Don't try to spice up your marriage. If you've got one maybe one and a half chili peppers on the Mexican menu of sex, just be happy with that. Because trying to spice up your marriage is one of the most depressing, sex-drive-suppressing experiences possible. Being assigned this story was the best form of birth control I have ever tried.
Perhaps I made things even worse by talking to my mother, who is a family therapist and therefore, I figured, must have great, sensible advice she doles out to struggling clients. I approached the subject gingerly. Mom did not. She apparently has a whole list of things she recommends: a book called 52 Invitations to Grrreat Sex, two Nancy Friday books (My Secret Garden and Forbidden Flowers), the movies 9 1/2 Weeks and Swept Away, and two "instructional" tapes from the Better Sex video series: Making Sex Fun and Advanced Sexual Techniques. Her final suggestion, "renting pornography or whatever works," was followed by the advice: "Women relate less to the hard porn, while men tend to be turned on by visuals and Deep Throat." I estimate that this conversation postponed her becoming a grandmother by seven years.
I ordered Mom's recommendations from Amazon, which, upon checkout, asked me if I wanted "to let my friends know about my order." Amazon is as sensitive to my embarrassment as my mother.
Feeling brash, I began with the Advanced Sexual Techniques tape. Even if I hadn't known that my mother had seen this barely veiled porn tape, I would have been grossed out. The idea of showing average-looking people having real sex sounds admirable until you actually see bald, fat people from the '80s going at it like quaaluded marsupials in bad lighting. While it made my lovely wife Cassandra feel good about her body, it made me feel bad about bodies in general. The academic experts' voice-overs backfired to make sex seem even more animalistic and desperate. Furthermore, the term advanced sexual techniques was being used loosely. There was an entire scene on male masturbation. If masturbating was advanced, I wondered what the simple sexual techniques were. Rubbing up and down on someone's leg?
I threw the rest of the Amazon package into the garbage--except for the Nancy Friday books. At least once a week from when I was 13 until I turned 15, I used to remove My Secret Garden from the family-room bookshelf, peruse the jaunty literary tales of women's sexual fantasies and carefully replace the book in exactly the same spot. Rereading the book, I realized that Friday was the one responsible for my inability to judge what is appropriate, by nonjudgmentally equating all sexual behavior. At one point, Friday writes that not thinking about bestiality when seeing a large animal is "like looking at a racing car and ignoring the thrill of speed." As far as heating up a marriage, this woman is the whole spice rack.
Friday may be the only smart person to take sexuality seriously, the only one who could give me marital tips without all that cuteness and overanalysis that depress me by outing just how difficult it is for most couples to communicate. But unfortunately, Friday is the wife of my boss's boss, Time Inc. editor-in-chief Norman Pearlstine. A smarter man would not call her and confess her role in shaping my sexuality. Then again, a smarter man wouldn't have called his mom for sex advice.