QUESTION: My husband and
I have completely different sexual desires. He likes things rough and
fast, talking of pleasures like anal sex and things I simply have no
interest in. I think I could enjoy his rougher style if we would start
out slow. My husband sees this as boring. This means pleasure for him
and none for me. I often avoid sex by falling asleep on the couch or
starting a fight before bed. If I initiate sex he will show his impatience
by telling me what to do. This turns me off. I have told him what I
like in bed and although he seems to listen, things never change. Am
I supposed to let him continue doing whatever he wants, whenever he
wants, just because he is my husband?
ANSWER: Your husband's
behavior is deeply disturbing to you. If you continue to feel that your
only options are to avoid him or to acquiesce, your marriage will suffer.
Require that your husband experiment with your softer
approach half of the time. Do not avoid him, but make clear to him
that your needs are equally important. If he is unable to consider
your approach in any way, perhaps there is something deeper that needs
to be addressed. Couples' or individual therapy for him may be an
option if he is the one unable to compromise.
It is true that in general, women may enjoy slower
emotional contact in order to build sexual arousal, while men may
seek sexual arousal and contact more quickly in order to feel close
to their partner. Yet, we are all susceptible to guilt and other tensions
surrounding sex from a very young age.
It might prove interesting and beneficial to share
with one another how each one of you matured sexually. In other words,
when was the first time you even knew what sex was? What was your
reaction as a boy, as a girl? When and how did you have your first
orgasm? Through masturbation alone, or with a partner? What was your
first sexual experience? Were there any sexual traumatic incidents
in your own life, either that happened to you or you were witness
The nature of the sexual relationship may also be
a microcosm of a larger theme in your relationship. Reflect on whether
or not you have this same or similar complaint outside of the bedroom.
Does your husband express tenderness and affection in a satisfying
manner to you in your daily life? If the sexuality expresses a larger
theme in the marriage, you may want to begin to address these behaviors
in other areas, first. Understanding each other may bring change to
your relationship which may influence the sexual sphere.
Develop your ability to talk about sex and the difficulties
that are coming up in the physical intimacy of the marriage. Sexuality
is often a very delicate part of our psyches. It is a primal and unconscious
force. Be kind, loving and accepting of one another in your discussion.
Do not disparage or criticize. Build trust through nonjudgmental listening.
Be curious about your partner's experience and how his or her relationship
to adult sexuality evolved. There is an abundance of shame in our
culture that is associated with sex. So it is imperative that your
couples' discussion generate an atmosphere of acceptance and understanding
rather than judgementality and condemnation. If you cannot talk safely
about the subject, seek couples' counseling to provide a safe framework
for doing so.
Very often, buried guilt or performance anxiety can
get in the way of sexual pleasure and enjoyment. For some men and
women the tendency towards immediate and fast gratification masks
the deeper discomfort with the actual sexual sensations themselves.
Being unable to tolerate the sensuality may present as repetitious
premature ejaculation, or other behaviors that avoid the build up
of sexual tension. Perhaps your husband's preference for "hitting
hard and fast" is the result of discomfort with sensuality. You may
also find it interesting that according to brain researcher, Paul
MacClean, the area of the brain that is considered to be related to
sexuality, is also closely connected to self and species preservations.
According to MacClean, this may account for the link between sexuality
and aggression, including sexual jealousy, competition for mates and
even sadomasochism. Clinically, however the goal of sex therapy, (or
sexual happiness in marriage) is, as sex theorist Helen Kaplan expresses,
"to allow the couples to experience the natural unfolding of their
sexual response ... and to teach the partners to create a loving ambiance
... to maximize the sensuous and psychic stimulation which can potentially
enhance the pleasurable aspects of sexuality." The key word here is
teach. We must be willing to teach our partners about our needs, sexually
One exercise suggested by the Mastersons (sex therapists)
is to explore one another's bodies without the pressure of having
sex. Genitals and breasts are off limits in order to focus on sensation
rather than the goal of orgasm. Have a "naked date" together. Agree
(and stick to the agreement) not to have sex, but simply to take turns
exploring one another's bodies. Perhaps after a warm bath together
and with candlelight if desired. This allows a partner to experience
sensuality instead of focused sex. Each partner gives
feedback as to what feels good, how they enjoy being touched and handled
by the other. It can also afford partners an opportunity to increase
their sensual and sexual comfort zone, resulting in a broader context
for sexual pleasure and enjoyment.
Your husband may be expressing the aggression that
can be a part of sexuality and you may be expressing the tenderness.
Perhaps a middle ground could be found that incorporates both the
natural healthy aggression and the gentle and tender sensations
of physical intimacy. It takes a tremendous amount of energy to avoid
problems in a marriage. Harness this same energy to find solutions
and answers to your dilemma.
One thing is for certain. Coping with major marital
issues provides the possibility for positive change, while avoidance
assures that your relationship will continue to deteriorate! The choice
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