

But in the last decade, as coupledom itself has been legally redefined, a chorus of provocative voices in couples therapy has emerged, emphasizing the importance of good sex in relationships and sometimes suggesting the radical idea that couples fix the sex before tackling other issues.

These renegades of couples therapy — such as Suzanne Iasenza, Margie Nichols, Jean Malpas, Marty Klein, Joe Kort, Arlene Lev, Marta Meana and Tammy Nelson — have become popular speakers at conferences like “Sex and Attachment.” They speak on topics like affairs, “gender-queerness,” transsexual identity, kink, BDSM (bondage/discipline, domination/submission, sadism/masochism) and pornography to audiences more accustomed to a language of betrayal and forgiveness.

The den mother of the group is Esther Perel, 56, the internationally known Belgian-born author of “Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence,” who asserts that mystery and distance could benefit long-term monogamy.

Ms. Perel, based in Manhattan, is writing a book tentatively called “Affairs: Cheating in the Age of Transparency,” and gave a TED talk about the topic in March that has been viewed about two million times. Her newest provocation is the idea that trauma-based language around affairs is limiting.

“An affair is an act of betrayal and also an experience of expansion and growth,” Ms. Perel said in an interview. “It is a relational trauma, but it isn’t a crime. The family can often come out of it stronger and more resilient, and often an affair will draw the couple out of a place of deadness.”

The den mother of the group is Esther Perel, 56, the internationally known Belgian-born author of “Mating in Captivity: Unlocking Erotic Intelligence,” who asserts that mystery and distance could benefit long-term monogamy.

Ms. Perel, based in Manhattan, is writing a book tentatively called “Affairs: Cheating in the Age of Transparency,” and gave a TED talk about the topic in March that has been viewed about two million times. Her newest provocation is the idea that trauma-based language around affairs is limiting.

“An affair is an act of betrayal and also an experience of expansion and growth,” Ms. Perel said in an interview. “It is a relational trauma, but it isn’t a crime. The family can often come out of it stronger and more resilient, and often an affair will draw the couple out of a place of deadness.”

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