Let’s Map Out Our Sex, Baby

Jul 17, 2013 • Help!, How To

map your desires together

In 2008, I was married and things were on the rocks. When my husband and I had met, we’d had great sex but things had cooled considerably as the demands of life and the boredom of routine set in. Sex is an important part of communicating, a sacred thing that enables two people to take a time out and be with one another in a way that promotes health and good-will and strengthens the pair-bond. I was not going to let it die.

Unfortunately, any conversation about it had a tendency to degenerate into a gory confrontation. I didn’t know how to bring it up without triggering my husband’s fears that he wasn’t “man enough.” Masculinity, like femininity, is a really complex thing that I am still wrapping my mind around, but even then I knew that for him (as for a lot of other people), it was really important to feel secure in the gender with which he identifies.

The moment the conversation takes a turn into the place where people feel unsafe about not being man or woman enough is the place where desire dies. It’s not a fast death, either, but a slow poisoning. Like hydrargyria, the chronic exposure to mercury, the person moves from irritability to anxiety, restlessness, fear, irrational behavior, loss of confidence, depression, lethargy, and numbing before finally succumbing to more serious body dysfunction.

“The first rule of relationships is communication!” books and gurus tell us, but few people really show us how to discuss these things, or what to do when efforts to do so, however well-intended, only serve to trigger a partner’s fear. It doesn’t even matter if it’s a rational fear or not, fear is fear, and fear closes previously open channels.

I don’t know a damn thing about interpersonal communication beyond a class I had to take in journalism school, geared more toward connecting with people to enable a good interview than fostering good relationships, but when I bumped into Franklin Veaux’s Map of the Lands of Human Sexuality, I had an idea.

I downloaded a copy of the map, which lays out an incredible variety of sexual interests over a landmass, and stripped it of color in Photoshop. The next time my husband and I had some downtime, I brought over my laptop and plopped down beside him.

“I found this weird map on the internet full of the craziest sex things imaginable,” I said. “It made me feel like a total virgin.”

“Oh, yeah?” he asked, actually interested. “What kind of stuff is this?”

“Stuff so beyond me I had to Google half the terms,” I said.

He wanted to see it. I showed him the image I had saved in Photoshop.

“I don’t even know what these things mean,” he said.

“I know right?” I opened the browser and input “shibari” so he could see how pretty it was.

“That’s a sex thing?” he asked. “That looks like so much work.”

“I know, right? But so beautiful,” I replied. “Please tell me you’re not into dacrylagnia.”

“I don’t know what that is.”

“I’m guessing that has to do with being turned on by crying,” I looked it up. “Sure enough.”

“No, I’m not. People are into that? People are so weird.”

“What about uniforms?”

He paused, “those can be hot. I like nurses.”

“Really?” I asked. “I didn’t know that.”


“You know what?” I asked, “this is kind of fun. I have an idea. I’m going to print this out, two copies, and we can fill them in together. We’ll use three colors: one for places where we live, one for places we’re interested in visiting, and one for places we never want to set foot on.”

So we Googled and colored like little kids filling in a world map for geography class. And for the first time ever, we were able to talk about sex without having a fight.

Of course, when we were done, we had two maps that, put together, clearly outlined that we neither lived nor had intentions of ever visiting one another. Despite how hard that was, I think it was helpful. This wasn’t so much a matter of not being desirable or “enough” so much as one of having desires that, at least at that moment, did not match. And that’s something.

So I’m going to give you the tools. If you have ever wanted to talk to a partner about your desires but found it difficult, this might be a useful approach. You can download a copy of the black and white map here.

And Franklin? Thanks for saving me thousands in marriage counseling.