Well, forgive me for sensationalizing the heading. A more accurate, but less captivating title, might read: what can Cameron Diaz and Jason Segal teach us about marriage, and in particular about sex and marriage? And to be more accurate, since I don’t know either Cameron or Jason, what can their characters, Jay and Annie, in the new movie Sex Tape, teach us about the challenges of maintaining a passionate sexual connection in the midst of hectic, modern family life?

Jay and Annie have been married for ten years and have two kids. We see the couple meeting in the beginning of the movie, “lust” at first sight. They “love making love” to eachother and are quite good at it. Not surprisingly, they marry but once their children arrive, their once red-hot sex life dwindles, falling victim to a toxic brew of stress, fatigue and ennui. In an effort to spice things up, Annie suggests they make a live sex tape using the classic book the Joy of Sex to re-create dozens of sexual positions. Guess what? It works…the novelty of the situation re-awakens their passion…they get it on for three hours and fall asleep, sated, on the living room floor (mercifully, their kids are having an overnight at Grandma’s). But of course the plot thickens. Jay chooses not to erase the tape, as he had promised Annie, and by accident it gets uploaded to the “cloud”. What ensues is a frantic effort to destroy the tape before their loved ones (and the mailman) discover it on their I Pads.

The film has received mostly negative reviews but it showcases a serious problem that I routinely see in my clinical practice of couple therapy. Familiarity, and the demands of raising a family, often lead to the death of romantic passion. Some couples resign themselves to this fate while others seek out sexual affairs in which the novelty and illicitness of the situation make for great chemistry . Obviously, neither is a solution to the problem and both can lead to divorce.

So what can partners in long term committed relationships do to jumpstart their physical intimacy? Certainly, finding ways to introduce novelty into the bedroom helps. Cameron Diaz’ character was courageous and spot-on in suggesting that she and Jay try something completely out of the box. And to Jay’s credit, he goes along, sheepishly at first but then eagerly. In fact, there are many excellent techniques to re-ignite passion in the  bedroom. Such strategies include role playing, using sexual aids, visiting a sex store, buying cards which you pick at random to suggest a new sexual adventure, reading books like the Guide to Getting It On (by Paul Gianides) and mixing up positions and locations (an overnight at a hotel often works like a charm to get rid of  inhibitions). But these solutions may themselves become familiar (and expensive) over time leaving the couple in the same dilemma.

It is here that Sex Tape makes a very important point. In their frenzied (and at times dangerous) quest to recover the sex tape, Jay and Annie re-discover what they loved about eachother in the first place…his devotion to her, her kindness and generosity. In addition, they have the unifying experience of being on the same team, united by the same goal of protecting the life they had built together. They emerge with a renewed emotional connection and deepened bond from which sensual passion can be reborn.

The take-away is that what may be missing in the lives of busy, modern day couples who stop having sex may not be the absence of  novelty as much as the dwindling of connection.

So, I repeat my earlier question: what is a couple to do? Here are some ideas for how committed couples in long term unions can regain connection:

  • Speak your partner’s love language (see Chapman’s excellent book entitled the Five Love Languages)
  • Go to bed at the same time every night
  • As marital researcher/educator John Gottman says, do small things often i.e. a hug, a compliment, a remembrance
  •  Share in your partner’s successes and show support when he/she fails
  • Make each other laugh
  • Spend unstructured time together
  • Accept your partner’s shortcomings

Please be sure to let me know your thoughts on this topic and any new movies you would recommend for future blogs. Thanks and happy viewing!