After an intense yearlong courtship, Cheryl and Matthew, both in their mid-30s, got married and haven't had sex since.
Carlotta and Ernesto just sent their youngest daughter off to college and have no idea what to do with themselves now that their nest is empty.
Financial troubles and health woes have pulled Eileen and Barry apart in recent years, yet they seem to still crave each other's companionship everywhere -- but the bedroom.
Now that kids are home from camp, many adults like the three couples mentioned above are packing their bags and heading off to their own camp -- "booty camp," also known as couples retreats or couples enrichment weekends. Instead of swimming, arts and crafts, and campfires, adult campers learn the art of erotic massage, how to achieve orgasm, and how to keep the spark alive. The locales differ too. No upstate New York or Maine for love-weary adults. Instead, it's off to Hawaii, Bermuda, and other plush resort areas.
And it looks like they need it. According to recent media reports, some psychologists estimate that 15% to 20% of married American couples have sex no more than 10 times a year, which is how the experts define a sexless marriage.
Enter Booty Camp
"These [retreats] have been around since the 1970s, and some are really well-developed and sought out and some are not," says Laura Berman, PhD, LCSW, clinical assistant professor of obstetrics-gynecology and psychiatry at the Feinberg School of Medicine of Northwestern University in Chicago. "They fell out of favor because so many of the groups were geared toward '60s-style free love where you find your inner soul by engaging in group sex, but once HIV/AIDS kicked in, people really shunned these retreats," says Berman, director the Berman Center in Chicago and co-host of Berman and Berman: For Women Only on the Discovery Health Channel with her sister, Jennifer Berman, MD, a board-certified urologist.
"Now," Berman says, "they are more credible and focused on relational work, not just technique and taking sexual risks," says Berman, who co-wrote For Women Only: A Revolutionary Guide to Overcoming Sexual Dysfunction and Reclaiming Your Sex Life.
"We like quick fixes like taking off for five days to lose a few pounds or detoxify, so it's not out of our realm of possibility to take a weekend to recharge our sex lives," she says. And "there is definitely an advantage for a certain type of couple, you just have to find the program that fits your personality. Some are too touchy and feely and esoteric for a mainstream yuppie, so you have to find one that matches your personality and outlook."
Later this Fall, Berman's television show will focus on three different sexual programs that she regularly sends patients to, including the Source School of Tantra in Kahului, Hawaii, where couples take part in workshops/programs on tantric sex (a complex marriage of yoga, meditation, ritual, and intercourse that originated in India in 3000 B.C.) and the Passionate Marriage program in Evergreen, Colo., which offers couples weekends, intensive therapy, and women's retreats for couples who may be in a deeply troubled marriage or those who want to make a good relationship great.
And "we are starting a program at the Berman Center in November that offers getaway weekend retreats and ongoing couples intimacy enhancement sessions on rolling basis," she says, meaning that couples can come every night or once a week.
Pepper Schwartz, PhD, professor of sociology at the University of Washington in Seattle and author of several books including The Great Sex Weekend, offers retreats for couples who are "doing well and want to do better, but are not having dire emotional difficulty."
She offers such getaways at resorts in Bermuda. "You go and stay in a beautiful place for a couple of days or weeks to concentrate on each other, get your act together and reacquaint yourselves with your bodies, talk about feelings and communicate your preferences and fantasies in a safe environment," Schwartz tells WebMD.
Los Angeles, Calif.-based sexologist Ava Cadell, author of 12 Steps to Everlasting Love, runs a boot camp for couples before they get married. And she plans to open up another in Hawaii in the next year.
"Not only do I teach couples how to communicate positively and fight fairly, but how to have the very best love life they can possibly have where both partners get their needs met and learn how to communicate their sexual wants, needs, desires, fantasies, and fears," she says.
"We take a driving test, and I think we should take marriage test," she tells WebMD.
That said, "It's never to late to learn as long as both have the desire," she says. To that end, Cadell offers an audiotape/workbook program for couples who have problems, called Passion Power.
Do Your Homework
When a couple is interested in attending a program, "you have to research carefully and get as much information about it as possible," she says."There are good, bad and indifferent courses," she says. "Maybe even get referrals and view videos or read books to get as much information as you can."
Important questions to ask:
- What are the benefits?
- Is there a money-back guarantee?
- Is there nudity?
- How many people will be in the group?
- How much interaction is there with other couples or instructors?
No program is right for every couple, she says. "Some couples may not want to be part of a big group and other people get motivated by a big group," she says.
New York City-based sex therapist Ruth Westheimer, PhD, author of several books including Sex For Dummies and Conquering the Rapids of Life: Making the Most of Midlife Opportunities, has been advising Americans on bedroom matters for decades.
But as for booty camps: "Just to have couples come to camp seems problematic if no one has had a conversation with them to know what the reality of their lives is about," says Westheimer, popularly known as Dr. Ruth.
"When I see a couple walk into my office, if they hate each other, I say, 'See an attorney or go for mediation because psychosexual therapy won't work,'" she says. "But for a good couple, retreats or therapy may be wonderful, and maybe they will learn some new tricks."
The good news? "Fortunately, people like myself are well trained to do this kind of psychosexual therapy with couples," she says.
"A great deal of the problem may be desire dysfunction, [meaning] one or the other or both just don't take time for sex because they are so busy and life is so hectic that they find it difficult to make time for sex, and I say you have to make time -- you don't have luxury to put sex on the back shelf," she says.