For over thirty years I’ve lived and worked in Silicon Valley. I’ve literally watched the invention of laptops, smartphones, and social media right down the street. If you use a device or software of any kind, chances are dozens of my patients worked on it at various times. Now they’re creating the next generation of this stuff.
Almost all of these engineers are men. Some of them have sex. Some want to but don’t. Some have questions about it. Some are perfectly content without it.
Of course, engineers are a heterogeneous bunch. But they all have one thing in common: they are professional problem-solvers. Their job is to create routines for the rest of us to follow: click this way, swipe that way, upload now. To organize our lives like that, they create layers and layers of algorithms—sets of rules, procedures, formulas.
That’s what many of them are looking for in sex.
And that’s what they come to see me for—those elusive algorithms. How do you touch a woman so she likes it? What do you say when you lose your erection? How do you know if a woman has climaxed? What should you do if she doesn’t like the way you kiss? When you’re both naked, when is the right time to insert your penis?
Alas, I almost never provide formulas for sexual decision-making. This confuses a lot of new patients: “But you’re the expert,” they say. “Surely you know the answers to such questions, and how these things work, what to say and how to do sex the right way.”
So I explain that memorizing formulas about “sex” or “women” (or “men” for that matter) is the wrong way to go. Some people leave in frustration. The ones who stay get way more than they expected. They learn how to participate in human connection.
I’m afraid that when it comes to sex, most of us are engineers. We want formulas. Instead of understanding ourselves and our partners better, we create and use categories: “women;” “men;” “hard to please woman;” “typical emotionless male;” “nerd;” “sexually damaged;” “you wouldn’t understand;” “lousy kisser;” “too kinky;” and the ultimate categories, “normal” and “not normal.”
For the most part, categories like these prevent closeness and sexual connection. They help us explain to ourselves why we don’t get what we want—but they don’t help us get what we want.
So if I don’t teach my engineers (or anyone else) the answers to questions like “what are reliable ways to know if she’s climaxed” or “how do you know if she wants more kissing” or “how can you tell if she’s using birth control,” what do I say to help them navigate the complexities of human relationships and sexual situations?
Communicate: Ask. Listen. Remember. Answer. Reveal.
Just about every week, someone pays me good money for the life-changing secret code to women, or men, or sex. Here it is for free: you don’t need to know about “women.” You need to know about the unique woman you’re with. And the expert on what she wants, feels, and enjoys, the expert on her various body parts, fluids, and reflexes isn’t me, isn’t a bunch of bloggers, isn’t your uncle or older brother.
It’s her. The answer to practically every sex question that heterosexual men ask me about sex is, Ask Her.
If you’re too embarrassed, Ask Her anyway. If you don’t exactly know what your question is, Ask Her anyway.
If you’re a woman wanting to understand “men,” same answer—don’t try. If you want to understand George, or Jose, or Duong, same answer—Ask Him. For gay men, lesbians, and everybody else—Ask Him, or Her, or Them, or Whomever.
Masturbation is much simpler than partner sex. You know what you like, or what’s good enough. You know when to do it (and when you want to, but can’t). You know when you’re satisfied (or when to stop because you’re not going to be). And if you don’t get excited or satisfied, there’s no one to apologize to (or to fake it with).
Partner sex, however, requires us to show up. What we do with our hands, mouths, and genitalia is important, but it’s overrated. The most important things we do in sex are mental: we do or don’t pay attention, notice the other person, limit our distractibility, communicate our experience moment by moment, whether verbally or non-verbally.
For those activities, there is no formula. We can learn to be more present. But it’s pointless to try to pretend to be present—even if you think someone really wants that from you.
The difficult part of sex isn’t the sexual “function” part—erection, lubrication, orgasm. It isn’t the skill part—the perfect handjob, knowing a dozen ways to kiss. For most people, the difficult part is being present.
That’s something I help engineers—and other human beings—learn and practice every week.
And as soon as possible, we move on to Ask Her. Or Him or Them or Whomever.