Sexologist Dr. Logan Levkoff helps newlyweds — who met at the altar — navigate the kinks in their newly-minted sex life on the new FYI Network show, Married at First Sight. We asked her a few probing questions about satisfaction, sex, and how to find it all in one relationship. Here's what she said. (Marrieds: feel free to use her advice the next time you're "just too tired.")
Q. Can you explain your role on Married at First Sight?
My role on Married at First Sight is to get an understanding of who the singles are as sexual beings and, once they're married, to help them communicate about sexuality and intimacy. Now, that doesn't mean I focus on how they have sex — rather, I'm looking to identify the role that sex plays in their lives, the relationship models that they had growing up, what they typically find attractive, any deal breakers, how much they're willing to experiment, and what their sexual and reproductive values are. We don't talk about it very often, but political or religious values can make or break a relationship.
Q. How did you get involved with the show?
I got a call this past winter and was asked to participate in a show that had to do with arranged marriages. I said no immediately. But after some prompting from the people in my life, I took the call and listened to the description. I was intrigued but cautious. "Does anyone get voted off an island? Does anyone win a pile of money?" "Absolutely not," the producer told me. "This is not one of those shows." In an effort to show me what this experiment was really about, I was sent the entire season of the original show that aired in Denmark. For eight straight hours, I watched the season with Danish subtitles on my iPhone. And I was hooked! I rooted for these couples. The show was thoughtful, provocative, and incredibly hopeful. I was in.
Q. What makes this show an extreme social experiment?
I think when someone agrees to marry a complete stranger, that's pretty extreme. And let's be clear: this is a real marriage — not just one made for television. This experiment seeks to determine whether social science can play a role in marital success. If we can offer a new way to find a connection (and a long-lasting one), imagine the possibilities!
Q. What qualities do you look at in two people to judge whether you think they'd make a good match?
My role is to explore an individual's sexuality (as a whole) and how he or she may complement someone else. My perspective alone is not enough to make a match. That's why there are four experts. Each of us offers a unique perspective. Together, we can create what we believe is a great match.
Q. What are some of the ways that you think people sabotage their relationships or sell themselves short when dating?
It seems as if we have a short attention span when it comes to modern relationships. The grass is always greener — or so we think. And sure, online dating can add to this feeling because there are thousands of people to choose from. Add to this pop culture, where we watch celebrities jump in and out of relationships on the cover of tabloids — and yes, I know this is rarely representative of their real lives — and it just seems like we don't know what's worth fighting for anymore. We tend to jump ship at the first obstacle because we don't know how to work through something or we assume that something better (or easier) is out there.
I don't believe there are rules in love, dating, and sex. I think that if you want something, you need to be authentic and up-0front with your needs. We still buy into these old ideas of how a man or woman is "supposed" to act in order to attract a partner. If we aren't being genuine, we'll never be satisfied.
Q. Is there any way to predict two people's sexual compatibility before you've seen them together?
Can you know for sure whether two people are going to have great orgasms together? No. But I can get a sense of whether a couple will be compatible with respect to what they want sexually and whether their values about sex are aligned. While it's difficult to predict chemistry prior to seeing a couple together, from a completely superficial perspective, you can tell if someone would find the other attractive based on interviews and past history. But it is important to remember that while chemistry is sometimes instantaneous, it doesn't have much weight if you don't communicate your physical and emotional needs to each other. From my meetings with the men and women [on the show] and the detailed reports that they filled out, I got a good sense of how aware they were of their own sexuality, how conscious they were of how others viewed them, their assertiveness in a relationship, and how communicative they are. I would never have matched couples who were polar opposites in these areas — especially not in an experience like this one.
Q. How much of a role do you think sexual compatibility plays in making a marriage last?
Sex and physical intimacy are important in a marriage — in any romantic relationship, for that matter. While sexual incompatibility poses certain problems, these can be managed if partners are willing to work on their issues. If there isn't any compromise, a relationship can be severely challenged. On the other hand, great lust and sexual connection isn't enough to sustain a marriage if the emotional connection is lacking.
Q. Do you think a marriage can exist without both parties being sexually satisfied?
There are always ebbs and flows when it comes to sex. I would love to tell everyone that it's possible to have sexual experiences with a long-term partner with the same intensity and novelty as when you met, but that's just not the case. Relationships evolve and yes, sex changes. But that doesn't make it bad, just different. Sex plays different roles in the life of a relationship, but if someone is unsatisfied (and a partner is unwilling to work at changing that), then a traditional monogamous marriage may end.
Q. What are your thoughts about the fact that more couples these days are exploring non-monogamy in their marriages?
Monogamy is definitely not for everyone. Many people choose it because that's the way our society is structured, but not all do. Non-monogamy (in any relationship — not just marriage) isn't a panacea for everyone. It is highly structured and negotiated; it's not simply a legitimate "hall pass." Can it work? Yes. Is it for everyone? No.
Q. Do you have any advice for people who are anxious about discussing sex and sexuality with their partners?
Acknowledge the anxiety. We are so keen to look sexually confident and smooth that we wind up sabotaging ourselves. Tackle the discomfort head-on: "You know, I'm not used to talking about sex, but there are things that I was wondering..." (or something like that). If we don't talk about sex and sexuality, then our relationships progress with inaccurate expectations and assumptions about one another and unsurprisingly, unmet needs.
Can communication heal all sexual hang-ups? Leave your own expertise in the comments, and watch Dr. Logan Levkoff in action on Married at First Sight, premiering Tuesday, July 8 at 9p ET/10p PT on FYI Network.