I enjoy men until we get to the bedroom

All the things that lead to sex I love, but the sex itself I could do without.


Cary Tennis
March 9, 2006 4:58PM (UTC)

Dear Cary,

I am an attractive, intelligent and successful 45-year-old woman. Here is my problem: I find many men irresistibly attractive until I sleep with them.

I love the random meeting in the bookstore, at a Sunday matinee, while shopping at the farmers market part. I love the first witty, "feeling each other out" phone conversation part. I love that nervous look that slowly turns into the warm, simmering smile of recognition and attraction when you first see each other at the restaurant part. I love the staring at each other's lips in anticipation of the first kiss over a candlelit dinner part. I love the holding hands and the thigh straining against thigh at the cozy neighborhood place for a tarte Tatin and cognac part.

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I can become very aroused during the first make-out session part and have even felt turned on during the first undressing and discovery part -- when they are undressing me, that is. And once in a while, I even enjoy the foreplay part -- not passionately -- but I don't mind being a recipient.

But I am often grossed out or dare I say it -- kind of bored -- by the coitus part and, frankly, hate the next morning part. It seems that my mind loves making love but my body hates it and the sex act itself deflates and depresses me.

While I started out my sex life with a fairly high drive, I've found that for about the past 10 years (since I hit about 35) sex is just not as interesting to me as it used to be.

Part of me wonders if I just don't like men's bodies anymore. (I should state clearly that I am definitely not interested in women's either.) Maybe it's because as I am getting older, the men I am dating are also aging, which means they're getting, well, slightly dumpy. I've tried dating younger men -- even gorgeous, buff-bodied ones, but I haven't found one who really knew how to court my mind properly, so sex wasn't much more fulfilling.

But the other thing is, it seems that everything goes downhill once you sleep with a guy. For instance, the last two men I dated suddenly felt it was OK to fart in front of me once we got it on -- and I am not talking about a couple of weeks in, but the very same night or next day. I've jokingly referred (never aloud) to the "morning after" as the "mourning after" because I often feel that sex marks the end of what is, for me, the most enjoyable part of dating -- the part when people are still dressed.

I should tell you that my gyno says my hormone levels are fine (not even peri-menopausal), I don't take prescription or recreational drugs, don't drink a lot, exercise regularly, etc.

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Most of the men I've been with have no idea what is going on. I am a considerate partner and I know how to give pleasure even when I am not enjoying things myself.

I didn't date for almost three years because of this problem, and though it made life a lot less complicated, I did feel lonely and missed the male attention. Many of the men I have dated have remained friends and I enjoy the times I spend with them -- until they move on to women who, I guess, enjoy their bodies.

What should I do?

Hot Head, Cool Body

Dear Hot Head, Cool Body,

The first thing I would suggest is that you try to get comfortable with the reality that you have so eloquently sketched out in your letter. Before trying to fix it, let's entertain the notion that perhaps, just perhaps, it is OK. Try to live with it for a while without feeling that you must fix it. It may be fixable, but accepting it is the first step.

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One method to use in accepting it is to try to think of ways to express this that do not contain immediate condemnation.

If sex with men your age were, say, a kind of food that you used to like but that now disgusts you, or that you simply no longer have a taste for, how would you put it? Or say, for instance, that you used to like dinner complete with dessert, that in fact dessert was the thing at the end of the meal that you looked forward to, that you in fact ate the rest of the meal only in order to get to the dessert. And then you find one day that it's not the dessert that interests you anymore; it's the meal beforehand, and by the time you get to dessert time it seems like just too much, like excess.

Your taste has changed.

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But you still miss the pleasure dessert used to bring you. It would be nice to feel that pleasure again, wouldn't it? But that's what happens when our tastes change -- we cease to enjoy what we used to enjoy. Does that mean that our lives are less worth living? Are our pleasures fewer? Yes, perhaps they are. Or perhaps they are of a different order, more refined.

The passing of certain pleasures and certain tastes, and the longing for their resumption, raise an interesting point. There are things we can long for and acquire at any time -- physical objects or actions -- and then there are experiences we have had that we can remember and perhaps wish to have again. But while we can again acquire things and take identical actions, experiences are not reproducible; experience is not an object or an action that can be reacquired; it is a unique concatenation of circumstances.

Perhaps you are not sure whether you long for the way you used to be, when you were attracted to a man, or whether you long for a man worth being attracted to -- a young man, perhaps, with an older man's sensibility -- or both, or what.

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What is it you long for? Do you long for a repetition of something that happened in the past? If so, your longing is likely to remain unfulfilled. The past is gone. Or is there some erotic object that you long for today and simply have not been able to acquire? If you are not enjoying sex because what you require for its enjoyment is not available to you, then that places it in a little different light. Perhaps if you know what it is that you require, you can get it. Or perhaps not. What you require may be out of your reach; that may be the problem. But at any rate there is nothing wrong with you for wanting what you want and not wanting what you don't want.

Maybe it is as though you are stranded somewhere without sherry. It is not your fault that no sherry is available; the waiters suggest port, but port is not what you want. It's not your fault. You want sherry. But the choices are clear: Port is all you'll get. Such is life.

Or maybe it's worse: It's not that they're out of sherry. They're just not selling it to you anymore. Oh, that's sad. But it is a fact of aging, however painful: We do pass out of youth and its automatic privileges.

All this is just about exploring the shape of this thing so you can get comfortable with it, knowing what it is: It's just a change that has happened. It's just the way you happen to be right now.

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Next comes the question of what to do about it in the real world. I suggest that once you have accepted it, you come out of the closet with it. This could be tricky, but I think it's the road to liberation! What has been happening is that you have been enjoying all the steps leading up to sex, but not the sex. So rather than enjoy a whole evening of necking and then abruptly refuse to have sex, I suggest that early on, when you are getting to know a man, before it is romantic, you risk telling him the whole truth. Tell him just what you have told me so eloquently in this letter. And set about exploring, with him, in a spirit of play, what kinds of pleasures might be available to you both.

He may not like it. He may feel that you are not playing by the rules. He may not be interested. He is of course free to disengage. That would be fair.

I do think, though, that the best thing to do is to be upfront about this. Otherwise you are not really acting in good faith; he thinks you want sex but you don't. Instead, you are having sex in return for something else. That's not going to lead to happiness.

But what if you were to be completely honest with the next man you are with? What if you were to tell him that you like him tremendously in his pants but are not sure so much how you will like him if he steps out of them? What if you were to tell him just what you have told me, and just relax about it? It might change the situation considerably.

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Yes, it may ruin some dates. But it may also have unexpected benefits: Once you are free to stop pretending, you may find that you are having more fun. You might even start enjoying sex again, once you are free to not enjoy it.

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