I want more

My husband and I have had sex like adolescents for years, and now I want to be sexual in a grown-up way, with depth. How can I get there?

Published June 3, 2003 7:20PM (EDT)

Dear Cary,

I'm a 30-year-old, blissfully married woman. I've been with my husband for more than 10 years (five of them married), and I can't tell you how I love and treasure him and the loving, supportive, entertaining and powerfully cozy life we've built together.

Since we met when I was 19, in a lot of ways we've really grown up together, and along the way grown closer and all-around better at being together. So what's the issue? Well, sex. Of course.

Let me give a bit of back story: From age 14 on I was a pretty typically sex-crazed adolescent. I had quite a lot of sex before I met my future husband, not very much of it actually good (seems when you're that age, just the idea of its being sex is exciting enough to keep you coming back), and at least my share of relationships and drama.

I was nearing the end of this hormone mania when we met, and within a couple of years of our getting together my interest in sex had dwindled significantly. I know you'll think it was a function of not being attracted, but I assure you I was and am. I'm just a very cerebral person, and tend to live my life in my head, in a state of semi-constant hostility with my body. Without that huge amount of hormonal mediation, it became more and more natural to spend all my time up there, and tougher and tougher to climb down into my body and gear up for the charged negotiations of sex.

The desire discrepancy has caused big problems for us over the years, since he's found himself living in a scarcity economy and constantly feels deprived. But we've done the best we can with it, even going to therapy for a while when things got really tangled and overwrought, which helped. I should mention that "scarcity" is a relative term, and for us that means roughly once every week or two. Which doesn't seem all that seldom to me, but then that's the discrepancy!

The real issue is that recently I've found myself regaining interest in sex, but in an oddly frustrating way. Increasingly I have this feeling that somewhere inside me there's a vast, untapped reserve of sexual responsiveness. Sometimes in particularly unguarded moments I feel that I can glimpse this whole other realm of engagement and sensation, but that there's some thin but tough membrane closing me off from it. I feel my sexual experiences are superficial. Even when I give myself an indulgent hour alone with toys and erotica, it's like there's still some impassable barrier, a sticking point. And I have no idea how to break through. Partly I feel it may be because I've been having the same sex with the same person (people, if you count myself) for over 10 years, and since we were such babies when we met (he was 21 and I was his third sexual partner), in some way I feel as if we never learned sex as grown-ups.

I have no interest in having sex with anyone else; that isn't remotely an option, for all the obvious trust and loyalty and true-love reasons you'd imagine. Neither of us is much turned on by kink, although we've tried most of the milder variations. Too, I feel that in a quiet, submerged way he's very conservative and serious about sex. It's not that he won't try new things, but his preferred modes are pretty fixed, and he tends to kill innovation through lack of interest, as opposed to active objection.

How can I find a way to break through to this level of experience that I feel might be available to me? Should I talk to him about it, knowing that it will likely make him feel scared and inadequate? And even if I do bring it up, to what end? Presumably if he had ideas about how to get me off better, he'd have trotted them out by now. Do I seek outside guidance, in the form of literature or the like? I feel like the problem is primarily, or at least initially, with me and my internal safety structures.

Am I doing that classic female self-blame thing? One more relevant detail: We've been trying to have a baby for almost three years, so you can imagine the amount of unspontaneous, sometimes perfunctory sex we have in clumpy intervals. This too makes me feel knotted up and closed off inside, like somehow I'm not allowing pregnancy to happen, for some reason that I won't tell myself.

You're the only person I would consider writing to about my intimate life. You're a pretty stellar advice guy.

Greedy Girl Wants It All

Dear Greedy Girl,

I don't think you're all that greedy. In fact, I'll bet you're a good Protestant girl, well trained to wait your turn and only take a little. But it clearly sounds like you crave some release, some peak experience to reunite your warring selves with the world, to rid you of petty worry and the whirring of the brain long enough to behold for an instant the majesty of it all.

But while you may see sex itself as the route to your release, I doubt that better sex alone is ultimately what you're after. I think your crisis may be not only sexual but also metaphysical. With all due respect, and granted that you may be having hormonal changes that increase your desire, I have a feeling that the longing for better sex is only part of a general constellation of longing.

The physical part of better sex is fairly straightforward: Read some books. Work harder at it with your partner. Don't be afraid to ask your partner to do things. Do those Kegel exercises and strengthen your pleasure muscles.

But there is something else going on here. You're trying to have a baby. You feel at war with your body. You indicate that you "live in your head," that you prefer to deal with the world by thinking. Consider: What could be more terrifying to a person who lives in her head than surrendering to the blunt biology of motherhood, turning your instrument of graceful motility into a womb on legs, a walking, talking factory of infant formula? You may truly want a baby intellectually, but is it something you crave night and day with every ounce of your flesh? Do you hunger for that little beet-red noggin slimy with placenta?

If you feel ambivalent about having a child, that may be what makes you feel "knotted up and closed off inside." Moreover, if your "perfunctory sex in clumpy intervals" has not resulted in motherhood, the act itself may now have acquired an aura of hopelessness or disappointment. So no wonder you're not going nuts in bed! No amount of dutiful screwing is going to get you off the way you want to get off.

Here is an idea: What if having a baby, having great sex, and union with the cosmos could coexist as parts of the same whole? That would be good, would it not? To get to that point, you would have to have some road map, or some insight, that unites the cosmos, your intellect, your womb, your vagina, your husband, your hands, your face, your brain, your books, your voice, your uvula, the whole thing. I wish I could prescribe a psychedelic experience for you, but maybe if you camped on a warm Mexican beach for a week you would begin to feel this unity of mind, body and spirit. Yoga might help you relax, but its intellectual component might strike you as so much tantric twaddle. Maybe reading lots of poetry would help. And playing some music.

You've got a lot going on, sister. You've got a lot to sort through. If you really want a child and you don't seem to be able to conceive, get checked out medically, and then if you really want to raise a child, adopt one. But pay a little more attention to the side of you that wants to run naked through the forest hallucinating little diamonds and trolls. I think it wants to get out.

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By Cary Tennis

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