Today I went to see the film “Hope Springs” so that I could evaluate it in a professional context. It’s a sweet, Hollywood film about an older, Midwestern couple who have lost their passion for each other and live in a sexless marriage of habit, that they attempt to fix with the help of a talk sex therapist.
The demure wife, played by Meryl Streep, decides that she cannot stay without a more connected, intimate marriage. Finding a sex therapist in Maine, she purchases the sessions and the plane tix without consulting her husband (played by Tommy Lee Jones), and tells him that she is going with or without him. He grudgingly attends, and the film is their process in trying to reconnect.
They have homework assignments beginning with, “spend some time with your arms around each other,” and escalating from there. Although their sexual communication skills are almost non-existent, they do eventually find their way back to sex, with many setbacks. Watching them trying to talk about their sexual likes and challenges was a painful reminder of what sexuality is like for so many couples, like this one in a blog post by fellow blogger Marty Klein.
Ironically, there is a scene where she is attempting to act out a fantasy, and puts her hand on his leg in a movie theater. They both look around wildly, to see if anyone is noticing. In one of those life-imitating-art kinda moments, my hand is on my date’s thigh, and I’m not concerned in the least should anyone notice. It’s a stark reminder of the value I hold around sexual liberation, and how much I take for granted my own comfort level with intimacy.
Was it a realistic portrayal of what happens when a couple seeks a sex therapist? This was my main lens for the film, and the conclusion I came to is yes and no. Yes, it is possible to reconnect and rekindle passion and intimacy. Yes, it is hard emotional work. Yes, it’s easier with support. And no, it was a little talky-talk for my liking.
I’m a somatic sex coach. That means I work with the body, and through the body wisdom we all possess. If this sounds too woo for you, think about it. Can you better learn a new sexual technique from a book or from real experience? There were a lot of really great somatic moments in the film: the facial expression her husband makes when he squinches his eyes tightly shut and turns his head away while making love, which is a point of break-down in their reconnection process. She’s stated in therapy that it is a pattern, and makes her feel unwanted. As their coach, I’d be so curious to go into the body experience he is having at that moment. What’s up? He assures her that he’s not averse to her, but she is disbelieving.
Comparing talk sex therapy with somatic coaching isn’t really possible. Each contain elements of the other: I do talk with the people I work with, and the couple in the movie were instructed to be physical together. So yeah, there’s cross-over. But the differences are fairly striking. My work rests on body sensations, and the tenet that the body can tell no lies. The body doesn’t have story, just responses and sensations. By moving the body, breath and energy, places that are stuck in our sexuality can be worked, moved and healed without ever understanding the ‘story.’
Ultimately, I am so glad to see mainstream films normalizing sex therapy. No one should have to live without access to healing, intimacy, sexuality and pleasure if they don’t want to. Films like “Hope Springs” help remove the stigma of seeking professional guidance in the super personal arena of sexuality. And why might a couple seek a sex coach? Check back in a day or two for that answer!