Israeli couple shares secrets on keeping non-monogamous relationship strong

Shahar Berlovich is an esteemed TV director who along with his wife leads workshops on alternative sexuality, focusing primarily on how to deal with jealousy; 'main boundary is that she doesn’t date my friends, she hates it,' Berlovich says

Orit Merlin Rozhenzwaig|
Four and a half years ago, Shahar Berlovich and Sharon Cohen, separately went to a sexuality festival. He had already spent 25 years involved in Tantra and mindful sex. It was all quite new for her. She had broken up with a partner two months earlier and was now looking for new adventures. Everyone at the festival, some wandering around naked, was talking about mindful sex.
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  • Sharon reminisces: “I felt very much at home. I realized that this was the kind of life I wanted – more liberated and with no boundaries. At a party on the last night of the festival, during the dancing, there was an extended, very warm, group make-out session with a lot of people. I liked it, and I was thinking ‘wow’, I’m making out with my friends’. I was doing something I thought was forbidden, and world didn’t come crashing down. I came away glowing, wanting to find out more. Sexuality had become a different kind of place.”
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    שחר ברלוביץ ושרון כהן
    שחר ברלוביץ ושרון כהן
    Shahar Berlovich and Sharon Cohen
    (Photo: Elad Gershgorn)
    Shahar: “I saw her there and I thought ‘who’s that cute girl?’ I thought there was no chance of anything happening between us because she was leading communal singing evenings, which is archaic. I didn’t think we’d get along. We became Facebook friends but neither of us made any effort to meet up.”
    Their paths next crossed at another festival. This time, it was at one of Berlovich’s intimate communication workshops. Then it clicked. “It was a huge workshop of Sharon’s with 150 participants. He seemed wiser and more experienced than me and I thought he was out of my league. Then he messaged me asking if I wanted to meet up and I thought ‘wow’, but we didn’t get to meet up. I had a lot of lovers at the time and he was one more potential lover. From being unattainable, he became another guy who wanted me. If a guy wants me, he’ll have to wait,” Sharon says.
    “She made out with a few of my friends, but not with me, because I’m hard to get. We’d meet up for talks in between workshops. I saw that we weren’t so different. With Sharon, I instantly felt a common path and a non-boring kind of stability. I thought: ‘Let’s take over the world together.’ She’s an asset to everything I do. I’ve never had a partner like this before,” Shahar says.
    When did your relationship get serious?
    Sharon: “When I’d been with Shahar for two months, my ex showed up at my house trying to get back together - but that wasn’t going to happen. I realized that I’d discovered a whole new world when it comes to sexuality, friendship and communication.” She turns to Shahar: “To be honest, if you hadn’t been in the picture, there’s a good chance I’d have gone backwards. But after I met you, I realized that there’s no way back from here.”
    Fast forward to 2022, Berlovich and Cohen have recently moved to a new home in Giv’at Ada. As part of their moving-in party, they held a brief, alternative marriage ceremony. “We each made a blessing. There were no rings. We read out some words. I led a workshop and that was it. Ceremony - check. Children are definitely on the cards in the very near future.”
    It's hard to briefly summarize the volume and energy of Berlovich’s work. The 48-year-old who started directing at 17, is a highly respected television director who, in the 1990’, was considered a directing boy-wonder. Born in Holon, he didn’t finish either high school or served in the IDF. He has produced critically acclaimed videos for Israeli pop and rock starts: Rita, Mashina and Aviv Gefen. He has directed advertisements, reality shows including “Take me, Sharon” and “Dating in the Dark”, “The Amazing Race, Israel” as well as TV series including "Mesduarim”, “2.3 Times a Week.” He also collaborated on developing the format for “Winning Couple” which he sold overseas. By the age of 26, he’d earned enough to buy himself a Tel Aviv apartment.
    While doing all of this, he was also cultivating the totally different world of sexuality. Aged 20, without even trying, he discovered Tantra. “I realized that if I’m mindful about how I’m breathing, and I connect to my partner’s breathing, it creates a special connection. If I listen to my body, I feel energy flows that I can maneuver in by own body and in my partner’s.”
    You discovered Tantra very young
    “It changed my life. Until then, the sex I had known was about stimulating the sexual organ. I discovered a very powerful sex that hardly involves moving my body. You just have to breath and listen to what’s going on inside.”
    His eyes light up as he recounts his sexual experiences. He’s very excited about the mission he’s undertaken of spreading the word as part of the mindful sex movement. The orgasm isn’t the endgame. He teaches intimate communication, leads sexuality workshops and accompanies relationship development. He has studied couple therapy, compassionate communication, movement therapy, Thai yoga massage, energy balance, tantra therapy and more. “I have no formal qualification. I don’t call myself a therapist and the people who come to me aren’t broken. I teach couples and individuals how to better communicate and how to bridge gaps in intimacy.”
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    מתוך הקורס של שחר ברלוביץ
    מתוך הקורס של שחר ברלוביץ
    Shahar Berlovich's workshop
    (Photo: Courtesy of SCREENZ)
    How does this fit in with the world of television?
    “My television career has spanned 30 years. Every few years, I’d feel I’d had enough. I’d give it up, but I’d go back every time. I’ve always felt that sexuality is culturally underdeveloped and that it can be liberated to enrich our world to give us pleasure and awareness. TV-Shahar was a bored and lonely person who went clubbing at the weekends. In this community, I feel comfortable communicating in social settings. I’m shy at heart.”
    How has Israel’s entertainment industry reacted to the other things you do?
    “With envy and curiosity. A lot of celebrities want to come to my workshops but don’t because it would expose them too much. They live a little vicariously through my stories.”
    Cohen, 35, studied coaching at the Adler Institute and then a BA in Education and an MA in Organizational Consultancy. She served as consultant to a large corporation and managed “Feminanci” (Finance College for Women), but she also led community singing evenings. Only she knows how all this fits together. She is now the owner of a clinic, offering financial advice to women.
    When she was 20, in Afula, she co-founded the “Tarbut” movement which aims to create a collective activist community. She lived in a commune until she was 31. “When we met, she didn’t even have a bank account of her own,” Berlovich recounts with a smile. The dream came to end when she broke up with the boyfriend she was living with in the commune – yes, the very same break-up that led to her meeting Berlovich. “I thought we’d live a communalist life forever. The break-up took me by surprise. I asked myself what Plan B was. Everyone in the group started having children and I found myself single, on the edge of the group. I wanted a change of scenery.”
    Berlovich and Cohen describe their relationship as non-monogamic and they’re happy sharing how it works. “I came in with this as an agenda,” Cohen admits. Shahar had his reservations. After I slept with my first serious boyfriend at 17, I thought ‘Wait. Is that it? For the rest of my life?’ It made no sense to me. I had a four-year relationship with a woman starting at the age of 22. She was also bisexual. It was a crazy relationship. We were also with both men and women outside the relationship. For me, that seemed like an option for life. In every relationship I’ve had since then, I’ve told my partner that I’m not interested in a closed monogamic relationship.”
    And what if Shahar hadn’t agreed?
    “I’d have asked him to give it a little time to see if he could become more flexible on the matter. I don’t think I could be happy in a monogamic relationship. It’s not that it’s so important for me to go off and sleep with someone else. It’s about basic freedom.”
    Shahar: “Sharon has more experience in open relationships. I’d only had one relationship like that in the past. It wasn’t good for me, but it meant that I was prepared by the time I met Sharon. In that relationship, I’d worked on my jealousy – which is now paying off. We constantly talk. Although it’s a more volatile situation, we’ve managed to do it without unpleasant interrogations. Sharon is the most realistic partner I’ve ever had and the first with whom I’ve felt that I could build a life.”
    How do you deal with jealousy?
    At festivals, we jointly lead a workshop called “my green-eyed monster,” which teaches people how to work on their jealousy. We share our own experiences, how to learn from jealousy, that it’s a gateway for personal development.”
    At the beginning, how much suffer did the jealousy with Sharon cause?
    “It was really uncomfortable at first and it took us time to define boundaries. The main boundary is that Sharon doesn’t date my friends. And she hates it.”
    Sharon: “Because I don’t understand what that means. Define ‘friend.'”
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    שחר ברלוביץ ושרון כהן
    שחר ברלוביץ ושרון כהן
    Shahar Berlovich and Sharon Cohen
    (Photo: Elad Gershgorn)
    What can jealousy teach us?
    Shahar: “If a relationship of Sharon’s hurts me, it’s an opportunity to examine why it hurts me. Where’s it coming from? When I’m jealous, does it touch on a basic pain of mine, a fear of being abandoned? Maybe I’m jealous of her for having a special experience and maybe I’d like one too? “
    From your side, is sounds very impressive. For me, why would I agree to someone intimately touching my partner?
    Sharon: “It’s a bit of cliché to say that someone is now touching my man. We have to ask what lies beneath it all. Maybe he enjoys some sexual act that he doesn’t want to do with me? Exclusivity and ownership conceal further feelings. I think we’ve moved beyond the era of ownership. We feel that our partners should thrive independently.”
    Apart from open communication, what tools have you determined?
    Shahar: “We both have veto rights. At any given moment, either of us can tell the other to wrap up a relationship. There’s no argument. The other person may be upset, but the relationship will be ended. Although we have veto rights, we almost never use them. We have confidence in each other’s priorities. Before any potentially intimate meeting with a third party, we hold a conversation, and never take for granted that it’s alright. We’re constantly checking the open relationship format.”
    There’s always the danger that one of you will fall in love with someone else
    Sharon: “That’s a danger monogamic couples face too.”
    Shahar: “For most of our relationship, Sharon was involved with a person who wasn’t jealous, and was very supportive. Then I had a relationship that drove her crazy.”
    Sharon: “I felt that he had something with her that he didn’t have with me. I felt she had something I didn’t have. I was happy for him, but he started talking about leaving me to be with her, which was far from the truth. Don’t get the impression that we spend our time talking about who we’re sleeping with. We’re focused on creating a home and building up our careers. This all goes on in the background.”
    Shahar: “We don’t invest a lot of energy in it.”
    They both go quiet. They think. Cohen then says that beneath their very juicy relationship story, lies something much deeper: the courage, inside the relationship, to vocalize their real needs.
    “In the early years, there was a certain distance between us when it came to sex. I fell in line with what Sharon wanted.” Berlovich admits that “it solved short-term conflicts, but in the long term, it distanced us. In our sex lives, Sharon is the wild one. She’s more untamed, more instinctive. I’m more sensitive and energetic. It’s always been that way. A man expects to always be able to get an erection, always want to and always say yes to whatever’s on offer. I’m expected to be ever-virile and grateful for whatever comes my way. For years, I felt I couldn’t say no because it would make look less of a man. I found myself disconnected from both my own sexuality and Sharon’s. It was a heavy price to pay," he says.
    “I’ve reprogrammed my sexuality and I’ve learned to say no as quickly as possible, before letting it get ugly and angry. Sharon, on her part, needs to work on accepting the ‘no’ without thinking that I don’t love her and I don’t desire her.”
    Your second joint workshop is called “Mindful Porn Watching.” What change are you trying create?
    Shahar: "I set myself the goal of eliminating the shame around watching porn. There’s no shortage of shame around sexuality. Feminist liberals, who are adamantly against pornography disagree with me."
    Rightfully so
    “If you’re willing to pay, there’s ethical porn, produced in non-exploitative conditions. Porn is often used as a scapegoat to account for the state of sexuality today. I think it’s self-defeating. Like porn, Disney movies and romantic comedies also create unrealistic expectations. No one’s tutting at them. And why the silence about exploitation in the clothing industry?
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    (Photo: Shutterstock)
    “Porn is popular because it fulfills the needs of sexual satisfaction. I once gave a workshop at a men’s festival. My father showed up. I talked about my own history with porn and how I’d secretly steal my father’s porn. He then told everyone that this is exactly what he’d done with his father’s porn.”
    Berlovich’s mindful sex workshop, called “The Erotic Code,” has recently gone online on the SCREENZ platform, which hosts personal development and enrichment lectures and courses. The course includes videos of a real-life couple, a man and a woman gently and sensually, demonstrating the course’s guidelines in a non-sleazy way.
    "I was looking for a couple willing to snuggle up in front of cameras, who could express themselves, be intimate and sincere, and be prepared for the exposure. Luckily, Vitaly and Avital proved to be the brave couple.
    “The course includes a lesson on how to kiss correctly – gently. There’s also a lesson on dominance sex games." Berlovich is a charismatic, professional and experienced presenter. The course includes compassionate communication. “Most of us have never learned how to openly communicate using sexual touch. We weren’t taught sexuality. If we were lucky, we had parents who treated one another well. Maybe someone, at some stage, gave us a sensible talk about sex. Perhaps our first partner was curious and not horrible. But we haven’t learnt how to touch or how to ask out loud for what makes us feel good. People who expect to be understood via telepathy are sentencing themselves to a life of boredom and frustration.”
    Are there trends in sex?
    “Definitely. For example, the rest of the world has been aware of female ejaculation for 25 years. It’s only recently become a talking point in Israel. Before that, we had the multiple-orgasm trend when women wanted to know how to have consecutive orgasms. Before that, they were talking about the difference between clitoral and G-spot orgasms.”
    What next?
    "Taking over the world." Six months ago, Berlovich raised half a million dollars to develop an international app aimed at improving couple’s sex lives. “For me, it’s the next thing. I still want to take over the world. That hasn’t changed.”
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