Unnamed querent: My partner and I sometimes have long, uncomfortable, late-night talks about whether or not I'm still sexually attracted to her. (I am.)
And while SHE can articulately talk out her frustration and feel listened to, and while I can (successfully) explain that while I absolutely AM attracted to her, my sex drive isn't realistically going to be the same as it was when everything was fresh and new and we were just learning each others' bodies, etc... and while we BOTH do get to a stable point where everything feels (calmly, lovingly, comfortably) resolved, there is one short-term problem. She usually wants to have sex directly afterward as a form of physical catharsis.
And while I am absolutely still attracted to HER, I am in no way turned on by any aspect of this particular conversation, particularly the subtle (perhaps imagined?) insinuation that if it isn't immediately punctuated by "proof" on my part that it calls into question all the progress made by the talk itself. Also, given that they often take place between midnight and 3am, I'm often both mentally and physically exhausted.
Can you think of any other ways I could help her to physically relax so she can literally just calm down and go to sleep, and/or for me to tactfully ask for a little time to separate the (uncomfortable) talk from our (otherwise enjoyable) sex so that her fears (that I'm sometimes doing it out of a feeling of obligation rather than true desire) aren't ironically realized? Or some other solution I haven't thought of yet?
[Note: Re-reading this email, it sounds like I'm asking to treat the symptom and not the cause, but I really do feel that our communication is strong, and that this issue, while it DOES come up with an infrequent but unfortunately predictable regularity, often related to outside stress and other factors, IS under control in the medium and long-term, but if you'd like to comment on the larger issue itself, I'd welcome your thoughts.]
RPM: First rule of sex, of course, is to say ‘no’ when you don’t want it. This is harder for men in this culture, because men are supposed to always want sex, and harder for women to accept that it really is just a low-libido moment and not disinterest. You’re not alone here. You probably already know, but just in case, I’m going to lead with the most important thing, the title of your email to me and of this post: not wanting sex at any particular moment doesn’t make you a jerk, and you have no obligation to engage in any sexual act that you don’t wish to. Duh. That’s true for everyone in every situation, just bears repeating occasionally.
You asked for alternate ways to help her relax after an intense conversation, so here’s a brainstorm list, some of which might be incompatible with you being exhausted: give her a massage. Ask to snuggle her while she masturbates, and murmur how hot she is into her ear while she does. Capitulate to the late wakeful night, open a bottle of wine and play some quiet music. Lie on top of her and relax your own body, slowly and consciously, muscle by muscle. Ask her to do that for you. Take a very warm shower with her. Read her a story out loud. Ask her to read you a story out loud. Make tea. Time her while she runs as fast as she can around the block six times and welcome her home with a big hug, a glass of water and a fuzzy robe. Find a good guided meditation/relaxation recording to put on. I bet you could make a list six times this long with a pen, some paper and fifteen minutes. Go.
Tact, shmact. You could try this: “I’m tired, and I love you and you’re super hot, and I can’t wait to have sex with you when I’m done feeling slightly insecure about not having more sex with you. Will you cuddle me tonight?”
A couple thoughts about the ‘larger issue,’ as you put it. You may already be addressing these.
A. Be sure you’re giving her lots of data points, at non-crisis moments, about how attractive and alluring you think she is. There are absolutely moments when you look at her and realize how attractive she is. I bet sometimes you don’t think to communicate that to her. Even if you don’t intend to initiate sex, don’t stifle an impulse to brush your hand across her thigh or kiss the back of her neck in that soft way or make bedroom eyes at her when it’s totally not appropriate or whatever it is that you do to flirt with her. I think this is important: don’t let a disinclination to engage in sex discourage you from the small sexy affections that you might otherwise deliver. We can all be sexy and communicate attraction without committing to delivering orgasms. Flirting shouldn’t go out the door when commitment comes in—it makes us feel special and wanted and, heck, doing it raises our libidos anyway.
B. Investigate your own feelings of sexual obligation. Your partner is reacting to her own insecurity, but she may also be legitimately reacting to a sexual inhibition that you are actually exhibiting. Obligation around sex is not sexy, and getting trapped into the mindset of owing someone physical favors is a downward spiral of not wanting sex, feeling bad about that, wanting it less as a consequence, feeling worse about that, and so on until you conclude that you’re just not a very sexual being when you’re in a long-term relationship.
This is a cycle I’ve been prone to in the past myself, so here are some of my own stumbled-upon tricks for breaking it and nurturing my sexuality back to health. I’d be delighted if anyone else found them useful.
1. Be more selfish in bed for a while. If you feel like it’s your job in bed to always be giving pleasure, and you feel guilty relaxing and receiving, sex can become a burden to both partners. Relax and lie back in bed, and when you feel like you should be doing something, don’t. Try saying no to your urge to work hard three times, before you say yes once. Remind yourself that exhibiting sheer pleasure in response to someone else’s ministrations is also a huge gift, often a better one than your tongue on her clit, and it takes practice to be able to give that freely.
2. Ask your partner for support in breaking the cycle. Ask her for reassurance that not wanting sex is okay. Ask her for reassurance that she enjoys giving you pleasure and that it’s ok for you to simply receive. Ask her for periods of time (a week? several weeks? a month?) when you both agree that you won’t have sex, so you can express yourself sexually and affectionately in a safe space that won’t be followed by a feeling that you need to ‘follow through.’ Asking for her support can have the bonus side effect of communicating to her in another way that your disinclination to have sex isn’t all about her and how attractive (or not) she is.
3. Pay attention to the fantasies you have when you masturbate. Have any new ones cropped up lately? Any old ones faded? My own internal fantasy world will substantially shift and redefine itself several times a year. Sometimes I get into habits in bed based on what used to turn me on, and I am surprised to find they no longer work. Make new habits based on what turns you on now, whether that means you take different actions or say different things out loud or ask your partner to push different buttons. Anything that re-invigorates that feeling of sex as an exploration, and not a thing you go through the motions of. We do not plumb the depths and be done, here. It's a bottomless well.
That’s what I got. The way you wrote your question makes it pretty clear that nothing is really wrong, everything is fine and dealt with, totally handled and positive, only this minor awkward moment keeps coming up. I talk about my life that way a lot too. So, you know, you probably don’t need most of this advice and it probably doesn’t really apply to you. But thank you for giving me the chance to chew on sexual obligation for a little bit. It’s a pet puzzle of mine.
Anyone have other thoughts or suggestions for this questioner? Put ‘em in the comments! And write in your own questions too, to firstname.lastname@example.org.
Love to you all!