Making a Game Out of Sex
There is a lot of crazy advice out there for couples looking to revive or simply spice up their sex lives. The vast majority of it is something that one person found worked for them. These people are often so amazed at their own brilliance in solving their problems that they feel the need to share this brilliance with others (usually in the highly profitable form of an advice book), often assuming that their personal solution is one that will work for everyone. Some of these methods are more stupid than others. While some represent just good common sense that ideally no one would need to read a book for, others often present sexist games that are just as likely to cause tension as to ease it (The law of averages says there must also be some truly inspired ones out there, but I don’t personally know of any). The latest of these folks to generate publicity is one Carolyn Evans who has written a book called Forty Beads which purports to solve s stale sex life with a little game invented by Mrs. Evans to solve her own marital boredom. Unfortunately, like so much advice in this area, the forty beads method rests firmly on assumptions based on outdated stereotypes of men as always wanting sex and women always withholding (not to mention the assumption of heterosexuality and couples who’ve taken marriage vows).
The forty beads method works as follows: the man is given forty beads with which he can signal that he wants sex. The man places the bead in the woman’s bead catcher, and she is required to have sex with him in the next 24 hours. The arbitrary number 40 is somewhat odd, since there is no set time frame in which to use these beads. (The author’s explanation is that the number forty creates a sense of abundance, although it also apparently derives from the fact that she promised her husband forty straight days of sex but found she couldn’t handle that and instead instituted the bead system.) The woman, in turn, is given “nudge cards,” which she can use to…nudge her husband to give her a bead. According to the author the system works to heal all the problems in a relationship because it takes fights about sex off the table and “when the husband drops the bead into the bead-catcher he’s filled with all this love and gratitude and anticipation and he funnels that energy toward his wife.” (She also says there’s a little quantum mechanics involved. Quantum mechanics my ass, BITCH I WILL CUT YOU. Why does my favorite branch of physics always have to get dragged into this loopy bullshit?) I have no doubt that in the particular dynamic of Mrs. Evans marriage, this system accomplished what she was going for -less tension around sex - and there are likely some couples for whom this system could work, but the assumptions behind it make my feminist head hurt.
The whole system is designed around the idea that men are the ones who primarily want sex and even when a woman wants it, the man who should always be the one to initiate. The beads essentially allow a man to demand sex from his wife, and while the 24 grace period does give the woman some control of when the actual act happens, the ultimate idea is that she has to capitulate to her husband’s sexual demands (I’m using the terms husband and wife, by the way, because the author clearly intends her method only for legally recognized couplings). Despite the author’s claims, the “nudge cards,” do not even the playing field, they just emphasize the dynamic in which the man has all the power over sex. It’s like the author made a game out of unhealthy gender dynamics: the man gets to force sex, the woman can only hint at it. I cannot say that there are no couples who could effectively use this method, but I can say the number of healthy couples who could benefit from the bead system is small (and women with higher sex drives than their partner are just shit out of luck). Because truthfully, most healthy couples do not need someone else’s game to communicate about sex (before you start arguing with me on that, please note that I don’t personally consider relationships in which a couple can’t communicate about sex to be perfectly healthy).
Communicating about sex in a healthy way does not necessarily mean sitting down at the breakfast table and hashing out what you’d like your sex life to be like, negotiating terms and scheduling interactions (although it can be). Nor does it necessarily mean hopping on the bed naked and saying “I want you to fuck me seven ways ‘til Sunday.” Many people find it awkward to discuss sex frankly, but most couples have their own personal codes and hints that they know to drop when they want sex. The first time I ever hung out with my current boyfriend we consumed some whiskey, smoked a bit, chatted and then settled down to watch a movie. We did not make it past the credits before our clothes were off and I was shoving a condom at him (I’m a ho. What?). Ever since then, anytime he asks me if I want to watch a movie in his room it really means, “Do you want to have sex while some random film plays in the background.” (I have missed the middle parts of a great number of movies.) Granted, sometimes he’s more direct and just tells me to get undressed, and my personal method of indicating horniness is to get extremely squirmy and handsy, but having a sort of code that we use frequently establishes for us the same anticipation and playfulness that Mrs. Evans was going for in her bead system (it also, like the codes many couples use, reminds us of our first time).
The key is that it’s a personal code, one that has meaning for us because of our past experiences together. The general idea behind the bead system is actually not that terrible. If you and your partner are having sexual issues, making a game out of sex could help you re-establish intimacy. But to be effective that game has to be tailored to your own personal dynamic, not the culturally accepted one for men and women.
Dr. Pisaster has a doctorate in biophysics, not actually anything sexy. She does however enjoy having sex, reading about sex, and talking about sex. Especially when she’s had a little whiskey.
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