April 7, 2014
Today I'm re-releasing another of my favorite episodes from last year: the show on professional women and sex. It was thanks to the Books and Authors podcast that I came across the frank and funny Evelyn Resh. Evelyn is a sexuality counselor and nurse-midwife who last year brought out a book called Women, Sex, Power and Pleasure. Before reading it, I'd never imagined I would produce a show where the topics of sex and professional women overlapped. They didn't seem a natural fit, unless I was going to do a segment on sex workers. But then I talked to Evelyn. This show is an edited version of our conversation. It turns out there's a lot to discuss. You can read more about this episode in the original post for the show.
SHOW TRANSCRIPT (edited version):
Welcome to The Broad Experience, the show about women, the workplace and success. I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte.
This week, a bit of a departure from the usual topics. We’re going to talk about sex and relationships. If you’re wondering about the connection with the workplace, stay tuned…
“People come in and they’ve gone for months without being sexually engaged, all in the name of you don’t understand, I have to answer emails when I come home from work, this is critically important, and the kids need me, and then I have a brief to get ready and I have to leave in the morning by five because I have an important meeting at seven.”
Evelyn Resh is a midwife, sexuality counselor and the author of a recent book called Women, Sex, Power & Pleasure. She practices in Massachusetts. I found out about her through a podcast called BookTalk Radio [now Books and Authors] and quickly went out to buy the book. Lately, as I told her when we met, I’ve been reading a lot of articles about incredibly busy successful people - being a curious sort, these pieces often make me wonder about their love lives.
“The interesting thing about reading all of this content about how people utilize their time and women’s successes in the workplace is that those successful women never really talk about the state of their marriages, the state of the their sexual lives. We never see that incorporated as content in those articles. So…
AM-T: And we’re not likely to either.
And we’re not likely to…and people who interview these women are not going to ask those questions. We’re very afraid of talking about that because chances are the person who’s interviewing them, the successful woman that’s interviewing them, is living as sexless of a life as the woman she’s interviewing.”
Evelyn says many women are so enamored with their professional lives they’re putting their relationships, including sex, on the back burner. She says a lack of intimacy is a huge contributor to the breakdown of marriages. And when a marriage or relationship fails, in most cases women and children are worse off economically than they were previously.
A lot of female clients tell her they love their partners and are still attracted to them, but between all their obligations at work and home, they have no desire for physical intimacy…
“But they can’t make the connection between the busyness they impose on themselves, often, related to their work and the fallout it’s having on their marriages. And they feel 150% responsible for assuming all of those tasks related to their work. Not questioning it…so the hierarchy that ends up being established is, at the top of the rung is work, then it’s children, then it’s friends and family, and then at the very bottom of the ladder is their relationship with their partner.
AM-T: Are we mainly talking about women, 30s, 40s, 50s with families? I’m just curious if this is really usually always people with the kids…because obviously that is an enormous part of your life and a huge time suck.
“No, it’s interesting. While some people have read my book and said this doesn’t apply to me because I’m not a mid-life person and I don’t have children, it actually applies to all women that I see who have made an effort to advance their careers and who are dedicated to their work, because there is absolutely no emphasis culturally on pleasurable living - pleasurable living only comes in when people take holiday.”
And for Evelyn this is key to the problem as she sees it – the fact that most of our day-to-day lives are so rushed and un-sensual, and we only allow ourselves to unwind on vacation. We’ll come back to pleasure in a minute. But also, she says, the women she sees don’t factor a partner’s needs into their packed days…
“Women seem to have developed two primary arterial routes by which they feed their sense of self – have I had a good enough food and exercise day? And what have I done for other people, slash, as a worker, as a professional?
Part of that ‘what have I done for other people’ question concerns a woman’s children…
“…and what I see women doing over and over again is entirely too much for their children and their children aren’t doing enough for themselves. There is an extraordinary amount of infantilizing that professional women will do on behalf of their children and the concept of good mothering, excellent mothering, they’re not letting children grow up and be as independent as they should be along their developmental lifestyle.”
Evelyn trained her daughter to do her own laundry at the age of 10. She believes women with busy jobs who are in relationships have to make some adjustments. First, she’s a big advocate of getting spouses and children to do more at home – but she says women can’t impose what she calls our ‘cult of perfection’ on them if those home-related tasks aren’t done our way.
But her biggest piece of advice for women who want to maintain a relationship that’s fraying because of a lack of sex, is to make a conscious effort to embroider pleasure into their lives. Say you really enjoy coffee. Evelyn says to get the most pleasure out of that experience you need to sit down in the morning savoring that cup of coffee…without multitasking. She says American culture is so fast, so efficiency-oriented, that unlike many other cultures it doesn’t give pleasure a look-in… She tells clients to make a list of things they enjoy – anything from a pedicure to reading a novel – and make sure they do something from that list each day so they can keep in touch with the concept of pleasure in its entirety…
“Because my contention is if you truly enjoy that cup of coffee in the morning, that the leap into having wonderful sexual intimacy will not be so complicated and difficult. What happens is if you start with coffee in the morning, while you’re driving, in a paper cup, and you’re texting and driving, or you’re having a conference call in your car, you don’t even realize you’ve had the coffee at all. And then expecting people to be able to move into a place of such depth of pleasure as sexuality is like asking them to take a rocket ship to another galaxy. They are so estranged from pleasure in its entirety, in its simplest forms. Because sex is not that complicated. But people have to lend themselves to it in the first place, and they don’t when they are very estranged from pleasure.”
But she says many clients resist making these adjustments because they’re so accustomed to a non-stop pace. She believes they do so at their peril.
“You know, women will say to me, but the work world has changed so much, you don’t understand, my boss demands that I do X, Y and Z. And I say well, perhaps the demand is coming from your willingness to meet it. And I do see this, I do see people succumbing and saying OK, yeah, of course, I’ll have this, or I’ll do this. I actually don’t think that the demand is as great. I think part of what is happening is that in order to feed that arterial route of have I done enough to be worthy of an indulgence or a reward, which is how women see pleasure, as an indulgence or a reward, they’re agreeing to doing more and more and more, for their children, for their bosses. Somebody’s got to get less, and the person who gets less is their mate. That’s who gets less. Pleasure is medicinal, it’s not an indulgence or just a reward. It is medicinal. It is something we must do. It has an impact on the vagal nerve, it has an impact on our blood pressure and our mood, and all of these foster health.”
Evelyn Resh. Her book is Women, Sex, Power and Pleasure.
That’s The Broad Experience for this time. You can comment on this episode at TheBroadExperience.com or on the show’s Facebook page.
I’m Ashley Milne-Tyte. Thanks for listening.