Stop Making Sex ‘Work’
Maintaining a happy sex life in a long-term romantic partnership isn’t easy, but it won’t be fun if you consider it ‘work’
I’ve had sex on my mind lately. From the rise of incels to a call for the redistribution of sex to the lack of sex among millennials to the claim that women over 50 are having the Best Sex Ever — ahem and amen — can you blame me? But mostly I am constantly reminded about the plight of those stuck in sexless marriages because I hear from unhappy men and women all the time. Maintaining a happy, healthy sex life in a long-term romantic partnership is, well, not easy. Now what?
Esther Perel addressed that in her book Mating in Captivity, and again in her latest book, The State of Affairs: Rethinking Infidelity, in which she says it’s important to acknowledge the contradictions of love and desire, but know that we’ll never eliminate the dilemma — it’s not a “problem to solve; it is a paradox to manage.”
I love Perel’s smart approach to sex, desire and relationships, so I wondered what more could be said. There’s a lot of bad advice being offered that could make people feel worse, not better, about sex and their romantic relationships. How many times are we going to be advised to wear lingerie, buy sex toys, go on date nights? All of that’s nice, but they do little to make you approach sex differently, and that’s exactly what’s needed.
Enter Stephen Snyder’s Love Worth Making: How to Have Ridiculously Great Sex in a Long-lasting Relationship. That’s a heady title for sure, and I am always skeptical about books or articles that seemingly have a quick and easy fix to issues that are multilayered.
So when I finished Snyder’s book and looked at the many dog-eared pages, I realized he was offering a much-appreciated different approach to a satisfying sex life — whether you want to call it “ridiculously great” or not, and whether you have a “long-lasting relationship” or not.
Selfish sex and desire
Among the things I love what he has to say:
- It’s more than OK to be a bit selfish while having sex. “What’s more erotic, a partner who just wants to give you sexual pleasure, or a partner who wants to take sexual pleasure from being with you?”
- Sex shouldn’t be about work. “Whether it’s oral sex, fingering, or even intercourse, here’s the bottom line: Unless you genuinely like doing it, soon or later it’s going to feel like work. Sex should never feel like work. If it feels like work, stop immediately. Don’t just do something because you like to hear your partner moan. Go find something else that makes them moan that you actually enjoy.”
- Women want to feel desired. “The problem in most marriages is that when a man starts to feel his wife is a sure thing, he stops chasing her. When that happens, their erotic relationship loses something essential. … Sex books typically advise women to manipulate the situation — by introducing elements of risk or uncertainty, or by making themselves less reliably available. … I find it’s better to put the responsibility on the man, and to educate him about his partner’s need to be pursued. Then it’s his job to decide how to use this information and to face the consequences of his decision.”
- Hetero men want to feel welcomed: “The trouble often starts when a man first sees his partner disappointed or unhappy. Especially if he’s the source of her disappointment or unhappiness. When that happens, his desire becomes a lot less automatic. Men get used to being the object of women’s approval or disapproval when they are boys. Mothers criticize. So do wives. The echoes of a man’s childhood experiences in this regard are often very much present when he lets an adult woman into his life.”
- You can’t force desire to stay alive. “Desire comes and goes many times over the course of a long-term erotic relationship. You can’t control desire, any more than you can control the whims of a child. Desire is nice, but you don’t need desire to have good sex. One reason so many people end up having bad sex is because they try to force desire.”
There’s more, of course, yet what most resonated with me — even without being in a long-lasting and presumably monogamous relationship is this: the two-step. It’s centering on your breath and being still, and then allowing that stillness to be the foundation of your arousal. It isn’t about focusing on an orgasm; it’s more about being mindful of your body being turned on.
As he writes:
Like mindfulness, sex is all about paying attention, It’s all about the present moment. And it’s all about being without judgment (that is acceptance). If you don’t get too attached to your thoughts, then your mind naturally switches over to a state of simple mindful awareness.”
Anyone who has tried to force desire when you’re just not in the mood knows what a disaster it is. And then it spirals into more unhappiness, what he calls love-knots. Here’s a classic one, especially in long-term couples:
There’s no passion in your lovemaking/ You think, “This is never going to work”/ Your partner thinks, “Nothing I do works.”/ Now there’s even less passion. You see the problem here, right? It’s that one word: work. If you’re working during sex, you are definitely doing it wrong. Work tends to have a goal — and your sexual stuff just doesn’t understand goals.
Ain’t that the truth? If you’re forcing yourself to have an orgasm or stay hard, well, good luck with that. Also, many women — sadly — don’t like their body. They obsess over the wrinkles or rolls or cellulite or thick thighs — whatever. This gets in the way of good sex, whether you’re having sex with someone for the first time or you’ve been coupled for years. Being mindful without judgment would help.
We’ve heard about the orgasm gap — hetero women aren’t having as many orgasms as men or lesbians. But as Snyder writes, an orgasm is just a reflex and it’s best not to get too emotional about a reflex.
Life is difficult, he says; sex should be easy. And fun. Don’t you agree?
Want to learn more about consensual non-monogamy? (Of course you do!) Find The New I Do: Reshaping Marriage for Skeptics, Realists and Rebels (Seal Press) at your indie bookstore or on Amazon.
Originally published at omgchronicles.vickilarson.com.