Summary: good relationship, about a year now. Live together. Engaged. Very much in love. Both late 20s, healthy. Generally good communication, but big problem with differing sex drives. Went through usual infatuation stage, with lots of sex, then slowed down about six months ago. Problem: This is a one-sided thing. He would have sex twice a day, if he could. I'm more of a twice-a-week person. What to do?
I don't think there's anything wrong with me. I do have some control issues about sex, but I'm getting over them, and he's fairly sympathetic to them. I've been in lots of therapy, and I don't think these issues affect my sex drive. I like sex, and I enjoy sex. I love him, and I find him attractive. I know I'm attractive. We're both good lovers, and we click well in bed. Although I find it hard to reach orgasm, he's very attentive, and he knows how to help me, and I have orgasms about 75 percent of the time. (It is quite a workout, though.)
I've just never been that excited about sex. I don't think about it often. I don't usually get spontaneously turned on, and I'm often more interested in doing something else, like reading, snuggling with him, going out, sleeping, etc. Sex just isn't high on my list of fun things to do, I guess. I have a fairly stressful job, with middling-long hours, so my free time is limited. I don't particularly want to spend 10 hours a week having sex. It's fun for me, but it's kind of like eating candy -- something delicious that you want every so often, but not every day. This situation isn't specific to this relationship, either. I've been like this for years.
This causes issues. He feels unattractive (he's not), and wonders whether I really love him. He feels like I'm in control of the sexual aspect of our relationship, and it makes him feel powerless. He gets pretty unhappy about it, but I don't know how to fix it. Right now, we're having sex about four times a week, which is more than I would prefer, but I want to make him happy, so I make the effort and think of it as a representation of our love for each other, like buying each other little presents, or bringing him dinner when he's staying late at work. But he wants more. When I joked the other day that we're both so busy that perhaps we should schedule our four days a week, he got all quiet and upset, and said that he was really hoping that this was a temporary thing, and that we would up the frequency to every day. Whoa.
Sex seems to be very important to him, and he says it isn't because of the sexual release. It's the closeness, the intimacy, the love, which he says is specific to sex. I feel those things during sex too, but I also feel them when we're talking, snuggling, going on walks together, etc. I guess I don't understand, at a visceral level, why sex is so important to him. He says that this is a major problem in our relationship, that he can't see staying with me if things don't "improve." Well, frankly, an "improvement" for him would not be an improvement for me, unless I found some way to up my libido. I think that having sex every day when I don't particularly feel like it is unfair to me. I'm not a "close your eyes and think of England" type.
I don't know what to do. I've tried all kinds of libido-boosting herbs, carrying around sexy pictures, thinking sexy thoughts. I'm just not that excited about sex. Lately, I've caught myself feeling relieved when I get a yeast infection (ah, a break for a few days), and I've been feeling more and more grumpy about having sex when I don't really feel like it. This is not good.
Please, Cary, do you have any advice? This is turning into a really big deal with us.
I think you need to seriously negotiate this issue with your boyfriend. Sex obviously means different things to the two of you. So you need to reach some agreement about its place in your relationship. For him, frequency is a deal-breaker. For you it's just one element. It strikes me as a little unfair that he is holding your relationship hostage to this issue, as four times a week doesn't sound like torturous deprivation. But maybe that's just tired old me. At any rate, to negotiate, you need to understand why it's such a big deal for him.
Aside from the fact of differing sex drives, for some men, sex with a woman is not just pleasure, but affirmation. As my editor says, while men use sex to feel close, women need to feel close to want sex. And this general sex-linked attitudinal difference might be even greater for women who have "control issues," and for men who have felt unloved or abandoned, who need daily reassurance of their acceptability and find it in sex. If your boyfriend simply had a stronger sex drive than you, and felt otherwise confident and secure, he might be disappointed with your rejections, but the lighthearted scheduling suggestion you describe would not plunge him into a state of dark, mute despair. It would not threaten the core of his being as it appears to do in this case. And if sex did not carry some subterranean threat of annihilation or loss of control, it might be easier for you to indulge his drives. But as it is, sex has become your intimate battleground.
Perhaps he is using his show of displeasure as an emotional weapon over you, which is manipulative. And perhaps you sense this, which has stiffened your resistance. To top it off, you both may be confusing a healthy sex life with self-worth.
At any rate, it sounds like you've tried to meet him halfway. So I think you need to sit down and tell him that, for now at least, you've done what you can, and four times a week is your limit. Can he live with that? He owes you an answer. If he's going to leave you over that, you need to call his bluff, so he can't use it as a threat. If it genuinely makes him unhappy that he can't have sex with you twice a day, then maybe he's got to move on.
But if he is at all unsure about it, I would recommend that he find some way to explore why sex and self-worth are so closely linked. Maybe if he entered a course of psychological self-study he would be able to discover the roots of it.
I'm not saying there's anything wrong with his having a strong sex drive, nor that you might not be able to find greater pleasure in sex through continued work in that area. What I'm saying is that love is hard to find, and relationships are precious, so if compromise can't be reached in this area, it's kind of a shame.
- - - - - - - - - - - -
Want more advice from Cary? Read yesterday's column.