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Vanessa and Zander Marin of Pillow Talks

From a young age, Vanessa Marin, LMFT, was sure of two things: She wanted to help people become more comfortable talking about sex and she wanted to write a book.

“My motivation for going into sex therapy stemmed from my parents’ version of the talk,’ ” Marin says. “I was 11 or 12 years old, riding in my family’s minivan, when my mom looked at me uncomfortably in the rearview mirror and said, ‘If you have any questions about . . . you know . . . sex . . . you can ask.’

“It was clear to me, though, that she really meant, ‘Please, don’t ask us anything about sex; we don’t want to talk about it,’ ” Marin recalls, laughing.

“But I did have a lot of questions. I was very curious about sex, and I didn’t understand why it was bad to talk about. And as I got older, I realized that moment was sticking with me for a reason.”

Marin decided to pursue a career as a psychotherapist, specializing in sex therapy. “I was working as a traditional therapist, but I wanted to do more,” she says. “I wanted to be able to broadly share the tools and techniques I was developing, so I started building out guides and courses online.”

Marin’s online business flourished, and her dream of writing a book became a reality in early 2023 with the release of Sex Talks: The Five Conversations That Will Transform Your Love Life, which became a New York Times bestseller. She also cohosts the Pillow Talks podcast with her husband, Xander Marin, and the couple has a loyal social media following where they share stories and advice about sex and relationships.

We connected with Vanessa to discuss her and Xander’s mission to help couples build intimacy and improve their sex lives.

Experience Life | You always knew you wanted to work in sex therapy — and you now partner with your husband, Xander, for much of your work. How did you two decide to start working together?

Vanessa Marin | Xander saw me building my online business and started to get a bit curious, so I enlisted his help, which slowly morphed into a partnership. Originally, he was doing more of the behind-the-scenes work. But I started to get this nagging feeling that I wanted him to come in front of the camera with me.

He was resistant at first; he didn’t think he was qualified. But I kept telling him that was the point. I thought it would be a nice balance to provide the perspectives of both the expert and the everyday, regular dude. It took me a couple years to convince him, but we eventually started creating content together around the beginning of 2021.

The responses were so positive, and we knew we had to keep going in that direction. Xander and I have had our own ups and downs in our sex lives, and as we got more comfortable, we started sharing more of those stories.

When it comes to sex, we have this tendency to feel alone — like we’re the only person struggling or like something must be wrong with us. Hearing someone say “We’ve been there too, and here’s what we did” can be so valuable.

EL | How did creating your online business and partnering with Xander lead to this next step in your career — writing a book?

VM | The book comes back to the idea of communication around sex. So many people find it uncomfortable to talk about sex even with the person with whom they are having sex. You might be googling secret questions, but the advice you find usually ends with “just talk to your partner,” and that can leave people feeling even more lost.

I wanted to make this generic advice more practical and specific, so Xander and I boiled it down into five conversations. Readers can expect to be guided through these conversations step by step: acknowledgement, connection, desire, pleasure, and exploration. Ultimately, you’ll understand why talking about sex with your partner is not only necessary but incredibly important for building intimacy.

Some of my favorite feedback we’ve gotten is that the book is so much more fun than people thought it would be. You might expect it to be anxiety inducing, but we worked hard to make it feel playful.

EL | Let’s talk a little more about building intimacy. Why do so many couples find it hard to talk openly and honestly about sex?

VM | We just don’t see any examples of it. If you think of any sex scene in a movie or on TV, you never see characters talking to each other about the sex they’re having — or not having. We can’t help but think that’s how it’s supposed to be.

Many of us also have this idea that If I’m with the right person, if it’s really the right fit, we shouldn’t need to have these conversations. And that’s so not true. We all need to have these conversations. So, it’s important for people to not beat themselves up for struggling because where have we ever had the opportunity to learn how to talk about sex?

EL | What role does an individual’s knowledge of and comfort with their own sexuality play in a relationship?

VM | It plays a huge role. That’s why the entire first section of Sex Talks is all about you — helping you understand your relationship with sex, your desires, your curiosities, your boundaries. We need to have that knowledge of ourselves before we can share it with our partner, and so few of us take the time to do that self-exploration. What does it mean to me to have an amazing sex life?

So that first part is all about exploring and understanding what it is that you’re wanting so that you and your partner can get on the same page and work toward that together.

EL | As a relationship goes through life changes and stages, what can a couple do to stay connected and keep building intimacy?

VM | People always ask us, “How do we get the spark back?” The early stages of dating seemed so easy and effortless, but the reality is you were likely putting in a lot of effort. You were putting your best foot forward: spending time getting ready for your dates, making fun plans, being intentional about carving out time.

Then we get into a relationship, and we completely let off the gas. So having that mindset shift is incredibly powerful. Nothing’s wrong with you or the relationship if you’re not feeling that spark — it’s just a reminder that we need to keep putting that effort in and making time to connect.

When life gets busy, it’s tempting to put your relationship at the bottom of your to-do list. But if you can focus on nurturing your relationship for just a couple minutes a day, you may find that life feels a lot easier. We get into relationships to have someone on our team or on our side to help us get through. As a team, you can operate so much more efficiently.

EL | Through your podcast and social media content, you end up giving a lot of your work away for free. Why is making this type of content easily accessible so essential to your mission?

VM | Since so few resources are available on these types of topics, it was another core value for us to make our content accessible. I believe that great sex is our human right, and one of the main reasons I’m in this field stems from my own experiences of struggling to find accurate and helpful resources. As a society, we’ve started talking more openly about sex in the last five or 10 years, which is great. But at the same time, a lot of the conversations are surface level. There’s still a lot of generic advice. We believe that everybody is deserving of these in-depth resources, tools, and conversations.

EL | How does your team account for and acknowledge differences in gender, gender identities, and sexual orientation in your work?

VM | We identified inclusivity as one of our company’s core values early on. We’ve always been invested in making our content as inclusive as possible by continually learning more about different perspectives and experiences. We recognize that we’re always going to have blind spots, but starting with that intention and hiring a diverse team was crucial for us. We lean on our team members as well as our community to share their diverse perspectives with us so we can integrate them into our practice.

EL | With everything you’ve accomplished so far, what’s next for your team?

VM | I have about a million ideas in me! I just love creating guides, courses, and experiences for couples, so we want to continue building that out. We’d love to eventually be a one-stop shop for all your sex and relationship needs, helping with any curiosity, challenge, or question you might have.

Check out all of the content in our sexual health and well-being digital collection.

Emily Ewen

Emily Ewen is a senior writer and content editor at Life Time.

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