Finding the Doorbell


Chapter Excerpt

Obstacles to a Healthy Sex Life

by Cindy Pierce

When kids ask, "Why is that book called Finding the Doorbell?" adults squirm. It also allows an opportunity to articulate the deeper meaning of the title to those kids and their cringing parents. Finding the Doorbell — in this book and in my one-woman show of the same name — represents the actual sexual awakening of finding and "ringing" the clitoris, an event that occurred for me relatively late in life, in a college library bathroom stall by myself and by mistake. In a broader sense — and this is what you can tell your kids when they see the book on your bedside table — Finding the Doorbell is a figurative process. It represents your power to find happiness by adapting and evolving as you move through the transitional doors in your life.

A collision of factors led to my career in openly talking about sex on stage and in this book. My parents certainly didn't bring sex up around the dinner table during my childhood, but as the youngest of seven children in a country inn, I was surrounded not only by weekend guests and their adult conversations, but also by my unofficial Wise Women Panel of sisters and sisters-in-law. Their banter included graphic advice and discussions about sex, contraception, birth, and the endless trials and celebrations of the female body. They always found humor in what was potentially shameful, converted sexual mishaps into lessons and laughter, and by their example I learned to do the same.

Growing up a tomboy I had a sort of dual gender citizenship, where my guy friends allowed me full access to the male side of life. I served as a liaison between my boy and girl friends. The guys revealed to me that giving orgasms to girls seemed to be a bit of a crapshoot. When I finally did discover my "doorbell," I embarked on my mission of encouraging women toward self-discovery while urging men to get comfortable asking for guidance in complicated territory. My task, as I have learned through the years, is endless, because most adults of all ages and levels of sexual experience are desperate for information and guidance. Hence, the show.

The book concept arose during a 5:30 a.m. run with Edie the morning after a performance/Q+A I had done for 30 fraternity brothers and football teammates from Dartmouth College. After I recapped the event to Edie I noted that the questions and concerns of 22-year-old guys were the same that we were hearing from men our own age and older. Edie had one response: "It's time for a book!"

As we embarked on our research, every woman and man to whom we mentioned the book was brimming with stories, perspective, and ideas to contribute. We assured people their contributions would be anonymous, and they are. However, we were surprised that most of them were unconcerned about anonymity and were actually relieved to unburden themselves of unspoken anxieties — it made them feel "normal" about their sex lives.

How does one get to adulthood and marriage and still need advice about sex?

No matter what examples we grew up with, many of us harbor the hope that "happily ever after" is a mythical, foregone conclusion to every love story, and that our one-and-only soulmate will magically escort us down the path through a storybook life. In reality the path is not well-maintained, and each couple must bushwhack its own trail through the oft-traveled yet vexing territory of long-term commitment. "In good times and bad, in sickness and in health" includes birth, parenting, financial issues, in-laws, housekeeping, career stress, and emotional disconnections, as well as changing bodies and sex drives. An endless parade of victories, setbacks, and challenges await the blissful couple that embarks on a life together. Sex — a big part of what got us together in the first place — would seem to be the easy part.

Sadly, sex tends to get overwhelmed by the to-do list, especially as we start a family. The reasons for this are endless, often complicated, and nearly always hard to discuss. Consequently, for many couples, what was once obstacles to a healthy sex life the passion of the relationship becomes its bane. I once heard that when sex is good it takes up 10 percent of the relationship but when it's not good it takes up 90 percent of it. This supports our belief that sex can be a pillar of the relationship without being its central focus, and should never be an obstacle to connecting.

We started our research for the book by emailing friends, who emailed their friends and so on until our network of men and women of all ages spread virally and grew exponentially. We read up on the latest sex research, as well as the groundbreaking historical studies. We interviewed college students, middle-aged couples, and senior citizens about their experiences, what they knew, what they wished they had known, and what they hoped to learn. As our barriers to asking dropped, we got contributions at the grocery store, the post office, the bank, the soccer field — wherever adults gathered. The overwhelming responses from men and women of all ages affirmed that people are universally relieved when they can talk about sex, so we let them.

This book limits its focus to men and women in monogamous, long-term heterosexual relationships, because that is the relationship realm we know. We see our ongoing desire to maintain the health, quality, and balance of our relationships with our partners as a worthy challege, echoed by most people we read about, see on TV, hear on talk shows, and interact with in our daily lives. If there are some topics that keep coming up, it is because we firmly adhere to the "skillet-to-the-head" theory of learning. Labrador owners and many parents are familiar with this technique, involving the sometimes forceful reminders of key concepts.

This first section in this book is all about obstacles to a healthy sex life — how they got there and why we need to get by them. Most of us enter adulthood with a sexual understanding that is uniquely incomplete. What is good sex? Who are good lovers and why? What makes a relationship "real" or "good?" Without answers to these questions we fill in the gaps with false assumptions that influence our expectations about sex and, most importantly, the lens through which we see ourselves and our partners.

Whether you are looking for ways to increase your odds for sex on any given day or to quench your thirst after months in the sex desert, ideas about how to keep married sex fresh or guide your partner to your hot spots, tips on how to reestablish balance in your relationship or how to give a proper handjob, you will find ideas in this book from many people who are, or have been, in the same boat. This is our panel of wise men and women, and now it is yours.