Everyone gets excited about sex, but no one really wants to talk about the intimacies of it. In this episode, sociologist and intimacy coach, Jennifer Gunsaullus, PhD, gets right down and personal about the challenges people are struggling to confront—the need to reinvent your sex life. Shedding light about the struggles women face when it comes to sex, Jennifer first shares her story growing up in a Catholic community where society raises women with negative messages around their bodies and sex. She talks about finding our self-worth and the value of self-nurturing and for women to find their voice. Leading up to relationships, Jennifer dives into how change in sexual attraction and passion between partners is normal. She then lends some advice that calls for normalizing talk about sexual relationships, feeling more comfortable in opening up about this issue.
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Reinvent Your Sex Life With Jennifer Gunsaullus, PhD
I am back with my most favorite topic and yours because this brings in my numbers and they go off the charts. Every time I talk about sex, everyone gets excited, including me. It’s my favorite topic of all. I can’t even tell you. I’m so flipping excited for this woman and I stalked her, I’ve got to be honest. Dr. Jenn Gunsaullus is a sexologist and intimacy coach. She has a PhD, a national speaker on couple’s intimacy, sexual consent, women’s empowerment, gender communication, erotic play and mindful sex. She has presented two TEDx Talks. She is the co-host of the podcast, Sex Talk with Clint and the Doc. Her first book, From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women was published. Dr. Jenn has over 1.5 million hits and it’s called In the Den with Dr. Jenn and she is an expert in the documentary on masturbation, Sticky: A (Self) Love Story. Dr. Jenn, welcome.
Thank you so much for having me.
I can’t take it. I don’t even know where to start. I have to be quiet and let you talk because you bring so much to the table. We’re going to talk about lots of stuff and we’re going to talk about your book. We cannot forget about your book that came out, congratulations.
Thank you so much.
Tell us a little bit about you.
I live in San Diego and I grew up in the suburbs of Philadelphia. I’m an East Coast girl. I grew up a Catholic and getting lots of what it needs to be a good girl messages, which are not so great for us as women necessarily in terms of being empowered around our sexuality, loving our bodies, having a voice or expressing, asking for needs or feeling like we can. I was definitely steeped in those messages in our society. I got my PhD in Sociology and I got involved with the Vagina Monologues. I was doing activism around women’s sexual empowerment literally from the stage. I moved to San Diego years ago and started getting into holistic health, mind, body, spirit, mindfulness, meditation and yoga. I realized how much, especially for women, our sexual health and sexual well-being is much tied to the big picture of our willingness to nurture and take care of ourselves and know that we’re worthy of that. It’s tied to self-worth, self-nurturing and finding our voice within that. We get opposite messages in our society around that. We’re not taught to take care of ourselves in that way.
My audiences are divorced, not divorced, in relationships and out of relationships. One of the biggest things that I get all the time with my clients and especially in my book, Woulda, Coulda, Shoulda, is that no one’s having sex. What is going on? Everyone calls me, “How do I have sex? What’s this one and that one? My wife won’t have sex with me. My husband, we’ve been in a sexless marriage.” What do we do? Where do we start? What’s going on?
There are a lot of things going on with that. We’re forced fed this Hollywood romantic belief that you find you’re one person, you love each other, love conquers all, sexual desire and passion will always be there and come easily to you. At the beginning of a relationship, we have that whole neurochemical cocktail of excitement, newness, oxytocin, dopamine and it feels amazing. For many of us, that will drop off naturally after maybe a few years. That feeling at the beginning of overwhelming passion, if we always felt that way, who would go to their jobs? Who would take care of the children? You’re always up until 3:00 AM having these endless conversations and this amazing sex and exploring each other. It’s unrealistic. That’s the only version of sex that we know. The sex that comes more naturally and easily to us is based on those neurochemicals.You have to create a safe space for your partner to be able to share with you issues or they're going to stop sharing. Click To Tweet
You get into a long-term committed, respectful, consistent and stable relationship. Those factors are all the opposite of the newness and the excitement and the not knowing. Passion does not come from our version of a long-term relationship neurochemically. You put on top of it, the way that we do the nuclear family and that’s so much pressure on one family. You take care of a whole household, bring in the money, clean, cook, raise children and the isolation and context of that. You throw in social media and technology. We’re constantly being distracted by exciting things in the outside world. There are some more factors but as a basic foundation of why it’s not uncommon that you don’t feel having sex anymore. Often what happens is once you start losing that desire and somebody does, how we handle that can create many hurt feelings, resentments, feelings of rejection. How do we know how to handle that? We’re never taught how to handle that gracefully. There’s such bad sex education in our country and we have no relationship education. These are such sensitive topics.
I feel we should get some of that. When you get married, someone should give your number right there at the altar. That should be part of our marriage thing because you’re right, it’s going to happen. It’s inevitable that we’re going to need someone like you.
For most people, something will change. Even if it’s not the things I was talking about. We go through menopause, medical changes or surgeries. We’re in aging bodies. There are lots of side effects to medications like antidepressants. We’re in always changing bodies and our sexuality changes throughout our lifetime from birth to death. We don’t know how to handle that.
We don’t and everyone takes it personally.
Without feelings. We feel like we’re broken or our partner then feels they’re broken and they feel rejected. We have unrealistic expectations. We’re not taught how to handle anything that goes wrong. We don’t have communication skills. It’s a vulnerable topic and it can require work. Sex means different things to people. I’m sure you know the five love languages. If your physical touch is low for you, it’s going to be hard for you to get that sex in your partner and it’s their number one love language. It’s so hard to understand. No, they literally need physical touch and sex as part of that, as how they feel loved, nurtured and connected. When it’s 0 or 1 on your list or they only scored 1 out of 12, it’s hard to comprehend that. That’s why I love the term languages because it is learning to speak another language.
Do you think that if you’re with someone that’s words for example or physical touch and you’re the opposite, is it possible to meet in the middle? Do you think that you can be with that person long term?
It requires more work. It’s way easier at least on misfactor. If you both speak the same love language, you both feel loved and nurtured the same way and naturally give that because that feels good to you. Let’s say quality time because that’s my top one and I naturally give that. I want to spend time with people and when they’re the same, it’s amazing. When I’m in a new relationship, that’s the stuff I fantasize about. The things we could do together, the trips we could go, and the places we could explore. I’m such a quality time person. When it’s more naturally what comes from someone else, it seems easier. That’s not to say there are not going to be some issues in the long run and other things that are incompatible. If that person was low on quality time, they would have to make a consistent effort.
Every day you wake up and think, “How can I fill my partner’s love tank? What little thing can I do that I know means love and connection to my partner?” It might not mean that to me, but it means such to my partner. For example, acts of service. I’ve heard multiple men say it before. They’re married, they’re in heterosexual relationships, they’ve got kids and he’s like, “If I step up and do the dishes without being asked, she feels loved. That’s insane to me.”
Reinventing Sex Life: Sexual health and wellbeing, especially for women, is much tied to the big picture of willingness to nurture and take care of ourselves and knowing we are worthy of those.
I have girlfriends that are like, “When he does the dishes, I get wet.” That is awesome because that is happening.
Especially without being asked. It’s a totally different thing there. It seems insane. You’re like, “It seems insane to me but if that makes you feel that good, I want to do that for you and make you feel good and love. I do love you, which is the way I’m showing you as it is meaningful to you.” You have to be more mindful of it. It has to be intentional every day.
I have people that tell me, “We haven’t had sex in X amount of whatever,” and they feel guilty. It’s like that chicken and the egg. How do you get out of that?
It’s harder if it’s new. I love when couples come to see me or somebody comes up after a workshop and they started to have some concerns around this in their long-term relationship. It’s fresh and it’s new. Resentments haven’t been built up around it and patterns and things brushed under the rug. It’s much harder because if it’s long-term and this has been going on, couples will come in and be like, “We don’t know how we got here.” I was like, “It’s been ten years of building resentment, moving away from each other and having hurt feelings.” I get it and legitimately not knowing what to do and how to handle it. One of the things that’s important is you have to keep talking about it. Brushing it under the rug and let it go for three months and not addressing it. I tell people to have weekly, Sunday evenings at 8:00 for a half hour. That’s a sacred time. You block that time. You work to not get defensive and be present and you talk about it.
You don’t have to fix anything, but that you are always in conversation around it. This has been helpful because sometimes I have couples where the higher desire person wants to be talking about it and obviously having more sex and the lower desire person isn’t feeling any yearning for sex. They’re also uncomfortable with the topic. This happens for many women raised in our society. They’re embarrassed, uncomfortable, they feel inadequate, it feels inappropriate to talk about it and it’s awkward. To normalize it, every week you’re going to be talking about this no matter what. There’s no right or wrong. You don’t have to fix it on the spot, but you’re normalizing it.
There are many different directions to go for the person that’s low desire. I talked to them about how do you “prime your own pump?” That’s paying attention to, are there times of the month or contacts where you do feel more naturally horny? Were you more likely on a Saturday morning because you don’t have to go to work? You wake up and be like, “I get to lay around. I don’t feel rush. I don’t feel anxious. I want to be closer to my partner.” For women, before going through menopause. Maybe when you’re ovulating if you’re not on the pill or right before you get your period. You’ll have a day or two that you’re like, “My body’s asking for this a little bit.” Paying attention to those times in those contexts and making sure to talk to your partner about getting your love tank filled. On your side, scheduling around those times and creating intimacy time.
It’s cool to schedule. People say it’s crazy to schedule. I tell my people, “Schedule it if you need to. It takes the pressure off if you know you’re going to be doing it.”
It depends because we’re wired differently. Some people, when they know it’s scheduled, they start mentally preparing themselves for it, getting into it and then looking forward to it. Other people end up feeling pressured on how they perform. They get worried because they’re like, “I don’t feel desire. What if my body doesn’t turn on?” What I tell people to do is to schedule 45 minutes with no technology, set a timer and that it’s just big picture intimacy time, which means closeness and sharing. It does mean touching your bodies. It doesn’t have to be sexual though and do that once a week.Brushing issues under the rug and letting it go for three months and not addressing it is not helping your relationship in any way. Click To Tweet
People forget that. They’re like, “Intimacy doesn’t always mean having sex.” It’s other stuff too. We all think we have to have sex. You don’t. You can mush up, cuddle and snuggle.
If in any way sex is feeling a weighted or a loaded topic and it’s something that’s not working well, create once a week contacts to talk about it. The second one, to be close to each other. If you normalize this like, “We’re going to have to do this every week no matter what. We have to.” If someone has busy schedules or somebody travels a lot, you immediately reschedule as soon as you can. You have to commit to it as if this is an ongoing important doctor’s appointment or a meeting with your child’s teacher or something that you would not ever cancel. It has to be in there weekly. You have to keep up with it and create the down space for you away from technology and other priorities so you can focus on you. Remember that this feels good, this feels nice and you like each other, but without the performance pressure. It’s not like he has to turn on or you have to get an erection or you have to get wet. Create a safe space and reconnect. Do that over and over until you start to normalize that.
This has been so amazing and I can’t even tell you how lucky we are to have you because this conversation is awesome. I want to hear about your new book. It is called, From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women. It’s everywhere. Tell me a little bit about it. What’s going on?
I started writing years ago.
That’s awesome and it’s not easy. People think it’s easy.
It’s hard enough to write 250 pages on its own, but it’s the editing. That’s what makes a published book and working with editors, being able to find a publisher, editing, re-editing and getting other people’s opinions. I’m so happy to be on the other side of it.
Thank you. It’s exciting and it’s been neat to get feedback from men and women who are reading it. The gist of it is from madness to mindfulness. The madness is how I started this interview talking about being raised in our society as girls with a lot of those madness messages that we’re not good enough. We’re always battling our bodies because it’s never perfect enough. The shame or embarrassment around sex, which should come through family, school or lack of sex education or religion. Faking orgasms and not even learning that we have a clitoris when we learned reproductive anatomy, embarrassment around masturbation and all sorts of things. We’re then supposed to be adult women and find a partner for the rest of our lives and flip a switch and suddenly have this passionate, open sexual expression and desire. It doesn’t work that way.
woulda. coulda. shoulda.: A divorce coach’s guide to staying married
Many of us think we’re broken and there’s something wrong with us. We’re uncomfortable with these topics. We’re not in touch with our bodies or we don’t know how to navigate through a concern. That’s where I teach mindfulness. It’s applied mindfulness skills of being present in the moment, noticing your thoughts, interpretations, emotions and literally your bodily sensations of viscerally where do you feel shame or embarrassment? Your partner brings up, “We haven’t had sex in the last three months or something. Can we talk about it?” Generally, most of us do something at that moment. We either lash out at our partner, retreat into ourselves. We will take a big sip of the wine in front of us or you want to pull out your phone and start scrolling your Instagram and distract yourself. We run, numb, lash out and distract. Those are all the things because that feels so uncomfortable at the moment.
That’s what I teach women, how to be comfortable with that discomfort. How to move towards that awkwardness, stay present, speak to that and even notice and be like, “I want to flip out on you right now.” That’s a totally legit question you ask. Your partner asked it in a neutral way, but they are stating their needs and that matters. You don’t want them to be silenced. Being able to stay present with that discomfort and have a reasonable conversation. Otherwise, we avoid it. That’s part of how it gets brushed under the rug year after year. We’re not able to have these conversations and have them be productive. It’s learning the comfort of all of that. That’s at the heart of my book. I apply that to how to have difficult conversations, how to cultivate gratitude around sex, passion, desire, and also body image. We talk about how do we stop passing this on to younger generations of women and how do we take responsibility for that.
That is so important. It sounds like the perfect combination of everything in one book. I’m excited to read it. I have another question that I got from one of my audience. The correlation between sexless marriages and infidelity, is it an excuse? Is it a reason? It is what it is. What do you think?
Infidelity is infidelity. If you’re in a monogamous marriage and that is your agreement to each other, you’re still cheating on your partner. You’re keeping from them and you’re hiding things from them. The betrayal of trust is often the biggest thing. If somebody does find out, they feel their intuition was off or that they can never trust you again or, “That weekend of our son’s graduation you were with her the night before. I feel humiliated.” There’s so much betrayal. It’s the trust issue that’s the biggest thing there. That’s rough to do to someone else. When somebody says, “If you’re in a sexless marriage and your partner won’t have sex with you.” There are a lot of factors behind why a partner won’t have sex with you. Were you a bad person to them? Are you not feeling their love tank? Are you cold and detached? Do you travel a lot and they’re a quality time person and they don’t feel connected to you? Did they lose their drive after they had kids and went through difficult pregnancies and births? Are they working all the time and also doing all the chores at home? There are so many factors and we’re not taught. Ideally, I teach couples especially when they’re relatively new couples or recently married. I’ll talk about how you want to build into your repertoire of communication and being able to bring up, “I went to the gym and this woman started chatting me up and I was attracted to her. I want to talk about that with you.”
Do you think that’s a good thing that you need to talk to them about this stuff?
Yeah, because that is normal. Just because you’re married or in a long-term relationship, you’re not going to not notice other people. You’re not going to have that new coworker that you’re on a project with that you’re like, “He’s hot.” We were supposed to have other people at that lunch meeting and everyone else bailed and it was only the two of us and we have so much in common. I would rather you use that as a point to move you closer together as a couple talking about these.
What is the wife supposed to say? You come home and you say that to your spouse.
You have to have laid the foundation for this. In general, unfortunately, we don’t do this. We’re not taught to do this and that it’s normal. We’re taught that, “You’re in a long-term relationship and you should never notice anybody again.” That’s insane. It’s not fair. It sets relationships up for failure. I like couples to have once a week check-ins and also once a month check-ins on bigger topics. It’s like maintenance of always being like, “How was your love tank this past week?” Anything that you felt you didn’t get to discuss, any hurt that you’re carrying, anger or something like that, then once a month check-ins where you get to talk about finances and life just to make sure. Maybe sometimes you don’t have much to talk about, but you never get to the point that you’re ten years down the road and be like, “How did we get here?”Just because you're married or in a long-term relationship does not mean you're not going to not notice other people. Click To Tweet
I’m going to do that. Do you get to talk this stuff on other days or it’s only on the check-in points? Because I feel that I’m always constantly talking.
It depends because this is especially for people that may have trouble voicing their concerns during a week or the timing’s not right. You’re constantly dealing with logistics and running around and you’re like, “We don’t have a half-hour to sit and talk about this now. We may be able to address it on Sunday.” Back to your question about your husband comes home and was like, “I’m attracted to this person.” You know that this is a safe place. Your husband’s coming to you because he doesn’t want to do anything. Your marriage is so sacred to him. He loves you so much and committed to you. He’s coming to you to discuss it. You’ve got to work. You’re on the receiving end of it. It’s okay to feel jealousy and it’s okay to be like, “I definitely feel jealous. I feel that in my chest. I feel that sinking feeling in my belly that feels a little nauseous.” This is the type of mindfulness that I’m talking about.
I’m sitting here going like, “That would be me.”
Most of us would and that’s okay. That’s normal but you could be responsible with it. You can be like, “What do you think you need to do? What can we do as a couple? Do you want me to check in on this?” This takes navigation. This takes higher-level skills than most people have. You can create them as a couple together. You can go to a counselor or a therapist and talk it through if you want. I know this would be difficult for most couples because we don’t have the education around this and this hasn’t been normalized. I at least want to plant the seeds for people that that type of relationship is possible, that type of transparency that comes from respect. That comes from instead of you taking a step away from each other and maybe not even knowing it, you take a step closer to each other in the vulnerability and authenticity of a conversation like this.
Especially with what I do for a living, I get DMs. I’m out there in public, in everything and everywhere. I’ll say to my boyfriend, “Jim, I want you to know that I’ve got these crazy DMs coming through.” I don’t know how he puts up with what I’m saying. He’s a tolerant guy. I’m always like, “I want to let that this happened.” I can imagine that’s a lot but I am always upfront and forward with him and I tell him. I don’t want that to get between us.
I did four sessions of premarital counseling with a couple. They were a lovely couple. It’s much nicer than I have in the past. I had couples that I’m like, “You two should not be getting married.” It was not my place to say that unless they ask. I will say, “You’re going to be working on some of these topics probably in the life of your marriage,” which in most case will only be six months. She cheated on him. This other couple was amazing. I went through this whole list of topics to get in touch with their values, expectations and assumptions. We have so much around marriage and we don’t even know it. We assume that our partner looks at things the same way we do. One of the topics I brought up is in this world of technology where our exes never go away, they can at 12:00 PM send us a text and drunk and happen to be in the neighborhood or they follow up with us and be like, “I want to see how you’re doing. Unfortunately, my husband and I are going through a divorce. I want to see how you’re doing.” How do you want to handle when exes show up? They were stunned at that moment. They’re like, “We never thought about this.”
We should probably think about that though.
She’s like, “I want to talk about this. Let’s pull apart the layers of this.” You’re talking through expectations and assumptions. You’re normalizing that, “I would like if you tell me. I’m not going to freak out. I’m not going to get upset. I would like to know. I would like that transparency,” versus, someone else’s like, “Unless it’s this one person, if she contacts you I want to hear about. The rest of them, I don’t care.”
Who cares about that one? The rest of them, I want to know.
“She’s crazy and she’s back in your life, but I want to know.” It’s something like that. That’s fair and you do have to work on your side. If you are on the receiving end of this information, you’re allowed to feel all of the feels, but be responsible with them. Don’t attack or blame your partner. You have to create a safe space for them to be able to share with you or they’re going to stop sharing.
From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women
After this little conversation, I have a lot to talk about with my boyfriend. We’ve been doing some things wrong. It’s time to make some changes, Dr. Jenn. I’m telling you. You’ve got to come back. We’ve got to talk. I love that topic about staying friends with your exes. You are so good. You’re going to get a lot more clients. I know you’ve got probably millions. Do you have a waitlist of a mile long?
A few years ago, I started transitioning to keeping a small client load because I wanted to get my first book done and published. My real passion is public speaking. I am traveling around to all different universities, to women’s health conferences, executive groups, Valentine’s events. I have this sex game show that I’ve been doing with different groups. That’s my real passion. The writing, video and all the media stuff so I’ve been keeping my private practice small. That being said, I will occasionally take on people, especially if they’re looking for short term coaching approach. I could do stipe clients and stuff that.
You’re fantastic and my readers are going to go crazy. I’m so grateful that you were here and shared all of this knowledge and insights. I watched your TEDx talk and I was like, “Oh my God.” You’re awesome. Thank you for coming. Where’s the easiest place to find you?
My website is my hub for everything. They could find my book on there and all my social media links, DrJennsDen.com. If you type in Dr. Jenn’s Den, you should find me pretty quickly.
Thank you for coming, Jenn. I appreciate you so much. Dr. Jen’s book is From Madness to Mindfulness: Reinventing Sex for Women. It’s out everywhere. Go grab it. I ordered my copy already. It’s on the way. I wish it come, so I could have read it already. This has been an amazing show. I’m so grateful. Everybody, you know where to find me, www.JenniferHurvitz.com. Thanks for being here in Doing Divorce Right (or Avoiding It Altogether). Have a great day. As always, peace, love and truth.