As a Sex Therapist and Marriage Counselor, I go through the holiday seasons of twenty or twenty-five patients every year. And whether they’re celebrating Christmas, Chanukah, or some other winter festival, everyone’s frantic about the presents they’re giving or getting. This year is no exception.
A few of my patients do bring me holiday gifts—generally something to eat or drink. Of course, I don’t give my patients any gifts, but if I could, here’s what I’d love to give each of them. I’ve made up the names, but the sentiment for each of them is real.
If you can use one of these gifts, I hope you accept it.
To Pat: The courage to leave a relationship that doesn’t work. Remember—there’s a difference between giving up and knowing when you’ve had enough.
To Ramesh: The eyesight to see yourself as attractive. Beauty may or may not be skin deep, but sense of humor, intelligence, and empathy are deep and gorgeous.
To Seema: Congratulations on giving up drinking. And the nerve to have sex sober. And the courage to say “wait, I need to talk about this for a second” if you do.
To Alix: The words to communicate what you want—and don’t want—in bed. And the realization that nothing is too small to discuss.
To Chang: the skill to keep your agreements—and to say “No I don’t want to” and “No I won’t be able to” when you’re asked to make an agreement you aren’t likely to keep. And the skill to deal with a disappointed partner, if that’s the result.
To Sid: The comfort that comes when you use reliable contraception during intercourse. And the pride that comes from taking adult steps to manage your life.
To Chris: The willingness to undress in front of someone at age 80. Not just a random person, of course, but an erotic partner. Because he or she isn’t expecting you’ll have the body of a 60-year-old, right?
To Binh: The integrity to challenge your current couples therapist, who doesn’t seem to be addressing the issues that matter to you. Remember, it doesn’t matter if she’s a good therapist or not; what matters is if you get value from the therapy. Any good therapist would be glad to talk to you if you’re dissatisfied; if they get defensive or blaming, you need a new therapist.
To Max: The ability to have sex when there’s dishes and laundry to be done. Undone chores don’t actually demand our attention—many of us just choose to focus on them when we have better options. Don’t worry, they’ll be there when you return from sex.
To Maria: The wisdom to understand that infidelity is a choice. It’s not something that happens to you, or that you can’t help, or that circumstances control. “One thing just led to another” isn’t a description, it’s an excuse. An excuse worthy of a ten-year-old.
To Jacob: The willingness to tell a partner you’ve been close to infidelity recently (again), and that this is a clear sign you two have things you need to discuss.
To Masha: The understanding that you can’t stop your mate from being unfaithful—and that it isn’t your job anyway. People don’t cheat because their partner is inadequate, and people don’t cheat a second time because they’re inadequately monitored after the first time.
To Shaz: The realism to know that when you change from a long-distance relationship to living together, sooner or later things get less glamorous—which doesn’t mean you’ve made a mistake.
To Monique: The decision to let go of a years-ago hurt that you and your partner will never agree on—the facts, or what you’d agreed on, or who said what to who. If you do this, you might then be able to have sex without feeling like a doormat, or like you partner “got away with it.”
To Dix: The readiness to let go of a deceased spouse, and accept your current partner. Yes, your new relationship will never feel like the old marriage. Nothing will be quite as familiar, or feel like your life’s destiny. But if you let go of your dead partner just a bit, you might get to have a live one. This could be an improvement over a life of lonliness.
To Mendoza: The ability to feel normal when you reject a drop-dead gorgeous, sexually-skilled partner just because you don’t like the way she treats you. It may help to keep in mind that very little of a sexual relationship is spent actually having sex.
To Abiola: The literacy to recognize that porn isn’t real, and that real sex doesn’t feel like porn looks. The permission to investigate what is available from sex with your current partner and your current body.
To Madison: The relaxation that comes when you know you don’t have to compete with porn images. Most of us don’t try to compete with LeBron James or Scarlett Johansson or Mark Zuckerberg, so why try to compete with the professionals in porn films?
To Cameron: The store-bought lubricant that will make partner sex (and masturbation, by the way) more enjoyable. The self-assurance to say “let’s use lube every time” instead of waiting until you “need” it. And do keep it in the night table rather than in the bathroom. Unless, of course, you generally have sex in the bathroom.
To Panchari: The maturity to take responsibility for your choices and preferences, rather than attributing them to evolutionary biology or “my culture.”
To Jackie: An acceptance that sex doesn’t always include an orgasm, or even an erection. The recognition that what you enjoy in sex may change according to your mood. The knowledge that for adults, enjoyable sex generally requires planning—which is freeing, not a failure. And the truth that starting sex when you’d rather sleep generally leads to disappointing sex.