marriage/monogamysex

Sex/Life On Netflix Sums Up What Women Yearn For In Marriage (And Some Discussion Prompts For Couples!)

The show Sex/Life on Netflix is controversial.  In the first and only season so far, the main character is Billie, a mom of a preschooler and a baby who lives in a beautiful home in Connecticut.  Her husband is perfect… except for the fact that he doesn’t want to have sex with her because he’s constantly thinking about work.  When she’s not getting sexually rejected by her husband, Billie fantasizes about her ex-boyfriend, pictured below with her, with whom she had a very passionate emotional and sexual connection eight years prior. 

Adam Demos as Brad Simon and Sarah Shahi as Billie Connelly in “Sex/Life.” Amanda Matlovich / Netflix

I won’t go into details of the plotline beyond that because I don’t want to ruin it for you with spoilers, but trust me that this show provides a great representation of many issues that my female clients struggle with, and so many of them tell me how much the show resonates with them. (In fact I got the original recommendation to watch it from a client!) Watching Sex/Life will validate the experiences of many married mothers, while also helping their husbands understand them better.  What is it about Billie’s inner turmoil that speaks to so many women?

Billie yearns for MORE from her marriage, in a way that I discuss in many posts, especially The Wife Who Wants More And Her Annoyingly Satisfied Husband.  She wants passionate sex, intimate conversation, and deep emotional connection.  She wants sex to provide a secret world for her and her partner, as it did with her ex.  She wants to feel desired, cherished, and seen.  

The show makes it clear that there is often a divide between security and passion, as Esther Perel discusses in Mating In Captivity.  It is hard to maintain passionate connection with someone who also provides you with stability; it is hard to create a hot sex life with someone that you need to discuss childcare with. It is hard, but maybe not impossible, which is the idea that Billie struggles with.  What should she give up for a stable and secure life?

Today, there are major sociological reasons that women feel they deserve to have both passionate connection AND security with one partner.  To put it bluntly, women no longer “need” men in the same ways that they have for millennia.  Women outearning their husbands is becoming more and more common. Billie was a stay at home mom, but divorce laws now mean that if she left her husband, she would get half of their shared wealth.  Child support laws are stricter now, which means that women know their husbands will have to provide for the kids after divorce (if they outearn the moms). And most divorced men maintain relationships with their kids as well, and split custody in some way.  This all ends up meaning that women are okay and financially secure after divorce in the way that only men used to be.  

If women have no fear-based incentive to stay in marriages that are unfulfilling, they are more able to openly desire more happiness and joy out of their marriages.  They do not have to pretend things are great when they aren’t out of the terror of being left destitute or socially ostracized after divorce, as would have been par for the course in previous generations. This means that I see many women who want not only a paycheck and some child involvement from their husbands, but also best friend and passionate sexual partner.  The more Highly Sensitive the woman is, the more she yearns for intense emotional connection as well.  This connection is possible for some people, especially if both spouses are committed to making the marriage a priority.

In the show, Billie doesn’t only want more sex, she wants a closer and more intimate connection.  She is by no means a perfect character, but most women deeply understand how she feels.  If you are a man watching this show with your wife, the worst thing to do would be to openly criticize Billie and say she’s “ungrateful” for her life, or slut-shame her.  Then, your wife might agree with you to keep the peace and you’ll have no idea how much she may personally identify with Billie.  Instead, try to have an open and curious discussion about the show and Billie’s struggles, which could bring you much closer.  Here are some discussion prompts as a couple, these are for the man to ask his wife:

  1. When have you felt like Billie?
  2. Who was your “Brad”?
  3. What do you wish was different in our sex life?
  4. Do you feel that I ever walk right past you and focus on the kids when I come home?
  5. Do you feel deeply seen and known by me?

For the woman to ask her husband:

  1. Do you identify more with Cooper or Brad?
  2. Do you ever feel so stressed that you don’t want sex?
  3. How do you feel in general about our sex life?
  4. Do you have exes that think about you as their “Brad”?
  5. Do you ever feel like a paycheck to me?
  6. Are you ever scared that I would leave you?

For both to ask each other:

  1. Do you think that we are passionately connected?  If not, when was the last time you felt that way?
  2. What have you done with exes that you want to try with me?
  3. When we started dating, were you anxious to talk to me about exes?  Do you think doing so could make us closer as crazy Dr. Psych Mom suggests?
  4. Which of the sex scenes do you think is the hottest?  Which would you like to try?
  5. Do you feel more emotionally connected when we are more sexually connected?
  6. Do you feel we have deep discussions as much as you would like?

Sex/Life is relevant at least in some small way to most people who are married with kids, and as such it’s a great discussion starter for couples.  Steer clear of judgmental critiques about the characters, which teaches you much less about your partner’s inner world than a curious, open, honest discussion about the ways the show speaks to you and your lived experience.  Use this show as a discussion starter (and aphrodisiac; these are some very attractive people) and see if you feel closer to your partner!  Till we meet again, I remain, The Blogapist Who Says, “Very Attractive” Is Lowballing It.

Order Dr. Rodman Whiten’s books, 52 Emails to Transform Your Marriage and How to Talk to Your Kids about Your Divorce: Healthy, Effective Communication Techniques for Your Changing Family, and listen to The Dr. Psych Mom Show on Spotify, Apple Podcasts, or anywhere else you listen to podcasts. If you need therapy, check out her online group practice Best Life Behavioral Health.

This blog is not intended as medical advice or diagnosis and should in no way replace consultation with a medical professional. If you try this advice and it does not work for you, you cannot sue me. This is only my opinion, based on my background, training, and experience as a therapist and person.

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7 Comments

  1. BillB
    July 21, 2021 at 12:56 pm — Reply

    Are you SURE a wife should tell her husband that there was a ‘Brad’?

    I assume that there probably was a Brad of some sort in my wife’s past, but I could do without the confirmation and I have no desire to know the details.

    I am highly confident that my wife loves me and is very happy to be married to me. She often proclaims that the sex we have is the “best ever”. But, I’m pretty sure I’d have a hard time reacting well to her saying “Brad did this amazing thing to me that I loved, could you try to do it as well as Brad?”

    On the other hand “could you try doing this to me” would be welcome.

    • July 21, 2021 at 1:10 pm — Reply

      This is in the case where your wife feels like Billie. In your case you may be the brad!

  2. DukeL
    July 22, 2021 at 10:26 am — Reply

    This show makes me hesitant to have anything to do with marriage again if so many identify with it. If there is a “Brad” that she’s still hung up on, let me know so I can find someone else. I am not interested in competing with some fantasy of an emotionally abusive relationship. Very few men would be secure enough to ask if there was a Brad and not be deeply bothered by it, the vast majority would do exactly what you say not to. I’m sure if the show was about Cooper being bored with his wife and their sex life, but fantasizing about and pursuing some hot woman in his past who treated him like crap, you’d have a lot of female viewers saying that Cooper is ungrateful too.

    • July 22, 2021 at 10:29 am — Reply

      It wasn’t emotionally abusive though. They were both really dramatic and she was addicted to saving him. People change and grow as I see all the time so brad after making peace with his past may be a different guy, as I see all the time in therapy. And you know me I always tell guys they deserve to ask for hotter sex!

      • DukeL
        July 22, 2021 at 2:10 pm — Reply

        I’m sure that all those SaHMs who identify with Billie would be super understanding to find out their husbands are chasing after old girlfriends because their wives are too enmeshed with the kids and not meeting their needs in bed and they are bored.

  3. BillB
    July 23, 2021 at 1:05 pm — Reply

    I’ve actually watched the first three episodes. Cooper (the husband) does a lot of things wrong and I’m more sympathetic towards Billie than most.

    But, a lot of guys watching this, thinking about possible ‘Brad’s in their significant other’s past and, especially, after the shower scene are going to end up with PTSD.

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