On the B train, one hot summer Sunday afternoon. I’m bringing my children and a few of their friends back to Manhattan, after a long day at the beach in Brooklyn.
There’s a young couple standing near the exit door, sharing an ipod headset. Each with an earpiece in one ear — the two of them tethered together by the cords of the headset.
She’s leaning against the wall, sweat-soaked in a T-shirt and shorts. He’s a few inches shorter, wearing sandals, beach clothes, and long hair. His hands are resting lightly on her hips. Her arms are draped over his shoulders.
They seem entirely absorbed in the music, the motion of the subway car, and each other. Their eyes, half-shut, are out-of-focus, dreamy. They’re both wearing goofy, crooked smiles – as if sharing some silly secret. They look as if they might easily miss their stop.
Amidst the noise of the children, and the rocking and bouncing of the subway car, it would be easy for this couple to pass unnoticed. But there is something about them that holds my attention. A certain aura.
It’s sex, of course. Their goofy smiles, their dreamy manner. Definitely sex. They’re fully clothed, standing up and doing nothing obviously improper, but definitely enjoying a long moment of sexual arousal on the trip home from the beach.
Turning away self-consciously, I realize I’m not the only one watching this couple. The young children are oblivious, of course. But all the adults in the car are clearly aware of what’s going on. Everyone is stealing glances at them, transfixed by the same sexual vibration. Their sexual aura is now general throughout the subway car. I fear we will all miss our stops.
As I wrote in an earlier article, the secrets of sexual arousal are hidden in plain sight – and completely obvious once we know to look for them. Sexual arousal, if all goes according to nature’s plan, makes us dumb and happy, absorbed and distracted. We miss our subway stops, and arrive somewhere far uptown wondering what happened to us.
Most of us learn that to succeed in a fast-paced world we need to make all our subway stops. We learn that we don’t really have time for arousal. Many modern couples hurry through sex, without letting themselves get very aroused — then wonder where their sexual magic has gone.
In my sex therapy practice, I teach couples a technique for cultivating arousal even when they don’t have the time or energy for sex. The technique, which in sex therapy circles is called “simmering,” is a foundation technique for preserving a couple’s sexual bond. Good simmering can be nearly as important in this regard as good lovemaking.
What the couple I’ve described on the subway was doing — enjoying arousal for its own sake — is something every couple can do in the morning together, getting ready to leave for work; or while clearing the dishes after dinner. All that’s necessary is to recognize that there’s more to sexual arousal than just sex.
For 21st Century couples in the age of the iPhone, it’s likely to be the simmering that holds us together. In the next blog article, we’ll discuss simmering in more detail.