It probably helps that she lives on an organic farm in Ojai, California, a Byron-esque enclave with a celebrity-to-regular-person ratio of at least 5:1. While Paltrow and Will Smith have spoken openly about her services (the latter praised the therapist for “saving” his family life), the majority of her A-list clientele are more tight-lipped. And you’re best not to prod and push for details; Boehm is warm and maternal but gets a little snappy when I bring up her star-studded appointment book. “You will never hear their names come out of my mouth,” she says firmly.
All she will reveal is that her clients tend to be “extremely famous”. Which is probably no coincidence: the obstacles faced by celebs when trying to create and maintain intimacy in a relationship are many, unique and even worse than my gastric erosion. “Imagine just even trying to date,” Boehm ponders. “First of all, you don’t even know why the guy is wanting to date you.” Then, she continues, the relationship is under intense surveillance. “I work with people who meet someone and just don’t leave the house for the next six months. You can’t have romantic dinners or go on vacation without it being broadcast everywhere. There’s a complete lack of privacy in an area that is meant to be governed by discretion. Parents, children, everyone’s feelings are involved and there are so many repercussions.”
This is why Boehm has such admiration for Paltrow. Apart from the fact that the Hollywood star has not just survived but flourished under constant and often cruel media scrutiny, “she is one of the few people who’s managed to have a divorce that didn’t hurt the children,” Boehm points out. She’s referring to Paltrow’s shock split from Coldplay frontman Chris Martin that sparked the “conscious uncoupling” movement in 2014. “Everyone was able to maintain dignity and not trash all the love and goodness that was there. Her doing so publicly has given people the idea that maybe that’s possible,” she adds.
No doubt Boehm could fill her schedule with celebrities and their outsized relationship challenges, but she still works with regular women like me, who find themselves off-boil for less extraordinary reasons. And there are gazillions of us: study after study has shown a precipitous drop-off in bedroom activity in recent years.
One survey by Cambridge University revealed the average couple now has sex just three times a month, compared with five times in the ’90s. In another, 50 per cent of women reported phases of extremely low libido, and 15 per cent considered this lack of desire chronic and a cause of personal distress.
Boehm lays out two reasons for our low libidos. The first reflects the standard arc of a relationship. “What usually happens is two people meet, have a spark and begin dating,” she explains. “They have this great chemistry and when they’re not having sex, they’re talking and discovering commonalities which is fun and romantic.
“Then, as the relationship progresses, you’re living in the same house and start doing the same things and having the same friends and it’s all so wonderful. Then suddenly, you’re sitting on the sofa in matching sweatpants and nobody wants to have sex anymore. The relationship is all about sameness and that spells the death of the sexual side,” she says.
“The predominant complaint of almost anyone I see is that sex was once great and now it no longer is.”
According to common wisdom, it is bad to be in the same-sweatpants phase. But it shouldn’t be, says Boehm. “The more commonality you have in a relationship, the better it will be. Finding the relationship is the hard part.” The easy part, she continues, is nurturing erotic friction – a tension based on the opposite of sameness. It’s the exact ingredient that ensures your mind won’t wander to whether it’s green bin night mid-coitus (although her suggestions for creating this polarity dismantles everything I think I know about intimacy; see below).
The second reason Boehm identifies for our collective sexual slump is specific to women. Not just that we’re “totally knackered with kids, looking after sick parents and [have]full-on jobs” – as one of the researchers in the Cambridge University study put it – but because this pull of priorities leads to “overwhelm”, says Boehm. “Busyness, outside noise and data of all kinds overpower the signals of our bodies. Too much happening ... in our heads.”
Living constantly in our heads also goes against the original design concept when it comes to the female body, she says. Modern life has essentially made us numb from the waist down. “Imagine if you sit in a chair all day in an office and you park your body and just use your head?” asks Boehm. “You have close to zero feeling in your lower body except an ache when you stand up, and then you want to have a romantic evening and go from zero to 100 and achieve multiple orgasm?” Not going to happen. “There is enormous power in a woman’s lower body,” she says. “Menstruation, ovulation, childbirth, sex, pleasure all happens there.”
This is where you could worry things are about to get Goopy, but hearing Boehm explain it, it seems intensely logical. “It isn’t esoteric to say that energy follows attention. [If] most of what we do is super heady, energy is squeezed [upwards], which is why we get the tight necks, shoulders, the migraines. We need to bring our attention down to where the pleasure and aliveness and power is.”
Enter the hula hoop. Or straight-up hip circles, which I’ve found are just as effective and easier to knock out in a disabled toilet between meetings. “It’s so simple, nobody believes me,” Boehm says. “Just standing with your knees apart and writing your name with your hips makes a huge difference within a short period of time.”
Next, she says to focus on bringing more “sensual awareness” into everyday life. This is not the same thing as sexual awareness, she adds – which is a good thing, as the idea of trying to conjure a sex fantasy while waiting at the Coles checkout is just not appealing to me.
Boehm calls it background pleasure.
“A candle, flowers on your desk, massaging your hands, essential oils, barefoot walking – things that remind you of your senses.” This background pleasure, she explains, “translates into sexual feeling when you want it to. Instead of trying to generate it, it’s just allowing yourself to feel what’s always there. If you’re connected to your body, [it] will come to the party, so to speak.”
Of course, ideally, couples would be aware of the sexual slide before it happens. “But you think you’re untouchable in the hot-sex phase,” Boehm says, “so no-one ever does.”
Except Paltrow. Currently, maintaining separate mansions is not a way that I can emulate her example. But I can manage a hula hoop, if it’s a means to more and better sex. Maybe even weeknight sex.
Four Steps to Erotic Friction
Stay Away from Each Other
Conventional wisdom says intimacy comes from spending time together. But not every second, argues Boehm. “Being apart does wonders,” she says, recommending alone time every day by carving out separate spaces in the house, taking independent holidays or spending time separately with your (separate) friends. Her logic being that, as well as making you more interesting and more excited to see each other, individual time and interests enhance your differences and protect the all-important polarity.
Stop Touching Each Other All the Time
Touch is helpful, but only when it’s conscious, Boehm says. “When you touch and kiss casually, [i.e.] when you’re always walking by and rubbing their back like you’re petting a dog, you desensitise yourself to touch. Always the same kissy thing – it doesn’t mean anything. By the end of the day, you’ve done it eight times. Be aware of when and how you touch, so when you do, it’s delicious.”
Take Sex Out of Your Schedule
As in, your actual diary. “Some people have to schedule sex. And I’m not saying, don’t ever do that,” Boehm says. “Just don’t put pressure on yourself.” Having sex out of obligation is a bad idea. “It overrides your body’s message and if you’re not heeding what your body is saying, who else will?”
Stop Having Date Night
That is, date night as you’re currently having it. “The classic scenario, where you schedule a nice dinner, sit down, start talking about kids and bills and work, eat, drink, then you’re tired – all you want to do is sleep,” Boehm says. She suggests having sex beforehand, and getting ready separately, since him being witness to your struggle into Spanx and you to his mouthwash rinse-and-spit helps nobody. Most of all, put your phone down: “They distract attention and essentially make it so you’re not really there.” And there’s benefit in putting it away. “Awkwardness creates erotic friction ... because, suddenly, you’re in uncharted territory.”
Visit michaelaboehm.com for details on her Australian workshops. Her book, The Wild Woman’s Way (Simon & Schuster, $39.99), is out now.
This article originally appeared in December issue of marie claire.