sex when you don’t feel like it
I was over on Jezebel the other day reading a great Lindy West article about sexual compatibility, communication in relationships and the shitty stereotypes about sex in marriages. You know the one: a married woman all tuckered out from a long day of keeping house is too tired to make nookie with hubby at day’s end. Hubby is left feeling sad and undersexed. But instead of talking about sources of discontent, these resentments simmer away until the man can’t take it any longer – he simply needs sex in order to feel loved! In this crap scenario, no one wins. Women are portrayed as miserable iron women with no sexual agency who like to withhold sex from their partners as a means of punishment. Men are portrayed as emotionally void and sex starved, wanting nothing more from their wives than a clean house and to have her make sexy times with him. This situation also sums up how succinctly the patriarchy manages to fuck everything by creating such dumb expectations of everyone that, when these expectations are inevitably not met, everyone is miserable.
West’s piece talks about something called ‘sexual communal strength’ which is basically about helping your partner out with their sexual needs even if you don’t particularly feel like it. Supposedly, couples with high sexual communal strength are more sexually satisfied. West agrees with this sentiment:
‘Under the right circumstances, having sex when you don’t really feel like it isn’t creepy coercion—sometimes it’s just love. And mutually prioritizing one another’s needs over one’s own can be really healthy in a relationship.’
It’s a great quote and it certainly gave me some food for thought. When I first read what sexual communal strength was in this context, I was reminded of an article posted on Mamamia 12 months ago about this very idea. This article made me mad on most of my feminist levels – everything I knew spoke against having sex if you didn’t want to. Women aren’t receptacles; they’re not fleshlights with a mouth. Sex is best when both parties are willing and involved etc etc. I revisited the Mamamia piece and although the sentiment is the same, the article still perpetuates those same bullshit relationship stereotypes about expectations from each party. The author, Jo Abi, states that:
‘Sex is different for women and men. To me I have to feel loved, connected and happy to have sex. On the other hand, sex leaves my husband feeling loved, connected and happy. See?’
Well I don’t see, actually. Both of those feelings are valid, but they are by no means exclusive to either gender. Sometimes, shock horror, women may initiate sex, or want sex to feel happy! And sometimes men, shock horror, can feel loved and connected in ways that don’t directly involve someone touching his junk!
West presents a point of view encouraging couples to talk openly with one another, and she acknowledges that both men and women want and need sex on different levels at different times in their relationship. Abi, on the other hand, trots out more tired anecdotes about each gender’s sexual needs: ‘I’m too tired, he feels rejected, I feel pressured, he feels disconnected, I feel resentful, he feels lonely, I feel lonely’. There is no mention of her initiating sex, or talk of her sexual drive – it is all on her husband’s terms.
It is pretty obvious that in the strongest relationships, sex life aside, communication is a top priority. It is about understanding the one you love and helping them understand you better. I no longer consider having sex when you don’t really feel like as something completely detrimental. West’s piece helped me see that it is a nuanced issue and loving and communicative couples can indeed benefit from sexual philanthropy. The final insult in Abi’s piece is her story about reading an escort memoir, which told of the booming business of undersexed men paying for sex because their wifies weren’t “loving” them enough. The insinuation that you should be fucking your husband in order to keep them away from escorts is offensive – both to men and to sex workers. Having sex with your partner because you love them and have a desire to make them feel good, even though you’re a bit tired or hungover or just not in the mood can be an okay thing. Being coerced, or blackmailed into sexual acts through a feeling of obligation (‘If you really loved me, you’d have sex with me!’) is completely different and not on.