THE BLOG
08/10/2007 02:04 pm ET Updated Nov 17, 2011

The Mechanics Of Sex

According to Don and Debra MacLeod's Lube Jobs: A Woman's Guide to Great Maintenance Sex, maintaining the sexual spark is akin to the way we maintain a car: we don't get to do the big check-up, so we do small upkeep to keep the engines running.

The car maintenance metaphor is not very inspiring. It lacks poetry. What people want when they complain about the listlessness of their sex lives is to recapture the poetics of sex, the connection, the renewal, the playfulness, the feeling of aliveness, a sense of lifting themselves from the mundane -- not maintenance.

All quick fixes, instructions, are intended to save us from our hectic lives. My experience is that the waning of romance in long-term relationships is less about lack of time, than it is rooted in the paradoxical relationship of domesticity and erotic desire. Self-help books and magazine articles encourage us to view the lack of sex in our relationships as a scheduling issue that demands better prioritizing and time management, or as the consequence of poor communication skills. If the problem is testosterone deficiency, we can get a prescription -- an excellent technical solution. For the sexual malaise that can't be so easily medicalized, remedies abound: books, videos, and sexual accoutrements are there to assist you not only with the basics, but to bring you to unimagined levels of ecstasy.

As a European I have always admired American optimism. It is the opposite of the fatalism and resignation that pervades so many other more traditional cultures, and it expresses a healthy sense of entitlement. But this can-do attitude encourages us to assume that dwindling desire is an operational problem that can be fixed. Such a pragmatic approach typifies how the great country of Manifest Destiny goes about solving problems.

Sexuality is besieged by quantification, which provides the statistics against which we can compare our own relationships to see if we measure up. Newsweek tells us that the experts currently define a sexless marriage as one in which couples have sex ten times a year or less. So should those of us who exceed this number by having sex eleven times in a twelve-month period breathe a sigh of relief?

We've become exceedingly preoccupied with frequency of sexual activity and number of orgasms. How much sex? How intense is the sex? What's the level of performance? The more diffuse and un-crunchable aspects of sexual expression -- love, intimacy, power, surrender, sensuality, and excitement -- rarely make it to the front page. Eroticism has an immeasurable quality of aliveness, and imagination is reduced to a physiological arithmetic.

But while the problem-solving model addresses important aspects of our sexual contretemps, it fails to take on the quixotic and fundamentally existential issues of human eroticism, ones that are far beyond any neat technical fix.