The Swell’s Sex Symposium

The Swell’s Sex Symposium

. 6 min read

Dish recently attended The Sexual Wellness Symposium in New York City hosted by The Swell*, Dr. Emily Morse and Dr. Kelly Casperson. The day provided an abundance of information on all aspects of sexual health and wellness. The day was primarily for women “of menopausal age” and, as with menopause itself, it turns out that there’s a lot that the experts are still learning about sex as we age. In this series Dish shares with CRUSH Readers the most important things she learned.

Dish's Hot Thots.

I Went To The Swell’s Sex Symposium And Now I Know Why Sex Matters.

I went to The Sexual Wellness Symposium hosted by The Swell, Dr. Emily Morse (@sexwithemily), and Dr. Kelly Casperson (@kellycaspersonmd) last week. I went to The Sexual Wellness Symposium hosted by The Swell, Dr. Emily Morse (@sexwithemily), and Dr. Kelly Casperson (@kellycaspersonmd) last week. The Symposium was primarily organized for women “of menopausal age” and, as with menopause itself, it turns out that there’s a lot that the experts are still learning about sex as we age.

Why did I go? (Not to improve my dating life! Though I know what you’re thinking, CRUSH Readers: it can’t hurt, right? And, man, I’ll take any help I can get.) I went because, as Dr. Casperson says, “Sexual health IS health.“ And here’s why (she says) it makes sense to be thoughtful about it:

Improving your sex life is about becoming better at every aspect of your life that truly matters:

  • Being a better communicator
  • Building emotional intimacy
  • Knowing yourself & what you truly need, and crave
  • Deeply knowing your partner (their needs, and what they crave)
  • Taking your health & wellness seriously (because good sex

A high point of the Sex Symposium was listening to Emily Nagoski, Ph.D. In 2015 she wrote “Come As You Are,” a book about the science of sex, which created a little earthquake in the world of sex books. One of the big ideas that she popularized was the concept of “responsive desire,” to be understood in contrast with spontaneous desire. Spontaneous desire is a drive that kaboom! is always humming and ready to shift into fifth gear based on the slightest whiff. That kaboom! drive was the predominant narrative at the time, but it’s not how it happens for a lot of people, including most women and a lot of people over 50. Responsive desire emerges in response to sexy things happening to you – touching, etc. — you get aroused and into a sexual state as the sexy stuff actually starts. Nagoski wanted us all to know that responsive desire is normal. It’s not low libido, it’s not an ailment, it doesn’t need to be fixed. We all just need to understand that we might not be into sex the moment our partner decides to initiate sex, but that we might get into it along the way.

In 2024 Nagoski published Come Together, and I predict it’s going to be another blockbuster. It‘s focused on how to create and sustain a long-term sex life in partnerships. She spoke at the Sexual Wellness Symposium, where I got an advanced copy of her new book. She is, yet again, debunking myths on sex. Nagoski said that in her research so many people kept asking how to “keep the spark alive.“ “Fuck the spark,” Nagoski said. “In long-term relationships, it’s not about spark."

Come Together: The Science (and Art!) of Creating Lasting Sexual Connections - Nagoski, Emily
Book link here

According to Nagoski, these are the three characteristics of partnerships that sustain a strong sexual connection:

  1. They are friends. They like each other. Admire each other. Trust each other. (What is trust? It is the answer “yes” to the questions: Are you there for me? Are you emotionally responsive and emotionally engaged with me?)
  2. They prioritize sex. They decide that it matters to their relationship that they have sex. They decide that - instead of doing ALL THE OTHER THINGS they could be doing, or have to do, like getting the car washed, reading texts, scanning social media, watching the end of the US Open etc., etc., etc., instead of doing any of those things, they cordon off time, space and energy to do this one thing regularly. Focus on each other, give and receive pleasure to and from each other. Because they understand that in the long run their relationship is one of the most important things in the world to them, and intimacy is a powerful glue (for many, perhaps the most powerful glue) to staying emotionally close.
  3. They reject all of the cultural scripts and other people’s opinions on what they are supposed to be as a couple … all the rules that they were raised with about how to have sex, who should be doing what to whom. All the toxic family patterns. Their past romantic patterns. They ask: do we want that rule to be true in *our* relationship? Over time, together, they become vulnerable and share what they really want to receive and to give. They explore.

It strikes me that it is not a coincidence that the three characteristics of a good, sustained sex life are the characteristics of a good, sustained relationship. As I consider the second characteristic and look back at my best relationships, it is pretty easy to identify in each partnership when I was with somebody for whom his romantic partnership was a priority and organizing principle, and those for whom our relationship was ancillary to a list of other priorities, something that was taken for granted.

In Come Together, Nagoski writes that in response to her surveys, the answers to the question “What do you want when you want sex with your partner?” inevitably come down to “The Big Four:” feeling connected to your partner; shared pleasure, i.e., the intense feelings of witnessing/contributing to our partner’s pleasure, experiencing our partner’s enjoyment of our pleasure; being wanted by our partner; feeling fully immersed (in sex), i.e., as an escape from the ordinary world into an erotic world with our partner. I think it is important to remind ourselves what we really need — and what our partners are really asking for — when they want sex. That perspective, the “he is asking to feel connected to me” or “to be wanted,” it seems to me, provides an accurate accounting of what is really at stake when we suggest to our partners that we’re in the mood, or vice versa.

And by the way, if you ever have a chance to hear Nagoski live, do. She is hysterical.

*About The Swell. It’s a community and educational platform for women over 40. In addition to the recent The Sex Symposium, I attended the Menopause Symposium it hosted last fall, which I wrote about in {Vanessa add name and link to my menopause story} (in short, it was a lightning bolt of critical information). The Swell was founded by Alisa Volkman, a serial entrepreneur whose past companies have been focused in the digital media space. When I spoke with Alisa at dinner after The Sex Symposium, she told me that The Swell will be rolling out more gatherings, more symposia and more opportunities for learning and making connections in more locations over the next 12 months. What I loved most about attending the Meno and Sex symposia that The Swell put on, besides the seriously informative enlightenment about topics that matter a lot to women at this stage, was the warmth of the crowd. And the fact that it felt thrilling to be surrounded by hundreds of women who are, quite literally, with their energy, confidence and style, rebranding what it means to be a woman over 40. You can learn more about The Swell on its site here. And in this article from the New York Times Welcome to the Menopause Gold Rush.

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