I'm too exhausted for sex! Do I have to?

With two kids under 4 and two jobs, I just need a good night's sleep.


Cary Tennis
February 25, 2004 1:50AM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

My husband and I have a rocky marriage to start with, but we're making it work, for the most part. We do a lot of counseling to keep lines of communication open; we struggle through. However, there's one issue that is a constant for us -- sex, and the initiation and, especially, frequency thereof.

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We have two kids, ages 3 and 1 1/2, we both work full-time, and this year I've taken on a teaching obligation on top of my regular job, which means that there is work for me in the evenings after the kids go to bed as well as all day. There are endless household chores, laundry, dishes, making lunches, packing diaper bags, getting people in and out of the house on certain timetables. Not to mention the poor, neglected dog.

And on top of all this I'm supposed to be excited about having sex at least twice a week, preferably three times. I need a male perspective on this, because all my girlfriends say he's being ridiculous, and has no idea how good he has it. In his view, he's hopelessly deprived. And the fact that I never initiate adds insult to injury. I find him attractive, and my sex drive isn't totally dead, and if he gave me about two weeks, I'd be all over him. And then another two weeks until the next time. I would be quite happy with that schedule. In fact, we tried it once, set a date 10 days in the future for our next tumble, no sooner, no matter who wants it, and in 10 days we had fabulous sex ... making me want to wait another 10 days (not to mention I loved the interval without being pestered and groped all the time) and making him not want to wait again ever!

I'm working way too much, and when I'm home, the kids are literally clinging to me the entire time. I just want to be left alone once they're in bed, I want to shower alone, sit and read or chat with my husband, go to bed with someone to snuggle up to for about a minute, then roll over and be alone! No more touching me! And going right for my crotch without even a warm-up sends an immediate "get away from me" message zinging to my brain. In fact, I've told him if he wants to have sex, he should put lotion on my legs and feet in this insanely dry winter -- which he did once, with great results, but hasn't offered again. Do I need to tell him every single time "get the lotion, take care of my legs, and I'll take care of you"?

I know that sex is very important to my husband, that it's an essential component of his feelings of intimacy for me (see, I told you we'd done a lot of counseling). I understand all this; I understand that sex for him is like conversation for me -- it provides the basis for the intimacy. But how much do I need to have sex when I really don't feel like it? I'd say about one-third of the time I start when I don't feel like it and end up really enjoying myself. And about two-thirds of the time I'm thinking, Can we just get this over with so I can get some time to myself? My thought, of course, is why would he want me to do something I don't want to? But often I expect him to talk about things he doesn't want to talk about, or when he doesn't feel like communicating, so I'm willing to have some give and take. I just need a break from the constant demands on myself. How often am I obligated to have sex with my husband?

Not Frigid, Just Tired

Dear Not Frigid,

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Oh, boy. Look what you did there. You painted a detailed portrait of a complex situation, filled with who you are and what you do, the very essence of your life, the marvelous and astounding if mundane facts of your existence. Then, as if all that were just a polite prelude to the real issue, you asked if we couldn't reduce all that to an expression of frequency over time. Three times a week. Once a day. Once a month.

If I were your friend I would say, here, lie down on the couch, have some tea, doze off a bit, it's all really too much for one person. Let's talk about how incredibly hard you're working and how exhausted you must be. Let's talk about your husband. You really love him, don't you? The kids? Marvelous little beings, aren't they? Do you have a yard? What's growing there? What are you teaching? Do you ever sit and wonder how fast it's all going by? Do you ever take your husband's hand in yours and look at the lines on his palm like they're little rivers?

Oh, gee, you've dozed off already. I think you're working too hard. Do you really need to do this extra teaching job? Isn't that a little much, what with the kids so young?

And what about this wish for a number? Numbers are so appealing. Seventeen ways to be more sexy. Eleven delicious dinners you can cook in 30 minutes. Twelve ways to spice up your wardrobe. Ten things you can do to save money. Nine tricks to improve your memory.

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Sure you live your life day by day, detail by detail, dealing with the man who is your husband in all his strange remoteness and gruff opacity; and every now and then you wish you had a magic number; if you could just find the right statute and get a ruling from a judge, you could serve it like a summons on your husband and say, See, there it is in black-and-white, that's what the judge says: Once every eight days is enough.

I understand why you would like to simplify the question of what transpires between you and your husband. But that's where the frustration and anger comes from: the belief that there is such a simple answer somewhere, if only you could find it, or get an authority to express it, and get your husband to agree to it. The belief that such a simple answer exists makes all this vexing complexity that much harder to take.

Can you laugh along with me about this? I know it's maddening and it's painful. And you can indeed work toward a goal. You can agree on a number with him and work toward it. And you can certainly tell him how unpleasant it is for him to grab your crotch. You could even assign that a number from one to 10 in terms of its unpleasantness.

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But the truth of your life is in its concrete details, not in your frequency of intercourse. It's marriage. It's children. It's men. You live your life, as women all over the world live their lives, wishing sometimes that it were different in certain respects but never losing sight of the fact that this is my life.

In the long run, it's easier if you just admit that there's no number. There's just the reality of how you feel and what you want and what you're willing to do to make your husband happy and what he's willing to do to make you happy, and all the things that you can't possibly understand yet, all the howling winds and shifting sands and immensity of stars, and all the things you have to do in the next five minutes, like getting the kids dressed and making the sandwiches.

Want more advice from Cary? Read the Since You Asked directory.

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Cary Tennis

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