There’s a devastating sexual myth that appears in the sheltered space of my office from time to time.
This myth has taken root in the minds of many people trying to make their relationships work. We circulate this belief in hair salons, happy hours and other places we share our secrets.
The myth begins early in a relationship, after the initial stages of passion wear off. One partner starts to notice that sex happens less frequently, as the typical complexities and rhythms of life demand more time and attention. The novelty and excitement of early relationship ecstasy begin to yield to the anxiety-ridden demands of two lives bound together.
What was once a free choice made by someone enraptured in the desire and mystery of a new love becomes a chore.
To make up for the shortfall of sex, we take Nike’s advice and “just do it.” It makes sense. We’re told our whole lives that sex should be treated suspiciously until marriage. Then, it’s absolutely vital and you better do it, and do it the right way.
For many women, sex becomes the thing you do for your partner. For many men, sex is the thing you do for yourself. We usually go through at least one major life crisis trying to unlearn these lessons. On the way to a healthier sexual ethic, many of us make a commitment to our spouses or partners that we’ll just say yes when they want sex. Despite what we want, we’ll be there for them even if we’re exhausted, when our needs aren’t met or when sex just isn’t appetizing. Our own desires aren’t considered.
Sex is important for a relationship, after all.
This choice, commonly made after a child first enters the picture - or some other major life change - makes logical sense if you just consider the needs of the relationship. But it’s a costly choice.
There’s pretty much three main motivations to have sex: 1) to have children; 2) to be intimate; and 3) pleasure. The first motivation has never really been about sex. Anyone who has had sex for prolonged periods of time for the purpose of having children knows that sex feels different when you’re shooting for a goal (no pun intended). The second motivation is pleasant, but actually is a recent social construction in human history. Intimacy and sex weren’t considered one and the same until around the 1970s when the culture’s opinions about sex started to shift. We started to ask more. And while sharing intimacy through sex may seem one and the same, there’s some unintended consequences, like super high expectations of what sex is supposed to be. As if we’re supposed to experience both physical and emotional orgasms. But no one ever promised that sex would create emotional pleasure, only physical.
That leaves motivation number three, one that is surprisingly misplaced among our sexual values. Sex is motivated by pleasure. It’s how our bodies are built. The female clitoris is the only organ across all known species that exists only for the purpose of physical pleasure.
We don’t talk about sexual pleasure much. It’s like the elephant in the room. It’s like we’re all going to our favorite pizza place and trying to argue that we’re going there for the Omega 3’s, as if admitting that we like sex for the sheer pleasure of it is somehow vain or immoral.
The problem with ignoring the importance of sexual pleasure is that by doing so, we deny a vital truth: sex only works well if we want it.
The problem with a lack of sex is usually not the sex. A couple of quick changes to your sex life can usually produce the spice you’re looking for. The problem is that you’re not looking for it. The problem with sex over time is that we stop wanting it. It becomes undesirable to us.
Thus, the problem with sex isn’t sex: it’s desire.
This is why obligating ourselves to sex so that we take care of the relationship is such a subtle, yet insidious problem. sex remains but desire doesn’t. Like scratching an itch. You’ve done your job for the night and you can go to bed, but the problem will re-emerge quickly.
Sex is like a person’s natural built alarm system. Unless you’ve been through some sexual trauma or you identify as asexual, when you stop wanting sex, it usually means there’s a problem that needs to be addressed. And it could be about your relationship, but it could also be something going on with you.
One of the first things to go when you live a life mostly caring for others is sexual interest. This happens because the desire for sex is inherently selfish - and that’s not bad. Imagine your partner came to you and said, “hey, I don’t want to have sex, but I’ll do it for you.” Does that inspire you to get excited about sex? But what if you’re partner said to you, “God, I’ve had a tough day. You look amazing. I can’t think of anything better than to hop in the sack and end the day on a good note.” That’s a totally different scenario, isn’t it?
Depending on your current state of mind when it comes to sex, perhaps neither of these appeal to you. But in general, knowing that your partner wants sex for themselves is much more appealing than knowing they’re doing you a favor.
So how do you change this?
Well, it’s unconventional, but the first you thing you need to do is start saying no. Don’t get me wrong. That’s not the only thing you should do. But it’s definitely first.
The sexual system needs a bit of a reboot when it’s been conditioned to turn on in response to a partner’s need rather than it’s own interests. When you give yourself permission to say no to the sex you don’t want, it gives you space to say yes to the sex you do want. And the only way you discover the sex you do want is to have space to think about yourself. Also, you may be surprised to find what problems you’re throwing under the rug by saying yes to sex you don’t want to have.
Now before you forward this blog on to your partner, keep in mind that this isn’t about them. This is about you. You need to establish your own boundaries without expecting your partner to do it for you by no longer asking you to have sex, or initiating sex. Establishing your boundaries is one of the first steps toward sexual self-mastery. You need to experience yourself taking that step. If someone else does it for you, then nothing at the core will change.
When you start saying no to the sex you don’t want, you deal with the root problem. You’re no longer just surviving. Instead, you’re suffering a temporary discomfort to deal with a chronic problem.
What turns you on?
One of the most common reasons that people lack sexual desire is because they’ve forgotten what turns them on and they never learned how to turn themselves on. If you’re aware of some insecurities about your body, then perhaps your body or the way you think about it needs to be worked on before you obligate yourself to sex again.
It’s hard to have great sex in a body you feel so poorly about.
Try the mirror test. Start talking about the way you feel and come up with a plan to deal with it. Does your health need to be addressed? Do you need to incorporate more movement into your day? Does your diet need to be addressed? Do you need to be more compassionate toward yourself? This is why it’s so important to listen to the natural alarm system of low sexual desire. Sometimes it’s trying to tell you that you need to pay attention to yourself.
Once you have a plan and you’re spending time and energy on your own body & mind, glance at yourself in the mirror on your more confident days. Are you turning yourself on? If so, perhaps it’s time for you to initiate sex.
I’m not suggesting you go cold turkey from sex. There are plenty of ways you can remain sexually active and gracious toward your partner without fully engaging in intercourse or other activities you’re not ready for. Talk to your partner. Tell them you’re working on yourself so that you can invest in the long-term sexual health of yourself and your relationship. Come up with a plan and execute it.
Don’t believe the myth. Sex isn’t meant for caretaking. Learn to say no so that you can say yes enthusiastically. Learn to say no so that you’re the one making the invitation. You may amaze yourself.