Tuesday, November 06, 2007

SEX! (that get your attention?)

Nothing stirs up a conversation around the blogosphere quite like the issue of sex, does it?

It's an interesting conversation, I think. The issue of how important sex is within a relationship is a difficult thing to tackle. It's sort of surprising, to me, that it doesn't get brought up more often, because, really, how often are we lucky enough to find ourselves dating someone who has exactly the same sex-drive as we do? I've been on both sides of this particular conversation. I've dated women who had sex drives that were significantly lower than my own, and I've dated women who had sex drives that were significantly higher than my own (don't tell Popular Wisdom- I'm pretty sure it says that I, as a man, must have a higher sex drive than all but the most deviant of women).

And, yeah, honestly, it makes things difficult at times.

Sex is a pretty important part of a relationship. Our culture has so many screwed up notions surrounding sex that I guess I shouldn't be surprised that we're not more open to conversations about sex drive, but the fact of the matter is that a major difference in sex drives can really hurt a relationship. So... what do you do about that?

It's like a minefield- it's very hard to navigate. It's so easy to fall into traps. If you're the partner who has the higher sex drive, it's easy to feel like you're constantly nagging the other person for sex, and to start to resent the lack of attention you're getting. It's really easy to start to feel like there's something wrong with you, or like the other person doesn't find you attractive, too. And it's not easy to get out of the mindset once you're there. If you're the one who is always initiating and pursuing the physical aspects of the relationship, and you're spending a lot of time getting rejected, it can create a really nasty headspace.

On the other hand, it's not fun for the person with the lower sex drive, either. Nobody wants to feel like they're obligated to have sex, but it can start to feel that way. You can start to resent the other person for exactly the opposite reason that the other person is resenting you- you can start to feel like there's this huge issue looming over you, all the time- like the other person is constantly demanding sex. You can start to feel like it's always hanging over you, and like you're constantly being judged for not being more interested in sex- like there's something wrong with you.

And, of course, both sides end up in a vicious circle. For the high sex drive person, the less sex you get, the more desperately you want to jump on anything that seems like it might lead to sex. The more that happens, the more the low sex drive person feels pressured for sex. If you're the low sex drive person, you're feeling all that pressure, and it's stressful. Being constantly stressed out makes you less likely to want or initiate sex, which leads you to rebufff these advances, and we're back to the begining again.

Ultimately, I think there does have to be some compromise- it's not about having sex as a chore, or lying there counting the tiles- it's about finding some middle ground, breaking out of the circle, and finding ways that both people can get their sexual needs met. That means that the low sex drive person might need to make a concentrated effort to help the high sex drive person get off, even when the low drive person isn't specifically feeling hot and bothered. The high drive person has to accept that sex isn't going to happen as often as that person would like.

With any luck, both people find that their sex lives are better for it. The high drive person is having sex more regularly or, at least, is finding that there are other ways of getting off that work, and the low drive person isn't feeling pressured to have sex. I think that being creative with how you express your sexuality probably helps, too. It's not always easy, but I think that, rather than having sex like it's a chore, the low drive person can find other ways of expressing sexual interest that help.

Apparently, some people have suggested that the low drive person can just give oral sex or hand jobs to the high drive person instead of having sex- which is certainly possible- but I think that it can sometimes involve sending a dirty text message to the high drive person, instead. Or leaving notes, or talking about what you'd like to do the next time you have sex, even if you're not particularly in the mood to have sex at that moment. These sorts of things help your partner get off in a healthy way, and in a way that involves both of you, which is sort of the point, I think. None of us want a partner who is going to just lie there and let us fuck them- we want the other person to be involved with us and reciprocate the feelings we're having, and to be an active part of our own sexual experiences. The compromise isn't about having sex when you're not in the mood- it's about finding other ways of having sex that are good for both of you.


Anonymous said...

I agree with most of what you say here (and especially with the fact that we should, as a culture, be having this conversation more often and more explicitly), but I do want to take issue with your assumption that what the high-drive person needs is to "get off." I mean, most of us don't need a partner for that, do we? I certainly don't. What I need my partner for is an exchange of sexual energy/communication/intimacy/desire/etc. You get the picture. (And actually, other things you wrote here make it seem like you really do, but this "get off" language bugs. Reducing the need or desire for partner sex to the need or desire for an orgasm is damaging to both parties.)

N1nj4G1rl said...

I've also seen both sides of the coin on this issue, and they are both difficult. I think a big part of the problem (which you talked about) is the view that sex=penis in vagina. There are a lot of issues with that idea, the big one IMO being that if that's all that's necessary to qualify as sex then anything else is either just a bonus or not enough.
Being pregnant has made that kind of sex not so comfortable for me, so we do other things and neither of us is left unsatisfied.

Stupendousness said...

I realize you may have specially wanted only to address uncomplicated relationships: no children, depression, or any other illness.

But I think this would have been a good opportunity to address how this is very much a feminist issue.

I have talked to so many women in real life and online who have a decreased sex drive after they give birth. Usually this is due to them being utterly tired from staying home to take care of the child, or multiple children, all day. Their child-caring responsibilities continue even after their partner (usually male) comes home from the money-making work.

One man I worked with was truly dumbfounded as to why his wife didn't want to have sex with him after she spent 16 hours everyday taking care of his 3 sons.

And it's not just about the woman being exhausted (although that is a huge problem).
Sometimes women with little children don't want to be physically intimate because they can't stand to be touched anymore. They spend all day attached to their child in some form: holding him, playing with him, changing his diaper, feeding him, etc. They just want to be left alone and regain their independence.

Then there's post-partum depression, physical ailments as a result of pregnancy and birth, and the changes in the woman's body that make her feel uncomfortable in her own skin (and often feel unattractive).

And in all of these cases, I don't think the solutions you mentioned are likely to work.

I think women may experience decreased sex drive more often than men because only women can experience post-pregnancy complications. Due to our patriarchal society, women are still more likely to be the main child-caretaker, and society places more pressure on mothers for various things, like breastfeeding, post-pregnancy appearance, and the work-home balance.

Julie M. said...

Man, too bad you couldn't use the bodily fluids tag for this entry...I keep waiting. =)

Feeling ugly said...

This is exactly the ONE issue I have in my relationship. We've been together for 4 years and it's the perfect relationship except for the sex. I love him completely but he seems to have no sex drive whatsoever. We've talked about it (which I had to force, he was reluctant even to discuss it) and he always promises to make more of an effort to address my needs but then never does. It's left me feeling ugly and undesirable. He seems to think sex is dirty and shameful but after much questioning I still can't figure out why.
So I'm sick to death of initiating and being left unsatisfied. And this whole "get off" business you talk about has nothing to do with it. I know I won't "get off" because I'm aorgasmic, but I crave a physical connection with him that doesn't exist. And to top it all off, the only thing he does enjoy is kissing, which just happens to be the one thing I dislike. *sigh*
I don't know what to do.

baby221 said...

My totally unreliable sex drive is part of why I'm in an open relationship. For those months when I'm just ... not interested, far be it from me to leave my partner high n' dry. And for those months when I'm more than interested ... heh, far be it from me to ride him raw.

'Course, generally speaking we're at an even keel, and we're both just as happy petting and teasing and not cumming as we are with petting and teasing and eventually working toward an orgasm. It's the affection that's the important bit -- and yeah, if that's an imbalance in the relationship, it's something y'all are gonna need to talk about, and fast.

Still, the day sex becomes a chore ... ugh. Time to do some prioritizing.

(Sorry if this wanders o/t, it's late and I'm half asleep ... :p)

Nique said...

Wow, way to oversimplify the problem.

Roy said...

Wow, there are some great points being brought up here- thanks!

Anonymous: You're right, it's not really about "getting off" most of the time, and if it were, suggestions like "why can't the high-drive person just go masturbate" would make sense. I fell into the same sort of trap that I was criticizing, by making the language about orgasm, when orgasm is really a tiny, tiny part of sex. I think that the things you mention- energy, communication, intimacy, desire, etc- are all really important aspects of sexual intimacy. Thanks for mentioning them.

n1nj4g1rl: I think that's true. I think that a related pressure is the idea that orgasm is the end-all be-all of sex. That is, if you don't orgasm, it doesn't count, or it's necessarily bad, and I think that's a trap, too. I think it creates a situation where probably a lot of our experiences of sex become, as you point out, "not enough".

Stupendousness: Thanks for mentioning that. I was pretty much focusing on my personal experiences with this issue, which, admittedly, come from a pretty narrow area.

feeling ugly: I know the feeling. I've been in relationships where I felt like my partner had absolutely no physical interest in me what-so-ever, and it left me feeling pretty depressed and pretty alone. It's not a good feeling, and it led to my feeling resentful about other things, which wasn't good either.

roses said...

I'm glad you posted this. I'm generally the low sex drive person... not because I don't have much of a drive natually, but because being tired or worn out just kills it for me. And after getting up at 6:30 and working all day (complete with soul sucking 11/2 hour commute) I am inevitably too tired at the end of the day to feel like sex. So it was interesting to read this and get an idea of what it was like to be the person on the other end of the spectrum.

I think there are two things that are really important. One is what you were kinda getting at and what anonymous said, that desire for sex is about more than getting off. And the other is that it's really important to talk about these things. See, I always thought when my fiance was bothering me for sex that what he wanted was an orgasm. Not only did that make me feel like: "Can't you do it yourself, what are you bothering me for?" it also made me feel that if I didn't have the energy to carry a sex act all the way through to his orgasm (takes a long time for him, usually), I shouldn't bother starting it at all, because I figured that would just make things worse on him. Then we talked about it... and really, I could not have been more wrong. What he wanted from me was just... that attention and intimacy. So if all I want to do is make out for a little while, or have sex for 10 minutes and then realise I really need to get some sleep... that's fine, that's okay, that's good, because he's still getting the intimacy he needs from me, and the orgasm part he can do himself. Another thing that should be discussed is the reason for the low sex drive... if it's due to the low drive partner being tired or stressed, the high drive partner might be able help alleviate some of that. If it's because of problems in the relationship (which it often is), those need to be resolved before the sex can go back to normal.

I also like your thought of finding creative solutions to the problem. A simple one that helps for us is just for me to let him know when I'm undressing for bed so that he can come in and watch... he loves seeing me undress and I have no problem with having him watch.

La Pobre Habladora said...

Hey, thanks for being a man who admits that this is an issue for both sexes. Really, it is usually the woman who gets blamed either way - she's slutty or a nympho if she has the higher sex drive, and she is frigid (or a 'feminist' - scary) if she has the lower sex drive. It helps to have these stereotypes confronted by men as well as women.

Anonymous said...

Psychological problems need to be addressed if they are the predominant cause of erection problems. If not, drugs are unlikely to restore enjoyable and satisfying sexual intimacy to your relationship. One must learn how to manage stress. http://www.besthealthmed.com/ed_psychology.html