My partner and I have different sex drives. I could have sex four to six times a week, while he feels more comfortable with about two. In the beginning, we had a lot of sex and I was ecstatic thinking that our sex drives were more matched. Now, not so much.
I feel like I’m constantly rejected and he feels pressured to have sex. He’s said he’s afraid to cuddle and kiss me because then he feels he’ll be expected to take it further. To make it even more difficult, I’m a survivor of childhood sexual abuse and feel like I have been hardwired to feel loved through sexual intimacy.
So, when he says no to sex, I feel like my whole world drops from under me. I’ve worked on the sex-equals-love piece in therapy to no avail. I feel at a loss.
Any advice for two people who love each other fiercely, but need help figuring this out?
—Pedal to the Metal
Childhood sexual abuse impacts many people and leaves survivors with a steep check to pay emotionally, physically, and mentally. And though you’re doing great work with your therapist, that hardwiring will still fire.
No couple is perfectly matched in their desire for sex at all times, especially after the hormone-fueled honeymoon phase. If you were to label your sexual desire on a scale of 1-10 (10 being gimme, gimme more!), maybe you would be a 9 at baseline, and your partner, a 4. Factor in relational conflict, hormones, outside stress, and health fluctuations, and the chances that you both will be running at a compromised 7 are rather slim. And that’s normal!
Normalizing this and reminding yourself that his sex drive is a Him issue and not a You issue is important here. A Him issue may be related to a You issue, but is certainly not Your Fault.
He’s feeling wary that once he gets on the intimacy rollercoaster there’s no slowing down or stopping the ride until after sex. His hesitance I’m sure in turn adds to your feelings of rejection. This cycle traps you both in a black-and-white viewpoint of your sex life leaving him on one side and you on the other.
So, where can you collaborate? Take some time to build up physical intimacy that doesn’t lead to sex, every single time, that feels good to both of you. This kind of intimacy may be emotionally risky for you both (risky for him to get on the rollercoaster and trusting it will stop when he needs it to, and risky for you in pumping the brakes on said rollercoaster despite old rejection stories telling you to hit the gas).
However, this exercise may add experiential proof that he can be intimate with you without being swept up into sex and that you may not need to have full-blown sex in order to feel wanted and affirmed by your partner.
Over time, and with build-up of this experiential proof, the black-and-white sex stalemate will likely loosen up and you might find more flexibility and compatibility in your sex drives once you find yourselves on the same Team Sex again.
Of course, a sex-positive couples therapist could be a tremendous help here. Locally, the Couples Center of the Pioneer Valley (where I work!), Northampton Sex Therapy Associates, and the Northampton Center for Couples Therapy are all good places to start.
Yana Tallon-Hicks is a relationship therapist, sex educator, and writer living in the Pioneer Valley. You can find her work and professional contact information on her website, yanatallonhicks.com.