“Everything in the world is about sex, except sex, which is about power.”
Yes, sex is sometimes about power. But sex can be about many different things. For some people it means “I can still get sex,” or “I can still get sex from a good-looking man/woman, or “I can still get sex from you.” I guess these are about power in a way, especially that last one.
Here are a few more reasons that people want sex: to get attention, to get touching, to feel taken care of, to feel attractive, to challenge taboos, to assert autonomy. For some people, there’s no better way to say “you are not the boss of me” than to have unauthorized or ill-advised sex. It doesn’t matter if the “you” is alive, dead, or knows about the sex.
So why does this matter?
It matters because if what you want is touching, or attention, or validation, there are many other, usually more effective ways to get them than sex. We all need a variety of ways to get our emotional needs met. Then, if one way doesn’t work—like our partner doesn’t want sex at a given time—we still have other ways of asking for what we want.
I’ve had patients who asked their partner for sex when it was obvious their partner was going to say no—but they asked anyway. They were so desperate to feel noticed or wanted that they just couldn’t hold back from asking, even when they knew they’d probably be turned down. Besides, they all say, “there was a one-in-a-million chance that he or she would say yes, and I didn’t want to miss it, no matter how unlikely.”
That kind of “reasoning” makes sense when you’re desperate—not for sex, but to fill an emotional need.
Let’s say that what you really want is to feel connected to your partner. How many ways do you have to create that feeling? Possibilities include giving him or her a small gift (say, watching their favorite show with them); offering to help do one of their chores (say, cleaning out their car—with them, not for them); bringing up a favorite shared memory (“hey honey, remember when we…”?); and simply asking for some connection in a friendly, direct way (hey, could we both stop doing our own thing now and pay a little attention to each other now?).
Sex can be very enjoyable under the right circumstances. That includes being honest with your partner about the kind of experience you want to have, and not using sex to fill one emotional void after another. That makes sex way too complicated, and sets people up for disappointment when sex can’t deliver the goods.
So to help make sex more enjoyable, don’t turn it into your all-purpose go-to for every emotional situation. Find other ways in addition to sex to connect, to express yourself, and to feel validated, so sex can be simpler and easier.
After all, what’s the difference between sex and feeling cared about? People can go for days without sex.