Karen interviews sexologist Cyndi Darnell about her new book that helps you connect to your authentic desires and work with mismatched libidos within partnership.
Wild & Sublime Podcast Transcript
#S3E17 | “Sex When You Don't Feel Like It” with Cyndi Darnell
Cyndi Darnell: Sex is like electricity, right? We can use it to power our homes right now. But if I wasn't managing the wiring in this apartment, it could also burn the apartment down. So it's my responsibility to make sure that all of the sockets in my apartment are taken care of. We need to start having that relationship with sex. But instead, most of us are tricked into thinking we don't need to do that maintenance, because if we're with the right person, it will just magically happen. And then most of us end up getting our fingers burnt at a minimum — if not burning our houses down, metaphorically, because we don't understand the majesty of the power that we deal.
Karen Yates: Welcome to Wild & Sublime, a sexy spin on infotainment®, no matter your preferences, orientation, or relationship style, based on the popular live Chicago show. I chat about sex and relationships with citizens from the world of sex positivity. You'll hear meaningful conversations, dialogues that go deeper, and information that can help you become more free in your sexual expression. I'm sex educator and intimacy coach Karen Yates.
Today, I interview sex therapist and author Cyndi Darnell about her practical new book that helps folks attain a sex life they want, rather than a sex life they think they should have. Keep listening.
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Hey, folks. There are a ton of books out there in the world about sex. You might be aware of this. And you might have noticed I don't do a ton of interviews with authors who have new sex books, because I only want to feature books that I as a sex educator think might be useful to listeners. So, to that end, there is a great interview in store today. I'll be talking with sex therapist Cyndi Darnell about her new book, "Sex When You Don't Feel Like It: The Truth about Mismatched Libido and Rediscovering Desire." In this book, Darnell covers a lot of important ground as well as tasking the reader to do the investigative work about their individual preferences and desires. Throughout the chapters, she undoes a lot of standard thinking we've endured about sex by putting forth provocative, mythbusting ideas that left me thinking, "Huh, I never thought about that." In today's interview, we chat about the importance of learning about our own needs. heteronormativity — what is it, and how does it affect how many of us view sex? As well as confronting the myth of frequency as an arbiter of sex-life success, and so much more.
Cyndi Darnell is an internationally known sex and relationship therapist and clinical and somatic sexologist, and appears in the media regularly. I think you're going to enjoy our conversation.
Cyndi Darnell, welcome.
Cyndi Darnell: Thank you so much for having me. It's a pleasure to be here.
Karen Yates: It's a pleasure to be interviewing you. Cyndi, what indigenous lands are you recording from right now?
Cyndi Darnell: Right now I am on Lenape land, but I hail originally from Wurundjeri country, from a town called Nam, which, in colonizer language, is Melbourne, Australia.
Karen Yates: Great. I am currently on the land of the Ojibwe, Odawa and Potawatomi nations, the Council of Three Fires, colonially known as Chicago. So Cyndi, I loved your book, "Sex When You Don't Feel Like It: The Truth about Mismatched Libido and Rediscovering Desire." Just wanted to say the whole title, because I want to burn that into people's brains. [laughter] What I loved about your book is that it is very comprehensive. It pulls from a lot of studies, a lot of landmark books and other sexologists' work. But it puts everything together. And I think it is very manageable, a way for folks to navigate the landscape of sexuality and navigate different endpoints for better understanding their own desires, their own pleasure. So, you have a quote at the beginning of the book, which I think is so powerful, and that quote is, "It's not that we have sex, but that sex has us." Kind of a big statement there. What did you mean by that?
Cyndi Darnell: Well... What did I mean by that? Sex is everywhere in our culture, particularly Western cultures. And by Western cultures, I mean, primarily English-speaking Western cultures, but to a degree, European Western cultures, including France, Germany, Greece. The sex it's in all of our advertising, it's in all of our music. It's in all of our art. It's in everything that humans do. It has been like this for thousands of years, even though various religions have tried to control it, wipe it out, stop it, interfere with various legislations, as is happening. Again, currently, this has been going on for thousands of years. And yet, we pretend that, you know, that sex is this thing that's natural that it just sort of happens to us. Yet, in so many ways, the way we are currently relating to it culturally, it has us — we don't have it. And what I mean by that is that when we are unable to reckon with the power, the presence, the majesty of human sexuality, and we allow ourselves to have a passive relationship with it — and what I mean by that is when we say, Oh, well, you know, I just wait for the mood to come, or, you know, I'm just a really sexual person, or I'm just not a very sexual person, or whatever other stories that we tell ourselves. So that may or may not be true to a point. But we have been so conditioned into this passive relationship with sex, that it just sort of drops out of the sky and lands in our laps, and we don't really have to do anything about it. And as a result of that, the vast majority of us struggle with sex in some way, shape, or form. Either we struggle with it because we want it too much. We struggle with it because we don't want it enough. We struggle with it, because it hurts. We struggle with it because we're not doing it properly. We struggle with it because our bits aren't doing what we think they're supposed to be doing. We struggle with it because we think our bodies are not worthy enough of having sex, or the kind of sex that we want to have. We struggle with it because we think, 'Well, I saw this in porn, or I saw this in a movie, why isn't it happening to me?' All of this can be circumvented if we had, and have, decent sex education. And I don't just mean where do babies come from, but real, proper, meaningful, adult, emotion-centered sex education. But while we live in a culture that would rather legislate that stuff away, and relegate it to the shadows of the human experience, what then ends up happening is sex has us. Because it has us in a bind, to the point that we use it to cause harm, rather than to cause connection. And that's a big problem. Because, you know, I talk about this in the book: sex is like electricity, right? We can use it to power our homes right now. I've got electricity running my microphone, my computer, my internet connection. It's a wonderful thing, this electricity. But if I wasn't managing the wiring in this apartment, it could also burn the apartment down. It could burn the whole building down and kill a lot of people. So it's my responsibility to make sure that all of the sockets in my apartment are taken care of, there's no wires hanging out, I'm not throwing water into them, and I'm doing my job as a citizen to make sure that I'm managing the electricity in my home.
We need to start having that relationship with sex. But instead, most of us are tricked into thinking we don't need to do that maintenance, because if we're with the right person, it will just magically happen. And then that's when sex has us. Because we don't know how to treat it. And then most of us end up getting our fingers burnt at a minimum, if not burning our houses down, metaphorically, because we don't understand the majesty of the power that we're dealing with.
Karen Yates: You said a lot, and I love the metaphor of electricity, that you do have to be responsible for it. And I mean, there's so many — even with the metaphor, there's a lot of us that are like, 'Eh, I know that's a bad wiring area, but I'm just gonna let it ride..." You're running the house, you know, like, Ahhh! You have another quote — because your book is full of these gems that just got me — "No amount of blowjob prep or positions ad infinitum will ever get as close to the satisfaction we seek if we indeed avoid inquiring about our own satisfaction and what we want at all." So this gets back to this idea of individual responsibility. We're not given individual responsibility. Like you just said, it's this blanket, like, eh, it's going to happen, I don't have to think about this.
Cyndi Darnell: Yeah.
Karen Yates: But your book — what I loved about your book is, it basically says to the reader, now I'm going to help you figure this out.
Cyndi Darnell: That's exactly right.
Karen Yates: We're going to work exactly right chapter by chapter, figuring this thing out. And you have so many — talk a little bit about the various exercises, the contemplative exercises you have in the book.
Cyndi Darnell: So the reason that each chapter, I think, except maybe one of the chapters, has lots of exercises, is because it's one thing for us to be able to read studies and data, and see that, okay, well, this is normal, and everybody does this, and all of that stuff. And that's all good, it's helpful. But statistical analysis, without context, without meaning, it's just a bunch of numbers on a page. And until those numbers and figures are actually meaningful to us, as individuals, in our houses, in our bedrooms, in our lives, in our relationships, we can look at all of those numbers and go, Okay, well, it's normal for me to experience XYZ, or it's normal for my partner to experience ABC, but I'm still uncomfortable with it, or there's still something about it that I don't understand, that doesn't sit quite well with me.
That's why I put so many of these exercises and activities and practices into the book, to help to scaffold for folks how to make this knowledge, how to make this data meaningful. Because I think, in the age of the internet, you can Google any sex thing these days. And in among 100 pages of headlines, let's say maybe seven or eight percent of those headlines are going to be stuff that's actually accurate. The rest of it is going to be spin and piss and sort of clickbait padding — not necessarily lies, but just weird spins on things. And I look at these articles — often articles, frankly, that I'm quoted in — and I look at them and just go, uh, yeah, I mean, you're kind of right, but it's not really the whole story. But you know, a lot of these pop articles are not trying to be accurate, they're trying to be entertaining, which is their job. And that's fine. But for a lot of just regular readers, they're not going to be able to discern what they're reading and read between the lines in the way that perhaps I can, or you can, because we are trained to read between the lines.
So because of this, we have so much information available to us about sex now, which is wonderful. Ten years ago, that information wasn't available. So it's no longer about a lack of information. It's a lack of integration, is the problem now. And that is where my book really fills the gap. Because without integration, all of this information is — not useless. But it is somewhat meaningless. And meaning is everything. Because that is where we start having Mind-Body-Heart, Spirit, if you want to go there, connection, when something drops in and resonates and we go, 'Oh, yeah. Oh, yes!' You know, that is where people really come alive with sex. But just looking for stats and numbers — it's good. But that's just the beginning. It's not enough.
Karen Yates: Yeah, this idea of integration. Early on in the book, you had this example of a young man. And I just want to be clear, like, when we say, as you said in the book, man or woman, you're talking about people who identify as male or female. So we're just going to say that right now, a man came to you really wanting to know, how can I just be more comfortable with hookup sex? And the question is really, as you saw it, how can I become more comfortable with myself? And looking at individual pleasure. And individual, pleasurable sex rather than this idea of doing it right. Because as I'm listening to you, I'm like, yeah, built into all of these "Five easy ways to..." "Best ways for..." There's this idea of right and wrong, that is some sort of template that exists, floating above us all. But yet we are all these highly individual collection of cells and nervous systems. And I would love for you just to chat about individual, 'the individual' in all of this, in your book.
Cyndi Darnell: Yeah. So I mean, that's where I think the book really comes into its own, because all of these exercises form the foundation of what I call in the book, Your Erotic Template, as yours. It is unique to you. Your template will not be like anybody else's, and that is a good thing. There are going to be similarities. There are going to be things that collectively, you know, people who identify as women are probably going to have some shared stuff going on. People who identify as men are probably going to have some shared stuff going on. People who identify as gay, or straight, or trans, or this or that, are gonna have collective similar experiences, that they're gonna say, Yeah, this is part of my erotic template. That's fine. And the nuance, though, is in going into pleasure, and purpose also. Why are you even bothering to have sex with another person? Because if you just want to have sex by yourself, which is perfectly fine, and in fact, I encourage that. But most of us, not all of us, but many of us do want to have sex with other people. And the motivation is not always to get off. In fact, often, it's not even about having an orgasm; it's about something else. But many of us can't put our finger on what that something else is. And so that's where, in a notion of the individual that you were asking about, where it becomes really profound is in our capacity to determine, well, what is actually going to be satisfying for me? How will I know when I'm having a good time? And a lot of people, particularly women, cannot answer that question.
If you ask women, 'What kind of sex do you like?,' a lot of women struggle to answer that question. If you ask women, how, if I were having sex with you, woman, how will I know that you're having a good time? What would your body do? What might you say? How could I read your physicality? So I would understand that you're having a good time? Most women cannot answer that question. That is not their fault. But this is a symptom of how so many of us have grown up with the story that pleasure is not for us, that we are in service to others. This tends to be less prevalent among women who have sex with women, but it's still there a little bit. And similarly for men, cis men in particular, the narrative for them is almost always about performance. It's very little about how they feel. It's about how they look. And that leaves them feeling empty, often.
And so, when men experience lowered desire, not only is there shame with that, because men are supposed to be like, 'Yeah, yeah! I fuck all the time!' So if they don't feel like that, or if, in their minds, they're like, I would like to, but my dick is unreliable — which is also very common — it then starts causing struggle and brief for them, because like the case study in the book, having to admit that you need, as a man, that you need certain conditions to be met, certain emotional conditions to be met, is not part of the story that men are taught about sex. They are not taught that they are emotionally oriented creatures when it comes to the erotic. They are told that they are all about getting hard, sticking it in, blowing a load and buzzing off afterwards. And I mean, maybe some fellas are like that, but certainly the men that I talk to, they may say, yes, I've done that. But I didn't feel fulfilled. I felt kind of weird about it. And this is part of the reckoning, you know. This is part of the erotic template, is being willing to actually really dig in to your deeper machinations, and ask yourself — and this is not an easy question by any stretch — but asking yourself, How do I want to feel? What brings me pleasure? Why am I having sex? How can I understand satisfaction in my own terms? Because it's not going to be just an orgasm. I can almost guarantee that. An orgasm is nice — but if that really is all you want, I would encourage people to just do it by themselves, because it's going to be much more reliable. And then people say, Well, no, that feels empty. And I'm like, exactly. It's that emptiness. My book is about that emptiness. It's about filling in that gap. To help you understand where that emptiness is coming from. It's not necessarily childhood trauma. It's nothing to be afraid of. But it is something to be embraced. I refer to it throughout the book as a quest, not as a problem. Because it is a quest. It's magical. But we have not been taught to see it that way. We have been taught to see it as a fault, as a problem, as something that's missing, as something shameful. Because sex is natural. It's easy — when you're with the right person, it just works. And so many people have terribly unsatisfying sex lives, and they don't even know where to start. So then they start taking pills and ointments, and looking up positions, and buying every dildo and lube under the sun. And all that stuff is fine. I'm not saying that that stuff is bad. It's great. But it's not going to fulfill you.
Karen Yates: Yeah, your big question, as you just alluded to in the book, is, 'Why do you have sex?' Why do you have sex? I just sat there, and I was like, wow. So simple. But then you go in this really beautiful section about values — about sexual values, erotic values, why we go into it. As you just said, it's rarely about the orgasm. It is about so much more. And that was such an 'aha' moment, especially when you matched — when you look at two people in a relationship, and you kind of put the two grids on top of each other, the two graphs on top of each other to see, where is there a match? And where is there a complete mismatch in values? And then the illumination can lead to conversation, correct?
Cyndi Darnell: Yeah, absolutely. And it's okay to have different values and different desires from your partner. That's completely — that is normal.
Karen Yates: How do you work with that, though? If you have a completely — like if, say, you have a couple of agreements and values, but then a whole panoply of things that don't agree? What do you do then?
Cyndi Darnell: So then, I mean, that's the work of relationship. That's a little bit less about sex therapy, and that's more about relationship therapy, when it becomes that kind of thing. So sometimes there might be places you can meet in the middle and compromise and say, well, you know, I'm willing to offer you this. And that's where Betty Martin's Wheel of Consent stuff comes into it, that we think about, well, who is for? It's not for me. I'm not especially excited by this, but I'm willing to do it for you. I'm willing to be in service to you, or, you know, whichever part of the quadrant you might be in, because one of my relational values is that I want to see you fulfilled. That makes me happy. Now, if that is your entire template — for some people, that is their entire template. And I don't want to say that that's a bad thing. But for a lot of people, that as a default would not be satisfying, long-term. But you know, case by case — turn-taking, I think, is a wonderful way of being able to navigate those kind of, you know, so-called mismatches, where somebody wants to do a thing, and you're like, well, it's not really my thing, but I can imagine maybe meeting you halfway, how about this?
And increasingly, also, what I am seeing with couples is that they are considering nonmonogamy. Because sometimes somebody's into a thing, and you're just like, oh, my goodness, I would never, even on my deathbed, I would never think about doing that. But I am really okay with you being into it. Let's talk about some options for you to be able to get that need met in ways that are gonna work for both of us. And I think that that's a totally reasonable solution. For those for whom it works. It doesn't work for everybody. But increasingly, more and more people are turning to that as a reasonable option. And I think it is a reasonable option.
Karen Yates: Yeah. And also, the other option is, are you both okay, with having a nonsexual relationship? With being together as a couple, and have your needs met elsewhere? Or just, this just isn't a part of your relationship? And I'm like, right, this is also an option.
Cyndi Darnell: Yeah, absolutely. And that's the thing, too — again, you know, because I talked about this in the first half of the book, this fusion between love and sex, and that we get so twisted up that they have to go together, that if we're in an intimate partnership with somebody, that we've started a family with, that we have financial commitments with, that our families have become intertwined. And you know, there's a lot at stake there. To destroy all of that simply because the sex part isn't working seems ludicrous to me.
We can sort of parse these things out if we are willing to unpack some of the narratives that we've inherited around how a marriage is supposed to be, or how a relationship is supposed to be, or how a family is supposed to be. All this kind of stuff that corrals us into thinking, well, if we're sexually incompatible — I don't like that word, but you know, for the sake of easy conversation here, I will use the word — if we are sexually incompatible, then we probably should separate. Even if everything else in the relationship is pretty good. I don't think sexual incompatibility is a reason to separate, unless it for some reason is insurmountable. And again, for a lot of people, if you're willing to work with — I mean, sexuality by its nature is fluid and creative. It's not fixed.
So yes, it can present trouble. Yes, it can present problems. But often those problems are rooted in things like power dynamics, and expectations, and emotional labor, and mental load, and all these kinds of things, which can be worked through. And if it is something that is really, really in the realm of sex, because one person wants to do a thing, or one person decides that they want to experience sex with a person of a gender other than the person that they're in partnership with, obviously, there's not much you can do about that. So, allowing contexts for things to open up is reasonable, I think in those contexts. It's not easy, necessarily for some people, particularly people who experience themselves as more traditional. But the nature of sex is that sex is the place all of our unprocessed emotions go to get processed. So, anything that you thought you swept under the rug, you didn't. It'll end up coming out through sex. Which is what makes it amazing and fabulous.
Karen Yates: I'll return to my interview with Cyndi Darnell in a moment. Are you looking to improve erotic communication with your partner? I help couples increase pleasure, learn how to express desires, and become more connected. All of this through dynamic, body-centered sessions. Go to the show notes or karen-yates.com to schedule your free consultation with me.
And now, back to my interview with Cyndi Darnell about her new book, "Sex When You Don't Feel Like It." In the second half, we discuss how heteronormativity has messed us up, as well as how frequent sex doesn't necessarily mean we've won at the sex game.
[to Cyndi] So, when you're talking about, like, traditional things, traditional arrangements — you know, I just basically went through your book and cherry-picked these quotes! I had to bring them out. "Heterosexuals are not accustomed to questioning sex and sexuality, because they are accustomed to being the default against which normal is measured." I thought that was super powerful. When hetero folks start reflecting on penis-in-vagina sex — I would love for you just unpack this idea of heterosexual sex as it is seen.
Cyndi Darnell: Heterosexuality... Where do I start with this? Heterosexuality, obviously, it's been around for a very long time. [Both laugh] However. You know, it's very effective for propagation of the species. That is really what it's very good at. It's not very good at much else. And what I mean by that is, I'm not saying that it's wrong to be heterosexual. I'm absolutely not saying that at all. But what I am saying is the construct of heteronormativity — so what that is, is that is a very new concept. And that means as a default, that we go to, that man and woman hook up, they get together, they go on a couple of dates, they kiss, there's a bit of boob squeezing, there's a bit of oral, there's a bit of hand sex, and then there's penis-in-vagina sex, and then somebody has an orgasm, usually him, and then that's the end. And then that's how sex is for years. And it's—
Karen Yates: I'm laughing about this. Yup, that — you pretty much nailed it. Okay.
Cyndi Darnell: That's what I mean by heteronormativity. So, the problem with heteronormativity is, it is very fixed. It is very formulaic. Everybody knows the rules. Nobody wants to stray from the rules. But we haven't really asked ourselves why. We don't know what the punishment is, we just know that we should not. And it is considered — and again, so when you look at these listicles on the internet — top five ways to blah, blah, blah — many of those top-five type articles are reinforcing this notion of heteronormativity, which centers penis-in-vagina sex. Penis-in-vagina sex is fine. There's nothing wrong with it. Again, it's very, very good for making babies. There are also other ways, of course, of making babies these days. The trouble with it, though, is that it puts an enormous amount of pressure on both people. We know statistically from the science that it's not especially pleasurable for women. It's not awful for women. It's just not the kind of stimulation that produces orgasms. It is often very psychologically arousing for women. It's very exciting psychologically, and often emotionally it is fulfilling for women, because in some ways, they get to fulfill the heteronormative script of being desired, rather than the desiring. And also, it means that if they are just receiving the penis, they don't have to participate in sex too much. They get away with maintaining this very passive relationship with sex. They remain pretty, they remain slim, they remain quiet. They don't have to participate too much, and they avoid the complexity of inquiry that I'm advocating. It's often not until they get a little older that they will start thinking, why don't I enjoy sex much? Why have I lost my libido? Why am I a bit not really into this? Does this mean I don't love my husband? Maybe, but probably not. Your husband is a good guy, and there's no reason for you to not like him. It is likely because the sex you've been having has been subpar. Not because he is a bad lover necessarily, and not because you are defective, but simply because you've both drunk the heteronormative Kool-Aid, and you've never stopped to think about, why are we having sex like this? Is there another way? This is how it's always been done; I guess we should just keep going and hope for the best. That is a heteronormative script. They are so accustomed to sex being that way, and that's the default. And it is reinforced in Hollywood, it is reinforced in advertising, it is reinforced through music, it is reinforced through art, it is reinforced through fashion. It's like it's everywhere you look, it is reinforced as, it's okay, you're on the right track, it's fine, it's fine, it's fine, it's fine. So much so that it doesn't occur to us that there might be an alternative.
And so, because following that script all the time does not allow for reflection, does not allow for inquiry, and tells us men are like this, women are like this, this is how it's done, don't ask questions, just get on with it — it leaves us just sort of a bit stuck. And that is what the problem with heteronormativity is. It's not a problem with heterosexuals.
Karen Yates: So you have five myths in the book. We won't get into all of them. And some of them we've already alluded to. But the first one is — and I love it, because it's so simple, but it is the cause of so much neuroses — is the myth of frequency.
Cyndi Darnell: I mean, I think, again, that this is riding on the back of the heteronormative script. Although it's not exclusively; I do see this with couples of other kinds of configurations. But it does tend to affect hetero couples more than queer couples, simply because I think queer couples are accustomed to dissecting sexual norms, simply because the way that sex has been presented to them doesn't work for them from the outset. So they are much more accustomed to going, 'Well, that's not going to work for us. So what should we do instead?' They have this built-in creative reflex, because it's been developed. With the hetero script, we've been tricked into thinking how many times a week we're doing it, or how many times a month we're doing it is a marker of successful sex. And again, you'll see a lot of these articles in the mainstream press, will say, 'What's normal? How many times a week?' And then they'll be like, you know, 2.7 times a week, or 3.8 times a week, some random number. And these studies are very arbitrary. Because first of all, we don't know if people are telling the truth. Second of all, we don't know what kind of sex they're having. Thirdly, they're not measuring whether or not the sex is pleasant, or if it's just an endurance test for everybody involved. And also then, even if you are having sex three or four times a week, in the beginning of a relationship that might be easy to do, and it might be fulfilling, and it might be exactly what you're looking for. But over time, you start slipping into your normal life: you've got work, you might have children, pets, other kinds of responsibilities, taking care of elderly parents, whatever's going on. All of that stuff is going to start interfering. And so your capacity to have sex, as it were, four times a week, or five times a week, maybe diminished. Or if one partner is insisting that sex has to happen four times a week, and then you just acquiesce and go, oh, gosh, all right. And then it sort of becomes something that you give, like you're just giving, giving, giving, I do this thing all the time, we start getting into resentment. But that's a slightly different thing.
So where we've been tricked into misunderstanding frequency as a marker of quality means that people will often be scrambling to have more sex, rather than asking themselves, is the sex we're having sex worth wanting? Is it sex that's actually fulfilling? Could it be that instead of having sex four times a week, we only do it once a week, or once a month, or whatever it is, but we dedicate, you know, four or five hours, and we send the kids off to grandma's house and we book the dog walker, and we really indulge in our senses? And we know from research, especially for cis women's bodies, it takes a very long time for the mind and the nervous system and the body to get in sync. So this notion of a quickie, it's fine; like, our bodies are capable of quickies. But for a lot of us, when we spend most of our days with our minds, doing one thing, our bodies doing another thing, and our hearts doing another thing again, to expect that we can just integrate those very quickly at the end of the day for 15 minutes, and that's going to be amazing, which is how it's presented in the movies. For a lot of us, it just leaves us feeling empty and defective, and our bodies are cold. It's like running your car in the middle of winter, without warming it up. I mean, you might be able to, but you're gonna destroy your engine if you keep doing that. So this is not the way to approach sex, with this frequency mindset. You can occasionally. I'm not saying it's bad completely. But the reasons that people struggle with sex are not the frequency. The reasons that people struggle with sex are the quality.
Karen Yates: Yeah, what you just said, so much. And one of the first points you brought up is, we don't actually know if the people who are participating in the studies are telling the truth. And then also, just the way the data is interpreted — sex once a month is considered a sexless partnership. If you're having sex once a month, that's sexless. I'm like, 'Really? You're still having sex, but it's — no no, no, no. That's a sexless…" [laughs] Right.
Cyndi Darnell: That's the thing. Who makes that up? You know, and then we don't know what kind of sex — again, like a lot of these studies are looking at exclusively penis in vagina sex. They don't think oral sex is real sex. They don't think using a vibrator is real sex. Which, again, that's because of this very sort of male-centric understanding, medical understanding, of sex, that sex has to be between a man and a woman, and it has to involve penetration, and it has to involve an orgasm, primarily his, in order for it to be considered real sex. And that is just so profoundly out of touch with how actual humans experience sex. Until we can start talking about sex through the lens of how we experience it, rather than how we think it's supposed to be, we are always going to feel shortchanged.
Karen Yates: Yeah, several of your myths are around this idea of what is "natural." "Sex is natural" is one of the myths, and "desire is natural." And we could talk about that, but I'll just say that you do such a great job of unpacking everything and putting it under the lens for the reader to really decide for themselves: Where do I stand on this? What is my body telling me? What has my experience taught me? And I want to get back to something you said very early on that, you know, most cis women do not know what is pleasurable, or what they like. And I have to say that for myself, earlier on in my life — no clue. And it took a fair amount of life experience and living and inquiry to understand that — again, the inquiry point is central to your book. You must inquire. Deep dive.
Cyndi Darnell: Yeah. That is not optional. You have to do that. And the people who don't want to do that, that's okay. But you will remain in — in the book, I refer to it as a neurotic state. And I don't mean that as a pathological assessment. I mean that you are stuck in this place between wanting things to change, but not wanting to change. That's extremely painful.
Karen Yates: It is. It's very, very painful, very painful. So, one last question. One of the people you dedicated the book to was Chester Maynard, who is, I think, one of the most brilliant, unsung heroes of the sex movement. Can you talk a little bit about Chester?
Cyndi Darnell: Yeah. So he was one of my first sex teachers. In the '90s, he was spending a lot of time in Australia. And that's where I met him. He at the time was teaching partners with Barbara Corellas, who's also a very strong associate of mine. And also, the other person I dedicate the book to is Katherine Carter, and Chester and Kath had a very profound relationship. Even though Chester was gay, he and Cass had an exquisite, intimate partnership that it was incredible to be witness to that. Kath was also living in Australia.
So a lot of this work, actually even Barbara's tantra work, a lot of this was really — the somatic sex movement really flourished in Australia in the '90s for some reason. I don't know why, but the conditions seemed to be right there. And I was just fortunate to be part of it at the time. I was very young in the '90s. But I just happened to fall in with this crowd of people who were older than me, wiser than me, and who were willing to take me under their wing at the time. I didn't realize that they were going to be really central figures in the somatic sex movement as it's become, now 30 years later. But those were the people who taught me the foundations of a lot of what I do now.
And I've since gone on to study and have formal qualifications in clinical sexology and sex therapy and psychotherapy, and all the blah, blah things. And it's helpful. But it's sort of almost come full circle, back to the somatics. Because, you know, it's great to have the science now to be able to explain these kind of kooky, hippie phenomena that we were experiencing in the '90s, that we used to be able to put down to as a spiritual awakening. Maybe it was, but now we also have data to say, ah, that's what that was. Cool. And so, for people who are sciency types, I'll give you the science to explain what's going on. For the people who like the woowoo element, I'm like, yep, we can call it a mystical experience. Let's keep going. That's fine. It doesn't matter what we call it, we can call it mashed potatoes.
The biggest thing is, how does it feel? Does it bring you satisfaction? Does it matter to you? Let's look at how it matters. Let's look at why it matters. Let's look at, how are you going to tell this story to another person in such a way that it informs your erotic template? So you're with a partner who you've just met, or someone you've been with for 30 years — what are you going to tell them about your template that's going to be able to make sex enjoyable for you? And that template is what this book is about — is helping you understand the roadmap, the manual, of how to drive your body towards pleasure in a way that is meaningful to you. Not to your partner — to you. Your partner is going to do their own. And then at the end of the book, I teach you how to talk about the things that are similar, and how to talk about the things that are different. It's such a powerful resource to be able to talk about pleasure like it matters. And that's why the book is so scaffolded, literally, step by step. So by the end of the book, you have a really solid template that you can say to another person, when they ask you, 'What kind of sex do you like?' You'll be like, Ah, let me just get my template! Here it is. I can tell you exactly what I like. Or, this is what I used to like; what I think I might like today is such and such — because of course it's going to change. But you get into the habit of self inquiry, and that's where the nourishment is.
Karen Yates: Yes. And I am so glad such a large part of your book is about somatic inquiry. That's where I come from. So I'm always excited to see the body, of course, as central.
Cyndi Darnell: Yeah, I mean, I don't understand how sex therapy can not be about the body. Even when I was doing my university studies, the absence of the body in sex therapy was just astounding to me. I was like, how can can you omit the body from sex? They're like, sex therapy, how can you omit the body? But they do. They'll catch up.
Karen Yates: Yes, yes. Cyndi Darnell. Thank you so much. Cyndi's book is, "Sex When You Don't Feel Like It: The Truth about Mismatched Libido and Rediscovering Desire." Thanks again.
Cyndi Darnell: You're very welcome.
Karen Yates: For more information on Cyndi Darnell, go to our show notes. To purchase her book, "Sex When You Don't Feel Like It," go to bookshop.org, our affiliate link that supports independent booksellers and Wild & Sublime. That link is in the show notes as well.
Wild & Sublime is supported in part by our Sublime Supporter, Full Color Life Therapy, therapy for all of you at fullcolorlifetherapy.com.
Well, that's it folks. Have a very pleasurable week. Next episode: sex guilt. How does it keep us from pleasure? I'll discuss that with returning guests Brandon Hunter-Haydon and Jera Brown. Thank you for listening. If you know someone who might be interested in this episode, send it to them. Do you like what you heard? Then give us a nice review on your podcast app. You can follow us on social media @wildandsublime and sign up for newsletters at wildandsublime.com. I'd like to thank associate producer Julia Williams and design guru Jean-Francois Gervais. Theme Music by David Ben-Porat. This episode was edited by The Creative Imposter studios. Our media sponsor is Rebellious Magazine, feminist media, at rebelliousmagazine.com.
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- Cyndi Darnell – Sex & relationship therapist, clinical & somatic sexologist
- Buy Sex When You Don’t Feel Like It: The Truth about Mismatched Libido and Rediscovering Desire on Bookshop – support independent booksellers and Wild & Sublime when you buy through our link! Plus many more sex & relationship book recs.
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