One of my posts on The Good Men Project got a very interesting comment from an articulate and intelligent woman. She was clearly trying to figure out the parts of her relationship (and sexual) experience in marriage. And I hear this a lot, about the fundamental differences between men and women when it comes to sex and sexual appetites. But let’s clear a few misconceptions up. There has been a lot of new science recently that shows women are just as interested in sex, and historically have not always been as repressed as they are today. I’ll get to that in a second, but here is my response to Erin’s comment. You can go read her full comment here on the GMP, but I think you’ll get the idea from my response.
Hmmm… You make a few assumptions that I don’t necessarily agree with, Erin.
1. Sex is about not disappointing your partner. Hmmm. I don’t think that’s the point. Sex should be a mutually desired part of any relationship. I don’t agree with all this stuff about monogamy becoming boring over time. After 11 years of marriage I was never bored or uninspired by my then-wife. Ever.
2. Men are just men and need sex, women can either comply or risk losing their man. Um… Well, some of that is true. But sex can come in many forms. Intercourse is not always the best option for either partner. And it’s true the male of the species has a more dominate drive, fueled by higher levels of testosterone. But both partners should want to be intimate, at least occasionally. Your milage may vary.
3. Sex is not about maintaining monogamy. And men will not necessarily go wandering sexually if they are not getting sex in their marriage. Just as not all women grow bored with sex after being married for a while. It’s simply the average story. But we’re not average, are we?
4. Men deal with the exact same thing, from the other side of the bed. Being constantly rejected for intimacy is hard to handle. I got creative with my requests. I had unspoken attempts. I had happy and playful attempts. I had lustful and passionate pleas. When nothing (and I mean nothing) worked, we were dealing with something other than a difference in libido.
So let’s take as an assumption that men and women desire closeness and affection with the same intensity. And for men, often this affection is driven by the sexual drive inherent in our higher levels of testosterone and our natural hunter instinct. This is biological. BUT… That’s not the whole story, and it’s definitely not the answer for our differences in sexual desire, or desire for frequency of sex. It is part of the story, but in my opinion, not the most important part. Hear me out.
Sex is about hormones and release. Sure. I can agree with that, from an animal perspective. When we were beasts we conquered dinner on the hunt and we conquered women back at home, partially as reward for our prowess and success as a provider. Well, dear women and men, the modern era is much different. The concept of the hungry and sexually frustrated male is convenient, but not all that helpful in navigating or negotiating an equitable balance in touch and intimacy, both sexual and non-sexual.
If we put the imbalance idea on hold just for a second, let’s assume that both partners desire closeness and this involves cuddling, kissing, holding hands, and sexual interactions. If we start with the idea that both partners desire closeness, we can start solving for how to get that closeness, regardless of if it involves intercourse.
What started happening in my marriage to curb our intimacy (and this was just as much about casual touch and holding) was my then-wife began distancing herself physically and emotionally from me. As she got activated by something, anger, fear, frustration, overwhelm, exhaustion, she would withdraw rather than engage. Now, I do understand how any intimate interaction has the potential to become sexual, but that was not the issue. For me, I would’ve been happy with snuggling. But the threat of sex may have kept her from even asking for that simple nurturing.
When I get scared or sad I feel closer and more supported by a gentle touch. That connection, even a hand on my neck, shows me (in some animal – dog-like perhaps) that she is near, she cares, and she is available. Available not for sex but for hearing and supporting me whatever I’m going through.
I can see how in many relationships that are based on much more base, caveman-like, relationships that even a hand on the neck might signal, “hey let’s have sex” but this wasn’t how our 9 – 10 years of closeness had developed. I was as fulfilled by a hug, sometimes, as a good roll under the sheets.
But something emotional was beginning to happen in my marriage that was more fundamental. It was not about sex. It was about being seen and being honest.
If you have sex in a full and open way, you begin to see deeply into the other person’s nature. (I’m not talking woo woo here.) You begin to feel more connected and in my case, you crave that connection, that transparency. I could tell when she was closed down and when we were close, and some well-thought-out touches and supportive words were often all it took to get her to open up and tell me what was bugging her. And most of the time this was not about sex. I was sincerely opening my heart to hers to hear what was hurting her or freaking her out. And more often than not, in the earlier stages of our marriage, it was about external things, or someone else who had done something hurtful.
But… As we began to experience more stress in our marriage, due in large part to the financial collapse of everyone’s economy including ours, she began to avoid being close. If she got scared she would often withdraw. When I had energy and passion for her I would frequently seek her out and dig in my heels until she let me in and told me what was going on. This was the equivalent of a housekeeper making sure nothing was getting swept under the rug. And this type of closeness rarely evolved into sex. It was not about sex, it was about closeness and intimacy.
After a while, however, as things continued to slide, she was harder to reach. And she began to express uncontrollable anger, that would pop out from time to time as a “fuck you.” It was shocking the first time she just blurted it out. The second and third time I had the impression she was bottling up so much anger and rage (in her mind it was 100% about me) that she could no longer contain it in her isolation. But she was so withdrawn that I couldn’t talk her down either.
In some ways maybe she was avoiding sex too. But I think the sex we had was so open and opening she was avoiding sex in order to not be revealed. Whatever she was afraid of or angry about was so frightening she didn’t want me to open her up. She didn’t want to tell me what was really going on. And in the end she really didn’t want to tell me she was consulting an attorney and trying to figure out her best options in asking for a divorce.
So sure, she was withdrawn and withholding of sex at this late stage. But it wasn’t about sex. It was about the closeness that often opened us both up to each other’s deep feelings. She didn’t want to share her hurt and pain. She didn’t want to tell me she was actually considering divorce and not just randomly shouting curses as me. She was so far gone she didn’t want me to see into her at all.
Sex opens you up to another individual in a human way, that is very different from our Neanderthal ancestors. Some of us are still stuck in the model of that old hunter/conqueror vs breeding partner/reward dynamic. That no longer holds true, if you are consciously coupling and relating with all of your intelligence. I do know that some relationships are not based on honesty and sharing, and I’ve seen examples of the caveman mentality too often to count. But that’s not us. That’s no you. That should not be your default understanding of the man vs. woman equation.
And it’s not the way it should be with sex. Sure we men want sex more often. And it is the woman who is the gatekeeper to her own body and the gift of that intimacy. When the intimacy dries up completely, it’s more about the relationship than it is about the animals in the relationship.
The Off Parent
reference: Good Sex: Or Five Ways to Avoid Bad Sex – The Good Men Project
- Dating A Divorced Dad: We Might Be Good For Each Other
- 5 Wonderful and Unexpected Benefits of Being a Serial Monogamist
- The Honey Trap: How Beauty Can Lead Us Astray
- a little love poem – a poem
image: fk, marina caprara, creative commons usage
I use the term blowjob interchangeably to apply to both sexes. And for me, the phrase, better to give than receive, actually fits. But it is also a sensuous desire that needs to flow both ways, for the full appreciation to be understood. Again, I’m out on an untested limb here, but I’m assuming a person is either “into” oral sex or they are not. Ideas like learning, or inexperienced, by the time one has passed out of their twenties… Well, I’m willing to bet, if the fascination isn’t there, the desire isn’t there either.
In my divorce recovery class (I participated in one session, and facilitated at a second session) the most amazing meeting was the night we get to ask the sex questions. And without breaking any confidentiality here, this was the big “ah ha” moment for me and many of the others in the group.
BIG REVEAL: Oral sex is not for everyone. Many people (both men and women) can “take it or leave it.”
I was stunned by this revelation Having had an insatiable desire to see, explore, play with, and taste, the female vagina, I have not known a time since my late teens that I wasn’t willing, ready, and able to dive into a woman’s nether region with abandon and enthusiasm.
I do understand that people express love in many different ways. And if we take the 5 Love Languages as a model, there are 4 of them that are not physical touch. But still, if the sexual act and sexual organs are not objects of mesmerizing awe and curiosity, I suppose, in my definition that person is not all that sensual. I mean, sex is a yes, in most people, but oral sex, I am understanding is an acquired taste. Or perhaps a learned and cultivated behavior.
In one of my two classes the question of oral sex made the rounds as a polling question. “Oral sex, yes or no?” And the answers ranged from “not so much” to “essential” to what became known as my answer, “deal killer.”
I am a sensuous human. I find my way, my security, my thrill, and my comfort in physical intimacy. And the actual act of having sex is less important to me than being in-process in some form of physical connection with my significant other, when we are in close proximity. If I pass you in the kitchen as I’m heading to another room in the house, I am the one who is likely to pass close by so I can put my hand on your back or shoulder as I move close by you.
And when things get difficult in life or even in the relationship, I am the kind of person who would rather snuggle and support than almost anything else. It’s not avoidance. The tasks and trials will all be met, but let’s pause for a minute and gather our collective resources, be together with the event, and then move from that place of closeness to solving whatever is going on. My ex-y, I learned, was from a different planet. And while the signs were clearly marked when we were courting, had I known what to look for, we didn’t really hit any major stressful relating issues until well into our third or fourth year of marriage.
So, I did not have an example of her withdrawal into logic and reason. I was not aware of how her stress response was to go into “spreadsheet” mode and try to map out the “plan.” And as these two very different response and manage systems became engaged over and over again, perhaps that’s when and how we began to drift apart. We drifted towards our own individual comfort systems, and were saddened and hurt by the other partner’s inability to bridge the gap for us. And as things escalated we became even more locked into our patterns. I wanted a hug, she wanted the numbers.
In terms of sexual compatibility, however, the ex-y and I did share a great love of the sensual. She did love oral sex. And as our patterns of lovemaking evolved, it was clear that she was primarily orgasmic via manual or oral stimulation. So we got into it. I had found a partner who was willing to indulge my curiosity and passion for giving her a “blowjob.” So much so that the concept of “she comes first” was a badge of honor with me. Or at least a known competency.
So now, in my evolved patterns and tastes, when I think of having sex, the idea always starts with me diving in head first and not surfacing until “timeout” was requested. THEN, we’d get to me. (grin)
And I guess, I now understand, that my oral orientation is not universal. In fact, many of the women in the classes fell in the take it or leave it category. It was interesting how you could understand a bit more about the person’s makeup by knowing if they were “in to” or not “in to” oral sex.
One of the ways I learned to ask for sex from the ex-y was to suggest that I give her a blowjob. And I was perfectly happy giving her a big “O” and walking away. That rarely happened, but it was fine. I had sensuousness to last me days even without orgasming myself. Usually it worked better if I offered to give her a massage. But I tried and refined my “ask” many times over, in an attempt to solve the question of why she was beginning to close me out. And the blowjob was one of our codes. But it often referred to me going down on her.
Looking back on everything, I can now see how my need for closeness during stressful moments would trigger her need for logic. My desire to solve things by hugging and kissing and napping, was contraindicated in her brain. Her ask for money planning meetings, and mapping out summer schedules was a huge buzz kill for me. I would do it. And perhaps now I am understanding that she would “do it” for me in the same way. Hmmm.
I am not suggesting that my ex-y in some way didn’t enjoy sex, or that she wasn’t sensual. But her availability factor was about a 10% of mine. And her passion level, when things got difficult, went into negative numbers pretty quickly. And that’s a shame, because things are going to get difficult. Situations and life events are going to happen. Disagreements are going to be a part of living and evolving with someone. That’s exactly how we evolve.
If that person doesn’t do well with accepting or joining in closeness, even when things are difficult, then I am going to be feeling left out in the cold. It’s not abandonment as much as longing to JOIN around an activity or event.
GF 1 had a great phrase that embodied the idea. It was about experiencing something so great or fun that you wanted to go home and “have sex” about it. As if you could lock-in the great experience by joining together in love making.
So maybe the nap is also a form of sensual ecstasy. Or maybe to my ex-y it was a sign of laziness. Often she would need to get sick, before letting herself drop back into relax and take it easy mode. And she often resented my self-care needs of taking a nap on Saturday AND Sunday if I could arrange it. And it wasn’t like I was trying to nap in spite of her. I would try and arrange things so that we could nap together. Who knows, maybe we’d make love, maybe I’d give her a blowjob. Who knows?
But she was often too wrapped up in getting everything into a certain order that would make her feel safe. It was often money, or house cleaning, or catching up on her work, that would prevent her from allowing me to give her a blowjob or a massage. And how many times we missed those opportunities are uncountable. Maybe I would have been better served, or she would have been better encountered, if I had demanded more naps with her. At some point, after ask number 75, you begin to get fatigued. And I suppose she might have had the same feeling about filling in the projections or modeling our financial future. If I had only participated more.
But my question is this. If I had only participated more in getting the chores done, or making sure there was enough money in the bank accounts, then what? Would she have opened up and become more receptive to sensual advances? Would she have accepted more offers to nap together and receive a blowjob or two?
I tried that. I worked hard to jump into action and pickup the house, get the kids off to friend’s houses, get the dishes clean, be a good earner so we wouldn’t have to worry about money. I did the dutiful husband role and I went through a two-year period where I stepped it up a notch. But it didn’t work. She didn’t get more available for play or ecstasy. There was always something else. There was always the next thing.
And I found myself giving myself blowjobs more often than giving them to her. (frown) And MAYBE I could have been more demanding there too. Maybe I should’ve made sexual connection more of an issue in couples therapy, rather than letting most of our discussions and negotiations focus on some crisis that always seemed to be at the top of her list.
I don’t think I could’ve changed her, with any of my activities or requests, into being a more happy and whimsical human being. I don’t think that my asking for naps, or blowjobs, or sensuous connection could have gotten more creative and flexible. And no matter how hard I tried, and how many spreadsheets I participated in filling out. No matter how much money was in the back to make US feel secure. She did not willingly relax and let herself go, without a huge effort on both our parts.
I won’t be travelling that path again: trying to change a non-touch love language person, into a touch-oriented person. It does not work. It cannot work. The behaviors can change, but the wiring remains the same.
And there were things in the early stages of dating my ex-y, that I might have seen, had we even had the “love languages” model at that time. But I was head over heels in love with the body and beauty that brought me so much pleasure in those early days, before the stress of being a family, with kids and bills and insurance requirements. Before we experienced stress together things were rather dreamy.
Under stress, however, she became a different person. Maybe I did too. But our two corners of comfort were on different sides of the planet. I wanted holding, she wanted numbers.
The Off Parent
< back to The Hard Stuff pages
- Five Ways to Avoid Bad Sex
- Seven Signs of a Healthy Post-Divorce Relationship
- Sex is Fun: Should You Settle for Apathetic Sex?
- Zen and the Art of Lovemaking – Won’t Save Your Marriage