Tying the Knot in a Meaningful and Memorable Way (Without Losing Our Savings or Sanity)

Wednesday, September 15, 2010

Ideas for Overcoming Sexual Frequency Issues

After I wrote a post describing the major problem that Matt and I are having in our relationship, I got a lovely e-mail from one of my longtime blog acquaintances, known as Ms. Loaf. I immediately asked if I could share her wisdom with all of you...

Congrats on your pregnancy. I love getting to follow along and read about the choices you and Matt are making for your family!

I started typing a comment on your latest $2000 wedding blog about the sex issue, but decided I'd feel more comfortable talking about this more privately with you. This issue was one of the major reasons (aside from eventual infidelity) that caused my ex and me to break up.

Anyway, we went to couples' counseling for awhile (with a lesbian therapist who specialized in helping couples with sex problems) and I thought I could maybe offer some advice or at least an ear to listen or even just a "I've been there" sort of thing.

Here is what we did/what our therapist told us to do:

  1. have a date night every week where sex is mandatory. Unless you're sick or something, don't reschedule or beg out of the sex, just know that every Wednesday night (or whenever), you're going to get it on with your partner. This taks the pressure off both partners that they must either ask for it or feel guilty about refusing. When you know you're definitely going to get it on once a week, you don't stress about it (or at least not nearly as much).
  2. For one month, try to have sex whenever the partner who wants it more wants to. What ends up happening is that at first, you have sex all the time. Then you realize that you don't have sex as often as you'd think, and that your libido levels aren't actually as different as you think.
  3. Women tend to get more turned on after they start having sex, even if they didn't think they were in the mood beforehand, so sometimes you just have to go with it and you'll end up being glad you did.
  4. We read a book on lesbian couplehood that had some really great points in it, and it talked a lot about women's sexual desire (as one might imagine it would) that might be helpful to you: "The high desire/low desire phenomenon is inevitable in relationships. While it is particularly noticeable in the sexual arena, he notes that it also exists in other areas as well. For example, one partner may be high-desire about saving money, having children, or taking vacations. This desire discrepancy is built in to the structure of relationships and ... we can't avoid it. These desire differences are part of how relationships invite--and even require--us to grow."
However, these disparities can also polarize us and bring our relationship to the brink of disaster. ... Here are some suggestions about what to do:
  • "Get clear about who you are and what you want; For example, how often do you want sex, and how do you like to be touched?
  • Communicate w/your partner. Even early in your relationship you will likely find some differences between you which you can explore. You can use the high-desire/low-desire partner concept to help understand the role each of you falls into. For example, the high-desire partner, by virtue of being in that role, will tend to feel like she is more demanding, exposed, and deprived. The low-desire partner will feel more resentful of being demanded of, inadequate (because in our sex-saturated culture, low desire is, by definition, defective), and guilty abut depriving her partner. These feelings are perfectly predictable given the nature of the roles. The intensity of feeling may vary depending, in part, upon how discrepant the desires are, how long the couple has been struggling with the issue, and how much emotional baggage has collected. But the basic feelings depend on the role. If the low-desire partner was in another relationship where she was the high-desire partner, she would have the feelings associated with the high-desire role.
  • Hold on to yourself--to your knowledge about yourself, your feelings, and your own personal integrity--as you negotiate with your partner about how to address your respective wants and needs. This clarity about who you are, along with the capacity to calm and soothe yourself (instead of expecting your partner to take responsibility for your feelings), is the hallmark of differentiation, which is essential to intimacy. You both need to be able to be separate people in order to truly meet.
  • Recognize that differentiation is a lifelong process of taking your own "shape"--of becoming more uniquely yourself by maintaining yourself in relation to those you love. It can be the key to expanding your sexual relationship and rekindling desire and passion. ... "A key point in this discussion of frequency--and a critical way that sexual desire and frequency concerns intersect--is the fact that the low-desire partner always controls the frequency of sex. No matter what the high-desire partner does, she cannot make her partner have sex--or want to have sex. This can lead to a sexual pattern that doesn't really work for either partner: The high desire partner learns to initiate sex more often than she really wanted it because she anticipates that she will get refused a lot. The low-desire partner is encouraged to remain passive because she can have all the sex she wants without ever taking the lead. In addition, the low-desire partner usually does not want her lover to lose interest in sex completely and at the same time feels guilty about thwarting her high-desire partner's sexual desire. In fact, the low-desire partner is training her high-desire lover to badger her for sex. She sends the message that the only factors that motivate her to have sex are her guilt about frustrating her high-desire partner or her fear that her high-desire partner will stop wanting her." -from "Lesbian Couples: A guide to Crating Healthy Relationships" by D. Merilee Clunis and G. Dorsey Green

My other big piece of advice is to take a cue from queers. Not to make an assumption, but most heterosexual couples consider sex to be only penile/vaginal sex. That's not the way queer people think about it at all. It's still sex if it's just hand jobs or oral sex, or really deeply making out. Being physically intimate with one another is more important than what goes in where and who has an orgasm, yknow? (Maybe you already know this, but I've had a lot of straight friends who didn't think about this, so I figured I'd pass it along).

There are tons of lists out there of how to spice up your sex life, so I won't type that up too, because I fear I've already either overwhelmed you or overstepped or something, BUT I did find homework helpful. Our therapist gave us specific sexual exercises to try at home--our homework for the next session--and it was very helpful. Once it was about switching roles--if one of you is usually more dominant in sex, have him/her be the more submissive one, etc. But one more cerebral exercise is a variation of something you and Matt already do--write each other sexy love letters. Tell each other what you love about the other's body, how much you like it when they do x,y, or z to you. Describe your favorite memory of lovemaking, thank them for being attentive to this that or the other thing when you're in bed. I know one of the scariest things for the high-desire person can be feeling unattractive to their partner, and so being told how sexy you are, how much your partner loves making love with you can be really emotionally fulfilling.

Okay....I hope that is kind of helpful or at least interesting. This can be such a tough issue to deal with, so I totally understand why it stresses you out, especially when you're pregnant and facing down parenthood, (which will make those date nights even more important!). Maybe those pregnancy hormones will help y'all out?

Anyway, just wanted to write because I've been there and I feel like so many couples face this problem, but it's not talked about.
Good luck!

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Anonymous said...

I just now read your previous post after reading this one. I have been in the exact same situation and get the downward spiral that it is. (I'm not in the mood, so not we're fighting about it, and now I'm REALLY not in the mood.) Plus, when you do bite the bullet, there has been such a to-do about it, that it just ends up being high pressure and stressful, thus making you not in the mood again. Ugh.

The reason I am commenting is because I think I have something new to say, which is that in my experience, when I thought this was my marriage's largest problem, what I didn't know was that it wasn't the largest problem by a long shot - I just hadn't realized it yet. Women can't have sex (at least on a regular basis) someone we've lost a personal connection to. Start there for your answer. Loss of intimacy is a symptom, not a cause. You're not broken - you haven't lost the ability to desire intimacy, for whatever reason the personal connection just isn't getting you there.

hizzle said...

I have had this problem in my marriage as well, and I appreciate the advice you have shared here from Ms. Loaf. It is very insightful, and I believe I will attempt to put some of the suggestions to use in my marriage.
Thank you both :)

Anonymous said...

I am quite a bit older than most of your readers and I have seen, heard and been the confidant to many a friend that didn't want sex as much as their partner. In most cases it became a battle over who had the most control in the relationship and eventually the relationships ended. Usually from the spouse that was turned down all the time finding someone else that would put out. I ain't sayin...I'm just sayin...

Anonymous said...

Yay! I love this post, and I love both of you guys for being so open about this subject.

Carissa said...

Thank you so much for posting this and a big thanks to your friend for sharing this. Being in a heterosexual marriage I would have never thought to take up advice from a book with a homosexual standpoint-but it doesn't matter because we ALL relate to this issue.
Lastly, I just want to say thanks so much for even talking about this issue!

Jen said...

I agree that a big thing can be taking the stress out of it. Especially once baggage has built up, it can be really hard to all of a sudden try to have a smooth, natural progression of intimacy.

The date night idea is good. For us (here comes some TMI!), we found that we both need touching to feel loved and sexy but that he related sex to this more and I related just loving touches (sometimes sexual, sometimes not) to this. So to take the stress out of it, I would direct his touch - sometimes something as simple as him running his fingers over my tummy, which I love and makes me feel loved. So it wasn't always sexual. A lot of times it did lead to that, but with the goal of simple touching we didn't feel the stress to 'perform'.

So that's an example of homework to fulfill the low-desire partner's needs.

Again, thanks for talking about this topic! Great to see an honest discussion about sex!

Chris Wolfgang said...

Just want to add my name to the list of thank-yous for this post. I'm engaged and am definitely the low-desire half of the partnership. It's had me concerned, though he seems to think it won't be a big deal. It's good to read a frank discussion and know that, okay, whew, there isn't something wrong with me.

Anonymous said...

I definitely have to agree with the point that sometimes women who aren't in the mood can get really turned on if you just go for it. My husband and I have different preferences about the frequency of sex, which has been more pronounced with me being pregnant. I'm tired very often (still in the first trimester, though almost out and into the second) and working full time while pregnant is exhausting.

A couple things that have helped us:
1. I'm very thought-oriented, so being felt up doesn't exactly get me going. Sometimes it's just very hard to get out of my head. Reading erotic stories has helped to get me in the mood and make sex more enjoyable. I've written some about DH and I too, which is really helpful at boosting my mood.

2. Just do it. There are (many) times that I'm not in the mood, but most of the time when I'm not, if I just go with it anyway, I really enjoy it and feel satisfied after. And if I don't get there, I still enjoy pleasing my husband and being able to satisfy his needs. (I'd say I aim to 'just do it' about 25-35% of the time).

3. Letting my husband know that if I come home and can relax for a bit after work without having to cook a big dinner, clean the kitchen, do dishes, do laundry, clean up after DH who leaves clothing everywhere, I'm much more likely to be in the mood. Making easy dinners (esp now while pregnant, since I don't really eat meals and am only eating certain foods to keep my stomach calm), having help with cleaning, using compostable plates and such to cut down on dishes (no dishwasher in our new house) really helps me to be more relaxed in the evenings and more likely to want to put the effort into sex.

Meg said...

Ohhhh Ms. Loaf! This isn't even a big issue in my life but this post is so effing smart and so helpful. I learned something(s). Hooray.

And Dan Savage always makes the same point about queer sex, and I think it's a very wise one.

Therese T. said...

Yay, Sara! And yay, Ms. Loaf!

I'm actually sick and I should be resting, or rest enough to go to work, but I'm working at home, oops.

So. What Ms. Loaf said is pretty all on target. Schedule time for sex. When Jess and I started being intimate, I was enthusiastic but very shy. We're both enthusiastic about it now, but usually he is more so than I am. I get tired, then it's game over. So yeah, schedule some time, maybe morning sex before you get too tired (I like this as I get too tired by the end of the night), or have a nice dinner then make out after that may lead to sex or a hand/blow job? 'Coz Ms. Loaf is right: getting intimate can also kinda be like sex. It's attention and being intimate more than anything. So if sex is not on the agenda, it's nice to snuggle in bed together, hold hands and talk, or yes, write each other sweet or sexy love letters and then sneak it in each other's lunchboxes :) And I agree: the longer women are without sex, the harder it is to ramp us up again to want it. With guys, the more often they have it, the less they usually want it. This is my experience, at least.

So hopefully this helps, and works :)

Laura said...

I think it's quite rude for people to assume that a lack of desire for sex means that there is something wrong with a relationship. Relationships do not exist in a vacuum - they exist within broader social, economical and political contexts. For example, I could not focus on our physical relationship lately because I have been so worried about immigration.

And the assumption that one partner will leave another just because of sex seems to be very heterocentric. There are multiple human desires- emotional connection, financial security, desire to raise a family with that person. And there are a number of ways to fill any need. It's just that married monogamy is the current cultural standard!

Sara, I truly hope that you find a way to navigate your relationship that meets the needs of you and your partner!

Randa said...

Good advice, Ms. Loaf! My partner and I actually struggled with this for the past year. When we first got to together, I was "new," I guess you could say, to being truly intimate with someone and therefore wanted to be intimate a lot. as we've gotten older [and busier], intimacy has declined by . . . a lot. Unfortunately, this decline seems to be with me and not with him.

One of the things that we did that helped us both was having a date night, just as Ms. Loaf said. It's been amazing for our life! The pressure to have sex has been lifted off of my shoulders and he gets the satisfaction that he's craving for.

Also, talking about what sexual intimacy means to us helped - we found that our definitions were completely different! Now having that understanding really helps us meet in the middle.

Way to go, Ms. Loaf! I can't wait to try out some of the other suggestions you have. And thanks, Sara, for posting it!

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