Field Trip:  What Five Married Couples Learn on One Powerful Weekend Away With A Renowned Sex Therapist.  By Dish Stanley.

Field Trip: What Five Married Couples Learn on One Powerful Weekend Away With A Renowned Sex Therapist. By Dish Stanley.

. 6 min read

For their 20th wedding anniversary, one couple organized a (pre-COVID) retreat with a leading marital and sex therapist.  In this candid q&a with the woman who organized it, we learn why they went and what they brought back.

Tell Us About Yourself

I am an ICU doctor in the Midwest. My husband is also a doctor (we met in medical school), and we have two children, one in college (MIT, we’re so proud) and one still in high school.  I was raised in Mexico and my husband is from Vietnam.  On top of the joys and difficulties every other long-term married couple experiences, we’ve also combined cultures. We’ve been together for 26 festive years.

Why’d Your Organize This Trip?

I am a medical doctor by training and practice and I see wellness in a holistic way, including emotional, relational, and sexual wellness.  To be healthy encompasses all those areas.  It was our 20th wedding anniversary and my husband and I wanted to honor and celebrate that — but also to connect in new ways.  I am not saying “reconnect” because that’s not the right description; we wanted (and want) to continue to connect, to grow in new ways.  A sort of commitment to relational wellness and continual learning, really.

Tell Us About the Couples Who Went

First off, both my husband and I were raised in what I would describe as fairly conservative cultures.  All five of the couples on the journey live in the Midwest.  All are hetero-normative, monogamous, long-term couples — in the scheme of things we are a fairly traditional group.  This wasn’t organized for couples in distress.  It was a wellness trip.  It was about discovery and growth.  I would say that the common driver — or descriptor — is that we are all committed to personal growth.  And to our marriages.

And How’d You Pick the Sex Therapist?

I did quite a lot of research before reaching out to Dr. Jess, a sex and relationship expert based in Toronto.  I saw that she had experience leading couples’ workshops on sexual wellness, and had done a lot with people in midlife and longer-term relationships and she had terrific reviews.  She was absolutely excellent.

Walk Us Through the Broad Itinerary

Day 1:  We were all in one room together.  First off, Dr. Jess established the ground rules around privacy and sharing that made everyone feel that it was a “safe place,” which was critical.  She did a sort of overview of why people are attracted to each other - this sort of initial “primal attraction” that draws us to someone, and what happens to that over time.  She made a lot of suggestions about daily thoughtfulness and also about how to introduce excitement.

Day 2:  Dr. Jess spoke to the women and men in separate groups.  She asked us to share freely about “the things that bother you” about your spouse and boy, did we!  For each group, though, she also presented us with general thoughts about what our partners are often (or likely) thinking and feeling — which were eye-opening but felt fair — and suggested ways we could help our partners to feel more loved and supported.

Day 3: During the 2nd day we discussed the role sex plays in a romantic bond, the significance of showing love through touch and passion, of giving and receiving.  The need for long-term relationships to change things up, keep things exciting.  Dr. Jess is a big proponent of sex toys and products, and she really “normalized” this as something fun to do.  

In the evening Dr. Jess also talked to us about how to talk about sex with our kids.  Everyone loved that as well.  It is shocking how much porn our kids are exposed to, and she suggested ways that we could help our children to separate that from sex IRL — the unhealthiness of confusing fantasy with how we actually make love.

On the last day, Dr. Jess asked us to each write a specific kind of love letter to our partners.  I cried when I read mine — I think everyone did.  It is so beautiful and so specific, only my husband could have written it and only for me.  I keep it by my bed.  I’ve re-read it many times.  If there were a fire in my house and I could save only one item it would be this love letter from my husband.  Can you imagine, after 26 years together, getting a love letter that powerful?  And it wasn’t just me, we all felt like that.

What Were the Most Important Things You Learned?

There was so much, really, but I’d say the things that really stayed with me (and us), are:

  • Initiating sex.  This is probably the most important thing.  We learned that it is super important that both partners initiate sex.  Partners fall into patterns where just one initiates and we learned how unfair that is to the one initiating because if you think about it they are repeatedly making themselves vulnerable and risking rejection.  Everyone needs to feel wanted by their partner.
  • Using sex toys!  And just generally changing things up (even things as simple as doing it in a different place).
  • Doing something thoughtful for your partner every single day.  And just as important - recognizing and expressing gratitude for the thoughtful things your partner does for you.  So often we don’t notice and appreciate the daily acts of love and that can result in feeling invisible, neglected, bitter.
  • For me personally, some specific blow job techniques.  My husband picked up some techniques too :-).

Have You Seen A Difference Since the Retreat?

We’ve seen such a difference in our closeness and happiness since the retreat, oh my god.  And we were happy before.  But not just us.  Every single couple thanked me for organizing it and said that it was the most powerful experience for them as a couple.  We are in touch and really, unanimously, all of the couples who attended this sex & love retreat with Dr. Jess believe our marriages are so much more joyful and intimate after the weekend.  It took place in February of 2021, it goes without saying that the timing could not have been better in terms of teeing us up for a healthier (all the way around) COVID winter.

Also - You Mentioned A Sex Toy Kerfuffle?

We were going on a trip and traveling initially with our kids (before some separate time alone).  So I packed our newly purchased sex toys up in my bag and checked it.  We were sitting at the gate as a family when my name came over the speakers in a commanding voice - “Go to the Gate desk to check-in” it said (to me).  I looked at my husband. Frozen.  Mortified.  I knew.  He knew.  They’d found our sex toys in my luggage and they were going to - I don’t know - kick us off the plane after a grand public inquiry in front of everyone (including our kids).  We were sure.  I nervously offered myself up for the inevitable shaming and, of course, the gate attendant only wanted to confirm my passport.  In retrospect, it was obviously really a look at the inside of the brain of two people who had been raised fairly traditionally in conservative cultures, and we’ve gotten a lot more comfortable.  In its own way, though, the “sex toy scandal that wasn’t” created an intimacy from the excitement and secret joke.  We’ve laughed over it repeatedly.  So in an unexpected way, it was a fun thrill that reinforced our closeness.

The Crush Letter
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