It depends on what you want from sex.
If you mostly want an orgasm, lousy sex might do the trick. If you mostly want to have someone agreeing to have sex with you whether they really want to or not, lousy sex may be your best bet. If you mostly just want to see someone naked, or briefly feel a tit or some balls in your hand, lousy sex may be good enough.
But most men and women want other stuff from sex. Maybe you do, too.
For example, you may want to see your partner smile with pleasure. You may want to feel close to someone, or a sense of acceptance, or specialness, or the experience of collaboration. You may want to feel the gentleness in your partner’s touch, or in your own. You may want to feel relaxed and carefree, and know that your partner feels that way, too. You may want a chance to explore the universe and express yourself.
These things are generally missing from lousy sex. Actually, the fact that they’re missing is what can make sex lousy.
Why do people acquiesce to sex they don’t want, or don’t think they’ll enjoy? For various people, it’s the belief that:
* if I don’t do it, my partner will yell at me, sulk, mistreat the kids, embarrass me in front of others, or even hit me.
* if I don’t do it, I’ll feel guilty
* if I don’t do it, my partner will stray, or even leave me.
This is not an ideal state of mind from which to begin sex. But many people seem surprised that when this is how sex starts, neither person is likely to find satisfaction.
When someone is relatively uninterested in sex, or they know that the sex currently available isn’t enjoyable to either partner, it’s interesting how rarely they wonder why their partner pursues that lousy sex so enthusiastically. Typically, the narrative is “my partner is over-sexed, I’m not, so he pursues me even when I’m not interested, and then he’s dissatisfied with the sex that I generously have despite my own lack of interest.”
Hardly anyone ever asks, “if my partner knows he or she is going to be sexually unsatisfied at the end, why does he or she want it so much?”
It’s really no mystery why people DON’T have sex they don’t expect to enjoy. It’s the same reason I don’t eat broccoli and you don’t listen to country music—we don’t expect to enjoy the experience.
So why do people pursue sex they don’t expect to enjoy? And why do they accept it when, grudgingly or not, it’s offered? It’s essential to get people talking about this honestly.
One reason is that they don’t want to be in one of those couples that never has sex. And it’s often true—a couple doesn’t have sex four days in a row, then five, and before you know it, it’s been seven months. At that point, initiating sex is an enormous challenge; enjoying it is even harder.
Other reasons people pursue or accept sex they assume will be lousy is because they can’t stand their sense of separation. Or they don’t want to pretend that everything is OK. Or because they yearn for touching. Or because they want to experience sexual feelings in their body, even though the feelings will soon be overtaken by frustration or sadness. Or because they clumsily imagine that THIS time their partner will be open to being pleased, despite years of evidence to the contrary.
Many low-desire people assume their partners are chasing exquisite friction and porn-worthy acrobatics. So when their partner finally says simply “It’s not the orgasm I want, it’s you,” or “yeah, getting licked is nice, but you reaching out to hold my hand is better,” the reaction frequently ranges from disbelief to confusion, sorrow and finally acceptance.
And that’s why it’s so important to challenge couples’ traditional ways. That weekly pity handjob? On the surface it may look like a sympathetic partner giving a deprived partner a gift, which is accepted gratefully. In reality, however, it may be building resentment in both partners, while reinforcing the idea that sex is troublesome, divisive, and for other lucky people. The hand-jobber feels valued for her hand, not for who she is. The hand-jobbee feels he has to trade his dignity just to get some touching, and he always notes how uninteresting his penis is to his partner.
With such couples, I encourage a moratorium on pity sex. And I encourage them to find an activity or two they can enjoy together unambiguously—playing Scrabble, walking the dog at night, reading Alice in Wonderland aloud to each other. Eventually we look for erotic activities they can share without inhibition or second-guessing—admiring each others’ hair, rubbing each others’ legs, spooning consciously for 60 seconds.
And I push them to keep talking about what they really want. When people are honest—with themselves and with each other—they almost invariably discover there’s an overlap between what they each feel, and what they each want. Not about superficial things like a favorite position or lingerie color. No, I mean the serious stuff, like “I’m afraid to get too close,” or “I’m afraid s/he won’t like the real me,” or “I dislike my body so much I can’t imagine someone else valuing it.” And “I want to feel special,” “I want to feel safe,” and “I want to laugh together.”
Sex therapy is rarely about just penises and vulvas. It’s mostly about people.