Does monogamy have to equal monotony? Sex and relationship therapist Dr. Megan Fleming says no way!
This Girl Boner Radio episode celebrates some of Dr. Megan’s most popular and beloved advice, including ways to turn up the heat in a monogamous relationship and signs it may be time for those efforts.
Stream the episode on Apple Podcasts/iTunes, iHeartRadio, Spotify or below! Or read on for a lightly edited transcript.
“Hot Monogamy with Dr. Megan Fleming”
a lightly edited Girl Boner Radio transcript
[Upbeat intro music and this voiceover: What would it take to arouse your life? To experience more pleasure, more connection, more realness, in and outside of the bedroom? I’m August McLaughlin, and this is Girl Boner Radio…]
My passion and inspiration is to be the happiest couple… I really do hope that we inspire other couples. I think so often couples get stuck because the nature of relationship in some ways is rupture and repair. And most of us don’t know how to do repair or certainly weren’t modeled that and so we end up tripping over our wounded parts versus really doing the work to help each other heal those wounded parts.
I’m sure I don’t need to tell you that that was the voice of Dr. Megan Fleming. She shared that after I told her how moving I find her relationship with her husband, Dave.
As you may recall, Megan is a New York City sex and relationship therapist with nearly two decades of experience. She has shared her expert insight here regularly for us all for the past six years – fielding listener questions and sharing her passions for pleasure and connection.
And she really does “walks the walk.” I have met Dave, and seeing the two of them together, the spark between them is unmissable. I remember I was about to be introduced to him, he walked into the room and before looking at me–the new person in the room–his eyes beelined to Megan’s. And not in an “oh hey” kind of way. They’ve been married for 21 years, and their doorman jokes that they act like punch-drunk teenagers in love.
One of Megan’s missions is for the two of them to be the happiest couple she knows—not be better than anyone else, but to provide a needed role model and, of course, enjoy the heck out of what they share.
Megan works with people of all relationship styles, but she specializes in helping people create hot monogamy—the very thing she and Dave have worked hard to cultivate and maintain. She will be the first to tell you that all relationships take work, and that “‘work’ is not a dirty word.”
So as we shift away from her weekly listener segments to her monthly Pleasure Picks only, it seemed like the perfect time to explore that personal and professional passion of hers: hot monogamy. [encouraging, acoustic music]
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[upbeat, acoustic music]
So, monogamy. Before we get to ways to turn up the heat in a monogamous relationship, including some tips that can benefit folks in most any relationship style, I think it’s important to consider how you define it. There’s no universal definition, especially not these days.
Here’s what Google told me:
“the practice of or state of being married to one person at a time; the state of having one sexual relationship; the habit of having one mate at a time; common among birds.” [birds chirping]
Once you’ve determined your own style of monogamy, you can explore ways to maximize it. As we explore hot monogamy today, we’ll guide with Dr. Megan’s definition:
From my perspective, it’s a committed relationship where you are in a relationship with one person, unlike, you know, consensual non-monogamy or opening up a relationship or polyamory.
She said it’s that sense of commitment to one person, and includes sexual exclusivity. When I first reached out to Megan, asking if she’d like to explore this topic she very enthusiastically replied, “YES.”
Hot monogamy… Why is that term important?
I think it’s so important because I think, unfortunately, especially now, culturally, we generally assume that monogamy equals monotony.
And it’s to recognize, though, in fact, you know, there’s studies looking at couples who have been in relationship over decades. Their brains can still light up and have that sense of chemistry and passion.
I think so often we hear about the romantic phase ending. And it’s meant to end in romantic love. And then we don’t recognize that there really is the ability and capacity to keep passion in a long term committed relationship.
And in my mind it’s like, since you know it’s possible, you know, we certainly don’t want to settle for anything less.
Some of the research she mentioned spans decades. In 2005, biological anthropologist Helen Fisher and her team performed MRI scans on couples who had been married 21 years, on average, and found the same intensity of activity in dopamine-rich brain areas as they found in the brains of couples who had only recently fallen in love.
So why does monogamy still often get a bad rap? So many jokes about marriage, for example, are really negative.
Right, like the ball and chain.
I think it predominantly has to do, as you’re saying, we don’t really have good role models for relationship much less hot monogamy. I sort of also call it foreclosure of imagination. You know, relationships, if you’re doing them right, are work. Work isn’t a dirty word any more than sex is. It’s like the things we put effort into are things we can count on.
And I think relationships and sex, in particular, also, is about skills. And so, I think it does take that sense of curiosity and commitment to create a relationship where you can have hot monogamy.
That heat can be sexual or not. But if you’re starting to feel more like roommates with your partner in daily life, there’s a good chance those feelings are seeping into the bedroom as well. The good news is, revving things up sexually can have a spicy ripple effect in the rest of your life.
One sign that it’s time to turn up the heat sexually, Megan said, is if you’re starting to feel like you’re stuck in a rut—like every time you have sex, it feels basically the same. That’s all good, she added, if it feels like sex worth having. Even then, though, trying something new on occasion can go far.
You may have your favorite positions, and it’s sort of like your vanilla or chocolate ice cream. But what about your Rocky Road and the recognition of expanding the menu?
I want everybody to have a Greek diner menu when it comes to their sexuality so that there’s always things to choose from. And so I think when you’re feeling limited or bored or things feel mechanical, and you really feel like the quality isn’t there, it’s absolutely time to turn up the heat.
If you’re thinking, hmm…that sounds like me, it could be easy to leap to “what wild thing should you try together, stat?” But according to Megan, that’s not necessarily the best first step.
Well, I think it starts with ourselves, right? That’s why I’m such a huge fan and proponent of keeping on your inner sexy pilot light.
So often, we’re talking about turning yourself on for sex versus what I would say is living a turned on life. And it’s that idea of we’re always simmering, right? We’re always sort of igniting that fun, playful, sexual energy, sensual energy, so that we really are living and feeling that sense of aliveness.
Dr. Megan talks about keeping your inner sexy pilot light on, monogamy not equalling monotony and ‘work’ not being a dirty word so often that her friends have come to call such phrases “Megan-isms.”
One of my friends actually said to me not long ago, “Well, you know what Dr. Megan would say!” Her wisdom is nothing if not practical.
Another “Megan-ism” I’ve personally appreciated and that felt relevant here is this: “The grass is greener where you water it.”
1,000%! Again, our culture has this idea that the grass is greener on the other side. It’s because there’s this idea that somehow something is better over there. And the reality is, if you’re thinking about the grass, the grass is literally going to be greener where you water it.
And I think that most people in committed relationships, we tend to seek the security and stability but then we tend to take our partners for granted, like they’re always going to be there. And in some ways, it’s great to be home and relaxed that we can let it all hang out, right? And always be wearing sweat pants and not always be a little bit buttoned up. But to have a little bit of the mystery and a sense of the unexpected [helps]. So I think it’s really important that as a relationship goes, you’re nurturing it,
If you think about a garden or watering the grass, for every couple it’s different in terms of what are the things that they enjoy to do, both together as well as separately, so that they’re always coming to the relationship feeling sort of restored, coming to a relationship feeling like your cup is full, versus like running on empty. Because I feel like so many couples, they’re running on empty, and by the time they get home, the partner is really just getting the breadcrumbs.
Watering your own grass, is one thing. Bringing it up is another.
So many questions Megan has fielded involve talking about something sex- or intimacy- related with a partner. For many of us, doing so can feel daunting for many reasons, from cultural taboos to not having learned the best ways to communicate. These conversations—which are usually a series of conversations—don’t have to be so intimidating.
Listen, sex is ubiquitous. We can find it everywhere, in porn, on the internet. The reality is, most couples are not having frank, honest conversations about their sex lives and their turn ons and fantasies and what they’d like to explore.
And so, if somebody’s feeling hesitant sometimes to bring something up, I often recommend saying, “Oh, I heard it on Girl Boner,” or “I read it in Cosmo or Men’s Health.”
And then what is the thing that you feel like you want to put out there? So it could be a new sexual position, it could be a new sex toy. It could be even a conversation about turn ons.
And the impetus for the conversation is you just read it and you got really excited about it—so you’re really thrilled to be sharing it with your partner. And it feels a little bit safer, because you’re not just coming from the I, right? This is just solely coming from me.
It’s something external to you that you saw that spoke to you. Chances are, that’s true anyway, right? If not, do some research so you can speak honestly. Plus, you might get some fun ideas.
That approach is so much better than, “Why don’t we ever ____?” or “I’ve been wishing you would do __ or ___ for years.” Which, of course, sounds negative and complain-y.
And heavy! And I think this is such an important piece is that when it comes to sexual communication and being human beings. It’s not uncommon that people speak from a place of frustration or disappointment versus what we sort of say is the wish and the longing.
So it’s like, “and when you touch me there and in this way, it really helps me to feel…” and fill in those blanks. I think we can excite and motivate our partner, based on how we bring information, and what we’re saying we want to explore and how we want to feel.
I love how she put that: “the wish and the longing.” Who doesn’t want to hear such things from a partner?
We’ve also heard from listeners who want to spice things up, but feel lost about the specifics. They don’t have a particular fantasy; just a–oh hey, a longing–for that proverbial “something more.”
You know, my expression is we know what we know and we don’t know what we don’t know.
I sort of believe that monogamy and relationships are like the safety net that allows you to take risks and try new things, kind of going into it excite-terrified, because you can feel two things at the same time.
And so when you’re looking for ideas, either a) just start reading erotica to get a sense of what fantasies speak to you. And then I do love that Lovehoney, they have over 70 games. The great thing about games is the questions that are being asked or the dares or throwing dice and it telling you what action to take.
It really takes the pressure off of feeling like you have to already know… And so it’s just a willingness to try a number of games to see which are the ones that really speak to us.
That reminded me of Yes/No/Maybe lists, where you read over a list of activities and mark them as Yes, No, or Maybe. Megan often recommends the traffic light system, which is similar. You assess activities by color: green light for YES, yellow light for maybe or with caution, or red, for nope. Not into that right now.
She told me she likes Yes/No/Maybe lists, but prefers an adjustment:
I sort of say “yes, no, and not for now.”
She also recommends revisiting that list every 3-6 months or so.
Megan often sees couples who have shared turn-ons at the beginning and anything that one partner isn’t into gets sort of tossed aside — even if it might appeal to both partners later on.
Even sex toys, she said, often get used once and if it’s not a great experience, it’s never used again. But that first time might be not the greatest because it’s new; you’re figuring it out and sort of spectatoring, versus present in the experience. Sure, maybe you wouldn’t enjoy it the second or third or fourth time. But, what if you would?
If it’s not like this green light or a YES, then people tend to not, as I say, try, try again.
And so when you try, try again and you’re no longer spectatoring and [considering] like, How’s it going? What do I think? What does my partner think? And you’re relaxing into something, I think more often than not, you’re going to find a lot more things that speak to you both and that you’re adding to your menu.
So back monogamy as a practice. I love that more people are finding freedom in being able to choose non-monogamy or even relationship anarchy, because that feels most right and authentic for them. There’s still plenty of stigma and judgment around such choices, which really needs to change. But I do appreciate the progress there lately.
Talking to Megan about monogamy brought to mind something that’s felt like a really positive byproduct of that progress that I wasn’t expecting.
Growing up, I learned like monogamy was the way that you have a relationship. And now there’s, I guess, more discussion or more mainstream conversation about different relationship styles. And what’s cool about that for me as a monogamous person is—I mean, I always felt like monogamy was a choice, but now it feels to me like more precious in a way because people feel like they have more options.
Do you feel like somehow when we have more choices when we choose monogamy instead of it being like the default, that there’s something more special about it?
Absolutely. I think, as you said, growing up; we’re in a very hetero normative culture. And so I think most of us didn’t even think that there was an option or a question. And we didn’t even explore that for ourselves.
So, to your point, when you’re choosing monogamy, it is not the default. It is actively being chosen. And I also say it’s a decision but it’s also commitment. It’s one that we make every day. And I think there’s an art to it. I think mindset is incredibly important here. What we tend to expect or think is going to happen.
It’s like a self-fulfilling prophecy… We tend to co-create our reality. And so I think when you know that a) monogamy is a choice, I’m choosing it, and oh, by the way, it can be hot. You know, I think it helps you, in a daily way, show up for it. It’s a creative process. And it’s the commitment that you prioritize.
Like I always say, prioritize pleasure practices, right? This idea of prioritizing the relationship, feeling pleasure in the relationship, is something that is not on the back burner. It’s not waiting until all our to do lists get done—because they don’t get done. And so it’s really that sense of, we honor ourselves in our relationship, and we put the time and the energy into it.
[encouraging, acoustic music]
One way to honor the relationship and keep pleasure and sexual connection a priority, Megan said, involves understanding that sexual desire is often not very spontaneous—especially if you’re sharing daily life, have busy schedules or just a lot going on.
In a monogamous relationship, you don’t get routine bursts of NRE, “new relationship energy” that’s common in polyamory. You can experience energy that’s just as fun as NRE, though—or more fun or fulfilling—if you stay mindful of sexual desire: the differences between your and a partner’s, the shifts throughout your own life and as the relationship evolves…
It’s ultimately about in some ways, how to get each other’s needs met. And so even if we’re thinking sexually, it’s not uncommon one partner wants to feel connected to desire sex, and the other partner, sex helps them feel more connected..
When you’re getting both of your needs met, both the connection is there and the sex is there. And so it really gets into a state of flow, right? There’s not the tension because you feel like each of you are getting the thing that you need that creates a sense of connection and also the desire.
You know, when we talk about hot monogamy, desire doesn’t always come from that spontaneous, I want to rip your clothes off, right? It’s something that we cultivate, and responsive desire is often creating the space, I often sort of say scheduling the sexy time – the value of scheduling time and then being spontaneous, in the moment, what would feel good and nice? And that with responsive desire, what we know is that it doesn’t come from a place of wanting. You’re not always coming to sex from that place.
And so when your willingness or the open/receptive, it’s through the body.
So I often say start with a back massage, or even ask yourself, what’s one small thing I can say yes to. Because when things feel good, arousal is a reflex. And once the arousal kicks in, then you’re going to pick up the more spontaneous desire in that moment, through the body.
And so I think it’s really important that people recognize there’s two pathways to desire, both spontaneous and responsive. And that when we’re thinking about hot monogamy, we absolutely have to remember cultivating the conditions and prioritizing them for responsive desire.
Something that stands out to me that Dr. Megan shared a few years ago involves her ice cream analogy. A colleague of ours remarked that “boring sex can be aewsome.” And Megan said, “I would like to shift that from ‘boring sex.’ No. It’s like the your favorite chocolate or vanilla ice cream.”
One thing that stands out to me that you shared—this is probably a few years ago, that ties into this—was I remember somebody saying something about, you know, “boring sex can be great.” And I remember you saying, “I would like to shift that from boring sex.” You said you don’t think it’s boring. It’s like the your favorite chocolate or vanilla ice cream.
It’s your go to. It’s your stable. You know, it’s the thing you love. Just because it’s the same doesn’t mean that it’s bad. I personally would never get sick of chocolate ice cream. So you know? I think we have to think of it from that lens.
And I think what’s interesting here is, you know, when it comes to masturbation, I would say the majority of people have one way they do it. Maybe two, but most people do not really explore all the different ways to give themselves pleasure.
And so I think, again, most people aren’t like, “Oh, I’m so bored of masturbation” right? Even though it’s their go-to vibrator or their hand. And speaking of the same thing, right?
We are like, oh, you know, we get bored of a partner, right, because we’ve been with them. We know them so well. And again, same thing. I’m like, but you don’t get bored of your own hand.
Our cultural ideas that from a mindset perspective really sort of close the imagination, as I say, of again, all the possibilities.
Yeah. And I think it’s so easy for folks to fall into a comparison trap. When all you’re seeing – Like if you’re watching mainstream porn, for example, and you’ve seen all these really outrageous types of sexual acts, and you’re like, but I really like missionary or whatever.
That’s something I’ve heard from numerous listeners, and I’m sure in your questions you’ve noticed, too, that people will say, kind of an embarrassed way, like, “I’m kind of vanilla.” I just like, someone recently said, “I like basic sex.”
And I thought, it’s wonderful to love whatever it is you enjoy. And if you get a lot of pleasure out of making out, that is so hot. Like to hear that makes me so happy versus being like, “I can only get turned on if I hang naked from a chandelier,” you know?
I really do love this because I think, you know, it’s just as you said, monogamy now it’s a choice. In terms of sexuality, it’s almost like vanilla. It’s almost like there’s a sexual shame in that. And it’s like, “Wait, what?”
Just because we’re more open to kink or BDSM and alternative lifestyles, does not equal that you can’t enjoy and choose something that feels more basic, because that’s what works for you. Like, you’re your own expert. And so there’s no shame in what gives you pleasure.
You know, one of my expressions now is compare and despair. Around pornography, we sort of say it’s horrible sex education. And yet, how often are we comparing ourselves?
We’re supposed to last that long, right? Or we’re, you know, men often think that they’re supposed to be larger, or you know, they won’t be able to give their partner pleasure and women are having not only an orgasm, multiple orgasms.
And so I think it’s so incredible that when it comes to sexuality, we’re having more realistic expectation of what it looks like, which again, you can often get through talking with friends or reading.
But I think recognizing to not fall into that trap of comparing and despairing because we always sort of say that expectations get in our own way. And it really is about together exploring what feels good and turns you on… If you guys are doing that, you’re doing everything right.
So doing this work to make way for hot, or hotter, monogamy, might not feel easy at first.
It reminds me like that law of physics, you know, a lot of people are in inertia. And it literally takes more energy to get something going. And so it’s that recognition that it does require effort but once you get the momentum, right? It really does have a life of its own.
And the other thing is, there’s no limit to the erotic mind or erotic imagination. And so I think most of us are just not really cultivating it. We’re not taking the time and the energy to really explore both mentally and physically what turns us on. And so when we do that, individually and do it together in a relationship, that role of like, monogamy is the safety net, really, you can take risk, and sort of do that exploration. And so I think that’s the mindset—is curiosity, exploration, pleasure and play.
And as you make these efforts, and feel more connected to your own sexuality and your partner, the benefits go beyond what happens between the sheets. Or on top of them or on the floor, or wherever.
Well, I think what you see is like a transformation, if you’re really being honest, because there is this sense of aliveness that happens.
Sometimes—you know, doormen here will joke—you know, we look like we’re high schoolers because, you know, it’s the eye gazing, it’s the holding hands, it’s the playfulness, the flirting. Um, I just think that it’s contagious. And so it’s not a gift to yourselves but it’s a gift to everyone in the community.
[encouraging, acoustic music]
Another factor that can make a difference in long-term, intimate relationships is body image. When you’re no longer in the “honeymoon” phase or years have passed and your body has changed along with it, or if body image has been a struggle for you regardless, which is so common.
For a special bonus segment featuring a fun activity you can try on your own at home to improve your relationship with your body, join me on Patreon. For as little as $5 a month, the price of one fancy coffee, you can get access to that and many more bonus tips, as well as Ask Me Anything chances, prize drawings and more.
Every patron helps move me closer to my goal of building my team and eventually funding a trauma surivor’s treatment program. Learn more and start exploring at patreon.com/girlboner, or click the link in the show notes.
So as I mentioned, Dr. Megan Fleming will return once a month to speak about her latest Pleasure Picks. I asked her to share a bit about that series.
I love the Girl Boner community and so I absolutely want to stay connected and a part of it. And so monthly, I’m going to—sort of through my clinical work and research and sort of what is the newest latest and greatest—curating essentially each month what I consider my pleasure picks And so anybody who’s interested that or to look at past months pleasure pics can go to greatlifegreatsex.com/pleasurepicks.
If you’re enjoying Girl Boner Radio, please tell your friends about it. You can also support the show by leaving a rating or review on Apple Podcast or iTunes. Thanks so much for listening, and have a beautiful, Girl Boner-embracing week!
[Outro music that makes you wanna dance…]