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Abstinence Makes the Heart Grow Fonder

Written by Paul Wolf

Even a little time off from sex can spice up your love life and lead to greater intimacy.

In "The Drought" episode from the first season of Sex and the City, the very promiscuous Samantha decides to take a break from sex after an enlightening cup of coffee with her handsome yoga instructor, who practices tantric celibacy.

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The exercise in abstinence doesn't last long. Rabid with desire by her next yoga class, a frustrated Sam propositions the men stretching and breathing within earshot until she gets a taker for an afternoon romp.

It makes for good cable, but can celibacy really put the va-voom back in your bedroom?

Oh, yeah, say relationship experts who believe that taking a breather from all sex, or from just intercourse, can rev up desire, promote greater intimacy (if you spend the time doing other things), and lead to new avenues of mutual pleasure.

"For long-term partners, sex becomes convenient, like going to the refrigerator and grabbing something to eat," says Carol Kaplan, a marriage and family counselor in Monterey, Calif. "Sometimes by going straight for the dessert, we forget about the meal."

If sex is the dessert, the meal is everything else that deepens your relationship and strengthens your bond.

Sex and marriage counselors have long used the sex moratorium as a way to see what's going on in a relationship. Is he pressuring himself to perform? Is she getting the hugs and kisses she wants? Are they having sex because they think it's something they should do?

Kevin Gogin, a marriage and family counselor practicing in San Francisco, says the bedroom is a "microcosm" of the relationship as a whole. Change the dynamic there, and you learn a lot about patterns of relating and communicating.

Even a couple that feels they have a fun and fulfilling sex life unburdened by large problems can benefit from a break.

A moratorium, writes Jack Morin, Ph.D., in The Erotic Mind: Unlocking the Inner Sources of Passion and Fulfillment, allows you to gain "fresh perspective" and detach yourself from "well-worn habits" that prevent experimentation.

You are voluntarily creating an environment of uncertainty that is usually the framework for discovery, he writes.

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There is nothing wrong with a few well-worn habits. But the same old, same old can get stale, even with sex.

A moratorium on sex "creates a little more tension, a little more desire," says Kaplan.

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Think you're ready to give abstinence a try? Keep the following in mind:

Be careful what you ask for.
You don't want your request to come out like this, "I'd like to not have sex for a while..." Convey the things you'd like to do instead, not the things you don't want to do.

Be clear about your goals.
If her aim is to explore Oriental and Swedish massage and his aim is to have sex in every way he can think of but intercourse, these lab partners may be off on wildly different experiments.

Start modestly.
Abstaining for one or two weeks is plenty, says Kaplan. This isn't punishment or penitence; it's part of your journey of discovery.

Communicate your desires.
Abstinence may make the heart grow fonder, but don't let the prospect of a little pent-up desire move your decision. A better relationship and improved communication is still the best motivator. A moratorium can be an excellent tool in getting there.

Don't recognize failure.
What if you violated the moratorium, broke down and had wild sex. So what? Nothing's lost and everything is gained, says Kaplan. You've just found a way to enhance your pleasure, and that was the goal in the first place.